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Posted: Thursday May 1, 2008 1:31PM; Updated: Sunday May 4, 2008 11:50PM
Cory McCartney Cory McCartney >

Spring's biggest winners and losers

Story Highlights
  • Bo Pelini made a great first impression on Nebraska fans
  • Mark Sanchez locks down the job as USC's No. 1 quarterback
  • UCLA suffers crippling injuries to its top two signal-callers
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Chris Rainey
Chris Rainey dominated the Florida spring game with his blazing speed.
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Calling a spring game "football" is like saying reality television is steeped in reality. The quarterback is largely off limits to defenders, the score doesn't count and if you're Ohio State, you even let the likes of former stars Cris Carter and Mike Tomczak help call the shots as honorary coaches. The glorified scrimmages often seem like fun and games, but let's be clear: Spring games and spring practices do ultimately have very real consequences.

With that in mind, here's a look at some of the spring's biggest winners and losers -- both for their on-and-off the field exploits.


Bo Pelini, Nebraska: Last year it was Nick Saban, but the toast of this spring was unquestionably Pelini. Cornhuskers fans are clamoring for any sign of the program moving in a positive direction following the stagnant Bill Callahan era, which is why a record 80,149 filled Memorial Stadium for the Red-White Game (25,869 more than last year's spring game).

The verdict? A number of Huskers showed up for spring looking leaner to fit Pelini's "fast and physical" credo, including I-back Quentin Castille, who has reportedly trimmed 20 pounds. It's a mold that will bring the speed that was Pelini's calling card at LSU. The new coach is already making an immediate impact with his players and fans. In April, what more can you really ask for?

Chris Rainey, Florida: He saved Urban Meyer from having to dole out a scholarship to a Florida student by winning a race against the school's fastest scholars -- though he did make it interesting by misunderstanding the starting directions. More important, the running back also put on a show in the Gators' spring game with 140 yards and two touchdowns.

The redshirt sophomore-to-be stole the spotlight from USC transfer Emmanuel Moody, who came to Florida to be a featured back (a term that doesn't fit in the lexicon of Urban Meyer speak). Meyer has said Rainey could see time at tailback or as a receiver -- or maybe both, giving the Swamp Things another Percy Harvin-like weapon.

Casey Dick, Arkansas: He's been called the worst quarterback in college football, but under new Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino, Dick may shed that label -- in a hurry.

In his first three seasons in Fayetteville, Dick never eclipsed 230 passing yards in a game. He went for more than 300 yards in each of the Razorbacks' intrasquad scrimmages, though, including 404 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-49 passing in the spring game.

The new Power Spread system has done wonders for Dick's confidence, but should we really expect some classic Petrino-coached passing numbers out of the oft-criticized QB? First we'll have to see what becomes of Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett, who is awaiting a verdict from the NCAA on whether he will be eligible this fall. But if Dick is the starter, he can rest assured he'll be on the field come crunch time with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and the Wild Hog formation gone.

Mark Sanchez, USC: What looked like it would be a heated quarterback derby heading into fall camp was settled before the Trojan Huddle scrimmage, as Sanchez quickly beat out Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain for the starting spot in Troy.

Sanchez had the leg up on his fellow former Parade All-America Offensive Player of the Year, having started three games last season when starter John David Booty went down.

With his No. 1 status solidified, Sanchez went out and threw three touchdowns in the spring game. He's also created a small sensation with a local vendor selling "Viva Sanchez" T-shirts at a booth inside the Coliseum. USC put a stop to the sale and reported an NCAA violation, but a sensation's a sensation.

LeGarrette Blount, Oregon: It looks like Mike Bellotti will continue to have a bruising, downhill wrecking ball to complement the elusive Jeremiah Johnson.

The Ducks staff is raving about Blount, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior college transfer who ran for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons at East Mississippi Community College.

Blount's emergence this spring -- which was capped by a five-carry, 68-yard performance in the spring game -- eases concerns of how Oregon can replace first-round pick Jonathan Stewart. It also supplies some insurance in the backfield if Johnson is slow to bounce back from knee surgery.

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