Articles By Steven Lassan

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College football’s new playoff format has encouraged better scheduling among BCS teams, and Texas A&M and UCLA continued that trend with an announcement of a two-game series.

The Aggies and Bruins will play in 2016 at Kyle Field and 2017 at the Rose Bowl.

Assuming both teams continue on their recent trajectory, this should be one of the top non-conference games during those two seasons.

However, let’s also hope this leads to more Pac-12-SEC matchups – especially in the bowl season.

Heading into the new playoff format, there’s no Pac-12-SEC bowl matchup scheduled. Shouldn’t the top two conferences in the nation play each other in a bowl? Even if the postseason matchups don't transpire for a while, it's good to see high-profile teams like Texas A&M and UCLA playing non-conference games.

 

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Texas A&M-UCLA Agree to Two-Game Series
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 13:41
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Spring practice is underway, and all 128 college football teams have started to sort through the solutions for the question marks surrounding the roster.

Quarterback battles are the most intriguing element to watch in spring practice, even if there is little clarity on the depth chart until the fall.

This spring is full of quarterback battles that have national title implications. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama is searching for a replacement for AJ McCarron. Blake Sims has the edge in experience, but Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the early favorite. Coker won’t arrive in Tuscaloosa until the summer, which means Sims and the other Alabama quarterbacks have a chance to stake their claim for the starting job this spring.

Outside of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Clemson, Miami and Texas are just a handful of teams looking for a No. 1 quarterback.

Texas is another intriguing battle, as David Ash returns after missing nearly all of last season due to a concussion. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is intriguing, and the coaching staff is pursuing USC transfer Max Wittek as another option.

In College Station, the race to replace Johnny Manziel is already underway. Can true freshman Kyle Allen beat Kenny Hill or Matt Joeckel for the top spot?

College Football’s Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles for 2014

Alabama

The Candidates: David Cornwell (FR), Cooper Bateman (RS-FR), Blake Sims (SR), Parker McLeod (RS-FR), Alec Morris (SO), Jacob Coker (JR-TR)

What to Watch: There’s plenty of intrigue around the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa this spring. Not only are there five candidates pushing for time, new coordinator Lane Kiffin is easily one of the most polarizing hires of the offseason. But don’t expect anything to be settled in spring practice for Alabama. Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is considered the frontrunner and is not slated to arrive until this summer. Sims has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, completing 18 of 29 throws for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Cornwell enrolled early and is likely Alabama’s quarterback of the future. However, he is recovering from a knee injury, and it’s uncertain how much the coaching staff will push him this spring.

Projected Winner: Coker. Alabama doesn’t bring in transfers to sit on the bench. Sims may have the most experience in a Crimson Tide uniform, but Coker has more talent. Although he has yet to make a start in college, Coker has all of the attributes you want in a quarterback. Of course, he has yet to take a snap in the SEC, which is why Sims, Cornwell and Morris need to take advantage of the opportunities this spring.

Arizona

The Candidates: Connor Brewer (SO-TR), Nick Isham (JR), Jerrard Randall (JR), Jesse Scroggins (SR), Anu Solomon (RS-FR)

What to Watch: Rich Rodriguez knows how to develop quarterbacks, so the winner of this job should have a big statistical season. But as spring practice opens, it’s anyone’s guess who takes the first snap for Arizona in 2014. There’s an interesting cast of candidates vying for time, starting with Texas transfer Connor Brewer and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon. Brewer did not play in his only season with the Longhorns, while Solomon spent last season learning behind B.J. Denker. Jerrard Randall started his career at LSU before transferring into the junior college ranks. Jesse Scroggins also started at a FBS school (USC) before a stop in junior college.

Projected Winner: Solomon. Projecting a winner here is nearly impossible. And this could be a situation where a couple of quarterbacks see time this year. Solomon has the most upside, and it’s only a matter of time before he claims the No. 1 spot.

Clemson

The Candidates: Cole Stoudt (SR), Deshaun Watson (FR), Chad Kelly (SO)

What to Watch: Tajh Boyd will be missed, but Clemson’s offense will continue to perform at a high level with Chad Morris calling the plays. Morris has three talented quarterbacks to work with this spring, starting with incoming freshman Deshaun Watson. The Georgia native was the No. 41 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled early to compete in spring practice. Stoudt has served as Boyd’s backup for the last three seasons and threw for 742 yards and eight touchdowns in that span. Kelly redshirted in 2012 and finished last season with 58 passing yards on 10 completions.

Projected Winner: Watson. Whether it’s Stoudt, Kelly or Watson at the top of the depth chart, Clemson is going to be explosive on offense. Watson is too talented to sit, but it wouldn’t be a total shock if Stoudt starts the opener against Georgia before giving way to the freshman later in the year.

LSU

The Candidates: Anthony Jennings (SO), Brandon Harris (FR), Hayden Rettig (RS-FR)

What to Watch: Breaking in a quarterback in the brutal SEC West is no easy assignment. But the good news for Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron is the new quarterback has a solid supporting cast at his disposal. Running backs Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee will push for All-SEC honors, while the offensive line should be among the best in the nation. Sure, the receiving corps needs work, but LSU can push for 10 wins just on its rushing attack and defense. Cameron proved to be the right hire for the Tigers’ offense, as he developed Zach Mettenberger and brought improvement to the passing game. LSU may shift more to a run philosophy in 2014, especially if Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris wins the job. Jennings guided the Tigers to a comeback win over Arkansas in the regular season finale but didn’t play particularly well in the bowl (7 of 19 for 82 yards and one interception). Harris ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2014 recruiting class, and he enrolled early to compete this spring. Rettig is a pro-style passer and ranked as the No. 10 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class.

Projected Winner: Jennings. The bowl game performance is concerning, but let’s not overrate one outing. Harris has the most upside of any quarterback on the roster. How quickly he gets acclimated to the offense will determine how long Jennings stays as the starter.

Miami

The Candidates: Ryan Williams (SR), Brad Kaaya (QB), Kevin Olsen (RS-FR), Gray Crow (SO)

What to Watch: Is this the year Miami finally wins the Coastal Division? If a quarterback emerges, the Hurricanes should be picked as the favorite in the division. Ryan Williams has the edge in experience, starting 10 games at Memphis in 2010 and throwing for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns. He transferred at the end of his freshman season and has played in nine games over the last two years with the Hurricanes. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen (No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class) and true freshman Brad Kaaya (four-star prospect by 247Sports) will get every opportunity to push Williams for the starting job this offseason. Even though Williams might not be the most-talented quarterback on the roster, he has a good grasp on the offense and already has a year of experience starting at a FBS school.

Projected Winner: Williams. Again, this isn’t the flashiest choice, but Williams is capable of leading this offense. The battle between Olsen and Kaaya for the No. 2 spot will be intriguing, especially if Williams struggles or as both players position themselves for 2015.

Nebraska

The Candidates: Tommy Armstrong (SO), Johnny Stanton (RS-FR), Jamal Turner (SR), Zack Darlington (FR)

What to Watch: Armstrong was pressed into duty when Taylor Martinez suffered a foot injury last season. He started eight games and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns, while adding 202 yards and two scores on the ground. Considering it was first taste of action, Armstrong acquitted himself well for a redshirt freshman. He opens spring practice as the No. 1 option, but the job won’t be handed to him. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing option, while the coaching staff wants to get a look at receiver Jamal Turner under center. Turner is a wildcard to watch, and he may play just as a change-of-pace option.

Projected Winner: Armstrong. There’s no question Armstrong needs to play better, but with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 option, he should show significant improvement. If he doesn’t, Nebraska has capable options in Stanton and Darlington, while Turner’s progress will be interesting to watch.

Oklahoma State

The Candidates: Mason Rudolph (FR), J.W. Walsh (JR)

What to Watch: Developing quarterbacks has always been a strength for Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, so it's possible the winner of this battle could be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2014. Walsh played extensively in 2013, throwing for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 294 yards and three scores on the ground. Walsh has room to grow as a passer, but the edge in experience is clearly in his favor. Rudolph ranked as the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and enrolled to compete this spring.

Projected Winner: Walsh. Take a look at the schedule for Oklahoma State. With Florida State in the opener, would the Cowboys let Rudolph start against one of the top defenses in college football? It’s certainly not out of the question for Rudolph to earn the starting job, but Walsh’s experience should allow him to at least open the year as the No. 1 option.

TCU

The Candidates: Trevone Boykin (JR), Foster Sawyer (FR), Grayson Muehlstein (FR), Zach Allen (RS-FR), Tyler Matthews (SO)

What to Watch: After finishing ninth in the Big 12 in total offense last season, TCU coach Gary Patterson made significant changes to his offensive staff. Doug Meacham was hired from Houston to call the plays, while former Texas Tech quarterback and assistant Sonny Cumbie also joined the staff as co-coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Boykin is TCU’s most experienced option, throwing for 3,252 yards and 22 touchdowns over the last two years. But will he stay at quarterback? Boykin is an excellent athlete, and if another quarterback emerges, Meacham could move him to receiver. Muehlstein and Sawyer won’t arrive until the summer but will be a factor in this quarterback derby.

Projected Winner: Boykin. This job won’t be settled in the spring, as the coaching staff needs to get an extended look at Sawyer and Muehlstein. For now, we will guess Boykin’s experience will pay off, and he wins the starting job this preseason.

Tennessee

The Candidates: Justin Worley (JR), Riley Ferguson (RS-FR), Joshua Dobbs (SO), Nathan Peterman (SO)

What to Watch: Butch Jones seems to have Tennessee back on track, but the Volunteers have a handful of glaring needs heading into 2014. Quarterback is one of those areas of concern, as four candidates will battle for the No. 1 spot. Worley has the most experience, but he completed only 55.6 percent of his throws in eight games last year. Joshua Dobbs played in five contests as a true freshman last season and threw for 695 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded 189 yards and one score on the ground. Ferguson was dealing with a stress fracture in his leg and used a redshirt season in 2013.

Projected Winner: Dobbs. Keep a close eye on Ferguson this spring. The North Carolina native is healthy and ready to compete with Dobbs, Worley and Peterman for the starting spot. Dobbs didn’t play particularly well last season, but he was thrown into a difficult situation as a true freshman in the SEC. The winner of this job will be playing behind a line that has to replace all five starters.

Texas

The Candidates: David Ash (SR), Tyrone Swoopes (SO), Jerrod Heard (FR)

What to Watch: Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in the nation, but he might spend a little extra time with the offense this spring. The Longhorns have an unsettled quarterback situation, and there could be an additional name in the mix if Max Wittek transfers from USC to Austin. Ash played in only three games last season, throwing for 760 yards and seven touchdowns. He was sidelined due to a concussion for 10 games, but he will participate in spring practice. Swoopes was the No. 12 quarterback in the 2013 signing class and played in six contests last year. Heard ranked as the No. 2 quarterback by 247Sports Composite in the 2014 signing class and is the future for Texas’ offense.

Projected Winner: Ash. This is a tough one to call. Are Swoopes and Heard ready to be a Big 12 quarterback? If Wittek lands in Austin, can he factor into the mix? Considering Ash has the most experience of anyone on the roster, he’s the safest pick to win the job.

Texas A&M

The Candidates: Kyle Allen (FR), Kenny Hill (SO), Matt Joeckel (SR)

What to Watch: Johnny Manziel’s two-year playing career in College Station easily ranks among the best by a quarterback in the SEC during the BCS era. How will Texas A&M replace him? Well, you can’t exactly replicate Manziel’s production and leadership, but there are three intriguing candidates vying for time. Joeckel has the edge in experience, throwing 48 passes over the last two years in relief duty. Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards in limited action last season. Allen – the No. 10 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – enrolled early to compete this spring.

Projected Winner: Hill. Flip a coin between Hill and Joeckel. Allen will eventually take the starting job, but it seems unlikely Texas A&M will start him on the road at South Carolina for his first start. Regardless of the winner, the Aggies have three solid options to run their high-powered offense.

UCF

The Candidates: Justin Holman (SO), Pete DiNovo (RS-FR), Tyler Harris (FR)

What to Watch: Blake Bortles could be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Needless to say, the trio of candidates vying to be UCF’s starting quarterback will have big shoes to fill. Tyler Harris enrolled early to compete this spring with sophomore Justin Holman and redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo. Holman played in three games last year and completed 9 of 14 passes for 75 yards and one score. Although the winner of this battle won’t equal Bortles’ production, UCF’s offense should still be among the best in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.

Projected Winner: Holman. This one is a coin flip. A slight edge should go to Holman since he has an edge in experience, but DiNovo will be tough to keep off the field.

Virginia Tech

The Candidates: Mark Leal (SR), Bucky Hodges (RS-FR), Chris Durkin (FR), Andrew Ford (FR), Michael Brewer (JR)

What to Watch: Logan Thomas is gone, and second-year coordinator Scot Loeffler enters spring looking for answers for an offense that averaged just 5.3 yards per play in ACC contests last season. Mark Leal is the frontrunner to replace Thomas, and he has played sparingly in his career. Leal completed 12 of 25 passes for 130 yards against UCLA in the Sun Bowl, which was his first extended chance at snaps for the Hokies. Hodges is another name to watch after he ranked as the No. 20 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But perhaps the name with the most intrigue is Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. He won’t arrive until the summer, but Brewer was solid in limited action with the Red Raiders (440 yards, five touchdowns).

Projected Winner: Leal. Brewer is intriguing, but he is at a disadvantage since he won’t arrive until this summer. With a solid defense in place, the Hokies can contend for a Coastal Division title if a quarterback emerges this preseason.

Washington

The Candidates: Jeff Lindquist (SO), Cyler Miles (SO), Troy Williams (RS-FR), K.J. Carta-Samuels (FR)

What to Watch: At the end of the 2013 season, Cyler Miles appeared to be locked-in as Washington’s starting quarterback. However, he was indefinitely suspended after an off-the-field incident in early February. Considering Miles’ return is uncertain, it’s unlikely the Huskies will have much clarity at quarterback this spring. Lindquist and Williams will battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart with Miles out, while Carta-Samuels will arrive in the summer.

