USC Trojans: Randall Telfer
And at USC, where a new coaching staff with fresh ideas and philosophies has created an atmosphere where every team member is starting out with a clean slate, perhaps no under-the-radar player has made a more pronounced statement with his play this spring -- at least through the first three workouts -- than junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.
Showcasing sure hands and impressive athleticism to go along with a 6-foot-4 and 245-pound frame, Cope-Fitzpatrick -- who made just three receptions in his initial two seasons on campus -- seemed to reel in almost everything thrown in his direction during the first week of drills.
That much is certain. With Xavier Grimble and his 69 career catches now off to the NFL draft and the Trojans’ other talented 2013 co-starter at tight end, Randall Telfer, still being held out of action because of injury, Sarkisian has had no other choice but to rely on Cope-Fitzpatrick, and to the former Rocklin (Calif.) Whitney standout's credit, he’s answered the call.
“I feel a lot more focused than before,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said after practice Saturday. “Now that I’m going to be a junior, an upperclassman, I feel like I have the chance to position myself into a starting role. So, I’m really trying to push myself to fill that role and to fill the need of the team, and to just kind of put my head down and work.”
Cope-Fitzpatrick has also seen his responsibilities skyrocket as a direct result of the Trojans’ new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, which places an emphasis on making use of the tight end as weapon in the passing game -- something Sarkisian did with great success at Washington with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 2013 John Mackey Award winner.
For Cope-Fitzpatrick, the switch from former coach Lane Kiffin’s offense, which didn’t utilize the tight end as a receiving threat on a consistent basis, to Sarkisian’s offense was welcomed, to say the least.
In fact, the only negative for Cope-Fitzpatrick so far is that Grimble -- who, along with Telfer, played an important role as a mentor throughout the last two years -- isn’t around to reap the rewards.
“I’m upset my big brother, Xavier, isn’t back,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “I really wish that he came back so all three of us could enjoy the fruits of this new system. It’s very tight end-friendly. I’m excited, and I think the tight ends are going to do really big things.”
Come fall camp, the Trojans will also insert highly touted Class of 2014 signee Bryce Dixon into the mix, adding another exciting piece to a group that, in addition to Cope-Fitzpatrick and Telfer, will also feature walk-ons Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan, Teddy Baker and Connor Spears.
New tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo has already made a positive impression on Cope-Fitzpatrick. A former Huskies quarterback who also played for the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets before embarking on his coaching career, Tuiasosopo commands a special level of respect. Cope-Fitzpatrick was already very familiar with Tuiasosopo before he landed at USC as an assistant.
“He’s great. I definitely see a lot of Raider in him, and being a Raiders fan, I’ve always liked that attitude growing up,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “He’s just a positive guy, and he pushes me and really wants me to succeed. It’s great to have that kind of support. I’m really learning a lot from him, especially when it comes to the complexities of the offense. He has a quarterback’s mind, so he’s really helping me with reading defenses.”
With the promise that Cope-Fitzpatrick has shown this month, there’s certainly reason for optimism when it comes to his future. But with only three practice sessions in the books this spring, he’s not about to get ahead of himself, and he freely admits that he still has much to learn and a whole lot more to prove as he makes a bid to take on an expanded role in the USC offense in 2014.
“I just want to continue to develop,” Cope-Fitzpatrick said. “One thing that I really want to work on is just getting the offense down, just really being on top of stuff so I can play that much faster. And then once I learn the offense, I can start critiquing the little things. But right now, it’s just about taking baby steps.”
Arizona: Terrence Miller was listed on the team's depth chart as a tight end, but he wasn't a traditional tight end. After catching 40 passes for 467 yards in 2013, he's out of eligibility. Former quarterback Josh Kern backed up Miller and is one of four tight ends listed on the roster.
Arizona State: Chris Coyle (29 catches, 423 yards, 4 TD) is a big loss for the Sun Devils and his primary backup, Darwin Rogers, also is out of eligibility. De'Marieya Nelson and Marcus Washington are the most experienced of the four tight ends on the roster, which will grow by one with the addition of recent signee Brendan Landman. Landman is expected to redshirt after playing left tackle during his senior year in high school.
