“It’s something they’ve talked about. I told them that those are decisions they have to make, if that’s what they want. If you leave it up to me … obviously I want to play, as a competitor,” said Bergeron.
The 37-year-old captain is in his 19th season, having played 1,261 regular-season games and 167 more in the playoffs. The conversation about Bergeron’s load management came up during the Bruins’ visit to the New York Rangers on Thursday night. On the previous night, the captain briefly left their win over the New York Islanders with a facial injury.
“I knew today might be a question because I just ate a puck in the face,” he said after their 3-1 win over the Rangers.
Against the Islanders, Bergeron took a puck to the face following a deflected shot from teammate David Pastrnak. It missed his visor and hit him near the right side of his nose. He covered his face as he went down the tunnel, only to return to the Bruins bench minutes later. Before facing the Rangers, Bergeron and the Bruins made sure he was feeling OK and that the swelling around the wound wouldn’t impede him.
“I was hoping it was going to stay manageable, and it did. There was no issues on the ice,” he said.
Bergeron said he spoke with Bruins personnel about potential rest days following that injury, knowing that the Rangers were a back-to-back game situation. Boston coach Jim Montgomery said occasionally giving his star center games off is under consideration.
“Absolutely it is. It’s a consideration later in the year, too, when we play back-to-backs,” he said.
Bergeron wasn’t sure when those rest days might happen.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you. Maybe later? It would make a little more sense,” said Bergeron. “But like I said, that would be a decision that I’m going to trust the training staff or coaches [to make] if they want to go that route.”
With the win over the Rangers, the Bruins improved on their league-best record (36-5-4) and lead the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs by 13 points in the Atlantic Division.
Ranking the top 10 college football quarterbacks in 2024
With spring practices about to kick off, we’re taking stock of college football’s top returning players at several positions. First off is the most important position on the field: quarterback.
We polled our college football reporters, asking them to rank their top 10 QBs entering the 2024 season. Points were assigned based on their votes: 10 points for first place, 9 for second place, down to 1 for 10th place.
Our picks include four quarterbacks from the SEC and two who are returning from injury after missing most or all of the 2023 season. And while QBs have been frequent visitors to the transfer portal in recent years, only two transfers from this offseason made our list. So maybe there’s something to be said for continuity behind center.
Here are our picks for the top 10 quarterbacks in college football.
2023 stats: 3,941 yards passing, 24 TD passes, 6 INTs, 117 yards rushing, 4 TD rushes, 85.2 QBR
Points: 89 (five first-place votes)
After waiting patiently for three seasons, Beck finally took over Georgia’s offense in 2023. He led the Bulldogs to an unbeaten regular season and nearly took them back to the College Football Playoff. In his first season as a starter, he completed a whopping 72.4% of his pass attempts for 3,941 yards with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. After all the concerns about Georgia having a new quarterback and offensive coordinator (Mike Bobo), it ranked fifth in the FBS in scoring (40.1 points per game) and 11th in passing (305.3 yards).
This season, Beck won’t have All-America tight end Brock Bowers or receiver Ladd McConkey. Then again, he didn’t have them at his disposal for extended stretches last season, either. Georgia is still stocked with pass-catchers; it added tight end Benjamin Yurosek (Stanford) and receivers Colbie Young (Miami), Michael Jackson III (USC) and London Humphreys (Vanderbilt) via the transfer portal. Beck should be even more comfortable with 14 starts under his belt. — Mark Schlabach
2023 stats: 3,660 yards passing, 30 TD passes, 6 INTs, 373 yards rushing, 12 TD rushes, 87.3 QBR
Points: 85 points (three first-place votes)
Gabriel’s transfer from Oklahoma to Oregon was one of the more surprising offseason moves, considering he led the Sooners to a 10-2 mark and threw for 3,660 yards with 30 touchdowns last year. Gabriel, who spent his first three collegiate seasons at UCF, found a new home just days after entering the portal, landing at Oregon, where he will replace Bo Nix. Nix’s success story in Eugene is a blueprint Gabriel would love to follow, as Nix elevated his game significantly after heading west from Auburn. The Ducks didn’t just bring in Gabriel through the portal, either. Dante Moore, the former five-star recruit who saw extensive playing time for UCLA as a true freshman in 2023, also transferred in for what is assumed to be a developmental year behind Gabriel.
