NCF Nation: Richard Kelly
Like's Pitt's talented but troubled safety, Ford had a world of potential but simply couldn't meet the requirements necessary to stay on the field. And like Fields, he won't be around for his senior season.
But Ford would never run for as much as 500 yards in a season again. He had problems with injuries and maintaining his weight. He was arrested twice. He got suspended for a game in 2007 and for the start of the 2009 season. He never could seem to get out of Jim Leavitt's doghouse and, for long stretches, it seemed like he had disappeared.
Then there was the breakout game in the 2010 International Bowl when he ran all over Northern Illinois in the second half and finished with 207 yards. I -- and I'm sure many Bulls fans felt the same way -- was looking forward to seeing what Ford could do as a senior under new coach Skip Holtz, who may have made more of a commitment to using running backs than Leavitt's staffs ever did.
An in-shape, motivated Ford getting 20 to 25 carries a game would have been intriguing to say the least. He was one of those players that fans always asked me about in chats and e-mails, because his talent was so obvious when he was on the field.
We don't know yet what Ford did to earn his dismissal. But, like Fields, he must have known he was on a very short leash, even with a new coaching staff in town. For him to commit even a minor transgression shows a recklessness and foolishness that is mind-boggling.
Sometimes it's good for a new head coach to dismiss a player for a rules violation, especially one as talented as Ford. That shows the rest of the team that the new sheriff means business. I'm sure, though, Holtz would rather had Ford in the backfield this spring, even though he still has a lot of available options there. The Bulls could go with Mo Plancher, Lindsey Lamar, Jamar Taylor, Richard Kelly ... the list goes on and on.
None had quite the package of potential that Ford had. It's a shame he could never fully realize all his skills had to offer.
With spring practice rapidly approaching, players are about to take their battle positions in the Big East.
Several starting jobs will be up for grabs around the league. Some of the highest-profile skirmishes will include the Rutgers quarterback competition, the fights to succeed LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop at Pitt and the 10 new starting spots on Cincinnati's defense.
Here are five other key position battles to keep an eye on this spring, presented in no particular order:
• Connecticut quarterback: This is a duel that began last season, when both Zach Frazer and Cody Endres split time filling in for the injured Tyler Lorenzen. With Lorenzen graduated, one of them has to claim the job outright. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including size, playing experience and strengths and weaknesses. Both will be operating on somewhat of a clean slate this spring with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Expect this battle to continue into fall camp.
• Louisville quarterback: The Cardinals signed junior college quarterback Adam Froman, who is on campus and will be ready for spring drills. They didn't sign him so he could ride the bench. But head coach Steve Kragthorpe insists there will be an open competition to succeed Hunter Cantwell, and there's no one on the roster with much of a résumé. Junior Tyler Wolfe has looked impressive at times in practice but needs to pick up the finer points of the position. NC State transfer Justin Burke and sophomore Zack Stoudt will also try to impress this spring.
• Rutgers running back: The Scarlet Knights could have used a revolving door in their backfield last season. At different times, Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek and Mason Robinson all had moments as the featured back. Young led the way with 550 yards in just seven games but has had trouble staying healthy. With Rutgers breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, the running game might have to carry a bigger load this year, and someone needs to put his mark on this position.
• South Florida running back: The Rutgers tailback position was a model of consistency compared to the Bulls' backfield in 2008. Mike Ford, Moise Plancher, Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Richard Kelly all split time there thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a spread-the-ball philosophy by former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. All but Williams are back this spring to resume their competition, and a new playcaller could change the way South Florida uses its backs. Quarterback Matt Grothe desperately needs someone dependable behind him so he doesn't have to carry so much of the offense on his shoulders.
• West Virginia receiver: The Mountaineers want to feature more of a true downfield passing attack this season, which means they will need to identify some go-to receivers. Several candidates will vie for that role this spring, even with slot receiver Jock Sanders currently suspended. Alric Arnett showed flashes of great promise in 2008 and caught two scores in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; he just needs to be more consistent. Wes Lyons can be a major factor with his 6-foot-8 frame. Bradley Starks is an athletic guy who's made the adjustment from quarterback. And hotshot freshman Logan Heastie is already enrolled and ready for the spring. The competition to become the No. 1 wideout should be fun to watch.
Which battles are you most looking forward to watching this spring?