California: There is no tight end position in Cal's offense, which was a factor in Richard Rodgers' early jump to the NFL. Rodgers was switched from tight end to wide receiver last season upon coach Sonny Dykes' arrival.
Colorado: Senior Kyle Slavin is atop the depth chart after catching nine passes in 2013. Sean Irwin played minimally as a freshman, but his role is set to increase. Three other tight ends are on the roster, including Connor Center, who did not play football in high school.
Oregon State: With Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith both returning, the Beavers arguably have the best tight end tandem in the conference. Hamlett had 40 catches for 364 yards and Smith added 25 for 343 yards. Kellen Clute (19 catches, 159 yards) also contributed to the passing game and Tyler Perry, who will be a fifth-year senior, is an important run-blocker.
Stanford: A one-time strength of the Cardinal, tight ends weren't a significant factor in Stanford's offense in 2013, but the staff is hopeful that an influx of new players will change that. Stanford signed No. 1-ranked TE-Y Dalton Schultz, and he'll compete for playing time immediately. Greg Taboada, Eric Cotton and Austin Hooper -- all well-regarded tight end recruits -- are coming off redshirts and will compete with Charlie Hopkins, who started three games last season.
UCLA: There is no traditional tight end at UCLA, but Y receiver Thomas Duarte, who was recruited as a tight end, is coming off an exceptional freshman season. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Orange County native appeared in all 13 games and tied a school freshman record with three touchdown receptions.
USC: Losing Xavier Grimble early to the NFL is a blow and just two other scholarship tight ends remain from last season: Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. One of the nation's top tight ends, Bryce Dixon, signed with USC, but he wasn't among the group of four early enrollees.
Utah: The Utes were the only school in the country to send two tight ends -- Jake Murphy and Anthony Denham -- to the NFL combine, though Utah listed Denham at receiver. Siale Fakailoatonga, a former walk-on, was Murphy's primary backup on the final depth chart, and he caught two passes for 18 yards in 2013. Harrison Handley redshirted last season after enrolling early last spring and is a candidate to compete for playing time.
Washington: John Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins' departure for the NFL was expected, and how the Huskies replace him will be an interesting process. Clearly, there's not a one-man solution for what they'll lose with Seferian-Jenkins, but the combination that the returning players provide is a nice mix of different talents. Michael Hartvigson and Josh Perkins have the most experience at tight end, but they should receive a push from Darrell Daniels and David Ajamu. Daniels, a highly-regarded receiver recruit who switched to tight end, was a special-teams standout in 2013 as a freshman, while Ajamu redshirted.
Washington State: Washington State didn't list any tight ends on the roster last season, but early enrollee Nick Begg will start his career listed there. The long-term plan for Begg is likely elsewhere.
What storyline will you be most interested to follow in spring ball?
Johnny Curren: I’m most interested to see how the new up-tempo offense that USC coach Steve Sarkisian plans to install comes along, and how the current Trojans players adapt to playing in it. Sarkisian has stated before that although fast-paced, it will still essentially be a pro-style, run-first offense, but there are still bound to be several significant differences from USC offenses of the past, and there are plenty of questions heading into the spring that won’t begin to be answered until the team hits the practice field. Will one of the quarterbacks -- Cody Kessler, Max Browne or Jalen Greene -- prove to be particularly adept at directing the new attack? Will the quarterbacks be asked to run more? Will more of an emphasis be placed on throwing to the tight end, as Sarkisian did at Washington, and will Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick thrive in the potentially expanded role? Will we see more wideouts involved? Will the fullback really be utilized? Most importantly, though, will it all result in an offense that is more explosive, and in the end, more productive? In less than a month we’ll start to find out.
Greg Katz: The O-line gets top billing here, especially the center position, which is key with the early departure of All-Pac-12 center Marcus Martin to the NFL draft. The candidates or position changes as it pertains to center could be fascinating because it could lead to a domino effect. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers, who should be a prime candidate for either center or guard. Another sidebar to the offensive line, of course, is the arrival of new coach Tim Drevno from the San Francisco 49ers. Watching his readjustment to college players and what’s available to him should be worth watching at spring practice.