Projected Winner: Miles. Assuming he returns, Miles should be Washington’s starting quarterback. He was impressive in limited action last season, completing 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Miles ranked as the No. 5 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports, so there’s no question about his talent. However, if he misses all of spring practice, how quickly can he catch Lindquist and Williams for the No. 1 spot in a new offense?

West Virginia

The Candidates: Skyler Howard (SO), Clint Trickett (SR), Paul Millard (SR), William Crest (FR)

What to Watch: Although coach Dana Holgorsen would like to see some clarity at this position, it’s unlikely the Mountaineers will find many answers in spring practice. Clint Trickett is out due to shoulder surgery, Howard is still learning the offense after one year in the junior college ranks, and Crest won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the other three candidates, Millard will have a chance to stake his claim for the starting job in spring practice. Howard threw for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns in his one season as Riverside City College’s starting quarterback.

Projected Winner: Millard. Junior college recruits are hit or miss, so it’s tough to know what to expect from Howard in his first season in Morgantown. However, if Millard or Trickett struggles early in the year, Howard or Crest should get an extended look this season. For now, the edge here should go to Millard, especially with a full spring to work with the No. 1 offense.

Is there a battle?

Florida
Jeff Driskel returns after missing nine games due to a leg injury. Will new coordinator Kurt Roper help Driskel live up to his lofty recruiting hype? Or will the Gators turn to incoming freshman Will Grier (No. 2 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports)?

Michigan
Devin Gardner failed to have the breakout year most expected in 2013, but his supporting cast didn’t give him much help. Shane Morris started the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and ended 2013 by throwing for 261 yards on 29 completions. Can Gardner pickup where he left off against Ohio State? Or will Morris push Gardner for the job?

North Carolina
Despite Marquise Williams finishing 2013 on a high note, coach Larry Fedora insists the quarterback job is open. Redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is a talented option, but it would be a surprise if he beats Williams for the starting spot.

Rutgers
Gary Nova started the first 10 games for the Scarlet Knights last season but was benched in favor of Chas Dodd for the final three. Dodd has expired his eligibility, and Nova hopes to use an offseason under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen to hold onto the starting job. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, sophomore Blake Rankin and junior Mike Bimonte will push Nova for time this spring.

USC
Cody Kessler seemed to get better with each snap last year, and he finished 2013 on a high note by throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Although Kessler is a solid option for new coach Steve Sarkisian, redshirt freshman Max Browne will get a chance to unseat him this spring. Browne ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100.

Wisconsin
Joel Stave started all 13 games for the Badgers last season and finished with 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns. But he isn’t guaranteed the starting job this year. Wisconsin needs more from its passing attack, and the coaching staff will take an extended look at Bart Houston, true freshman D.J. Gillins and Tanner McEvoy, who will shift back to quarterback after spending last year at safety. Will Stave hold on once again? Or has McEvoy made enough progress to make a push for the top spot?

Others to Watch

Boston College
Steve Addazio and coordinator Ryan Day are essentially starting from scratch on offense. Quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff moved Josh Bordner to receiver, and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy arrived to compete in spring practice. Competing with Murphy will be redshirt freshman James Walsh and true freshman Darius Wade. Although the Eagles are replacing a lot of talent on offense, the line returns a solid foundation, and running back Myles Willis played well in a limited role last year.

Fresno State
Derek Carr guided Fresno State to a Mountain West title last season and finished his career with 12,842 passing yards. Needless to say, the next quarterback has big shoes to fill. Brian Burrell, Myles Carr, Zack Greenlee, Colin Kearon and incoming freshman Kilton Anderson are the options to replace Carr, with Greenlee and Burrell having an edge over the rest of the competition.

Illinois
Bill Cubit was one of the top assistant hires last season, providing a spark for an Illinois’ offense that averaged just 16.7 points a game in 2012. Nathan Scheelhaase has expired his eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t bare for Cubit. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt is considered the favorite, while Aaron Bailey and Reilly O’Toole will compete for time. Although the coaching staff has hinted the job is open, it would be a surprise if Lunt does not take the first snap for the Fighting Illini.

Indiana
Remember that old cliché about quarterbacks? If you have two you don’t have a starter? Well, forget about that when looking at the Hoosiers’ offense. Coach Kevin Wilson should have no trouble using both of his quarterbacks in 2014, as Nate Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards last year, and Tre Roberson combined for 1,551 total yards. Although a two-quarterback system is never ideal, Sudfeld and Roberson each bring something different to the table. Will one end up with the full-time job? Or will Wilson continue to rotate Sudfeld and Roberson?

Kansas
The Jayhawks have struggled to find answers under center in Charlie Weis’ two years in Lawrence. Jake Heaps ranked as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the 2010 signing class, but he has yet to reach his potential and finished 2013 by completing just 49 percent of his passes and tossing 10 picks on 261 passes. Montell Cozart’s dual-threat ability is intriguing, but his completion percentage also needs some work (36.5). UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard was the No. 19 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports in the 2012 signing class. He has yet to take a snap in a FBS game.

Kentucky
The Wildcats certainly aren’t short on options. Maxwell Smith (1,276 passing yards in 2013) and Jalen Whitlow (1,490 total yards) are the top returning passers, but all eyes in Lexington are on true freshman Drew Barker. The Kentucky native ranked as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Whitlow and Smith have the edge in experience, but Barker’s upside may win out in the fall.

Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater is gone. However, Bobby Petrino certainly knows how to coordinate an offense and develop quarterback, so there’s not a ton of concern about the options under center for Louisville. Will Gardner is the favorite to replace Bridgewater after completing 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two scores. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin appears to be the next option.

Vanderbilt
Derek Mason’s first assignment as the Commodores’ head coach is to sort out the battle between sophomore Patton Robinette and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette started three games last season and finished 2013 with 642 passing yards and four touchdowns. McCrary was the No. 16 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season as a redshirt behind Robinette and Austyn Carta-Samuels.

Virginia
Improving upon last year’s dismal 2-10 record will largely depend on how much improvement Virginia gets out of its quarterbacks. David Watford finished 2013 with 2,202 yards, eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He enters spring on the hot seat, but backup Greyson Lambert also struggled last season (33 of 75, 340 yards, 2 INTs). Sophomore Matt Johns and incoming freshman Corwin Cutler will push Lambert and Watford for snaps.

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College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles for 2014
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 07:15
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Nebraska has won at least nine games in each of Bo Pelini’s six years in Lincoln. Despite amassing 58 wins during that span, the Cornhuskers have not played in a BCS bowl and are still looking for a conference title under Pelini. None of those statistics or facts is anything new to Nebraska fans. They want more from this program. Can Pelini and his staff turn the corner and get the Cornhuskers back into BCS bowl or Big Ten title contention in 2014?

There’s enough returning talent for Nebraska to be a top 25 team next season. But there’s also plenty of reasons to be concerned heading into offseason practices. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong needs to take the next step in his development, and the offensive line returns only one starter. The defense needs to find depth in the trenches, while the secondary needs to be retooled after losing both starting cornerbacks.

The Big Ten is set to shuffle its divisions with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. Nebraska will move to the West Division, which is a favorable place to be with Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan in the East.

Considering Wisconsin – the early favorite in the West – has holes to fill, Nebraska should be a factor for the division title.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: March 8

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 6

Four Things to Watch in Nebraska’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6McNeese State
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

1. Tommy Armstrong’s job to lose at QB?: Taylor Martinez was supposed to have an All-Big Ten type of performance in his final year in Lincoln. Unfortunately for Martinez, he suffered a foot injury early in the season, which limited him to just four games. While it wasn’t easy to replace Martinez’s production, the Nebraska coaching staff got an extended look at Tommy Armstrong Jr. He was the No. 19 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and redshirted his first year on campus. Armstrong Jr. shared the quarterback duties with Ron Kellogg III last season and finished with 966 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 202 yards and two scores on the ground. While Armstrong had his share of ups and downs as a redshirt freshman, there was plenty for the coaching staff to build on in 2014. Now, it’s up to Armstrong to take the next step in his development and secure the starting job this spring. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton is an intriguing dual-threat option and will have a chance to unseat Armstrong over the next two months. True freshman Zack Darlington enrolled in January and is likely to spend 2014 working as the No. 3 quarterback. Will this spring be about Armstrong’s growth as the starter? Or will Stanton turn this into a battle that continues into the fall?

2. New faces on the offensive line: Outside of the quarterback battle, the offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Nebraska coordinator Tim Beck. This unit was hit hard by departures, including center Cole Pensick, guard Andrew Rodriguez and tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Guard Jake Cotton is only returning starter here, but Mike Moudy and Mark Pelini combined for five starts in 2013 and will battle for open jobs on the interior this spring. Chongo Kondolo is a name to watch after spending 2013 as a redshirt in his first season from the junior college and could start at guard or center. The tackle spots are up for grabs with a handful of candidates in the mix. Junior Matt Finnin and sophomore Zach Sterup worked as the backups at tackle last year and would seem to have an inside track on the starting spots. Colorado transfer Alex Lewis is another name to watch at tackle, as he transferred from Boulder after starting all 12 games for the Buffaloes in 2012. Massive redshirt freshman David Knevel (6-foot-9, 305 pounds) is also expected to factor into the mix at tackle. There’s a lot of uncertainty about this group and plenty of names are looking to earn a spot on the two-deep. Can Nebraska finish spring with some clarity in the starting five? Or will this position battle carry into the fall, allowing true freshmen Nick Gates and Tanner Farmer to battle for a starting spot?

3. New faces on the defensive line: The Cornhuskers are set at one end spot with the return of first-team All-Big Ten performer Randy Gregory. In his first season in Lincoln, Gregory recorded 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks. He will anchor a line that loses three key performers from last season, including honorable mention All-Big Ten end Jason Ankrah. For Gregory to be just as effective as he was in 2013, the rest of the line has to give him some help. The interior appears to be more stable than the depth at end, as Aaron Curry, Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine return. But the situation at end is slightly more concerning for Pelini. Greg McMullen recorded 16 tackles last season and is the only other end with significant experience on the roster. Recent work on the recruiting trail by Pelini may help here, with junior college recruit Joe Keels in the mix, and redshirt freshman A.J. Natter - the No. 329 national recruit in the 247Sports Composite last year - also ready to contribute. This spring is all about getting players like Natter and Keels acclimated to the defense and ready to play in 2014.

4. Rebuilding project in the secondary: Nebraska’s secondary was hit hard by departures this offseason. Gone are starting cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and safety Andrew Green also expired his eligibility. The pass defense was a strength for the Cornhuskers last season, allowing just eight touchdown tosses in Big Ten play. Can Nebraska quickly reload in the secondary? Safety Corey Cooper returns after starting all 13 games last season and should be the leader for the defensive backfield in 2014. Josh Mitchell made six starts and recorded 31 stops last year and is expected to finish spring atop the depth chart at one of the cornerback spots. Junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell could be the answer at the other cornerback spot, but junior Jonathan Rose played in nine games last year and will factor into the mix this spring. New defensive backs coach Charlton Warren certainly has his hands full over the next two months. The Cornhuskers have options, but Jean-Baptiste, Green and Evans will be tough to replace.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9

Nebraska is an intriguing team to watch this spring. Armstrong and Stanton could both be productive options at quarterback, and whoever wins the job will be handing off to one of the top running backs in the nation in Ameer Abdullah. Assuming the line and quarterback play stabilizes, this team should be in the mix to win the Big Ten’s West Division. Even though the defense loses a handful of key players, Pelini should be able to keep this unit in the top half of the Big Ten in yards allowed. But the key to 2014 could be what transpires in road games. Nebraska plays Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa away from Lincoln. For the Cornhuskers to claim the division title, November road tests against the Badgers and Hawkeyes are must-win contests.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers 2014 Spring Preview
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-wolfpack-2014-spring-football-preview
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After guiding Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance during the 2012 season, high expectations followed Dave Doeren to Raleigh. NC State wasn’t stocked with proven talent last year, but the Wolfpack had a favorable schedule and most thought this team would at least make a bowl. Instead, NC State finished 3-9 and went winless in conference play.

Doeren and his staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Wolfpack back into the postseason, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround in 2014. For starters, NC State can’t get much worse. The Wolfpack hit rock bottom in conference play by going 0-8, but 12 starters return, and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will take over under center.

A favorable schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0. But back-to-back games against Florida State and Clemson will test just how much the Wolfpack has improved in 2014. If Brissett is as good as advertised, NC State could easily improve to 6-6 or 7-5.

NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 6

Three Things to Watch in NC State’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Presbyterian
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8
Nov. 15
Nov. 29at 

1. Jacoby’s progress: The Wolfpack had a revolving door at quarterback last season, with five quarterbacks attempting passes. Don’t expect a similar outcome for NC State’s passing offense in 2014. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is clearly the Wolfpack’s No. 1 quarterback and is an upgrade over last year’s options. Brissett has talent (No. 75 player by Rivals in 2011 signing class) but threw only 74 passes in two seasons at Florida and completed 4 of 10 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in NC State’s 2013 spring game. Backup Pete Thomas transferred and Bryant Shirreffs is expected to move to running back, leaving very little in the way of experience behind Brissett. If Brissett isn’t the answer, NC State could be looking at another long season. However, considering Brissett’s lofty ranking coming out of high school, combined with a solid supporting cast, the Wolfpack’s passing game should show major progress on the stat sheet. This spring is Brissett’s first chance to have full control of the offense. It’s always tough to gauge progress in preseason practice, but a good showing by Brissett and the offense will help ease Doeren’s concerns about this unit heading into 2014.

2. Finding answers on the offensive line: Considering the lack of experience behind Brissett, it’s important the Wolfpack keep their quarterback out of the grasp of opposing linemen. With Shirreffs moving to running back, Garrett Leatham, Josh Taylor or true freshman Jalan McClendon could serve as the backup. See how important it is to keep Brissett upright? The line allowed 2.9 sacks per game last season and ranked 106th nationally by giving up 35. That’s the bad news. However, the news isn’t all negative for Doeren. Left tackle Rob Crisp was awarded a medical redshirt for 2013 and will return to the team this summer. Crisp should solidify the left tackle spot, while Joe Thuney (12 starts in 2013) will slide to left guard. Quinton Schooley is back after making 12 starts last year, while Alex Barr (10) and Tyson Chandler (11) are also returning starters. Outside of Crisp and Thuney will any of the spots be up for grabs this spring? Considering last year’s performance, this line needs more talent and consistency in 2014.