Gabriel enters the season No. 8 on the all-time FBS passing list with 14,865 yards and needs 4,353 to break Case Keenum’s record (19,217). That would require Gabriel to set a career high, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility given Nix threw for 4,508 yards for the Ducks last season. — Kyle Bonagura
2023 stats: 3,479 yards passing, 22 TD passes, 6 INTs, 75 yards rushing, 5 TD rushes, 78.7 QBR
Points: 71 (two first-place votes)
Ewers transformed his body (and his haircut) before last season and dedicated himself to getting better. He did just that, finishing the season with 3,479 yards, which was 15th most among all FBS quarterbacks, to go with 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He helped guide the Longhorns to a 12-2 record with the only blemishes a 4-point loss to Oklahoma in the regular season and a 37-31 loss to Washington in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Texas is losing its top two receivers (Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell) to the NFL, but the staff brought in Alabama’s Isaiah Bond, Houston’s Matthew Golden and Oregon State’s Silas Bolden to help fill those voids and give Ewers more players on the outside. The Longhorns face a tough schedule in 2024, with Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M all on the slate. But Ewers has experience, talent around him and a knowledge of the offensive system, all of which should help him replicate — and perhaps surpass — the success he and the team saw in 2023. — Tom VanHaaren
2023 stats: 2,834 yards passing, 23 TD passes, 6 INTs, 531 yards rushing, 12 TD rushes, 80.5 QBR
When Alabama benched Milroe following a Week 2 loss to Texas in 2023, few expected him to project as a top-five quarterback for the following season. But he responded well to the setback, developing his downfield passing skills and other areas, and helping the Tide to an SEC championship and a CFP appearance. Milroe completed more than 80% of his passes in his first two games after the benching, and finished at 65.8% for the season. He also threw only three interceptions on 218 pass attempts in his final 10 games. Milroe ended his first season as Alabama’s starter with 2,834 passing yards and 23 touchdown passes while showcasing his mobility against the likes of LSU, Auburn, Michigan and Kentucky.
His next challenge will be adjusting to a new coaching staff, led by Kalen DeBoer and coordinator Nick Sheridan. DeBoer transformed Michael Penix Jr. into a record-setting passer and undoubtedly will feature Milroe’s deep-ball talent. Like Penix did at Washington, Milroe will need much better protection after taking 44 sacks in 2023, including six against Michigan in the CFP semifinal. But if he can maintain or elevate his efficiency, he will be in the mix for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards this fall. — Adam Rittenberg
2023 stats: 2,869 yards passing, 25 TD passes, 6 INTs, -33 yards rushing, 0 TD rushes, 83.8 QBR
Fifita was a 5-foot-11, 175-pound prospect out of Anaheim, California, and he had an unassuming set of offers from schools in his region (Arizona, Cal, Fresno State, Hawai’i, Utah State). Even if he were to eventually turn into a solid player, he wasn’t the type of prospect a coach would lean on for an overnight program turnaround. And yet … after an 8-8 start to Jedd Fisch’s tenure in Tucson — which was a solid improvement in itself considering the Wildcats had lost 23 of 24 games before he arrived — the Wildcats ignited the moment Fifita entered the lineup for an injured Jayden de Laura. He nearly led upsets of both Washington (he threw for 232 yards and three TDs in a 31-24 loss) and USC (303 yards and five scores in a 43-41 loss), and from mid-October on, he didn’t lose again.
A relative unknown before the season, Fifita finished with 2,869 yards and 25 touchdowns despite starting only nine games, and he finished eighth in Total QBR, ahead of such notables as USC’s Caleb Williams, Alabama’s Jalen Milroe and Florida State’s Jordan Travis. Fisch left for Washington, but both Fifita and 1,400-yard receiver Tetairoa McMillan remained with UA, and they could lead the Wildcats to a lovely start to life in the Big 12. — Bill Connelly
2023 stats: 3,364 yards passing, 23 TD passes, 5 INTs, 391 yards rushing, 8 TD rushes, 78.5 QBR
Expectations are soaring for Ole Miss headed into 2024, and it all starts with quarterback Jaxson Dart. Last year, Dart capped the first 11-win season in school history with an impressive performance in a 38-25 win over Penn State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, throwing for 379 yards with three touchdown passes, while adding a rushing score. In all, Dart threw for 3,364 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions in his best year to date. Another year under Lane Kiffin and those numbers should improve even further.