As for an overall view, with a new system and terminology, the logical advantage for returners such as left tackle Chad Wheeler and right tackle Max Tuerk is starting experience. Tuerk, however, is one to keep an eye on to see if he stays at right tackle and is not moved to center. Rehabilitation for guards Jordan Simmons and Aundrey Walker make spring progress tough, but it should make for interesting competition to see how the available bodies fit into Sark’s “puzzle pieces.” What you see in the spring might not be the offensive line you see in the first game against Fresno State.
The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.
What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.
Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.
Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.
The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.
Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.
The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.
Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.
Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.
Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.
Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC
The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.
Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC
The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.
Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.
Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
One more year! I'll see you guys next fall! Merry Christmas Trojan Family! #fighton— Randall Telfer (@RandallTelfer) December 25, 2013
The move is a boost for the USC offense under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, as Telfer is an experienced and talented player who is known for being a good blocker and dependable pass catcher. Telfer has 44 career catches for 451 yards and 10 touchdowns but was limited to only six catches for 78 yards and one score in 2013 due to injuries.
The Trojans now await a final decision from Xavier Grimble, another draft-eligible junior tight end. Grimble has given indications that he will likely stay at USC, but no final decision has been made yet. Grimble was third on the USC receptions list in 2013 with 25 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
At Washington, Sarkisian coached 2013 Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
USC will also return Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick as a third-year junior tight end in 2014.
Still, part of a USC squad that finished 10-4, this is a unit that made strides throughout the course of the season. It’s safe to say that it certainly had more than its share of shining moments.
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The award winners:
- Most Valuable Player: Allen
- Most Inspirational Player: outside linebacker Devon Kennard
- Trojan Way Leadership Award: Kennard, linebacker Hayes Pullard
- Linemen of the Year: center Marcus Martin (offense), defensive end Leonard Williams (defense)
- Perimeter Players of the Year: Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (offense), cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Dion Bailey (defense)
- Special Teams Player of the Year: fullback Soma Vainuku
- Service Team Players of the Year: quarterback Conner Sullivan (offense), linebacker Nick Schlossberg (defense)
- Jack Oakie Rise and Shine Award (longest run): Allen (80 yards vs. California)
- Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award (overall academic achievement): Kennard
- Bob Chandler Award (underclassman with outstanding athletic ability, academic achievement and character): quarterback Cody Kessler
- John McKay Award (underclassman with the most competitive spirit): Agholor
- Joe Collins Walk-on Award: tailback Taylor Ross
- Courage Award: tight end Randall Telfer, wide receiver Marqise Lee
- Lifters Award: Kennard, offensive tackle Chad Wheeler
- Team Captains: Lee, Pullard, Kennard, Martin
Dinged up with ankle and shoulder injuries, it seemed like the tight end never got his chance to get going in USC's pass offense.
With a career-high six catches for 46 yards, the 6-foot-5 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman product provided quarterback Cody Kessler with a big, steady receiving option to lean on in the Trojans' 47-29 victory over Colorado.
“It just felt good,” said Grimble, a fourth-year junior. “I always like to stay ready for whenever my opportunity comes, and it came. They called my number a few times, and I was able to make the plays.”
With USC tight ends averaging under two receptions per game as a unit heading into the contest, the production of Grimble, and Randall Telfer -- who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass -- was somewhat of a revelation.
According to Grimble, offensive coordinator Clay Helton has always wanted to utilize the tight ends more as receiving threats, but he simply couldn’t because the group has been wracked by injuries virtually all season long.
But with Grimble feeling the best he has in a while, in addition to the improved health of Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, there are reasons to believe that last weekend’s performance might just be a primer of things to come.
“It’s been a rough season for myself and the other tight ends,” said Grimble, who has amassed 21 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown in 2013. “We’ve been injured a little bit, and it affected our place in the passing game. It’s not that Coach [Helton] doesn’t want to use us. We just haven’t been up to full speed. And now that we’re back and getting fully healthy, I definitely think there will be more balls coming our way.”
That's exactly what Grimble wants.
“I love catching passes and being physical with the defense,” Grimble said. “Just creating a different piece in the offense as a big target who can move well.”
