Jordan Payton

Two glaring omissions headline Biletnikoff watch list

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It’s not often that who’s not on what’s essentially a meaningless preseason watch list is the main storyline, but that’s the case when it comes to the Biletnikoff Award this year.

First, who is on the watch list for the award handed out annually to the nation’s top wide receivers: a total of 48 players at the position, which is actually a rather subdued number compared to other watch lists that come out this time of the year.

Headlining the four dozen receivers actually listed is Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins, who was a finalist for last year’s award that went to Alabama’s Amari Cooper.  Joining Higgins are 2014 semifinalists Sterling Shepard of Oklahoma and Nelson Spruce of Colorado.

Now, the players who was inexplicably excluded from the initial watch list? Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, first and foremost. The senior wideout was already named to the Maxwell Award watch list earlier this month. He’s considered by many to be the best receiver in the SEC — Mel Kiper has Williams as his No. 1 player at that position — yet four receivers from that conference are included.  The only receiver on the Biletnikoff watch list to also make Maxwell’s is South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.

Williams missed three of the last four games last season because of an injury, yet still totaled 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdowns. Kiper may have him a bit overrated on his Big Board, but Williams certainly deserves one of the 48 spots allotted — or the award should at least make room for a 49th.  Or a 49th and 50th.

That said, Williams can, and probably will, be added to an in-season update from the folks at the Biletnikoff.  The same could be said for Player. No. 2: Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell.

Despite missing the last four games of the year because of a gruesome leg injury, Williams still led the Rebels in receptions with 48 and was second in yardage with 632.  Like Williams, Treadwell made the cut for the Maxwell, which is awarded annually to the best player in college football regardless of position.

Anyway, below is the complete Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Victor Bolden, Oregon State
Devonte Boyd, UNLV
Daniel Braverman, Western Michigan
Ryan Burbrink, Bowling Green
KD Cannon, Baylor
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
Rashon Ceaser, ULM
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
River Cracraft, Washington State
Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Josh Doctson, TCU
Travin Dural, LSU
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
William Fuller, Notre Dame
Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Donovan Harden, Georgia State
Carlos Harris, North Texas
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Ajalen Holley, ULM
Cayleb Jones, Arizona
Corey Jones, Toledo
Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
Marcus Kemp, Hawaii
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Byron Marshall, Oregon
Mitch Mathews, BYU
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Jalen Robinette, Air Force
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Artavis Scott, Clemson
Hunter Sharp, Utah State
Tajae Sharpe, Massachusetts
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
Mike Williams, Clemson
Ron Willoughby, Buffalo

Leading receiver returning to UCLA for another season

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Many FBS teams have to be concerned about losing players to an early jump to the NFL, but UCLA’s not one of them.  Well, at least not as far as one of its top offensive playmakers is concerned they won’t.

With speculation apparently swirling that he was leaving early, Jordan Payton confirmed Saturday that he will be returning to the Bruins for his senior season.  In fact, Payton claimed that leaving early for the NFL was never a part of his thought process when it came to his football future.

I’m coming back,” Payton told reporters after practice. “There were reports saying that I was leaving or something, but I’m coming back. Didn’t really even think about leaving, to be honest with you.”

As Payton isn’t being projected to be selected in the first couple of rounds of the 2015 draft, it’s likely a wise decision.

In 2014, Payton is leading all Bruins receivers with 63 receptions for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he was third on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (440).

Jim Mora‘s Bruins won’t go completely unscathed on the early-entry front as the head coach confirmed earlier this month that star quarterback Brett Hundley will forego his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

No. 25 UCLA jumps out early, but Colorado making things interesting

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UCLA wasted no time in taking a lead on Colorado. Paul Perkins got the scoring started early in the first quarter with a 92-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage for the Bruins offense, following an offensive holding penalty.From there, the race was on for the Bruins, who lead Colorado 24-14 at the halftime break.

Brett Hundley has thrown for 105 yards and a touchdown so far, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton in the first quarter. Perkins would add a 24-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to help keep UCLA in front with a double-digit lead at the break. Colorado has made things a little interesting by finding success against the UCLA defense though. Tony Jones and Michael Adkins II each has a rushing touchdown for Colorado, and both have combined for 98 rushing yards so far.

UCLA snuck back into the top 25 this week, but may have to put together a stronger second half in order to convince enough voters to keep them there tomorrow.