3. Improving the defense: Where should we start? When taking into account just conference games, NC State ranked last against the run, 12th in the ACC in yards allowed and 13th in scoring defense. The problems run deeper than just the main statistical breakdowns, as the Wolfpack generated only 12 sacks in ACC games and last in red zone defense. Coordinator Dave Huxtable is going to have his hands full this spring as he tries to find answers on this side of the ball. Of course, it will be easier for the defense if the offense shows progress in 2014. With six starters back, it’s reasonable to expect NC State to make some gains on defense. The line has a promising core intact, including tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman. Linebacker Robert Caldwell was one of the team’s top defenders last season, but he departs after making 105 stops in 2013. However, there is experience returning at linebacker with seniors Rodman Noel, Brandon Pittman and junior M.J. Salahuddin. The secondary allowed only 13 touchdown passes in eight conference games, and much like the defensive line, there’s a good core to build around. Jack Tocho impressed as a freshman, and Hakim Jones and Juston Burris were key cogs in the secondary last year. As we mentioned earlier in this section, the Wolfpack should be better on defense. But how much more can this unit improve? The answers to fixing the defense might not come for another season as Doeren continues to assemble talent on the recruiting trail.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7

There’s no doubt Doeren’s first season in Raleigh was a disappointment. But the future looks bright for this program, as the second-year coach seems to have NC State trending in the right direction. When rebuilding a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before going forward. The Wolfpack are following a similar pattern and could be in the mix for a bowl in 2014. A favorable non-conference schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0 before measuring stick games against Florida State and Clemson open ACC play. Assuming the Wolfpack sweep their non-conference games, home tilts against Wake Forest and Boston College could be just enough to get bowl eligible. 

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NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Football Preview
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For only the second time in school history, Clemson is coming off its third consecutive season of at least 10 victories. The Tigers have won 32 games over the last three years, claimed an Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State and defeated LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. But a key group of players departed last season, leaving Clemson with just 11 starters returning for 2014.

However, the news isn’t all bad for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers have recruited four consecutive top-20 classes, and true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson appears to be a future star in the ACC. Swinney also scored a huge offseason victory when offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave Death Valley for a head coaching gig. So while Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be tough to replace, the Tigers have enough returning talent to navigate a favorable schedule to potentially 10 victories.

Figuring out the quarterback battle, as well as sorting out the options at running back and receiver are the biggest priorities for Swinney on offense in spring practice. Clemson doesn’t lose much on defense, but the secondary is thin on proven options at cornerback. The Tigers must also spend a little time this spring preparing for the opener against Georgia. Swinney recently announced four players (offensive linemen Shaq Anthony and David Beasley, cornerback Garry Peters and defensive end Corey Crawford) will be suspended for the matchup against the Bulldogs. It’s early, but the coaching staff wants to see other players step up at those positions.

Clemson Tigers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 5

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 6

Four Things to Watch in Clemson’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateTime
Aug. 30at 
Sept. 6South Carolina State
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 6at 
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29

1. Replacing Tajh Boyd: It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one of Boyd’s caliber. However, Clemson does have some intriguing options ready to battle for the starting job. Boyd was a model of consistency during his time with the Tigers, throwing for at least 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. Senior Cole Stoudt has completed 86 of his 119 career attempts with the Tigers, throwing for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. He enters spring with a slight hold on the No. 1 spot, but sophomore Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson won’t give away the job without a fight. Kelly ranked as the No. 7 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class and threw for 58 yards on 10 completions last season. Watson is the name generating the most buzz in spring workouts, as he enrolled early to compete with Kelly and Stoudt. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, expect Clemson’s offense to remain one of the best in the nation. Coordinator Chad Morris returns to Death Valley, and he should have no trouble making the necessary adjustments to compensate for the loss of Boyd. Can Clemson find some clarity at quarterback this spring?

2. The skill positions: Boyd isn’t the only loss on offense. Running back Roderick McDowell expired his eligibility after rushing for 1,025 yards last season, while receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant declared for the NFL Draft. Much like the quarterback position, the cupboard is far from bare. Zac Brooks rushed for 246 yards and caught six passes last season and enters spring practice with a slight edge on D.J. Howard for the starting running back job. C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman are also in the mix, while Tyshon Dye won’t participate in spring workouts due to an offseason Achilles injury. If Brooks doesn’t take a step forward this spring, three incoming freshmen could make an impression in the fall: C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Jae’lon Oglesby. A similar battle is set to unfold at receiver with Watkins and Bryant no longer catching passes in Death Valley. Adam Humphries is back after grabbing 41 passes last year, while Charone Peake is expected to be at full strength in the fall after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. Mike Williams and Gerome Hopper are also back in the mix after showing flashes of promise as freshmen last year. The depth at receiver was bolstered with the addition of Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott in time for spring practice. Another touted freshman (Trevion Thompson) will join the team in time for fall workouts. 

3. New faces on the offensive line: Lost in the discussion of Clemson’s offense as it looks to replace Boyd and Watkins is the line. Three starters are back for 2014, but the Tigers lose tackle Brandon Thomas (second-team All-ACC) and guard Tyler Shatley. How will this group look in 2014? Ryan Norton started all 13 games at center last season and should anchor that position once again. However, the questions begin outside of Norton. Can Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony win the starting tackle spots this spring? Or will Swinney have to take an extended look at Kalon Davis there? At guard, David Beasley will have to earn his starting spot with Davis and Eric Mac Lain slightly ahead on the depth chart as spring practice starts. Finding the right five on the offensive line could require some different combinations this spring. And establishing a starting five as soon as possible is crucial for Clemson to build cohesion in the trenches.

4. Building depth in the secondary: With Vic Beasley returning at end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive lines in the ACC next year. The linebacking corps is also set despite the loss of Spencer Shuey, as Stephone Anthony returns as a likely All-ACC performer, and Kellen Jones should be 100 percent in the fall after a knee injury limited him to three games in 2013. While the front seven is set, question marks litter the cornerback spot. Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins (out this spring) are the most-experienced options, but redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander is expected to play a significant role in the pass defense in 2014. Coordinator Brent Venables will likely call on redshirt freshmen Adrian Baker and Marcus Edmond, along with sophomore Cordrea Tankersley to fill out the depth at cornerback. With a matchup against Georgia to open the year, this unit will be tested from the opening snap.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10

There's no doubt Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be missed. However, Clemson’s offense should score plenty of points with Morris calling the plays, while Watson’s improvement will be one of the top spring storylines in the ACC. With road games at Georgia and Florida State in September, the Tigers will be tested early. A 1-2 start is likely, but the schedule lightens up after the first month, with a Nov. 29 showdown against South Carolina perhaps the only other game Clemson won’t be favored to win. The Tigers should be picked No. 2 in the Atlantic Division behind Florida State this year, but Clemson is a top 25 team in 2014.

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Coming off a successful 12-2 season and an appearance in the SEC title game, Missouri has extended Gary Pinkel’s contract.

Pinkel will receive a raise to $3.1 million a season, and his pool for assistant coach salaries has been increased. Pinkel's contract will run through 2020, which includes a $450,000 bonus if Missouri wins the national championship.

In 13 years at Missouri, Pinkel is 102-63 and has only one losing season since 2005.

 

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Gary Pinkel Signs Extension at Missouri
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After a 24-0 record to Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes closed 2013 on a two-game losing streak. Despite the sour end to last year, Ohio State is still in great shape. Meyer continues to reel in elite talent, and quarterback Braxton Miller turned down the NFL for one more season in Columbus.

With Miller back on campus, Ohio State’s offense will be one of the best in the nation. Running back Carlos Hyde will be missed, but Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson should be a potent one-two combination. The biggest question mark on offense is a line that returns just one starter. Meyer is still searching for the right combination on defense after finishing seventh in the Big Ten in yards allowed in 2013. Chris Ash was hired to coordinate the defense with Luke Fickell, while Larry Johnson Sr. comes to Ohio State from Penn State to coach the defensive line.

The Big Ten East Division is shaping up to be a battle between Ohio State and Michigan State for the top spot. Will the Buckeyes take the next step under Meyer and win the Big Ten title in 2014?

Ohio State Buckeyes 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 12-2 (8-0)

Spring Practice Opens: March 4

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

Four Things to Watch in Ohio State’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30(Baltimore)
Sept. 6
Sept. 13
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29

1. The backup quarterbacks: When healthy, there’s no debate Braxton Miller is Ohio State’s No. 1 quarterback. But the senior will miss spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery, leaving Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, Stephen Collier and Luke Morgan as the options vying for the backup role. There’s not much experience in that foursome, as Morgan is an invited walk-on, Collier is a true freshman that enrolled in time to compete in spring practice, Barrett was the No. 137 prospect in the 247Sports Composite last year and Jones played in three games last season and attempted two passes. Jones and Barrett are working as the top two quarterbacks in spring practice, and it’s important both passers get comfortable with the first-team offense. Miller should be 100 percent in fall practice, but after he accumulated 171 rushing attempts last year, the Buckeyes need to have their backup prepared. This is a big spring for Barrett and Jones to prove they are capable of leading the offense should Miller miss any snaps in 2014.

2. Figuring out the supporting cast: The running back and receiving corps aren’t positions of weakness, but Meyer needs to sort out his options in both units. At running back, Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson are slated to replace Carlos Hyde. Elliott may not match Hyde’s 1,521 yards from last season, but he should receive the bulk of the attempts. Wilson is suited for an all-purpose role, and coordinator Tom Herman needs to get the ball to him more in 2014. The Buckeyes also have Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn fighting for carries. Can Herman and Meyer develop a pecking order here? At receiver, the Buckeyes are still searching for the right mix. Corey Brown is gone after leading the team with 63 receptions last season, leaving Devin Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman as the top options. Evan Spencer is also in the mix after catching 26 passes last year. There’s no shortage of talent here, including Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas, talented incoming freshman Johnnie Dixon, Corey Smith, Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Greene and James Clark. Which players will emerge as starters or potential go-to options for Miller? With backup quarterbacks taking reps this spring, it may be tough to get a read on this group.

3. Rebuilding the offensive line: The Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation last year. Fast forward to 2014 and this group is facing a rebuilding project. Taylor Decker is the only returning starter from last season and will likely flip from right tackle to the left side. Pat Elflein made one start in 2013 and is penciled in at one of the guard spots. The other three positions are up for grabs. Redshirt freshman Billy Price and Jacoby Boren appear set to battle to start at center, while Darryl Baldwin could be the answer at right tackle if he holds off talented redshirt freshman Evan Lisle. Helping Elflein at guard could be a couple of different names, potentially converted defensive lineman Joel Hale. Replacing four starters in the trenches is no easy task. How long will it take this unit to find the right mix?

4. Fixing the defense: No, the defense wasn’t completely awful last year. However, it wasn’t quite up to the standard most expect in Columbus. Despite having a first-team All-Big Ten cornerback in Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes ranked 83rd nationally in pass efficiency defense and allowed 20 passing scores (conference-only games). The back seven should receive most of the attention in the spring, as the line could be the best in the nation in 2014. Ryan Shazier’s early departure to the NFL added to the uncertainty at linebacker. Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are back as returning starters, while redshirt freshman Darron Lee opened spring with the No. 1 unit. The name to watch at linebacker is true freshman Raekwon McMillan – the No. 22 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. In the secondary, the coaching staff is counting on Doran Grant to take his game to the next level after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year. Cam Burrows shifted from cornerback to safety and should be a major contributor there in 2014. Plenty of question marks litter the back seven. However, there’s no shortage of talent at the coaching staff’s disposal.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 10-12

Take a look at Ohio State’s schedule. See many losses there? The Buckeyes will miss production from Shazier and Roby on defense, but there’s enough talent to figure things out as the season progresses. As long as Miller stays healthy, Ohio State can simply outscore every team on its schedule – with one exception. The Nov. 8 road date at Michigan State is a revenge game for the Buckeyes and a matchup that should decide the East Division. If Ohio State wins at Michigan State and takes the Big Ten Championship, this team should be in college football’s playoff.

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The ACC Coastal has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in college football over the last couple of seasons. Miami was expected to be a consistent conference title contender when it joined the ACC, but the Hurricanes have yet to play in the championship game. Expect much of the same from the Coastal in 2014, as Miami, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh are all expected to contend for the division title.

Al Golden came to Miami after resurrecting Temple from college football’s cellar to a bowl team in 2009. However, the results have been harder to come by in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are just 13-11 in ACC play over the last three seasons, and all four of their losses came by at least 18 points.

Golden has recruited talent to Coral Gables, but now it’s time for the Hurricanes to take the next step and win the Coastal Division.

Miami Hurricanes 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 1

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

Five Things to Watch in Miami’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Sept. 1at 
Sept. 6Florida A&M
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 23at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 15
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 29

1. The quarterback battle: Stephen Morris earned third-team All-ACC honors last season and finished with 3,028 yards and 21 scores. Although losing a proven quarterback is never a good thing, Morris was inconsistent at times and the Hurricanes have four intriguing options vying for time this spring. Ryan Williams has played in nine games since transferring to Miami and threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns in a backup role last year. He enters spring as the frontrunner, but sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and true freshman Brad Kaaya are in the mix. Kaaya won’t arrive until the summer, so he will have some ground to make up in the fall. Olsen ranked as the No. 6 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class and spent last season learning the ropes behind Morris. While the winner of this job needs to have a good year to propel Miami into Coastal Division contention, there is a strong supporting cast in place to ease their transition into the starting lineup.