Still, Grimble knows that as a tight end in USC's pro-style offense, he's just as valuable to the team for his blocking abilities, and it's a job that he's grown to enjoy over the course of time.
“As I got older, I kind of noticed that a pancake or finishing someone off on a block is almost just as good as catching a ball,” Grimble said. “I get a thrill out of it.”
Grimble hopes to follow up his strong performance last weekend with another one this Saturday when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA at home in the Coliseum. It’s a matchup that will pit him up against a pair of highly regarded outside linebackers for the Bruins.
“They’ve got some good players over there,” Grimble said. “They’ve got Anthony Barr, who’s probably a top-10 pick, and Myles Jack. They both play on the end so that’s going to be a big challenge for me, and I’m excited for it. I’m always ready to go up against whoever the top guys are. Those are the type of guys that I’m supposed to be going against.”
And with memories of the Trojans’ 38-28 loss to UCLA in 2012 still fresh in his mind, it’s a game, and a test, that can’t come soon enough.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Grimble said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”
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Just ask longtime observers and historians of Trojans football and they can’t recall a time when the Men of Troy were in such a vulnerable tight end state. Injuries have decimated the Trojans depth at a position that has its own storied history with the likes of Bob Klein, Charles “The Tree” Young, Hoby Brenner, Jim Obradovich, Paul Green, Scott Galbraith and 2007 Mackey Award winner Fred Davis.
It’s no wonder that without juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer manning their familiar blocking tight end positions, the Trojans could manage only 30 yards on the ground and were limited in receiving options.
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WeAreSC staffers gives opinions on topics related to Trojans football:
The Trojans have been hit hard by injuries at certain position groups. If you could take one player and move him to a depleted position, who would it be and why?
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“After reviewing the film, there were some outstanding efforts by our guys. ... We felt that the penalties hurt us at the end, and put us in a bad position on third down ... too many penalties and too many mistakes put us in crucial situations.
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If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.
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What makes this one so tough is the missed opportunities. This wasn’t a game for the ages in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry and it wasn’t particularly well played on either side, but it was there for the taking for the Trojans and you hate to lose those opportunities when you have them.
For the remainder of the game, it just seemed as if the Trojans couldn’t get out of their own way. Redd ran for 91 yards in the first half and eventually became the first runner this year to go over 100 yards against the Irish. Redd was the one USC player who seemed capable of pounding Notre Dame all night but for some reason his touches in the second half were limited.
Nelson Agholor was another bright spot -- both as a receiver and punt returner -- but even he could only do so much after Marqise Lee had gone out of the game with an injury. Lee had tried to come back from a recent knee injury but he had another key drop, this one on a potential touchdown pass on a well-thrown ball by quarterback Cody Kessler.
Kessler had a commendable game, completing 20 of 34 pass attempts for 201 yards. He was under constant pressure from the Notre Dame defensive line and was throwing to a depleted pass-catching group that eventually was missing three of the five scholarship receivers and the top two tight ends.
And we haven’t even gotten to the penalties yet. The Trojans committed 11 penalties for 95 yards and so many of them seemed to come at critical times to negate a big play or first down. The biggest came on a holding call that brought back a Kessler scramble down to the Irish 3-yard line late in the game. There was also a non-call against Notre Dame as a pass interference penalty was not called on an Irish defender against Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick on the final USC drive.
There was a big hit by Lamar Dawson that knocked Irish quarterback Tommy Rees out of the game after Rees had looked sharp throwing the ball, particularly in the direction of USC cornerback Anthony Brown. The replacement for Rees, Andrew Hendrix, was not able to complete a pass in the game but, once again, the Trojans were unable to take advantage.
Even with all that, the Trojans still had their chances. They had three straight drives in the second half that started on the Irish side of the field and a fourth that began at the USC 48-yard line, yet they were unable to score. There were five USC drives in the second half that went six yards or less. After converting the first two third-down conversions of the game, the Trojans did not convert their next 11 tries. The Trojans also missed a pair of field goals that would have provided a winning margin if successful. It was simply one of those nights.
