Battle to be Longhorns QB the talk of Texas this spring

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Texas Spring Game
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AUSTIN, Texas – The biggest position battle in the Big 12 is at Texas quarterback.

No position carries more expectations in pursuit of getting the once-proud Longhorns back to the top of the league. And none will be a bigger target of scorn if Texas can’t get there.

That’s a lot of pressure on Hudson Card and Quinn Ewers to win the job and keep it, and on coach Steve Sarkisian to make the right choice for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 3, and a week later against mighty Alabama.

Spring practice kicked off the program’s reboot after a 5-7 disaster in 2021, and it wrapped up this weekend with an open scrimmage for fans to see what all the fuss is about at quarterback.

Sarkisian gives no hints to who may have the edge, and says fans shouldn’t read anything into who takes the first snap.

“Both guys have played really well, I’ve been impressed with their playmaking ability. When they are taking their shots, they are taking their shots,” Sarkisian said this week.

“Hudson, some of the game management comes naturally to him having been doing it with us. I think Quinn is a very quick study … Both guys have earned a lot of respect from their teammates.”

For Card, it’s a second chance to earn a job that once was his. To do it, he’ll have to fend off the mop-topped hotshot Ewers, a former five-star high school recruit from the Dallas area who barely played during one season at Ohio State before coming home.

The hoopla surrounding Ewers’ return has many Longhorns fans assuming he will win the job.

“He can make all the throws,” Card said. “I believe I can, too.”

Card was the ballyhooed national recruit when he was at nearby Lake Travis, and he used to be the player of legendary throws in Texas practice. So many that he won the job over Casey Thompson to start the 2021 season.

It didn’t last long. A blowout loss at Arkansas left some teammates describing Card as rattled in the huddle, and Sarkisian quickly went to Thompson for the rest of the season. Card barely had a chance to settle into the role when it was taken from him.

But with Thompson at the helm, Texas had its longest losing streak in 65 years. Sarkisian promised an open competition again in 2022.

Ewers arrived from Ohio State. Thompson left for Nebraska. Card says he never considered leaving.

Despite early endorsement deals in Ohio reported at more than $1 million, Ewers played only one snap of football last season as freshman C.J. Stroud led the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record. With little room to move on the Buckeyes’ roster and the wide-open competition in Austin, Ewers saw no reason to stay.

“I grew up always watching the Longhorns play, wanted to be in that burnt orange,” Ewers said. “There was a little obstacle in between, but I ended up here. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities God has given me, and I’m just excited to be back in the home state.”

Ewers didn’t want to say much about why he left Texas in the first place.

“At the end of the day, I ended up where I think I should be,” Ewers said. “And that’s all there is to it.”

Card, whose Texas career pinballed from starter to benchwarmer only to see Sarkisian court another hotshot like Ewers, opted to stay even though he is more than a year away from graduation.

“This is where I’ve always wanted to play. It’s been my dream school,” Card said. “There’ll be competition everywhere, so I decided to give it my best shot.”

Texas fans have already seen the good (two touchdown passes against Louisiana) and bad (a pick-six interception in a loss to Kansas) from Card.

They’ve been told how great Ewers can be and have seen his high school highlights. They’ve also made a celebrity of his foppish head of hair, a cross between a traditional mullet and ’80’s hair band singer.

Ewers seems a little mystified about that, although in the new era of name, image and likeness he could probably strike a deal with barber about getting it cut for cash.

“It’s just hair at the end of the day,” Ewers said.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.