Now consider who returns alongside Dart — receivers Tre Harris and Jordan Watkins and tight end Caden Prieskorn. Harris and Prieskorn combined for 17 catches for 270 yards in the Peach Bowl. Though there are questions at running back with Quinshon Judkins leaving for Ohio State, the Rebels return talent at that position too. But ultimately all eyes will turn to Dart as he tries to lead Ole Miss into the College Football Playoff for the first time. — Andrea Adelson
2023 stats: 705 yards passing, 5 TD passes, 1 INT, 74 yards rushing, 0 TD rushes, 82.7 QBR
All he’s got to do is stay on the field. In his past 14 complete games, Daniels has thrown for 3,336 yards, 29 touchdowns and only eight interceptions while rushing for 691 yards (not including sacks). He scrambles beautifully, avoiding both sacks and picks, and over the 2022-23 seasons, he produced the highest combined Total QBR of any returning quarterback. But finding that “14 complete games” sample requires you to look through Kansas’ past 29 games. He missed a month in 2022 and saw snaps in only three games last season because of back issues. He was a huge reason for the Jayhawks’ fast starts in both 2022 and 2023, but he hasn’t played since Sept. 23 of last season.
Is this the year it all comes together for the player from Lawndale, California? He’s got a dynamite running back corps, with 1,200-yard rusher Devin Neal and big Daniel Hishaw Jr., at his disposal, and his receiving group is loaded with seniors. Kansas went 9-4 with backup Jason Bean starting most of last season, and the offense has truckloads of experience for new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. Yep, all Daniels has to do is stay on the field. Hopefully this is the year. — Connelly
2023 stats: 3,230 yards passing, 27 TD passes, 3 INTs, -77 yards rushing, 4 TD rushes, 63.1 QBR
Colorado’s start to the season ended up being a mirage on several levels, but not regarding Sanders, who transitioned well from the FCS to the FBS. He finished ninth nationally in completion percentage (69.3%), 10th in passing yards average (293.6 ypg) and fourth in interception percentage (0.7%) despite the team’s late-season challenges and an incessant pummeling that left him with a broken back.
Sanders set Colorado’s single-game passing record in his Buffs debut, piling up 510 yards at TCU. He had 348 passing yards or more in five games and had multiple touchdown passes seven times, while throwing just one interception in his final six contests. Sanders generated NFL draft buzz, especially during the first half of the season, and finished with a team-record 3,230 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes (second most in CU history).
He will enter his first full season with coordinator Pat Shurmur, who took over playcalling in November. Sanders ultimately must do his part to limit sacks and hits after taking 52 sacks and being pressured on 39.9% of his dropbacks. If he stays healthy and keeps progressing in the Buffs’ new league, he should be one of the top quarterbacks on NFL draft boards for 2025. — Rittenberg
2023 stats: DNP
Rising wasn’t supposed to be Utah’s savior back in September 2021. The Utes opened that season with Charlie Brewer as their starter after the Baylor transfer beat out Rising for the job. The early results were poor, however, and Utah lost its first two games against FBS foes before coach Kyle Whittingham made a change. And once Utah was Rising’s team, the Utes never looked back.
Rising and the Utes went 9-1 and won a Pac-12 championship before losing in a shootout against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl — a game in which Rising accounted for three TDs and completed 77% of his throws. It was more of the same in 2022, with Rising leading the Utes to a 10-3 record and another Pac-12 title before falling to Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Over the course of those two seasons, Rising was 18-6 as a starter with 46 touchdown passes, 13 picks and an 83.6 Total QBR.
But for a true appreciation of Rising’s value, just look what happened to Utah’s offense when he missed the 2023 campaign with a knee injury. The Utes went from averaging nearly 39 points in 2022 to just 23 last year, and saw a decline of 85 passing yards per game, while their pass TD total was cut in half. — David Hale
2023 stats: 3,735 yards passing, 25 TD passes, 7 INTs, 144 yards rushing, 8 TD rushes, 65.2 QBR
In what might have been the most dramatic quarterback transfer of the offseason, Washington State’s Cam Ward entered the portal, declared for the NFL draft — in what now appears to have been a leverage play — and finally opted to stay in school at Miami. Ward’s talent is obvious. He had several incredible moments for the Cougars over the past two seasons and was an FCS revelation at Incarnate Word before that. But consistency has been an issue. He threw for 3,735 yards last season, but over a five-game winless stretch in the middle of the season, tossed just four touchdown passes.