So where do the Trojans go from here after such a disappointing loss? There are no easy answers for interim coach Ed Orgeron. The momentum had been going in such a positive direction since Orgeron took over but this game magnified the realities of where USC is at for the rest of the season. There are issues with the pass defense, the O-line, penalties and third-down conversions. There are injury issues to key players. There doesn’t seem to be a clear identity yet for the offense under Clay Helton and opposing offenses are suddenly having a lot of success against Clancy Pendergast's defense.
One thing Orgeron praised is that the USC players showed fight against Notre Dame. As frustrating as it was to watch the Trojans fail to find a way to pull out the game, it was clear that the effort was there from the team right up until the end. You can’t imagine that so many factors are going to go against you in the way that they did against the Irish so if the effort can be maintained, that gives Orgeron something to build on.
The Utah Utes are coming to town next week and they are more than capable of putting up a fight. Maybe the Trojans can get Lee back, perhaps Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer too. Maybe there are some shake-ups in personnel. Whatever changes need to be made, Orgeron needs to make them. What does he have to lose? The worse thing that could happen to this team is to let the Notre Dame game beat them twice. Chalk up the gut-wrenching loss to the Irish and move on because there is still plenty left to play for this season and it starts next Saturday at the Coliseum.
If you could change one thing on offense with Clay Helton calling plays, what would it be?
Garry Paskwietz: To develop a consistent identity. The players really liked what they saw from Helton during spring ball when he called plays in some scrimmages and it will be important to get that comfort level back. The USC offense has been up and down this year with play calling that ranged from what was seen against Washington State to solid efforts against Boston College and Arizona State.
Johnny Curren: Getting the tight ends more involved in the passing attack. Although low in numbers, the Trojans possess a very talented group of tight ends, headlined by Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, yet they’ve been totally underutilized throughout the past two seasons. This year, in fact, the group has a total of just 12 grabs. By getting this unit more involved in the offensive attack, it would add a whole new element to the passing game, and perhaps make life a whole lot easier for Cody Kessler.
Greg Katz: If I could change one thing on offense with Helton calling plays, it would be to run the ball even more and then use play-action passes off the running game, which I believe is going to happen.
Garry Paskwietz: The tight end spot, with Grimble and Telfer. USC fans have sat back for the last two years and wondered why these two terrific athletes were not utilized more as part of the offense. That should change now.
Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. Agholor has just 11 receptions through five games, and he really hasn’t even been thrown to with much frequency this season. With Marqise Lee sidelined at the moment, he will likely take on a bigger role regardless, but with Orgeron’s statement on Monday that he wants to spread the ball around more, Agholor could really take off in the long run. As he showed in the spring, he’s a dangerous big-play threat, and he’s just waiting for the chance to break out.
Greg Katz: I think that Agholor will now be incorporated into the offense even more by this coaching change, and I suspect we will see greater use of tight ends Grimble and Telfer.
Who has been your MVP through five games?
Garry Paskwietz: I’m going to go with Tre Madden. He has been a consistent presence while averaging more than 100 yards per game, something the offense hasn’t had in a while. It becomes all the more impressive when you realize Tre is coming off knee surgery and, by the way, he had never carried the ball in a college game before this year.
Johnny Curren: Madden. While the production of the offense, as a whole, has been up and down, Madden has performed at a consistently high level throughout the season. Leading the team with 583 yards on the ground, he ranks No. 4 in the conference with a rushing average of 116.6 yards per game, and he gives USC the program’s first real workhorse at tailback in quite a while.
Greg Katz: My MVP through five games would be defensive end Devon Kennard, who has really found a home in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 alignment. Devon has been a real force there each and every game, and you have to admire his attitude and consistency. Offensively, I would have to go with Madden, who seems to be getting better and better each week. It won’t shock me to see him now carry the ball 20 times a game with backup carries by Justin Davis.
TBD Weber State Arizona State TBD Idaho State Utah TBD Rutgers Washington State
TBD UC Davis Stanford TBD Fresno State USC TBD Colorado State Colorado TBD Washington Hawaii TBD California Northwestern TBD Portland State Oregon State TBD UCLA Virginia TBD South Dakota Oregon