Big plays fuel No. 11 UCLA to Pac-12 South favorite status

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The trendy pick in the Pac-12 entering the season did little to match the hype in the first three games of the season, but that was not the case Thursday night. Yes, No. 11 UCLA’s defense gave up over 500 yards of offense to a team playing with a backup quarterback, but UCLA answered the call Thursday night in Tempe, Arizona. UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) went on a 42-3 run on No. 15 Arizona State (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) en route to a 62-27 victory in an early key Pac-12 South division game.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley started the game for the Bruins, returning from a shoulder injury suffered against Texas just fine. Hundley was sharp in the first half and managed to shrug off some early hits. He ended his night giving a reason to be brought back into the early Heisman Trophy conversation after passing for 355 yards and four touchdowns. Hundley also added 72 rushing yards and a touchdown. He did all of this with a brace on his left arm, but there was nothing slowing Hundley down on Thursday night.

Big plays were the recipe for a victory for the Bruins. Hundley completed an 80-yard touchdown to Eldridge Massington in the second quarter. It was Massington’s only catch of the game. The Bruins padded a first half lead with a 95-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Ishmael Adams just seconds before halftime. Immediately out of the halftime break, Hundley completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton on the first play from scrimmage. Payton had 151 receiving yards and two touchdowns in this one. Adams added another big play with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after Arizona State had scored a field goal in the third quarter.

UCLA also played a clean game in the turnover department. The Bruins did not have a turnover and the defense forced four turnovers by Arizona State’s offense. The Bruins gashed Arizona State’s defense for 228 rushing yards as well.

The Bruins defense still gave up plenty of yards (488 through the air) but as was the case in week one against Virginia, the defense managed to get their hands on the football often enough to overcome any threats by the Sun Devils.

The big tests for UCLA are still to come. The Bruins proved they can win a big game on the road, although it is worth noting Arizona State was without quarterback Taylor Kelly (Mike Bercovici played admirably though). The Bruins return home for a game against Utah next week, which sets up a potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview at home against Oregon. UCLA will get Stanford at home in the regular season finale on UCLA’s schedule, a week after hosting USC. It UCLA can prove capable of beating Oregon in two weeks, then the Bruins will be elevated to the role of Pac-12 favorite. Oregon and Stanford remain the hurdle to be leaped by the Bruins. The defense still needs to plug some holes though after allowing 622 yards.

As for Arizona State, the injury to Kelly had to be some sort of factor, but turnovers proved to be deadly on Thursday night. The Sun Devils should now be in serious risk of dropping out of the top 25 rankings on Sunday. Had they kept it close, they could manage to stay in, but being blown out the way they were at home has to be a tough pill to swallow in the eyes of the pollsters.

UCLA faces quality QB depth concerns behind Hundley

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UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was sharp on the first offensive possession of the spring game Saturday, and that was apparently enough for the returning starter. After completing four of five attempts for 30 yards, Hundley’s spring came to a close as head coach Jim Mora chose to rest his starter and allow more snaps for back-up options.

Jerry Neuheisel, son of former Bruins coach and current Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel, was the game’s leading passer with 180 yards but was intercepted twice. Mike Fafaul completed seven of 16 attempts for 116 yards, Asiantii Woulard completed four of 13 attempts for 42 yards, and Mike Hall accounted for eight yards on his lone completion on two attempts. Saturday’s game showed UCLA has a legitimate concern if Hundley has to miss any playing time in the fall, but the Bruins may be able to survive a short absence if needed. Hundley is a key ingredient for the Bruins in 2014, and he could work his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a successful Pac-12 championship run.

The good news is UCLA will have receivers no matter who the quarterback is. Jordan Payton was the game’s leading receiver with 96 yards and Devin Lucien added 76 yards on five receptions. Two key receivers for UCLA did not play Saturday due to injury, but Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte are expected back for the fall.

The Bruins should be fine on defense as well despite losing Anthony Barr. UCLA’s defense racked up eight sacks in the spring scrimmage, and last year’s young breakout star, Myles Jack, is focusing on defense.

UCLA has played in two of the three Pac-12 championship games since the conference expanded. After missing out on the championship game last season, the Bruins look to have a team capable of getting back there in 2014 in what could be a wide-open Pac-12 South. UCLA opens the 2014 season August 30 at Virginia.