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Spring's biggest winners and losers

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.

UCLA: You know you're having a bad spring when your No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks are carted off the field with injuries -- on the same day. But that's the reality first-year Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel is dealing with after both starter Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson went down.

Cowan's injury hurts the most. He earned the starting job earlier in the spring, but is out for the season after incurring ligament and cartilage damage in his left knee. He also missed eight games last season due to various injuries.

Olson is out for six-to-eight weeks with a broken bone in his right foot and is expected to compete with junior college transfer Kevin Craft for the starting spot. No matter who takes it, it's a rough start to the "Neu Era."

LSU: Yeah, they've got a brand-new crystal football to gawk at, but when your next starting quarterback is suspended for the spring, well, that lands you on this unfortunate list.

Ryan Perrilloux was suspended for the third time, giving him more bans than starts (two). He was reinstated when spring practice ended and was subsequently dismissed from the team. That leaves junior Andrew Hatch and redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee to battle for the spot when camp opens. Perrilloux missed out on a golden opportunity to prove to his teammates and the LSU fan base that he's matured and was ready to be the face of Tigers football. But ultimately, he was ready for neither.

Virginia Tech: SuperPrep All-America Ryan Williams may be on the way, but the Hokies' spring ended with some serious concerns at running back.

Branden Ore, who led the team with 992 rushing yards last season, was dismissed from the team and has since landed at Division II West Liberty State College. But things went from bad to worse when Virginia Tech's top two backups, Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman, were both hurt at practice. Lewis is expected to be out four-to-six months after left shoulder surgery, while Cheeseman, who has a broken left fibula, is expected back when practice begins in August.

Frank Beamer had to finish the spring with a backfield that included former walk-on Dustin Pickle (11 carries in '07) and redshirt freshmen Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby.

Florida State:Bobby Bowden was already dealing with the aftermath of the academic fraud scandal that will have a dozen players suspended for the first three games of the season. But now he'll likely have to make up for the absence of his biggest offensive player, Preston Parker, who was arrested April 22.

Parker, a wide receiver who totaled more than 1,000 yards of offense as a sophomore, was charged for carrying a concealed weapon (a felony) and possession of marijuana (a misdemeanor). The school has yet to take action against Parker, but considering FSU's athletic department policy prohibits athletes facing felonies to compete, the prospect of seeing him in the Seminoles' Sept. 6 opener vs. Western Carolina seems less than certain. His possible absence would be a big blow to a team looking to make offensive strides Jimbo Fisher's second year.

Ben Mauk, Cincinnati: The quarterback stood on the sidelines of the Bearcats' spring game, hoping he'd get one more year at the helm of Brian Kelly's offense. Instead he got bad news from the NCAA, which denied his appeal for a sixth year of eligibility.

The NCAA originally denied him a sixth year of eligibility in February, but Mauk appealed, saying he'd been hurt during his freshman year at Wake Forest when he redshirted.

After breaking his leg as a high-school freshman, Mauk had plates and screws inserted, including one in his big toe. During his senior year of high school, the screw in his toe loosened and had to be removed. The incision frequently bled through, ultimately sidelining him in his first year in college. He had full support from Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe, but the NCAA didn't reconsider their previous decision.

Mauk will reportedly continue to appeal the decision. Fortunately, Kelly's quarterback cupboard isn't bare, with Dustin Grutza, who played in spells last season, and Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. But it's a sad ending for Mauk, who was finally healthy and had his best season last year under Kelly.

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