Pac-12 spring storylines

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For the past three seasons, Oregon has become accustomed to being the top dog — or, duck — in the Pac-12 with two Rose Bowl berths and a BCS championship appearance. Heading into 2012, can Oregon make it four conference titles in a row?

After all, change is in the air for Pac-12 teams, from saying hello to new coaches to goodbye to some of the best players in college football. But some familiarity returns, too. USC is once again feeling preseason love and could be back to contending for national titles after finishing a two-year bowl ban.

It all starts sometime. Here’s what storylines we’re watching in the Pac-12 this spring:

Can the Quack Attack fly without missing a beat?
Oregon executes the “next guy in” philosophy as good as any program in the country. So the fact that running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas left for the NFL is less worrisome than some of the other off-the-field distractions the Ducks have had since their Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Coach Chip Kelly reportedly nearly left for the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bucsor maybe not — and the NCAA’s investigation into UO’s recruiting practices took another step forward last week with the “proposed findings of violations.”  The good news is that Kelly does a phenomenal job at keeping his players focused on the task at hand. Spring practice is going to look a little different for the Ducks without James and Thomas, but the players asked to fill the void should be able to do so in a business-as-usual way.

Stanford, you got some replacin’ to do, too 
Yes, Stanford has to replace quarterback Andrew Luck. That’s going to be a point of emphasis with all Cardinal coverage until the first snap of the season is taken. But coach David Shaw has more gaps to fill than the one Luck is leaving behind. Stanford loses two outstanding lineman in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastroas well as a senior-laden receiving group. That’s not even counting the three starters from the team’s secondary that will be replaced, including all-conference safety Delano Howell. 2012 will only be Shaw’s second season as head coach, but it has more of an intrigue than Shaw’s first year where he was handed the keys to a football team littered with All-American and All-Pac-12 players.

New coaches, ahoy!
Four Pac-12 teams will be breaking in new coaches this spring: Arizona (Rich Rodriguez), Arizona State (Todd Graham), UCLA (Jim Mora) and Washington State (Mike Leach). Rodriguez and Graham will have plenty to talk about when they meet for the Territorial Cup this year. Both have Big East ties, with Graham coaching under Rodrguez for two seasons at West Virginia. Leach and Mora join the Pac-12 after getting fired from their previous jobs following the 2009 season. Spring practices for these four programs should be a lot of fun as most of the new coaches are known for airing it out on offense.

Return of Troy?
USC became the media’s sexy pick to win the Pac-12, and maybe a BCS championship, next season when quarterback Matt Barkley announced he would be coming back for his senior year. Receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are back, too. But the biggest question for the Trojans is depth. Scholarship reductions as a result of NCAA sanctions mean USC will have to make the most of the talent available and USC only signed 12 players this past signing day. Simply put, there is no room for error. The effects of the depth chart belt-tightening may not be felt right away, but health and production will start to be a top priority for USC this spring.

Last spring for Jeff Tedford?
A 7-6 season and Holiday Bowl loss to Texas has fans in Berkeley a little restless with Cal coach Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears haven’t won 10 games or at least a share of the Pac-12 title since 2006 when they defeated Texas A&M in the, you guessed it, Holiday Bowl. And it’s not as though Cal doesn’t have talent — the Bears have always had plenty — but when Washington scooped up ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi last month, it cost Tedford’s program some top-notch recruits. Going into spring, Tedford is going to have questions, fairly or not, about his job security. Sept. 1’s kickoff against Nevada probably can’t come soon enough for the 11th-year coach.

Infant son of D’Onta Foreman passed away during Texas’ 2016 season

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As a father five times over, I simply can’t imagine doing what D'Onta Foreman did last season.

On the field, the Texas running back was an absolute beast.  He led the nation in rushing yards per game at 184.4 — next closest was San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey at 152.4 — while his 2,028 total rushing yards were second to Pumphrey (2,133).  On Nov. 5 against Texas Tech, Foreman ran for 341 yards, the third-highest total in Longhorns history.

In a profile that appeared on the NFL Network, Foreman revealed that, unbeknownst to those outside of the football program, his girlfriend gave birth to a baby boy on Sept. 16.  His son was born premature and weighed just 15 ounces at birth; 50 days later, the infant passed away — not long after Foreman’s historic performance against Tech.

In fact, Foreman learned of his son’s death as he was driving back to the hospital in Texas City after the game to be with him.

From HookEm.com‘s transcription of his interview with the NFL Network:

I always dreamed of having a boy and naming him after me and you know, just seeing him grow. You know, just loving him.

“He was a fighter, you know. He would like fight and he’s going to make it and everything will be fine.”

“I really didn’t know how to feel. I was like numb. I was driving and then I was crying while I was driving. I was crushed and I was so hurt. I feel like something was taken away from me before I even really got the chance to experience it.

While nothing can ever replace Foreman’s loss, there is a silver lining in his story as the back’s girlfriend is again pregnant.  The due date?  The same day D’Onta Vanton Foreman Jr. was born.

Foreman Sr. is one of the players who are part of the pool for the NFL draft, which will take place this Thursday in Philadelphia.

Via Twitter, safety Jordan Fogal says he’s leaving Utah

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Utah has become the latest FBS program to lose a player via the increasingly-popular graduate transfer route.

Jordan Fogal announced on his Twitter page this weekend that, “after many prayers and long discussions, I found it in my best interest to leave Utah and look to transfer to another university. The specific destination for the continuation of his collegiate playing career was not divulged in the missive.

The safety described his decision as “very difficult” as he said “Utah and the fan base here will forever hold a place in my heart and I will truly miss this place.”

As a grad transfer, Fogal will be eligible to play immediately in 2017 at another FBS school. This upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

After spending two seasons at the junior college level, Fogal played in 11 games the past two years.  Fogal’s two interceptions last season were tied for fourth on the team.

The defensive back’s 2015 season came to a premature end after three games because of an injury. He then played in eight games in 2016 for the Utes.

Oklahoma State’s Jordan Brailford undergoes shoulder surgery, may be back before opener

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The injury-plagued career of Jordan Brailford (pictured, right) in Stillwater is apparently showing no signs of slowing down.

While the football program has yet to confirm it, Oklahoma State’s student newspaper, the Daily O’Collegian, has reported that Brailford has undergone a surgical procedure to repair unspecified damage in his shoulder. The Oklahoman subsequently confirmed the initial report.

It’s expected that the surgery will sideline the redshirt junior defensive lineman for up to four months, which would put him back in time to participate in the latter portions of summer camp. The Oklahoman notes that, via a team source, “Brailford’s availability for the opener depends on how quickly he heals and strengthens the shoulder.”

OU opens the 2017 season against Tulsa Sept. 2, although that game could be moved to Aug. 31.

A three-star 2014 signee, Brailford took a redshirt his true freshman season after suffering a fractured tibia. After playing in 10 games the following season, he missed all of 2016 because of a stress fracture in his foot.

He’s already received a medical hardship waiver for one of those seasons.

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.