2. Replacing two starters on the offensive line: With Ereck Flowers, Shane McDermott and Jon Feliciano returning, Miami should have one of the top offensive lines in the ACC next year. However, there are two vacancies to fill in the spring. Guard Brandon Linder departed after earning second-team All-ACC honors last season, while tackle Seantrel Henderson expired his eligibility after 2013. This unit’s depth took a hit when Malcolm Bunche decided to transfer to UCLA. Can line coach Art Kehoe find the right answers this spring? Incoming freshman KC McDermott could be an answer at one spot, while redshirt freshman Sunny Odogwu is another name to watch in preseason workouts. Sophomores Danny Isidora and Taylor Gadbois gained experience last season and will push for starting jobs in the spring. Trevor Darling will enroll early this spring and should provide valuable depth this spring.

3. Who steps up at running back?: In the fall, this position won’t be a concern for Miami. Duke Johnson is sidelined this spring due to a leg injury, while touted freshman Joseph Yearby is also out. Dallas Crawford finished second on the team with 558 yards last season but is expected to move to defensive back. With Crawford playing defense, Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker are the top two options at running back. This position isn’t necessarily a concern, but the spring is a good opportunity for Edwards and Tucker to get comfortable working with the No. 1 offense in case Johnson or Yearby is sidelined during the year.

4. Fixing the defense: It’s a large storyline, but the defense has several issues and it’s easier to group them into one. Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is under fire for the performance of the defense over the last few years, as Miami finished 12th in the ACC (conference-only games) in points allowed in 2013. The Hurricanes also allowed 5.8 yards per play, which ranked 12th in the conference. That’s the bad news. The good news for D’Onofrio? Seven starters are back, including likely All-ACC selections in end Anthony Chickillo, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Tracy Howard. The depth seems to have improved thanks to recruiting, so there is hope for some growth by the defense in 2014. The additions of Calvin Heurtelou and Michael Wyche from the junior college ranks will bolster the available bodies on the line, and a full season from safety Deon Bush should help the secondary. Getting results on third down also has to be a priority for D’Onofrio. The Hurricanes were 90th nationally on third down conversions, which ranked last in the ACC. Another problem for Miami was the pass rush. After registering only 12 sacks in conference games, the Hurricanes have to push that number closer to 20 in 2014. Is the biggest problem with this unit experience or talent? Or is depth the biggest issue?

5. Finding a punter: Go ahead and laugh because we mentioned the punter. However, Pat O’Donnell was one of the best in the nation last year, averaging 47.1 yards per kick. Sophomore Aaron Martinez, redshirt freshman Grant Coffman and senior Ricky Carroll are the three options on the spring roster vying for time. Will Golden and this staff find the right answer to replace O’Donnell? 
 

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9

The Coastal Division is there for the taking for Miami. The Hurricanes have the pieces to win the Coastal, but a questionable defense and an uncertain quarterback situation could hold this team back in 2014. Golden has assembled the No. 2 roster in the ACC. Assuming running back Duke Johnson returns at full strength, and the defense shows slight improvement, Miami should be the favorite in this division. The schedule isn’t too taxing, but a non-conference date at Nebraska will be tough, and the Hurricanes won’t be favored to beat Florida State on Nov. 15. Miami has increased its win total in each of the last three years. Will that continue in 2014?

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Most college football fans generally consider Signing Day the official start of a new season, but spring practice is the first time all 128 FBS teams will hit the field in preparation for the upcoming year. Of course, it’s hard to glean much from spring practice. However, there’s excitement for every team as spring practice starts, especially at places like Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State where a national championship is within reach this season.

With spring practice underway across the nation, teams are looking to address a handful of issues, including finding new playmakers, answering questions at quarterback or filling voids in the trenches.

To preview spring practice, Athlon is taking a look at some of the top storylines to watch. As we mentioned above, it’s not guaranteed answers will be found, especially as the freshmen are slated to arrive this summer. However, there are plenty of question marks that could be answered by late April.

College Football's Top 25 Storylines for Spring Practice

Alabama

The quarterbacks:

AJ McCarron’s place among SEC quarterbacks, as well as his candidacy as it related to All-American recognition and the Heisman Trophy was heavily debated throughout his senior campaign. Regardless of where anyone thinks McCarron belongs in those discussions, no one can dispute that he threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his career (9,019) and finished with 74 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. So while McCarron may not have had the talent of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he was a key piece of Alabama’s success over the last three seasons. Now, a wide-open quarterback battle is set to begin this spring and will carry into the fall with the arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Blake Sims was listed as McCarron’s backup last season and has attempted 39 passes over the last two years. But Sims is considered a longshot to win the starting job, as Coker is considered the favorite to claim the top spot when he arrives this summer. Coker and Sims won’t be the only quarterbacks battling for time in the spring, as Parker McLeod, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell are set to stake their claim for the job. Cornwell was the No. 79 prospect in the 247Sports Composite but is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the fall. While Coker is considered the favorite, can Sims or one of the other quarterbacks make a strong push for the No. 1 spot before fall practice? Or will Alabama head into the fall with a wide-open quarterback derby once again?

Florida State

Restocking at defensive tackle:

With 13 starters returning, the Seminoles are in good shape to defend their national championship. Repeating as college football’s national champion won’t be easy, but Florida State has no shortage of talent waiting to step onto the field. New coordinator Charles Kelly should ensure there’s little drop in production on defense, but there’s a big concern at defensive tackle. Timmy Jernigan was one of the nation’s best last season, and he bolted early for the NFL. Additionally, Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister expired their eligibility. With Jernigan, McDaniel and McAllister gone, the depth is thin at tackle. Nile Lawrence-Stample is the top returner on the interior, with Desmond Hollin, Justin Shanks, Eddie Goldman and Keith Bryant battling for snaps this spring. The Seminoles will add more talent to the mix in the fall when Adam Torres, Arthur Williams, Derrick Nnadi, Fredrick Jones and Demarcus Christmas arrive for their freshman season. Not all of the incoming freshmen will compete for time, but some could be needed for depth in 2014. Finding answers at defensive tackle is even more critical when you consider the losses at linebacker (Telvin Smith and Christian Jones), along with active defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks.

Oklahoma

Can Trevor Knight build off his Sugar Bowl performance?:

With 16 starters returning, and momentum from the Sugar Bowl win against Alabama in place, Oklahoma is considered a slight favorite over Baylor for the Big 12 title in 2014. The Sooners return most of their core from last season, and Knight’s performance in the bowl has provided plenty of optimism that Oklahoma is ready to contend for a playoff spot. Knight gashed Alabama’s defense for 348 yards and four touchdowns – easily his best performance of 2013. Should we expect to see similar numbers in 2014? Or was that just an aberration? With Blake Bell moving to tight end, it’s clear Knight has the starting job. Now it’s time for the sophomore to take the next step in his development, which will be a challenge with Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester gone at receiver.

Notre Dame

The return of Everett Golson

After guiding the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the national championship as a redshirt freshman, Golson missed all of 2013 due to academic issues. With Tommy Rees expiring his eligibility, Golson’s return comes at the perfect time for Notre Dame. And even though he was away from college football for the fall semester, Golson didn’t necessarily sit on the sidelines. Instead, he worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield. Golson drew praise from coach Brian Kelly this spring for his increased awareness in the offense. Golson is clearly an upgrade at quarterback over Rees, and Kelly needs to get him acclimated to the offense and his supporting cast this spring. If Golson continues to improve, Notre Dame’s offense will help alleviate some of the concerns on defense from losing a couple of key players, including end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III.

Ohio State

Starting over on the offensive line:

Going into the 2013 season, the Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation. What a difference a year makes. Ohio State is essentially starting over in the trenches with only one starter returning as the team is set to open spring practice on March 4. The list of departed players is heavy on all-conference performers, with center Corey Linsley, guard Andrew Norwell and tackle Jack Mewhort all taking home first-team honors last year. Guard Marcus Hall didn’t earn a first or second-team mention, but he garnered an honorable mention spot for the all-conference team. Ohio State recruits as well as any team in the nation, so talent won’t be an issue. However, it may take some time for the line to jell and develop consistency. Taylor Decker is the unit’s only returning starter and is expected to shift from right to left tackle this spring. Replacing Decker on the right side could be senior Darryl Baldwin, and guard Pat Elflein should be a starter at one of the guard spots. But who replaces Linsley at center? Will that be Jacoby Boren? Could converted defensive lineman Joel Hale earn a spot? Ohio State should have a spot among the top-10 teams in the nation in 2014. However, the Buckeyes won’t finish ahead of Michigan State in their division unless the line quickly emerges as a strength.

Baylor

First look at the new faces on defense:

An underrated part of Baylor’s Big 12 championship last season was the defense. The Bears held opponents to 4.8 yards per play in 2013 after allowing 6.3 in 2012. Coordinator Phil Bennett has a busy spring ahead if he wants his defense to improve off of those totals in 2014. Only four starters return from last year’s unit, and All-Big 12 performers in safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey and end Chris McAllister have expired their eligibility. Baylor’s recruiting has improved under Art Briles, and there’s talent waiting to step onto the field. Defensive end Shawn Oakman is a name to remember after recording 33 tackles last year, while help is also in the way in the form of three junior college transfers this spring. Will this unit continue to build off the improvement showcased last season? Or will all of the new faces create a transition year in 2014?

Florida

Starting over on offense:

After a 4-8 mark last season, Will Muschamp enters 2014 on the hot seat. The Gators’ defense held up their end of the bargain last year, as they allowed just 308.6 yards per game. But the offense was simply dreadful. It’s hard to find many positives on this unit after 2013, as Florida barely averaged over 300 yards per game in SEC action (312.5) and managed just 4.7 yards per play. Muschamp fired coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis and brought Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays, while former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers will coach the line. The staff moves were clearly necessary, and Muschamp appears to have made the right hires. But the bigger problem for the Gators is with the personnel. Is quarterback Jeff Driskel ready to take the next step in his development? Or will incoming freshman Will Grier push for the job? At running back, Kelvin Taylor is a future star. However, the offensive line is a concern. The Gators still lack proven options at receiver, but Andre Debose is back in the mix after missing all of last season with a knee injury. There’s no question Florida should be solid on defense next year. But Muschamp’s future in Gainesville will hinge on how far the offense develops this offseason.

Oregon

Concerns at defensive tackle:

With quarterback Marcus Mariota and eight other starters returning on offense, the Ducks will be one of the Pac-12’s most prolific offenses once again in 2014. However, the defense – which has been underrated nationally at times – enters spring with question marks. New coordinator Don Pellum will be replacing veteran Nick Aliotti as the Ducks’ play-caller on defense, and five starters return from a unit that held opponents to 4.9 yards per play last year. This will be Pellum’s first opportunity to coordinate the defense, but he is familiar with the personnel and keeps continuity in place for Oregon. Pellum’s biggest concern is on the line, where the Ducks must replace Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli. Alex Balducci was listed as Keliikipi’s backup last season, and he should take on a major role in the line in 2014. Outside of Balducci, the Ducks need more from Sam Kamp at the position, and there could be some shuffling of bodies this spring to anchor the interior. Arik Armstead, Stetzon Bair and DeForest Buckner have the size to play tackle and should see plenty of snaps in 2014. Another name to watch is junior college recruit Tui Talia. Where will he factor into the mix? If Oregon finds the right mix up front, this team will be in the mix for a playoff spot in Helfrich’s second season in Eugene.

Auburn

Finding the right answers on defense:

When you first glance at the stat sheet from 2013, the numbers aren’t pretty for Auburn. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards and 29.6 points per game through nine SEC contests. However, a deeper look at the numbers suggests this defense made stops when it had to. Auburn led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions allowed and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. Timely stops are a good sign, but the Tigers still need to be better on this side of the ball in 2014. Thanks to outstanding 2014 recruiting class, Auburn has improved its depth and talent on this side of the ball. But there are holes to fill with end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, linebacker Jake Holland, cornerback Chris Davis and safeties Ryan White and Ryan Smith expiring their eligibility. Ford and Eguae will be missed on the line, but there appears to be a wave of new standout linemen waiting in the wings with Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel set to play major snaps in 2014. At linebacker, Kris Frost is poised for a big season after finishing 2013 with seven tackles in the national championship game against Florida State. The secondary can lean on Jonathon Mincy at cornerback and Jermaine Whitehead at safety. But more depth is needed in the defensive backfield, which could open the door for junior college recruit Derrick Moncrief to play right away at safety. Ellis Johnson is one of the SEC’s top defensive coordinators, and the veteran assistant will be busy this spring as he looks to keep Auburn’s defense on a positive trajectory.

Texas A&M

Finding answers on defense:

There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers in a positive way on defense for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with quarterback Johnny Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game again. Considering the offense is expected to slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth (much like this unit had in 2013) in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. Claiborne and Golden were suspended after an off-the-field incident in February. It’s uncertain how the arrest will affect either player heading into the upcoming season. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.

Georgia

Jeremy Pruitt’s first chance to work with the defense:

After one very successful year at Florida State, Pruitt left Tallahassee for a chance to call the defensive signals at Georgia. Pruitt is no stranger to the SEC, as he spent six seasons at Alabama prior to his one-year stint with the Seminoles. Even though Aaron Murray departs at quarterback, the Bulldogs are in good shape on offense with Todd Gurley returning at running back, along with new signal-caller Hutson Mason. But for Georgia to return to the SEC title game, it has to find some answers on defense. Youth was a factor in the struggles last season, with the Bulldogs allowing 31.8 points per game in SEC contests. With 10 starters back and another year for the young players to develop, Georgia’s defense is poised to make significant progress on the stat sheet. Now it’s up to Pruitt to take this defense to the next level. This spring is all about Pruitt putting his stamp on a defense and making the necessary changes after a disappointing effort last year.

Miami

Looking for improvement on defense:

Sure, there’s a quarterback battle set to take place in Coral Gables this spring, but most of the attention for the coaching staff should be on the defense. The Hurricanes ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense last season, which came one year after finishing last in the conference. The numbers weren’t pretty for Al Golden’s defense, which allowed 6.2 yards per play in ACC-only games and gave up 32.8 points per game in eight conference contests. For a team that has the No. 2 ranked roster in the ACC, the ongoing defensive struggles are a mystery. While the numbers from last year are ugly, there’s hope for improvement with seven starters returning, while another solid recruiting class will help with overall depth. Each level of the defense has a potential impact player, starting with Anthony Chickillo at defensive end, Denzel Perryman at linebacker and Tracy Howard at cornerback. But can coordinator Mark D’Onofrio develop or find more difference makers on defense this spring?

