NCF Nation: Adam Grant

Foles focuses on present, not NFL

April, 19, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Before we engage our topic -- Arizona quarterback Nick Foles -- let's pause for a moment and consider the Wildcats' NFL history at Foles' position. It will only require the briefest of pauses, however, so don't worry about your eyes glazing over.

In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.

In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.

And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeArizona's Nick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said of quarterback Nick Foles following a dramatic win over Iowa. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
If Foles were in this class, he'd probably yawn. He's not much into history, even though he could have made it for the Wildcats if he'd opted to enter the draft instead of returning for his senior season. Heck, he's not much into the future either because he says -- convincingly, by the way -- that he's not thinking about the NFL.

"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."

In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).

Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.

The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.

For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.

"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."

Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.

So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.

"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."

Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.

"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."

Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."

In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.

"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."

Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.

Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.

"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 20, 2010
The aftermath of "Measuring Stick Saturday."

Team of the week: Arizona looked like it might blow out Iowa when it led 27-7 in the third quarter, but it actually might be more meaningful that the Wildcats held on to win 34-27 after major adversity struck. The Wildcats showed heart. And poise. Moreover, by giving up their own pick-six and a horrible special-teams miscue, the Wildcats' victory can't be written off with the, "Well, Iowa played a sloppy game" excuse.

Best game: Arizona State-'s 20-19 loss at Wisconsin was a back-and-forth affair that was far more entertaining than most thought it would be going in. And, even though it was a dispiriting defeat, the Sun Devils seemed to announce that they will be a factor instead of an afterthought in the Pac-10 this season.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Bob Stanton/Icon SMIIn addition to throwing four touchdown passes, Andrew Luck also rushed for a score in Saturday's win.
Biggest play: Just after Iowa tied Arizona 27-27, and all the momentum going the Hawkeyes' way, quarterback Nick Foles hit David Roberts for 38 yards on first down to the Iowa 34. Eight plays later, the Wildcats scored the winning points. After the game, offensive tackle Adam Grant said he knew Arizona would win after that completion.

Offensive standout(s): Foles and Stanford's Andrew Luck share the honor. Foles completed 28 of 39 passes for 303 yards with two TDs and an interception. For the season, the nation's 14th-rated QB has completed 79 percent of his passes. Luck completed 17-of-23 for 207 yards with four TDs. He also rushed three times for 69 yards, with a 52-yard TD run. For the season, the nation's third-rated passer has 10 TD passes and no interceptions.

Defensive standout(s): Lots of possibilities from Arizona, but in the interest of diversity: Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict and UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore. Burfict looked like the best defensive player on the field at Wisconsin, rolling up 10 tackles, two for a loss, with two pass breakups. Larimore had 11 tackles, three for a loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups against Houston.

Special teams star (s): This is a hard one because the conference produced a bunch of big plays on special teams. Arizona's Travis Cobb went 100 yards for a TD on a kickoff return against Iowa. Arizona State's Omar Bolden went 97 yards for a TD on a kickoff return versus Wisconsin. USC's Robert Woods went 97 yards for a TD on a kickoff return at Minnesota. We may have left someone out.

Smiley face: After two bad losses that had UCLA fans turning away in disgust, the Bruins got off the canvas and whipped No. 23 Houston 31-13. It was a good effort on both sides of the ball, and it indicated that the Bruins can't be counted out in the conference.

Frowny face: Jake Locker and Washington wilted on a big stage against Nebraska. They were overmatched on both sides of the ball, and the Nebraska coaches clearly had a better plan and had their team better prepared.

Thought of the week: Notre Dame, at 1-2, isn't an elite team, but both of the Fighting Irish's losses came against now-ranked Big Ten teams in tight games. If Stanford goes into Notre Dame and delivers a whipping, the Cardinal will be taken seriously by the rest of the nation.

Thought of the week II: The eyes of the college football nation will be on Boise State-Oregon State on Saturday, and many AQ conference fans without a horse in the race will be rooting for the Beavers to knock the Broncos out of BCS bowl -- and national championship game -- contention. Conversely, all of the non-AQ fans (other than TCU and Utah), will be rooting on the Broncos. Oh, and all the BCS haters will be rooting against the Beavers, too, because they favor chaos in the system.

Quote of the week: "You know what's funny? Nobody gave us a chance. They said the defense couldn't make plays. They were giving us all kinds of letter grades that were bad, and we took it personal." -- UCLA safety Rahim Moore

Quote of the week II: "I know they lost their running back, Toby Gerhart, but that's a more veteran team than we saw last year. That's a veteran offensive line and they are impressive." -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe after losing at Stanford 68-24

Quote of the week III: "I didn't really hook up with anybody." -- Locker after he completed 4 of 20 passes with two interceptions against Nebraska

Big games this weekend: While Stanford is at Notre Dame and Oregon State is at No. 3 Boise State, the rest of the Pac-10 gets started with the conference schedule (though Washington has a bye). The two red-letter games: California at Arizona and Oregon at Arizona State. Will the Bears bounce back against a Wildcats team still drunk on its win over Iowa? And can a clearly improved Sun Devils squad keep up with the high-powered Ducks.

Halftime: Arizona 27, Iowa 7

September, 19, 2010
TUCSON, Ariz. -- That was a bit surprising.

Arizona came out on fire, and Iowa sloppy, and that's why the Wildcats lead 27-7 at the half.

The Wildcats get the third-quarter kickoff.

Turning point: From the opening bell, Arizona attacked. It held Iowa to a three-and-out on its first possession and then blocked the ensuing punt and quickly scored a TD. Iowa started driving, but Trevin Wade got a pick-6 and it was 14-0 before Hawkeyes fans had settled into their seats.

Stat of the half: Who's the better running team? Iowa rushed for 71 yards in the first half on 16 carries. The Wildcats rushed for 69 on just 10.

Best player in the half: Arizona left tackle Adam Grant made Iowa's All-American DE Adrian Clayborn disappear in the first half. Guess here is some NFL scouts will raise an eyebrow at that if he keeps it up through the second half.

What Arizona needs to do: Play smart. Possess the ball. Don't give up big plays. Force Iowa to drive the length of the field. A 20-point lead is significant. But it is hardly insurmountable. The Wildcats can't let their outstanding first-half focus and intensity slip. Getting points on the first possession also might send a message that could get the Hawkeyes a bit off their game.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?

Green Day
College Football Nation is decked out in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While you can't tell if our bloggers actually are wearing the day's color, their posts are green from head to toe.

Green with envy: Teams
Green with envy: Conferences
Who could use a four-leaf clover?
What is your teams' greenest unit?
Best/worst spent green

Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.

Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.

California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.

Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.

Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.

Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.

UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.

USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.

Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.

Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Friday! Friday! Friday!

  • California starts spring practices Saturday, and it's time for quarterback Kevin Riley to make a statement. Here's a preview of the running backs -- with Jahvid Best sitting out and Shane Vereen limited, it's opportunity time for youngsters.
  • Adam Grant is finally healthy and ready to help rebuild Arizona's offensive line, but some other guys are hurting.
  • It looks like the NFL made a mistake snubbing former Oregon All-American defensive end Nick Reed at the combine. Lots of good Ducks pro day numbers at the link, too.
  • Oregon State gets ready for its pro day and spring practices... some injury updates too.
  • As expected, two UCLA starters received medical redshirts and will be eligible as fifth-year seniors in 2009.
  • USC's official spring football media guide. And you too could be a Trojan.