Washington State was aware very early last season that it would likely be Ward’s final season in Pullman. The Cougars didn’t have the NIL firepower to keep him around and the collapse of the Pac-12 made his departure nearly a sure thing. This could be a make-or-break year for Ward in terms of his NFL outlook. He would have been a late-round prospect had he stayed in the draft, but if he improves his consistency, he could be considered a top-three-round type of player. — Bonagura
Also receiving votes: Brady Cook, Missouri (13); Riley Leonard, Notre Dame (11); Will Howard, Ohio State (8); Garrett Greene, West Virginia (5); Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee (4); Kaidon Salter, Liberty (4); DJ Uiagalelei, Florida State (4); Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma (2); Conner Weigman, Texas A&M (2); Kyron Drones, Virginia Tech (1); Will Rogers, Washington (1)
‘I just saw the best player on the field’: Wyatt Langford is turning heads with every thunderous swing of his bat
SURPRISE, Arizona — During the first week of spring training, Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux returned to the team’s clubhouse after watching a live batting practice session and declared: “I just saw the best player on the field.” The room of coaches and assorted personnel perked up. The Rangers came into camp off a World Series title but with questionable starting pitching depth, and they were hopeful Maddux, a coach for 20 seasons, had unearthed his latest gem on the mound.
“Wyatt Langford,” Maddux said.
Langford is not a pitcher. He is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound power-hitting outfielder, and for a pitching coach — particularly one of Maddux’s stature — to gravitate so quickly to Langford provided the latest evidence that the defending champions’ offense could be even better this year.
Maddux’s answer surprised no one internally. After sliding to Texas at the No. 4 pick in a loaded 2023 draft, Langford, now 22, spent two months destroying four minor league levels, hitting .360/.480/.677 with 10 home runs in 200 plate appearances. He arrived this spring “in real competition to make the club,” according to Texas general manager Chris Young, and only the Rangers’ outfield excellence stands between Langford and an every-day big league role.
“I know if I do what I can do,” Langford said, “they’ll give me the opportunity to showcase that.”
Langford’s right-handed swing has impressed the Rangers so thoroughly that he was under substantial consideration to make his major league debut during the playoffs last year. Toward the end of the regular season, with right fielder Adolis Garcia injured, the Rangers discussed promoting Langford to fill out an already-dangerous lineup. They weren’t afraid of his age or inexperience. As ably as rookie Evan Carter was already garnering headlines with his impressive play, adding Langford to Carter and center fielder Leody Taveras would’ve provided a needed offensive boost.
Garcia returned, of course, going on a legendary hot streak that netted him American League Championship Series MVP honors. But Langford remained around the team during the postseason, joining the Rangers’ so-called “stay-ready squad” in case of injuries. Quickly, he distinguished himself.
The group would gather at Globe Life Field in the morning and take live at-bats. Among those on the mound were Jack Leiter, Owen White and Cole Winn, the best pitching prospects in the Rangers’ organization. Danny Duffy, a World Series champion for the 2015 Kansas City Royals with Young as his teammate, was there and already had a deep respect for Langford after playing with him in Double-A during Duffy’s attempt at a return to the big leagues.
“I got him out once, and it was the first pitch I ever threw him,” Duffy said. “It was a changeup. I didn’t want to challenge him right there. Ball was flying. I hadn’t given up a homer all year, and he wasn’t about to be my first, but he just missed one. Hit it like 400 feet in the air to the middle of center field. If he would’ve clipped it, it would’ve gone to the Embassy Suites.”
Future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, then trying to return from an injury, didn’t know who Langford was before he faced him during a live batting practice in October. Scherzer learned quickly when Langford hammered a double off the wall. As the month went on and the Rangers cruised to the AL pennant, Langford continued to flabbergast onlookers, consistently barreling balls at 110 mph-plus, territory typically reserved for elite major league hitters. While the stay-ready crew was sent home after Game 1 of the World Series, Garcia’s oblique injury suffered in Game 3 reignited the chatter among Rangers personnel to summon Langford.
“He was right there in the conversation,” Texas bench coach Donnie Ecker said. “And if he did play, he was going right in the 3-hole.”