LSU

Starting over on offense:

The Tigers have been a model of consistency under Les Miles, winning at least 10 games in seven out of the last nine years. Even though LSU has played in only one BCS bowl in the last six seasons, this program is still one of the best in the SEC. After rebuilding a defense that featured only three returning starters last year, the focus for Miles turns to the offense. Six starters are back from a unit that made significant progress in 2013. First-year coordinator Cam Cameron helped the Tigers average over six yards per play for the first time since 2006. But Cameron will have his hands full this spring as LSU has to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, guard Trai Turner and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl with Mettenberger out due to a knee injury and completed 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards against the Hawkeyes. Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but true freshman Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig will have a chance to win the job. Top recruit Leonard Fournette should be the answer at running back, and the New Orleans native will have no trouble finding running room behind one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. Outside of finding a new starting quarterback, replacing Landry and Beckham is the top spring priority for Miles. Last season, Landry and Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 receptions. There’s not much in the way of proven talent at receiver, which opens the door for incoming recruit Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshman Avery Peterson to play significant snaps in 2014. This spring is LSU’s first opportunity to start the rebuilding effort on offense and reload for another run at the SEC title.

Washington

Filling voids at quarterback and running back:

Chris Petersen’s first spring as Washington’s head coach is already clouded with some mystery. Cyler Miles was expected to be the Huskies’ starting quarterback in 2014, but he was suspended after an off-the-field incident. It’s uncertain when Miles might return to the team, leaving sophomore Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman Troy Williams and incoming freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels as the three candidates vying for time this offseason. Carta-Samuels won’t arrive until the summer, so it’s Lindquist and Williams for the top two spots – for now. Bishop Sankey will be missed at running back, but there’s a handful of options ready to take the top spot on the depth chart. Dwayne Washington was impressive in limited time last season, and Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper have battled back from knee injuries to play a key role in the backfield. Will Washington emerge as the No. 1 back? Or will the Huskies use a committee approach? Petersen and coordinator Jonathan Smith will start to answer those questions when practice opens on March 4.

Arizona State

Rebuilding the defense:

It’s a good thing the Sun Devils return seven starters on offense this year. With only two starters returning on defense, Arizona State will be involved in plenty of shootouts in 2014. Of course, that’s easier to do when you return a quarterback like Taylor Kelly, as well as skill players in the form of running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. But coach Todd Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will have their hands full rebuilding a defense that ranked fifth in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) in points allowed (26.9 ppg). The list of departures is heavy, starting with defensive linemen Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Will Sutton, continuing into the linebacking corps with Carl Bradford and Chris Young, while the secondary loses cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor, and safety Alden Darby must be replaced. Each level of the defense needs to be retooled, and Graham dipped into the junior college ranks for immediate help. Linemen Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey should factor into the mix right away, and linebacker Darrius Caldwell and cornerback Kweishi Brown will be expected to do the same. Expect the Sun Devils to find the right answers as the season progresses, but this defense will receive some extra attention from Graham and Patterson this spring with a ton of fresh faces stepping into new roles.

Michigan

Developing an offensive line:

Yes, Michigan needs more consistency from quarterback Devin Gardner, and the rushing attack has to give Gardner more help, but the biggest question mark for coach Brady Hoke this spring is clearly the offensive line. This unit struggled with consistency last season, and the Wolverines recorded just 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten action. Making matters worse is the line loses tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield - easily the top two players on the unit in 2013. There is talent returning in the trenches, as Michigan reeled in back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes from 2012-13. The entire starting five is up for grabs. It’s time for players like Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch to emerge as the leaders for the offensive line.

North Carolina

Replacements on the offensive line:

The top spot in the Coastal Division is expected to be up for grabs once again next year. The Tar Heels finished 2013 by winning six out of their final seven games, and with seven starters back on both sides of the ball, Larry Fedora’s team is positioned for a run at the division title. Marquise Williams will have to compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, but the promising junior is expected to win the No. 1 spot. The Tar Heels are loaded with talent at the skill positions, including receiver Quinshad Davis and running back T.J. Logan. If there’s a concern on offense, it’s a line that loses two standout players in left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine. Guards Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner and tackle Jon Heck provide a solid foundation, but left tackle and center are arguably the two most-important positions on the line. Can Fedora and new coordinator Seth Littrell find answers in the spring? One name to watch is incoming freshman Bentley Spain – the No. 115 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – who enrolled early to compete this spring.

Missouri

New faces on defense:

The defending SEC East champs return only nine starters from last year’s team. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, and Missouri still has enough talent to challenge for the division crown. New quarterback Maty Mauk was impressive last season, while the skill positions are set with Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy returning at running back, along with Dorial Green-Beckham and Bud Sasser at receiver. The offense will face a transition period, but there is little reason to be concerned about this unit. The defense figures to get the most attention from coach Gary Pinkel and coordinator Dave Steckel this spring. The Tigers are losing a handful of key players, including ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and cornerback E.J. Gaines. The line may not miss a beat assuming Markus Golden and Shane Ray continue to play at a high level. Replacing Gaines won’t be easy, but sophomores Aarion Penton (16 tackles) and John Gibson (14 tackles) played their share of snaps in 2013. Missouri may take a step back on defense next season with a handful of key performers departing. However, the drop-off may not be as great as some may suspect with a solid core of talent still in place in Columbia.

UCLA

Who replaces guard Xavier Su’a-Filo?:

Sacks allowed aren’t necessarily the best indicator of offensive line success or failure, but UCLA gave up 29 in nine Pac-12 contests last year. The Bruins also managed only 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Needless to say, there is room for this unit to improve. That task is complicated by the departure of guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL Draft. Jim Mora has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles over the last few seasons, and some of that youth got involved in the trenches last year, as Alex Redmond started all 13 games at guard, while Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch combined for 15 starts as true freshmen. With Redmond, Quessenberry and Benenoch having another offseason to work with the coaching staff and weight room, this trio should be even better in 2014. UCLA’s line will be bolstered by the addition of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and four-star recruit Kolton Miller in this year’s signing class. Replacing Su’a-Filo is no easy assignment, and he was one of the top guards in the nation last year. Kenny Lacy was listed as the backup at guard last season, but the coaching staff could shuffle some players around this spring. Keeping quarterback Brett Hundley healthy is priority No. 1 for UCLA in 2014. Finding a replacement for Su’a-Filo and the right mix on the line will go a long way to keeping Hundley in the mix to win the Heisman.

Texas

Finding answers on offense:

In what seems to be an ongoing question mark, the Longhorns enter spring practice looking for answers on offense. Texas has not ranked higher than sixth in the Big 12 in scoring in each of the last four years and averaged only 5.1 yards per play in conference action in 2013. New coach Charlie Strong and co-offensive coordinators Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline will be looking for solutions this spring, starting under center where David Ash returns after missing most of last year with a concussion. Ash will face competition from Tyrone Swoopes this spring, while touted freshman Jerrod Heard arrives this summer. In addition to finding a quarterback, Texas has to replace three starters on the line, while receiver Mike Davis departs after averaging 14.3 yards per catch last season. Wickline has a strong track record of developing offensive linemen, and with a strong backfield returning, Texas can lean on the ground until the passing attack stabilizes. However, for the Longhorns to be a factor in the Big 12 title picture, a quarterback needs to step up before the season opener.

South Carolina

Rebuilding the defensive line:

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and line coach Deke Adams will have their hands full this spring. The Gamecocks lose three key performers from last year’s defensive line, including ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Clowney and Quarles were both first-team All-SEC selections, and Sutton registered three sacks last season. South Carolina isn’t hurting for options in the trenches, but it’s hard to replace the talent that Clowney, Sutton and Quarles are taking to the NFL. Darius English has flashed potential in a backup role over the last two years and was listed as the backup to Clowney in 2013. Gerald Dixon and Mason Harris are slated to battle to replace Sutton, while J.T. Surratt will anchor the middle with Quarles departing. Other names to watch include Gerald Dixon Jr. and Kelsey Griffin at tackle, along with incoming junior college recruit Jhaustin Thomas. Dante Sawyer was expected to push for time in the fall, but the Georgia product will instead go to junior college. As we mentioned earlier, there’s certainly talent and potential here. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the same caliber of play of last year’s group. With matchups against Texas A&M and Georgia in the first few weeks of the season next year, this defensive line will be tested early in 2014.

Louisville

Adjusting to the new 3-4 defense:

Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is no easy task, but Will Gardner has potential and played well in limited action last year. While the quarterback situation is something to watch, Bobby Petrino should push the right buttons on offense. With Petrino back on the sidelines in Louisville, the focus of spring practice should shift to the defense. The Cardinals led the nation against the run last season and finished second in points allowed. However, only four starters return from last year’s unit, and there’s a transition period as new coordinator Todd Grantham shifts the personnel to a 3-4 scheme. Lorenzo Mauldin is expected to be an All-ACC performer, and the senior will move from end to linebacker this spring. Other personnel moves are anticipated, especially as Louisville looks for replacements at safety with the departure of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare on defense, but it may take some time for the players to adjust to a new 3-4 approach.

Wisconsin

Improving the passing attack:

The Badgers lose several key pieces from the defense, but the passing offense is expected to receive the most attention from coach Gary Andersen this spring. In eight Big Ten games last year, Wisconsin averaged only 201.9 yards per game and tossed nine picks to just 13 touchdowns. Joel Stave started all 13 games last season, but he will face competition from Tanner McEvoy, who is slated to return under center after spending time at safety in 2013. In addition to McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins are expected to get an extended look under center in the preseason. The Badgers’ passing concerns don’t stop at quarterback. Receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen have expired their eligibility, leaving the cupboard a little thin in proven options in the receiving corps. This spring presents a huge opportunity for players like Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright to make an impression at receiver.

Arizona

New starters at quarterback and running back:

Considering Rich Rodriguez’s track record of developing quarterbacks and finding standouts at running back, there’s not too much concern in Tucson over the new faces stepping in on offense. Quarterback B.J. Denker departs after recording 3,465 total yards last season, while running back Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL after another standout year. There’s no clear answer at either position as spring practice opens on March 3 for the Wildcats. At quarterback, Texas transfer Connor Brewer, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and junior college transfers Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall are considered the frontrunners to replace Denker. The picture remains muddy at running back, as Jared Baker (127 yards) is the top statistical returner, but redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green, Myles Smith and true freshmen Jonathan Haden and Nick Wilson will all have a chance to compete for carries. Baker is recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected to participate in spring practice. Cormier is a slight favorite to handle the bulk of the carries in 2014, but the Wildcats could use a committee approach. Can Rodriguez and his staff narrow the competition or find a starter at both positions this spring?

Virginia Tech

Finding a spark on offense:

The final numbers for Virginia Tech’s offense weren’t pretty last season. The Hokies finished 13th in the ACC in total offense and averaged just five yards per play. Under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech managed just 28 points in its final two games and scored under 20 points seven times in 2013. This unit enters spring practice with a myriad of question marks, starting under center where Logan Thomas expired his eligibility after the Sun Bowl loss to UCLA. Mark Leal is the favorite to replace Thomas, but he has just 48 pass attempts in his career. Leal needs to prove he has control of the No. 1 spot this spring, while Loeffler has to provide the senior with more help in the supporting cast. The Hokies averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season, while inconsistency was a concern in the receiving corps and on the offensive line. Virginia Tech will be fine on defense, but it’s hard to see improvement off last year’s 8-5 mark without significant growth on offense.

Teaser:
25 College Football Spring Storylines to Watch for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-suspends-four-players-2014-opener-against-georgia
Body:

Clemson and Georgia are set to meet in the season opener for both teams next season (Aug. 30), but the Tigers will be shorthanded for the meeting in Athens.

Coach Dabo Swinney announced in his pre-spring press conference four players are suspended for that game due to a violation of team rules. Guard David Beasley, tackle Shaq Anthony, cornerback Garry Peters and defensive end Corey Crawford will all miss the non-conference matchup against Georgia.

And these aren’t minor losses for Clemson. Peters recorded 28 tackles last season, Anthony and Beasley combined for 11 starts on the offensive line, while Crawford registered 52 tackles and three sacks in 2013.

While the suspensions are bad news for Swinney and the Tigers, this team has all offseason to prepare for that game without the four players.
 

Teaser:
Clemson Suspends Four Players for 2014 Opener Against Georgia
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 16:25
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, College Football, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/arizona-coach-rich-rodriguez-uses-speed-mock-rule-proposal
Body:

A rule proposal limiting how fast offenses can snap the ball has received plenty of criticism from coaches. Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez has been one of the outspoken coaches against the rule, which forces teams to wait 10 seconds on the play clock before they can snap the ball.

And recently, Rodriguez and the Arizona staff took to the video world to continue their criticism of the potential rule change. Check out this video, which features some clips from the movie Speed (we hope you didn’t watch Speed 2 though), as well as Rodriguez getting his point across about the 10-second rule.

Teaser:
Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez Uses Speed to Mock Rule Proposal
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 15:59
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

West Virginia’s entrance to the Big 12 hasn’t gone according to plan. The Mountaineers started 5-0 in 2012 and seemed to have all of the momentum on their side. But since that 5-0 start, Dana Holgorsen’s team is just 6-14 in its last 20 games. Holgorsen is starting to feel a little heat, and a schedule that features non-conference games against Alabama and Maryland, along with road trips to Oklahoma State and Texas won’t provide any breaks.

Despite the disappointing 4-8 mark last year, West Virginia has reasons for optimism entering 2014. Holgorsen’s offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, but will a quarterback emerge? On defense, improvement was noticeable last season. However, injuries wreaked havoc and forced the Mountaineers to dip deeper into the depth chart for replacements. The injuries hurt the starting lineup last year, but West Virginia has more depth and talent on defense entering 2014.

This is a crucial spring for Holgorsen. West Virginia was a few plays away from getting to a bowl last year. Can the Mountaineers find the right solutions as they enter their third season of Big 12 action?

