Nick Marhall, Montravius Adams

Confident Nick Marshall dazzles as Auburn exits spring

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It’s impossible for a player to win a Heisman based on his spring-game performance, just as, barring injury, it’s impossible for someone to lose it.  What a solid-to-spectacular performance — especially when it’s televised — can do is show the level of progress made from the previous year… and put that player on the minds of those with a stiff-armed lean during the dog days of the offseason.

Based on that assumption — howdy, Coach Saban! — you can very well expect rave reviews and upbeat predictions for the upcoming season to be rolling in for Nick Marshall.

During Auburn’s spring game Saturday, the Tigers quarterback led the first-team offense on seven possessions… and put points on the board at the end of every single one of them.  Included in that very efficient and proficient performance were four touchdown passes from Marshall to three different receivers.  Additionally, all of that scoring came in the first half as Marshall didn’t see the field for the last two quarters.

One of the few negatives to take out of Marshall’s day was the fact that he completed 59 percent of his passes; offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has set a standard of a 65-percent completion percentage for Marshall.  Other than that, though, Marshall’s head coach came out of the day pleased with the triggerman of his offense as he grows both as a quarterback and as a leader.

“He’s more of a leader by example,” Gus Malzahn said of the second-year starter. “He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, his teammates listen. …

“Our emphasis was obviously throwing the football. It was good to see our guys throwing and catching the ball in front of a crowd.”

For his part, Marshall had ominous words for what opposing defenses can expect from an offense that was run-centric in 2013 but could be adding a potent dimension for 2014.

We’re going to be a scary sight this year,” the quarterback said. “We can get real scary. We know we can run the ball. We’re just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That’s the emphasis this year.”

In Marshall’s first year as a starter at this level of football, the Georgia transfer, by way of the JUCO ranks, played a significant role in leading the Tigers on a magical ride to the BCS title game following the 2013 season.  In two of AU’s biggest games of the season — the Kick-Six win over Alabama in the regular-season finale and the SEC championship game win over Missouri that propelled AU to its date with Florida State — Marshall completed just over 74 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions.  Not only that, but Marshall rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores for good measure in those huge wins.

Of course, Marshall then proceeded to put up arguably his worst performance of the year against the best defense he faced, barely completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing a pick in what was still just a three-point loss to the Seminoles.

Coming off that inaugural starting campaign, AU coaches have done nothing but privately rave about the work Marshall has put in to improve himself this offseason.

Yes, it’s the spring and, yes, the spring game specifically is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage with fans in attendance.  Marshall has shown the desire to improve as a player, and those results showed themselves this afternoon.  How that all plays out when the real footballs start flying in a handful of months, though, remains to be seen.

Florida QB Luke del Rio to miss spring practices following surgery

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 5:  Luke Del Rio #14 of the Florida Gators throws a pass during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio will be out of action this spring in Gainesville, the school announced on Thursday. Del Rio will instead be taking time to recover from shoulder surgery.

Del Rio underwent surgery on his non-throwing surgery on Wednesday. The surgery was on his non-throwing shoulder, but it will still take some time to rehab following the procedure.

While Del Rio is expected to be available for the fall, his absence in the spring could open the door for Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask to make a potential run for the starting job. Both were expected to be ready to compete for the starting job for the Gators this season anyway, and now each will be able to get a few more reps in the spring to work on their case to win the starting job for the 2017 season.

Del Rio was 5-1 as Florida’s starting quarterback last season before going down with a knee injury. Austin Appleby took over as Florida’s starting quarterback and led the team to a blowout victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl at the end of the season. Del Rio passed for 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions.

San Diego State extends Rocky Long’s contract through 2021

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05: Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs hoists the champion's trophy after winning the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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Coming off a second straight 11-3 season, San Diego State has rewarded head football coach Rocky Long with a contract extension. The school announced a new contract that tacks on five additional seasons to the existing contract. Long is now under contract through the end of the 2021 season.

Long was under contract through the end of the upcoming 2017 season, so the contract extension provides a little more job security for Long and enables to him to show some stability for the future of the program.

Long replaced former San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke as the head coach of the Aztecs at the end of the 2010 season after Hoke was hired by Michigan. Under Long, San Diego State has gone 54-26 with six straight winning seasons. During that run, San Diego State has won back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships the past two seasons and gone 3-3 in bowl games. Long also coached San Diego State to a conference crown in his first season on the job, in 2011. San Diego State has ended each of the past two seasons with bowl victories against a team from the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl and Houston in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl).

Former Illini rushing leader announces intent to transfer from Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 3: Ke'Shawn Vaughn #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini runs the ball against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Champaign, Illinois.  Illinois defeated Nebraska 14-13. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Illinois running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is moving on from the Illini. The sophomore announced, via Twitter, he will transfer to a new school in 2017.

Vaughn rushed for a team-high 723 yards as a freshman in 2015 with a team-leading six rushing touchdowns. This past season saw Vaughn slip to third in rushing yards with 301 yards and three touchdowns behind Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin under new head coach Lovie Smith. Vaughn was slowed by some injury concerns in the 2016 season with a leg injury causing him to be taken out against Minnesota and limiting him to two rushing attempts for three yards in his final two games before not getting a rushing attempt against Iowa and not playing at all against Northwestern in the season finale.

With two years under his belt, Vaughn still has two years of eligibility to play and a redshirt season still available to use to preserve his eligibility. Should he transfer to another FBS program, NCAA transfer rules will prohibit him from playing this fall. He will be eligible to play immediately if he lands at a lower division school.

Pitt and UCF add home-and-home series for 2018 and 2019

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 19:  James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates his third quarter touchdown with teammates against the Duke Blue Devils at Heinz Field on November 19, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. James Conner became the ACC's all-time leader for total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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The Pitt Panthers have filled out their non-conference slate for the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the addition of a home-and-home series with UCF.

The scheduling deal, announced Thursday morning, confirm UCF will host Pitt on September 19, 2018. The Knights will make the trip to Pittsburgh the following season on September 21, 2019. The two schools have faced each other just once before, with the Panthers taking a blowout 52-7 victory in Orlando on October 13, 2006.

As a member of the ACC, Pitt is required to play one power conference opponent each season in its non-conference schedule. As much as the American Athletic Conference would like us to all believe the AAC is indeed a power conference, the addition of UCF does not satisfy Pitt’s ACC scheduling requirement. However, Pitt’s ACC scheduling requirement is met in 2018 with a home game against Penn State and a road game at Notre Dame (as part of the ACC’s rotating Notre Dame schedule) and with a road game at Penn State in 2019. The Panthers and Nittany Lions will play each other in 2017 as well in State College.

For UCF, the addition of Pitt to the future schedule continues to tack on power conference opponents in future seasons. UCF will play Georgia Tech and Maryland this coming season and will play at UNC in 2018 in addition to the newly added home game against Pitt. UCF also has Stanford and Texas on future schedules in addition to more games against UNC and Georgia Tech.