UCLA spring camp notes: Nate Starks looks like No. 2 tailback

– One of UCLA’s biggest questions in the past two offseasons surrounded the running back position, which lost all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin after 2012.

Paul Perkins answered that in a big way as a redshirt sophomore, becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher with 1,575 yards (121.15 per game). His presence, as well as that of an entirely intact offensive line, will certainly make it easier for whichever quarterback ends up replacing Brett Hundley this upcoming season.

But who’s looming behind him? After UCLA’s first spring practice in pads, Nate Starks looks like the clear-cut No. 2 running back. As a true freshman in 2014, the Colorado native was fourth on the team with 141 yards — behind Perkins, Hundley and senior Jordon James. He’s picked up where he left off and appears to be the team’s second-best runner now.

While head coach Jim Mora agreed that Starks currently has the inside track on the backup role, he insisted there is still “great competition there.” One player he said has “flashed” through three practices is Craig Lee, a speedy four-star recruit in 2013 who has yet to play a down for the Bruins. Continue reading

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UCLA spring camp notes: Josh Rosen gets more reps at QB

— UCLA head coach Jim Mora said earlier this week that each practice will focus on two quarterbacks at a time. Thursday’s session had Mike Fafaul working with the first-string offense, and Josh Rosen working with the second-string — which meant an offensive line that is currently using two walk-ons due to injuries.

Rosen had his share of freshman moments in his first extended bit of action, throwing an interception that linebacker Willie Green returned for a touchdown. His footwork looked good and he still clearly has the highest ceiling of all the quarterbacks, but there will be some growing pains along the way. Continue reading

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Paul Perkins on Las Vegas’ early shortlist of Heisman favorites

UCLA tailback Paul Perkins (24) runs during a 38-20 win over USC at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. Perkins finished the game with 93 yards and a touchdown. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA tailback Paul Perkins (24) runs during a 38-20 win over USC at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. Perkins finished the game with 93 yards and a touchdown.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Despite becoming the Pac-12’s leading rusher, UCLA’s Paul Perkins settled for an all-conference honorable mention — shut out of the first and second teams in favor of four other tailbacks.

He might not stay under the radar much longer. Online sportsbook Bovada released some way-too-early Heisman Trophy odds this week, and the Bruins’ soon-to-be redshirt junior was given the fifth-best shot at college football’s preeminent award. The star tailback was listed with a 12-to-1 shot, tied with USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Georgia running back Nick Chubb.

The trio trailed Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott (6/1), Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (7/1), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (7/1), and TCU’s Trevone Boykin (15/2).

Perkins figures to be the centerpiece of UCLA’s offense in 2015, as the Bruins to find a replacement for three-year starting quarterback Brett Hundley. The 5-foot-11, 198-pound back finished his first season as a starter with 1,575 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history.

See the full list of Heisman odds below, courtesy of Bovada: Continue reading

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Alamo Bowl notes: UCLA ends 10-win season with new milestones

» With its 40-35 win over Kansas State in Friday’s Alamo Bowl, UCLA has now reached 10 wins for the ninth time in school history. The Bruins are now riding just their third-ever streak of back-to-back 10-win seasons, with the first two coming in 1997-98 and 1987-88.

Including K-State, UCLA played 10 teams that earned bowl berths, tying them for second-most in the country. The only exceptions were Virginia, Cal and Colorado.

» In his career finale, quarterback Brett Hundley didn’t have his best passing game, finishing 12 of 24 for 136 yards and a touchdown. He started the game 10-of-12 before a run of seven straight incompletions. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said afterward that Hundley’s right hand was still a bit sore from the finger injury that forced him out of UCLA’s loss to Stanford in November.

But Hundley did plenty of damage with his legs, running 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Bruins followed the blueprint that TCU used to beat K-State, 41-20, on Nov. 8. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin also only threw for one touchdown, but ran for three scores and 123 yards. Boykin’s proficiency on the ground also helped open up lanes for tailback Aaron Green, who had 171 yards.

“Brett went to town with his legs, for sure,” said receiver Jordan Payton.

Hundley improved his UCLA career records to 75 touchdown passes and 11,713 total offensive yards.

» Paul Perkins ran for a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries, including a 67-yard scoring run with 2:20 left in the game that gave UCLA a 40-28 lead. His rushing total was the third-most in Alamo Bowl history, and earned him the game’s offensive MVP award. Continue reading

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