West Virginia Mountaineers 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 4-8 (2-7)

Spring Practice Opens: March 2

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 7

Five Things to Watch in West Virginia’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30 (Atlanta)
Sept. 6Towson
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 20
Nov. 29at 

1. The quarterbacks: Considering Dana Holgorsen’s background, it was surprising to see West Virginia’s offense ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in points scored last season. The Mountaineers averaged 26.3 points per game and 5.5 yards per play in 2013, which isn’t awful, but certainly not up to the level most expected from this unit. Three quarterbacks received snaps last year, and Holgorsen enters spring practice with plenty of uncertainty. Clint Trickett led the team with 1,605 passing yards, but he will miss spring practice due to shoulder surgery. Ford Childress transferred, leaving Paul Millard (1,122 yards, 6 TDs) and junior college recruit Skyler Howard as the frontrunners for the starting job. Incoming freshman William Crest could work his way into the mix in the fall. Can Millard seize the job with Trickett sidelined? Or will Howard make an impression? Junior college recruits are hit or miss, so it’s not guaranteed that Howard can make an immediate impact. If West Virginia finds stability here, the offense will easily improve on last year’s numbers.

2. Developing a pecking order at running back: Holgorsen would prefer his offense to lean on the pass, but West Virginia has one of the deepest backfields in the Big 12. Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell is an intriguing option after sitting out last year due to NCAA rules. Shell rushed for 641 yards with the Panthers in 2012. Dreamius Smith rushed for 494 yards and five touchdowns last season and opened spring practice at No. 1 on the depth chart. Wendell Smallwood and Dustin Garrison are back after combining for 240 yards in 2013, while Andrew Buie rejoins the team after a year absence. There’s no shortage of options here. Will Shell emerge as the go-to back? Or will Smith and Shell end up sharing carries?

3. Breaking in three new starters on the line: Neither of the above storylines will have much of an impact on the 2014 season if West Virginia struggles to find replacements for three starters on the line. Tackles Nick Kindler and Curtis Feight and center Pat Eger have expired their eligibility, leaving guard Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski as the only returning starters. Spain and Glowinski should be a solid pairing at guard, but can the Mountaineers find some clarity at the other positions? Tyler Orlosky is the early frontrunner at center after starting three games last season. Sophomore Adam Pankey opened spring practice holding the No. 1 spot at left tackle, while junior Marquis Lucas is slated to start at right tackle. However, Holgorsen added competition from the recruiting trail in the form of junior college recruits Justin Scott and Sylvester Townes, and redshirts Marcell Lazard and Tyler Tezeno will factor into the mix. There’s plenty of competition and options here for line coach Ron Crook. Can he exit spring feeling confident about the three vacated positions from 2013?

4. Coaching staff tweaks on defense: The Mountaineers were hit with a surprising departure in early February when defensive coordinator Keith Patterson bolted Morgantown for Arizona State. Holgorsen had to act quickly to replace Patterson with spring practice approaching, and long-time assistant Tony Gibson will call the plays in 2014. Gibson is known as an excellent recruiter but has never been a defensive coordinator. Damon Cogdell was hired to coach the defensive line from Miramar High School, but the key addition on Holgorsen’s staff was former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley. With Gibson calling the defensive signals for the first time, having a veteran like Bradley will help with developing the gameplan, as well as making in-game adjustments.

5. Finding replacements on the defensive line: Each unit on West Virginia’s defense has holes to fill, but the line needs to replace end Will Clarke and nose tackle Shaq Rowell. Clarke was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last year, while Rowell recorded 47 tackles and was a key cog as the team’s 3-4 nose tackle position. Sophomore Christian Brown played in four games due to injuries in 2013 and is slated to replace Rowell at nose tackle. Kyle Rose should be one of the leaders up front as he started 11 games last season and recorded 49 tackles. Senior Dontrill Hyman opened spring practice as the No. 1 end opposite of Rose, but West Virginia needs to find more depth here. Freshman Davonte James is a name to watch this spring, while redshirt freshman Jon Lewis and sophomore Noble Nwachukwu will be looking to carve out a bigger role in the line rotation this year. Cogdell’s first spring in Morgantown will be busy with an unsettled depth chart in the trenches.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7

If you trust recruiting rankings, West Virginia has the No. 6 roster in the Big 12 for 2014. So while the roster may have some inexperience, there is some talent available for Holgorsen and his staff. Going 4-8 is always going to put a coach on the hot seat, but Holgorsen deserves some time to navigate West Virginia through the conference transition. On the surface, four wins last year was a significant disappointment. However, the Mountaineers lost in overtime to Texas and Iowa State. A couple of breaks in a different direction and West Virginia is 6-6 and playing in a bowl. Improvement should be noticeable in 2014. But a non-conference schedule featuring games against Alabama and Maryland doesn’t allow any margin for error.

Teaser:
West Virginia Mountaineers 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 11:15
Path: /college-football/former-texas-tech-qb-michael-brewer-transfers-virginia-tech
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Former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has decided to transfer to Virginia Tech. The news was announced on Sunday, as Brewer announced his intention to transfer after the 2013 season and he will be eligible to play in 2014.

Brewer was expected to be Texas Tech’s starting quarterback in 2013, but a back injury sidelined him for most of the year.

In four appearances, Brewer threw for 65 yards and one touchdown on seven completions.

In two years with the Red Raiders, Brewer threw for 440 yards and five scores and completed 70.7 percent of his passes.

Mark Leal is considered the favorite to start at Virginia Tech this year, but he has only 48 career pass attempts. Brewer won’t arrive in Blacksburg until this summer. However, Brewer should have a chance to win the starting job in the fall.

Considering the lack of experience among returning Virginia Tech quarterbacks, landing Brewer could pay off for the Hokies in 2014.
 

Teaser:
Former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer Transfers to Virginia Tech
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/new-helmet-design-coming-southern-miss
Body:

Southern Miss hasn’t had much success on the field over the last few years, but the program seems to be trending in the right direction under Todd Monken.

The Golden Eagles have released a few uniform tweaks over the last few years, and a new helmet design could be on the way for 2014.

In the picture below, Southern Miss’ equipment department tweeted out a new design for the school’s helmets for 2014.

If the Golden Eagles shift to this design, it’s a solid look for the helmet with the chrome additions.
 

Teaser:
New Helmet Design Coming for Southern Miss?
Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 08:45
Path: /college-football/pac-12-2014-spring-preview-and-storylines
Body:

The SEC is college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has narrowed the gap in recent years. And this conference will play a key role in shaping college football’s new playoff format, as Oregon, Stanford and UCLA are considered by many to be top-10 teams in 2014.

The North Division is shaping up to be another battle between Oregon and Stanford for the No. 1 spot. The Ducks return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, the defense is a concern with the personnel losses at tackle. The Cardinal return quarterback Kevin Hogan and a solid receiving corps, but the offensive line and defense will be under the spotlight in spring practice with new faces stepping into starting roles.

In the South Division, UCLA is the early frontrunner. Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down the NFL for another season in Los Angeles, and sophomore linebacker/running back Myles Jack is one of the nation’s most intriguing players for 2014.

But UCLA will be pushed by USC and Arizona State this year, provided both teams answer a couple of key questions in offseason workouts. The Sun Devils need to reload on defense, while the Trojans need to restock on the defensive line and find a replacement for Marqise Lee at receiver.

Arizona is the wildcard team to watch in the South, especially if coach Rich Rodriguez can find a quarterback and a replacement for running back Ka’Deem Carey this spring.

 Seniors DepartingEarly NFL Draft DeparturesReturning Starters: OffenseReturning Starters: Defense
Arizona18166
Arizona State27172
California13564
Colorado15177
Oregon20295
Oregon State17276
Stanford14247
UCLA14178
USC20568
Utah19165
Washington14277
Washington State19076

North Division Spring Outlook

California

Art Kaufman’s chance to fix the defense

The final numbers for California’s defense last year were simply dreadful. The Golden Bears allowed 529.6 yards per game and allowed 45.9 points per contest. After the season, Sonny Dykes made staff changes, hiring former Cincinnati coordinator Art Kaufman to call the defensive signals, while Greg Burns was brought aboard to tutor defensive backs. There’s simply no way California can be any worse on defense in 2014. The changes on the staff will make a huge difference for the Golden Bears, along with the return of a couple of key players from injury. End Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil are back after missing 2013 with injury, while defensive backs Stefan McClure and Alex Logan missed significant time last year. This unit does lose a few key players from last season’s group, but the depth and overall talent level should be improved. The Golden Bears are also bringing in a handful of junior college prospects, including linebacker Sam Atoe, cornerback Darius White, tackle David Davis and end Jonathan Johnson. Improvement should be noticeable for California this year. And this spring is Kaufman’s first opportunity to put his stamp on the Golden Bears’ defense in 2014.

Oregon

Concerns at defensive tackle:

With quarterback Marcus Mariota and eight other starters returning on offense, the Ducks will be one of the Pac-12’s most prolific offenses once again in 2014. However, the defense – which has been underrated nationally at times – enters spring with question marks. New coordinator Don Pellum will be replacing veteran Nick Aliotti as the Ducks’ play-caller on defense, and five starters return from a unit that held opponents to 4.9 yards per play last year. This will be Pellum’s first opportunity to coordinate the defense, but he is familiar with the personnel and keeps continuity in place for Oregon. Pellum’s biggest concern is on the line, where the Ducks must replace Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart and Ricky Heimuli. Alex Balducci was listed as Keliikipi’s backup last season, and he should take on a major role in the line in 2014. Outside of Balducci, the Ducks need more from Sam Kamp at the position, and there could be some shuffling of bodies this spring to anchor the interior. Arik Armstead, Stetzon Bair and DeForest Buckner have the size to play tackle and should see plenty of snaps in 2014. Another name to watch is junior college recruit Tui Talia. Where will he factor into the mix? If Oregon finds the right mix up front, this team will be in the mix for a playoff spot in Helfrich’s second season in Eugene.

Oregon State

New faces on the defensive line:

The Beavers have to find a replacement for receiver Brandin Cooks, but the defensive line is arguably the bigger concern for coach Mike Riley. This unit loses All-Pac-12 second-team end Scott Crichton, as well as tackles John Braun and Mana Rosa. Oregon State’s defensive line wasn’t exactly a strength last year either, as the Beavers allowed 190.3 rushing yards per game and registered only nine sacks in Pac-12 games. Where will the answers come from? Riley hopes junior college recruits Luke Hollingsworth and Kyle Peko are part of the solution, while Miami transfer Jalen Grimble is expected to factor on the interior. Juniors Lavonte Barnett, Akeem Gonzales and Jaswha James will likely battle for the open end spot opposite of Dylan Wynn. Defensive line coach Joe Seumalo and coordinator Mark Banker will have their hands full this spring as they try to shuffle the line around to find the best (and most productive) combination.

Stanford

Restocking the trenches:

The Cardinal expect quarterback Kevin Hogan to take another step in his development this spring, and coach David Shaw and coordinator Mike Bloomgren want to rely on their ground game to set the tone once again. But there’s a glaring issue on the offense. The line was hit hard by personnel losses, with guards David Yankey and Kevin Danser, tackle Cameron Fleming and center Khalil Wilkes all departing. That’s the bad news. The good news? Talent isn’t an issue. Left tackle Andrus Peat is a future All-American, and Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy are highly-touted prospects waiting for their chance to start. Graham Shuler is the frontrunner to replace Khalil Wilkes at center, while Johnny Caspers is likely to replace Danser at right guard. There’s no question Stanford has talent here. But how quickly can this line jell? Additionally, can this unit develop depth this spring?

Washington

Filling voids at quarterback and running back:

Chris Petersen’s first spring as Washington’s head coach is already clouded with some mystery. Cyler Miles was expected to be the Huskies’ starting quarterback in 2014, but he was suspended after an off-the-field incident. It’s uncertain when Miles might return to the team, leaving sophomore Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman Troy Williams and incoming freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels as the three candidates vying for time this offseason. Carta-Samuels won’t arrive until the summer, so it’s Lindquist and Williams for the top two spots – for now. Bishop Sankey will be missed at running back, but there’s a handful of options ready to take the top spot on the depth chart. Dwayne Washington was impressive in limited time last season, and Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper have battled back from knee injuries to play a key role in the backfield. Will Washington emerge as the No. 1 back? Or will the Huskies use a committee approach? Petersen and coordinator Jonathan Smith will start to answer those questions when practice opens on March 4.

Washington State

Replacing three starters on the offensive line:

The Cougars ended 2013 on a down note by losing in the New Mexico Bowl, but there was clear progress for this team in Mike Leach’s second year. As spring practice opens for Washington State in 2014, this team is poised for another step forward. But in order for Leach’s high-powered offense to work, the line will need some new faces to emerge. Center Elliott Bosch, tackle John Fullington and guard Matt Goetz all depart. The left side of the line appears to be set with tackle Gunnar Eklund and guard Joe Dahl returning after starting all 13 games last season. But will the Cougars find answers to the other three spots in the spring? Riley Sorenson was listed as Goetz’s backup at right guard last season, so he could have an inside track on that position. But at center and tackle, both backups also depart. Will the Cougars turn to a junior college recruit from last year’s class (Jacob Seydel) for one of the spots? With three spots up for grabs, this unit will be one to watch this spring in Pullman.

South Division Spring Outlook

Arizona

New starters at quarterback and running back:

Considering Rich Rodriguez’s track record of developing quarterbacks and finding standouts at running back, there’s not too much concern in Tucson over the new faces stepping in on offense. Quarterback B.J. Denker departs after recording 3,465 total yards last season, while running back Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL after another standout year. There’s no clear answer at either position as spring practice opens on March 3 for the Wildcats. At quarterback, Texas transfer Connor Brewer, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon and junior college transfers Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall are considered the frontrunners to replace Denker. The picture remains muddy at running back, as Jared Baker (127 yards) is the top statistical returner, but redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green, Myles Smith and true freshmen Jonathan Haden and Nick Wilson will all have a chance to compete for carries. Baker is recovering from a torn ACL and is not expected to participate in spring practice. Cormier is a slight favorite to handle the bulk of the carries in 2014, but the Wildcats could use a committee approach. Can Rodriguez and his staff narrow the competition or find a starter at both positions this spring?