“I don’t know if he would’ve hit third, to be honest,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said, “but watching him in the live BPs was impressive. The numbers, what he was doing, was incredible. You can’t ignore that. And then you get to know the man and he’s got no fear. And you saw what Carter did. And so, we had that to go on too that, hey, these guys are different, these young kids. And so, we didn’t think he’d be afraid. That’s why it was legit, why he was with us.
“Looking back, I mean, it actually would’ve been pretty cool to see.”
Ultimately, Texas chose to give veteran Travis Jankowski the left-field slot and elevate utility man Ezequiel Duran to the active roster. Both had been there all year. They were capable, game-tested. With a 2-1 lead in the Series and home-field advantage, the Rangers didn’t feel the need to push the envelope. The prospect of Langford in the lineup, though, remained in their thoughts. During the celebration after the Rangers’ championship-clinching Game 5, one coach, already looking forward to 2024, said: “And we’re going to have Langford next year, too.”
“It wasn’t just the performance or the results in the minor leagues,” Young said. “It was the process metrics, which we value, that suggested he could come up and have success. His exit velos were extremely high. His chase rate was extremely low. He was walking. He was showing elite discipline. It’s everything we saw when we drafted him — and he’d also performed on the biggest stage in college baseball.
“When you take that into account, the moment wasn’t going to be too big for him.”
Langford had laid waste to college baseball over the previous two years, going from a backup catcher who got four at-bats as a freshman at Florida to arguably the most productive hitter in the country. As a sophomore, Langford hit an SEC-leading 26 home runs with a 1.166 OPS. His follow-up was even better: While his home run total dropped to 21, Langford hit 19 more doubles as a junior and walked 20 more times while maintaining his strikeout rate. His season ended just one win short of a College World Series title.
As much as he would’ve enjoyed being the first position player to participate in the College World Series and the World Series in the same season, Langford saw 2023 as a grand success — one he spent the offseason trying to replicate as he trained with hopes of convincing the Rangers he would be ready this spring. Because Langford understands that dominating in college and the minors guarantees nothing at the major league level, he has used the early goings of spring training to pick the brains of veterans Marcus Semien, Nathaniel Lowe and Josh Jung — Langford’s spring roommate — to better understand the fundamentals of playing his first 162-game season.
“The biggest goal is just to learn as much as I can, make sure to just be myself and go out there and play and have fun,” Langford said. “If it happens, then awesome. If not, then I’ll go to wherever they send me to and do the best I can.
“I know if I do what I can do, they’ll give me the opportunity to showcase that.”
When he gets that chance might depend on the Rangers’ needs. With Jung and shortstop Corey Seager sidelined, they could use their 26th roster spot for a utility man to open the season. What’s clear is that the Rangers won’t keep Langford down just to keep him down — not with MLB’s rules that award a full year of service time to top rookies and incentivize teams to promote them by giving draft picks.
Especially if Rangers coaches continue to see him as the best player on the field.
“He will tell us when he’s ready,” Young said, “and if that’s now, it’s now.”
Jays: Manoah’s MRI shows ‘no structural concern’
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah, on his way back from a topsy-turvy season that saw him land back in the minor leagues, felt some soreness during a bullpen session on Friday at the team’s training facility in Dunedin, Florida.
The starter had an MRI that showed “no structural concern at all,” manager John Schneider said on Saturday.
“He was throwing and kind of just said ‘Eh, it feels a little bit cranky,’ and just wanted to be extra careful at this point in camp,” Schneider added.
Manoah went 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA in 31 starts for Toronto in 2022. But he struggled last year, going 3-9 with a 5.87 ERA in 19 starts. He was optioned to the minors twice.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander hit three batters and threw just 17 of 38 pitches for strikes while working 1 2/3 innings in his first spring start on Tuesday.
“Didn’t really bounce back the way he wanted to after his start, so we’re kind of just taking it day to day right now,” Schneider said.
Manoah spoke to reporters last month, after his arrival at camp, and spoke of his motivation after the season to forget.
“If you look at the biomechanics, my body was a little out of whack, mechanics were a little out of whack,” Manoah said. “Nobody wants to go out there and let their teammates down.”
“This is the best he’s looked throughout his entire career,” Jansen said. “It looks like everything he’s done is going to help him on the mound. He’s a confident dude. What he’s done in the past isn’t a fluke.”
Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen has been impressed in the early going.
“This is the best he’s looked throughout his entire career,” Jansen said. “It looks like everything he’s done is going to help him on the mound. He’s a confident dude. What he’s done in the past isn’t a fluke.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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