Arizona State

Rebuilding the defense:

It’s a good thing the Sun Devils return seven starters on offense this year. With only two starters returning on defense, Arizona State will be involved in plenty of shootouts in 2014. Of course, that’s easier to do when you return a quarterback like Taylor Kelly, as well as skill players in the form of running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. But coach Todd Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will have their hands full rebuilding a defense that ranked fifth in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) in points allowed (26.9 ppg). The list of departures is heavy, starting with defensive linemen Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Will Sutton, continuing into the linebacking corps with Carl Bradford and Chris Young, while the secondary loses cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor, and safety Alden Darby must be replaced. Each level of the defense needs to be retooled, and Graham dipped into the junior college ranks for immediate help. Linemen Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey should factor into the mix right away, and linebacker Darrius Caldwell and cornerback Kweishi Brown will be expected to do the same. Expect the Sun Devils to find the right answers as the season progresses, but this defense will receive some extra attention from Graham and Patterson this spring with a ton of fresh faces stepping into new roles.

Colorado

Find a replacement for Paul Richardson:

Even though receiver Paul Richardson was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, he didn’t get enough credit nationally for his 2013 season. Richardson caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged a healthy 16.2 yards per reception. Nelson Spruce and D.D. Goodson were solid complement options, but it’s clear Richardson will be missed. Just how important was Richardson to the passing attack? He caught 10 of Colorado’s 21 touchdown passes and 83 of the Buffaloes’ 235 receptions. With Richardson departing, Spruce and Goodson need to take on a bigger role in the passing attack, while Tyler McCulloch is due for an increased presence after catching 14 passes in 2013. Devin Ross was a three-star recruit in 2013 and caught six passes for 24 yards in limited action. Expect Ross to be more involved, and the coaching staff is eager to get a look at incoming freshmen Shay Fields and Lee Walker. Colorado may not have a receiver equal Richardson’s numbers. However, there’s enough returning talent to give quarterback Sefo Liufau options in 2014.

UCLA

Who replaces guard Xavier Su’a-Filo?:

Sacks allowed aren’t necessarily the best indicator of offensive line success or failure, but UCLA gave up 29 in nine Pac-12 contests last year. The Bruins also managed only 3.9 yards per carry, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Needless to say, there is room for this unit to improve. That task is complicated by the departure of guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL Draft. Jim Mora has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles over the last few seasons, and some of that youth got involved in the trenches last year, as Alex Redmond started all 13 games at guard, while Scott Quessenberry and Caleb Benenoch combined for 15 starts as true freshmen. With Redmond, Quessenberry and Benenoch having another offseason to work with the coaching staff and weight room, this trio should be even better in 2014. UCLA’s line will be bolstered by the addition of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche and four-star recruit Kolton Miller in this year’s signing class. Replacing Su’a-Filo is no easy assignment, and he was one of the top guards in the nation last year. Kenny Lacy was listed as the backup at guard last season, but the coaching staff could shuffle some players around this spring. Keeping quarterback Brett Hundley healthy is priority No. 1 for UCLA in 2014. Finding a replacement for Su’a-Filo and the right mix on the line will go a long way to keeping Hundley in the mix to win the Heisman.

USC

New faces set to emerge on the offensive line:

New coach Steve Sarkisian is stepping into a good situation for his first spring in Los Angeles. The Trojans won six out of their final seven games and return 14 starters in 2014. Even though receiver Marqise Lee and a couple of defenders will be tough to replace, most of Sarkisian’s focus this spring should be on the line. The Trojans lost center Marcus Martin, tackle Kevin Graf and guard John Martinez, leaving three starters back for 2014. Left tackle Chad Wheeler, guard/tackle Max Tuerk and Aundrey Walker return, giving Sarkisian and line coach Tim Drevno a solid foundation to build around. But due to scholarship sanctions, depth remains a concern. Can Cyrus Hobbi claim the center spot vacated by Martin? Or will Drevno have to look for other solutions? Jordan Austin and Toa Lobendahn enrolled early to compete this spring, and touted freshmen Chris Brown, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao arrive in the fall. Will any of the recruits crack the lineup? If USC settles the line, it should have an explosive offense with the return of quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor.

Utah

Improvement on offense:

The Utes finished 2013 by averaging just 4.9 yards per play and ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in yards per game (364.9). To help jumpstart the offense, Kyle Whittingham hired former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to call the plays. Jim Harding also comes to Salt Lake City via Laramie to coach the offensive line, while former coordinator Dennis Erickson will shift to tutor the running backs. Christensen was a solid pickup as the team’s coordinator, but Utah has a lot of work to do on this side of the ball. The top priority is at quarterback, where Travis Wilson will participate in non-contact drills this spring after his football future was in doubt in November. Wilson’s status for the 2014 season is still in question, but it’s a good sign he is able to work with the team this spring. Assuming Wilson does return to the field in 2014, the Utes need more consistency out of their starting quarterback, but it will help to have Dres Anderson back at receiver, while three starters are back on the line. Christensen needs to develop a few more options for Wilson at receiver, along with securing the line and developing a pecking order at running back. This unit has plenty of room to improve after the 2013 season. With Christensen calling the plays, and Wilson back on the field, the Utes have a chance to take a step forward this spring.

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Texas A&M’s second go-around in the SEC wasn’t quite as prolific as its 11-2 record in 2012, but the Aggies still won nine games and finished No. 18 in the final Associated Press poll.

When building a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before taking a step forward. That could be the case at Texas A&M, especially with the program making significant facility upgrades and the monetary commitment to keep coach Kevin Sumlin in College Station.

Sumlin and his staff have recruited back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, so the future is bright for Texas A&M. However, replacing quarterback Johnny Manziel, left tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans is no easy task. And the Aggies still need to find answers for a defense that allowed 6.4 yards per play. With key personnel losses on offense, the defense has to improve if Texas A&M wants to match last year’s nine wins.

Texas A&M Aggies 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: February 28

Final Practice: April 5 (no spring game)

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 28at 
Sept. 6Lamar
Sept. 13
Sept. 20at 
Sept. 27 (Arlington)
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 15
Nov. 27

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 8

Three Things to Watch in Texas A&M’s 2014 Spring Practice

1. Replacing Johnny Manziel: As one of the top quarterbacks of the BCS era, Manziel’s production will be impossible to replace in 2014. However, the Aggies aren’t hurting for options and talent at quarterback. Senior Matt Joeckel has made 10 career appearances and threw for 293 yards and two scores on 22 completions last year. Sophomore Kenny Hill was 16 of 22 for 183 yards and one touchdown in limited work in 2013 and ranked as the No. 24 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. But the wildcard and perhaps most intriguing option is true freshman Kyle Allen. The Arizona native was the No. 10 recruit in the 2014 signing class in the 247Sports Composite ranking and threw for 2,535 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior. Allen enrolled early to compete for the job this spring. Will one of the three quarterbacks emerge as a frontrunner before the final spring practice on April 5? Or will this battle extend into the fall? It’s unrealistic to expect any of the quarterbacks to post Manziel-like numbers. However, Texas A&M’s offense should still be lethal regardless of who wins the job.

2. Developing chemistry on the offensive line: With four starters returning, Texas A&M should have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. However, this unit isn’t without question marks as spring practice opens. Left tackle Jake Matthews expired his eligibility, and the coaching staff is expected to move right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi – a likely first-round pick in 2015 – to the left side. Ogbuehi’s move creates a void at right tackle, and a couple of players could get into the mix. Joseph Cheek was listed as the backup last season, and Jeremiah Stuckey was a top-100 junior college recruit in the class of 2013. And this year’s signing class brought in Jermaine Eluemunor and Avery Gennesy from the junior college ranks, with both players expected to push for time. Although moving Ogbuehi to the left side is likely the only position change, the coaching staff may shuffle some players around to find the best combination before settling on the starting five.

3. Fixing the defense: Instead of breaking down each individual unit on defense, let’s just lump everything into this category. There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers on defensein a positive way for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game. Considering the offense will slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
As we mentioned earlier, Texas A&M is due to take a step back with Manziel, Evans and Matthews moving to the NFL. But the program isn’t in bad shape, and there’s a positive trajectory for this team with Kevin Sumlin at the helm. With a new starting quarterback and a rebuilding defense, the Aggies are a team in transition. The schedule doesn’t provide for many breaks either, as Texas A&M opens at South Carolina and plays road games at Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. Ouch. However, expect the young talent to improve with each snap, and the Aggies will be a tough out for everyone in the SEC this year.

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Texas A&M Aggies 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 10:30
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When Art Briles arrived at Baylor after the 2007 season, he inherited a team that won just seven games in the two years prior to his arrival. Even though Briles recorded back-to-back 4-8 marks in his first two seasons, there was no doubt he would eventually get the program on the right track. Mission accomplished. Baylor has won 29 games over the last three years and claimed the Big 12 title in 2013.

Even with personnel losses hitting the roster, Baylor has reached a point where it can simply reload, rather than face a significant rebuilding effort. Briles has upgraded the recruiting, and the Bears have inked back-to-back top-30 classes. Combine the improving talent with one of the best coaching staffs in the country, and it’s easy to see why Baylor has emerged as one of the new powers in college football. 

As Baylor turns the page from a successful 2013 season to 2014 spring practice, the Bears have a few holes to fill. However, as we mentioned above, this program is in great shape to repeat as the Big 12 champion.

Baylor Bears 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Spring Practice Opens: February 28

Spring Game: April 5

Returning Starters

Offense: 4

Defense: 4

Three Things to Watch in Baylor’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 31
Sept. 6Northwestern State
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11
Oct. 18 at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29 (Arlington)
Dec. 6

1. Solidifying the supporting cast around Bryce Petty: Art Briles and coordinator Philip Montgomery usually have no trouble finding talent at the skill positions. And despite losing running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin and receiver Tevin Reese, Baylor shouldn’t miss a beat on offense. The next wave of standout skill players in Waco is ready to emerge, and the receiving corps can lean on Antwan Goodley (71 receptions in 2013), along with Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Corey Coleman. Reese’s ability to stretch the field was a huge asset and one of the returning players needs to fill that void. Incoming freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall (enrolled early to compete this spring) will have a chance to compete for time. Another name to watch is Robbie Rhodes. He was the No. 2 recruit in the Big 12 by Athlon Sports last season and caught 10 passes for 157 yards in 10 games. Rhodes could be an even bigger factor in the offense in 2014. At running back, Briles and Montgomery already have a potential star in Shock Linwood. But who will share carries with Linwood? Will it be sophomore Devin Chafin? Redshirt freshmen Johnny Jefferson and early enrollee Terence Williams will push Chafin for the No. 2 role.

2. New faces on the offensive line: Although skill players like running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese will be missed, the losses on the offensive line are more of a concern for Briles. Guard Cyril Richardson was one of the nation’s top linemen and was the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year last season. Center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer also depart. The good news is there are pieces to work with, and Baylor will welcome left tackle Spencer Drango back in the lineup after he missed the final four games due to back surgery. Drango earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Since he is still rehabbing from the surgery, Drango won’t participate in spring practice, but all signs point to a return to full strength by the fall. Center will be a contested spot this spring, and Kyle Fuller (listed as the backup last season) will get first shot at replacing Huber. Junior Pat Colbert played in all 13 games in 2013 and is expected to factor into the mix, while tackle Troy Baker should be healthy being a full year removed from a torn ACL. Desmine Hilliard is back after starting all 13 games at right guard last year and will have to help fill the void left behind by Richardson. Hawaii transfer Blake Muir and junior college recruit Jarell Broxton are two other names to keep an eye on this spring. The pieces seem to be there for Briles, and this group can develop depth with Drango out. However, Richardson is a huge loss, and players like LaQuan McGowan, Hilliard and Broxton have big shoes to fill at guard in 2014.

3. Breaking in seven new starters on defense: As long as Briles roams the sidelines in Waco, offense isn’t going to be an issue. However, that hasn’t necessarily been the case on defense in recent years. Baylor finished ninth or worse in the Big 12 in yards allowed from 2009-12. Last year, this unit emerged as a strength, holding opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. The Bears also limited Big 12 opponents to 25.7 points per game and forced 29 turnovers. This spring is crucial to building off that momentum, especially with seven new starters stepping into the lineup. There are significant losses at each level, starting up front with the departure of end Chris McAllister, at linebacker with Eddie Lackey, and in the secondary with safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and K.J. Morton. While there will be some new faces dotting the depth chart, improved recruiting has bolstered the talent available to coordinator Phil Bennett. Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last year and could be in for a breakout performance in 2014. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu is a name to watch at end this spring. The interior is also set with the return of defensive tackles Beau Blackshear, Andrew Billings and Byron Bonds. The back seven needs to be retooled, but the good news is linebacker Bryce Hager returns, and there’s some experience returning at safety. The biggest concern for Bennett has to be at cornerback, and junior college recruits Chris Sanders (out this spring with shoulder surgery) and Tion Wright will be expected to contribute immediately. There are a lot of question marks on this side of the ball. How many answers can the Bears find this spring?

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11

With Texas in transition and Oklahoma State losing a chunk of talent, the Big 12 appears to be a two-team race between Oklahoma and Baylor. The Bears defeated the Sooners last season, but this year’s matchup is in Norman. Briles has this program trending in the right direction, and even if this team falls short of winning the conference title, an appearance in one of college football’s premier bowl games is a strong possibility. The offense has some concerns to address on the line, but expect Briles and Montgomery to find the right answers this spring. The defense is the bigger issue with seven new starters. The development of the defense is the key to winning the Big 12 or finishing second behind Oklahoma.

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With Alabama and Auburn expected to be ranked near the top of most preseason polls in 2014, the SEC West is the best division in college football. The Crimson Tide and Tigers could play twice next year, as the next playoff format could create rematches from the regular season. Considering the success of both Alabama and Auburn last year, it’s not out of the question that both teams are vying for playoff spots in 2014.

But the SEC West’s strength isn’t just limited to Alabama and Auburn. LSU is on solid ground and has the talent to replace a handful of early departures to the NFL. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons and will be a factor in the division title picture once again.

Texas A&M loses quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews, but coach Kevin Sumlin is building something in College Station. The Aggies are reeling in elite talent, and incoming freshman quarterback Kyle Allen is a future star in the SEC.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State aren’t far behind Texas A&M in the West. The Rebels and Bulldogs are chipping away at the gap between the top tier of the division, and both teams could pull a surprise or two in 2014.

Arkansas should be better after a 3-9 mark last season. However, the Razorbacks still have a ways to go in Bret Bielema’s second year.

 Seniors
Departing
Early NFL Draft DeparturesReturning Starters: OffenseReturning Starters: Defense
Alabama17547
Arkansas20074
Auburn15276
LSU14766
Mississippi State13088
Ole Miss26159
Texas A&M13258

SEC West Spring Outlook

Alabama

The quarterbacks:

AJ McCarron’s place among SEC quarterbacks, as well as his candidacy as it related to All-American recognition and the Heisman Trophy was heavily debated throughout his senior campaign. Regardless of where anyone thinks McCarron belongs in those discussions, no one can dispute that he threw for nearly 10,000 yards in his career (9,019) and finished with 74 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. So while McCarron may not have had the talent of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, he was a key piece of Alabama’s success over the last three seasons. Now, a wide-open quarterback battle is set to begin this spring and will carry into the fall with the arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Blake Sims was listed as McCarron’s backup last season and has attempted 39 passes over the last two years. But Sims is considered a longshot to win the starting job, as Coker is considered the favorite to claim the top spot when he arrives this summer. Coker and Sims won’t be the only quarterbacks battling for time in the spring, as Parker McLeod, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell are set to stake their claim for the job. Cornwell was the No. 79 prospect in the 247Sports Composite but is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the fall. While Coker is considered the favorite, can Sims or one of the other quarterbacks make a strong push for the No. 1 spot before fall practice? Or will Alabama head into the fall with a wide-open quarterback derby once again?

Arkansas

Improvement from quarterback Brandon Allen:

Coming off a 3-9 record in 2013, Arkansas has plenty of concerns as spring practice opens on March 16. Both sides of the ball have glaring issues, and coach Bret Bielema also needs to blend a few new faces on the coaching staff with the players. Although the Razorbacks are unlikely to significantly improve on last year’s win total, there is reason for optimism, starting with the return of running back Alex Collins, tight end Hunter Henry and end Trey Flowers. But Arkansas will struggle to be more competitive in the SEC if it doesn’t get more from quarterback Brandon Allen in 2014. As expected, Allen had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter. The Arkansas native finished 2013 with 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns and tossed 10 interceptions. Additionally, Allen completed only 49.6 percent of his throws last season and averaged only 145.5 yards per game in SEC action. Considering the Razorbacks were short on proven options at receiver and had two true freshmen on the offensive line, it’s unfair to blame Allen for all of the problems on offense. However, with a full season of snaps under his belt and another spring to work with coordinator Jim Chaney, Arkansas needs Allen to take a step forward in 2014.

Auburn

Finding the right answers on defense:

When you first glance at the stat sheet from 2013, the numbers aren’t pretty for Auburn. The Tigers allowed 466.6 yards and 29.6 points per game through nine SEC contests. However, a deeper look at the numbers suggests this defense made stops when it had to. Auburn led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions allowed and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. Timely stops are a good sign, but the Tigers still need to be better on this side of the ball in 2014. Thanks to outstanding 2014 recruiting class, Auburn has improved its depth and talent on this side of the ball. But there are holes to fill with end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, linebacker Jake Holland, cornerback Chris Davis and safeties Ryan White and Ryan Smith expiring their eligibility. Ford and Eguae will be missed on the line, but there appears to be a wave of new standout linemen waiting in the wings with Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel set to play major snaps in 2014. At linebacker, Kris Frost is poised for a big season after finishing 2013 with seven tackles in the national championship game against Florida State. The secondary can lean on Jonathon Mincy at cornerback and Jermaine Whitehead at safety. But more depth is needed in the defensive backfield, which could open the door for junior college recruit Derrick Moncrief to play right away at safety. Ellis Johnson is one of the SEC’s top defensive coordinators, and the veteran assistant will be busy this spring as he looks to keep Auburn’s defense on a positive trajectory.

LSU

Starting over on offense:

The Tigers have been a model of consistency under Les Miles, winning at least 10 games in seven out of the last nine years. Even though LSU has played in only one BCS bowl in the last six seasons, this program is still one of the best in the SEC. After rebuilding a defense that featured only three returning starters last year, the focus for Miles turns to the offense. Six starters are back from a unit that made significant progress in 2013. First-year coordinator Cam Cameron helped the Tigers average over six yards per play for the first time since 2006. But Cameron will have his hands full this spring as LSU has to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill, guard Trai Turner and receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl with Mettenberger out due to a knee injury and completed 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards against the Hawkeyes. Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but true freshman Brandon Harris and redshirt freshman Hayden Rettig will have a chance to win the job. Top recruit Leonard Fournette should be the answer at running back, and the New Orleans native will have no trouble finding running room behind one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. Outside of finding a new starting quarterback, replacing Landry and Beckham is the top spring priority for Miles. Last season, Landry and Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 receptions. There’s not much in the way of proven talent at receiver, which opens the door for incoming recruit Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshman Avery Peterson to play significant snaps in 2014. This spring is LSU’s first opportunity to start the rebuilding effort on offense and reload for another run at the SEC title.

Mississippi State

Dak Prescott’s growth at quarterback:

At times last year, the quarterback position was a revolving door for Mississippi State. Injuries prevented Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell’s from playing a full complement of snaps in 2013, and true freshman Damian Williams was forced to start against Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Fast forward to 2014, and there’s some clarity at the position. Russell expired his eligibility, and Prescott finished 2013 by throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns and adding 78 yards and two scores on the ground against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. With Prescott in full control of the starting job and a solid supporting cast at his disposal, this could be the best offense of Dan Mullen’s tenure in Starkville. The biggest loss on offense is guard Gabe Jackson, but three starters return on the line. This spring is all about Prescott and continuing the momentum from the offense’s performance against Rice in the Liberty Bowl.

Ole Miss

Revamping the offensive line:

Hugh Freeze and the Rebels made slight progress last year after going 7-6 in 2012, finishing 8-5 with a 27-24 win over LSU the highlight of the season. Considering the personnel losses at Texas A&M and LSU this offseason, Ole Miss has an opportunity to climb in the West Division standings in 2014. Provided the offensive line is able to mesh this spring, the offense should be explosive. The Rebels return quarterback Bo Wallace and receivers Vince Sanders and Laquon Treadwell. But the line is a source of concern for coach Hugh Freeze, as guard Jared Duke, center Evan Swindall and tackle Pierce Burton expired their eligibility. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil had a strong freshman debut last season, earning second-team All-SEC honors. Tunsil is one part of the solution, and the return of guard Aaron Morris from a knee injury should solidify the left side of the line. But what about the other three spots? Ben Still was listed as Swindall’s backup at center last season and is expected to get the first shot at earning the job. Junior college recruit Fahn Cooper won’t arrive until after the spring session, but he could factor into the mix. The Rebels will also take an extended look at true freshman Rod Taylor in the fall, as he could help at guard this season. The good news is Freeze has recruited well, and there is talent to work with. However, this line will be young and inexperienced in 2014.

Texas A&M

Finding answers on defense:

There’s really no way to sugarcoat the numbers in a positive way on defense for Texas A&M last season. The Aggies struggled mightily on this side of the ball and were bailed out by an explosive offense. But with quarterback Johnny Manziel off to the NFL, it’s unlikely Texas A&M will average 44.2 points per game again. Considering the offense is expected to slightly regress, the defense has to do its part to keep Texas A&M in contention for nine wins once again. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in College Station, but Sumlin and coordinator Mark Snyder will have a lineup that features a lot of youth (much like this unit had in 2013) in 2014. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett is a potential difference maker in the trenches, but can he play major snaps as a true freshman? The good news for Snyder is eight starters are back, including linebacker Darian Claiborne, tackle Isaiah Golden, cornerback Deshazor Everett and end Julien Obioha. Claiborne and Golden were suspended after an off-the-field incident in February. It’s uncertain how the arrest will affect either player heading into the upcoming season. The Aggies don’t have to be a shutdown defense in 2014, but there has to be progress to help cover for the losses on offense.

Teaser:
SEC West 2014 Spring Preview and Storylines
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 07:15
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Texas Tech unveiled a few tweaks and new designs for its uniforms in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s debut last year.

And it appears the Red Raiders will have a two new helmet designs on the way for 2014.

Check out these tweets from two Texas Tech coaches on a black and a red alternate helmet design:

Teaser:
New Helmets Coming for Texas Tech in 2014?
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 13:14
Path: /college-football/sec-east-2014-spring-preview-and-storylines
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The SEC East should be one of the nation’s most intriguing conference title races to watch in 2014. Missouri is the defending champion, but South Carolina, Georgia and even Florida should be in the mix this season.

Missouri was defeated by Auburn in the SEC Championship last December, but Gary Pinkel’s team clearly showed it can compete in this conference after finishing 5-7 in 2012. Missouri has a few holes to fill, and new starting quarterback Maty Mauk needs more seasoning before this team is ready to win the East once again. However, the Tigers 12-2 mark and division title last year was no fluke.

Elsewhere in the East, this year’s spring practice session is a crucial point of Will Muschamp’s tenure at Florida. The Gators have elite talent, and the defense was one of the best in the conference last year. However, the offense struggled mightily and changes to the staff were made at the end of the regular season. Did Muschamp make the right moves? If hiring Kurt Roper as the offensive coordinator and Mike Summers as the line coach backfires, Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville will be in jeopardy.

Georgia and South Carolina will be picked near the top of the East this year, and both programs have question marks to answer on defense. The Gamecocks must replace three standouts from the defensive line, while the Bulldogs will be looking for answers across the board after a disappointing performance in 2013.

The intrigue extends to Tennessee, where the Volunteers and Commodores have plenty to work on this spring. Tennessee has a large signing class coming to Knoxville, and Butch Jones needs a handful of recruits to play right away this year. Vanderbilt will be adapting to new coach Derek Mason this spring, and the offense needs to develop a quarterback.

Kentucky is making progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, and improvement should be noticeable from this team this spring.

 Seniors
Departing
Early NFL Draft DeparturesReturning Starters: OffenseReturning Starters: Defense
Florida17346
Georgia280510
Kentucky16068
Missouri18254
South Carolina5476
Tennessee28155
Vanderbilt20055

SEC East Spring Outlook

Florida

Starting over on offense:

After a 4-8 mark last season, Will Muschamp enters 2014 on the hot seat. The Gators’ defense held up their end of the bargain last year, as they allowed just 308.6 yards per game. But the offense was simply dreadful. It’s hard to find many positives on this unit after 2013, as Florida barely averaged over 300 yards per game in SEC action (312.5) and managed just 4.7 yards per play. Muschamp fired coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis and brought Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays, while former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers will coach the line. The staff moves were clearly necessary, and Muschamp appears to have made the right hires. But the bigger problem for the Gators is with the personnel. Is quarterback Jeff Driskel ready to take the next step in his development? Or will incoming freshman Will Grier push for the job? At running back, Kelvin Taylor is a future star. However, the offensive line is a concern. The Gators still lack proven options at receiver, but Andre Debose is back in the mix after missing all of last season with a knee injury. There’s no question Florida should be solid on defense next year. But Muschamp’s future in Gainesville will hinge on how far the offense develops this offseason.

Georgia

Jeremy Pruitt’s first chance to work with the defense:

After one very successful year at Florida State, Pruitt left Tallahassee for a chance to call the defensive signals at Georgia. Pruitt is no stranger to the SEC, as he spent six seasons at Alabama prior to his one-year stint with the Seminoles. Even though Aaron Murray departs at quarterback, the Bulldogs are in good shape on offense with Todd Gurley returning at running back, along with new signal-caller Hutson Mason. But for Georgia to return to the SEC title game, it has to find some answers on defense. Youth was a factor in the struggles last season, with the Bulldogs allowing 31.8 points per game in SEC contests. With 10 starters back and another year for the young players to develop, Georgia’s defense is poised to make significant progress on the stat sheet. Now it’s up to Pruitt to take this defense to the next level. This spring is all about Pruitt putting his stamp on a defense and making the necessary changes after a disappointing effort last year.

Kentucky

Finding the right pieces on offense:

As expected, Mark Stoops’ first season in Lexington was a struggle. Kentucky won only two games and was held without a victory in SEC play. But despite the 2-10 mark last year, there’s plenty of positive momentum for Stoops and his staff. The Wildcats are recruiting well, and a handful of young players contributed in 2013. As Stoops looks ahead to 2014, both sides of the ball have concerns to address but improvement from the offense is essential after averaging just 14.8 points per game in SEC contests. Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow each threw for over 1,000 yards last season. However, both players will face competition from incoming freshman Drew Barker for the starting job. It’s tough to throw a true freshman in the lineup in the SEC, but Barker ranked as the No. 119 recruit in the 247Sports Composite, so there’s no doubt he has the talent to play right away. At running back, Kentucky should have an improved rushing attack with Jojo Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard leading the way. And four players that caught at least 20 receptions last season are return at receiver. Coordinator Neal Brown has more talent to work with this spring. Can he begin to fit the pieces together? Or will the quarterback battle extend into the fall?

Missouri

New faces on defense:

The defending SEC East champs return only nine starters from last year’s team. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, and Missouri still has enough talent to challenge for the division crown. New quarterback Maty Mauk was impressive last season, while the skill positions are set with Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy returning at running back, along with Dorial Green-Beckham and Bud Sasser at receiver. The offense will face a transition period, but there is little reason to be concerned about this unit. The defense figures to get the most attention from coach Gary Pinkel and coordinator Dave Steckel this spring. The Tigers are losing a handful of key players, including ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy and cornerback E.J. Gaines. The line may not miss a beat assuming Markus Golden and Shane Ray continue to play at a high level. Replacing Gaines won’t be easy, but sophomores Aarion Penton (16 tackles) and John Gibson (14 tackles) played their share of snaps in 2013. Missouri may take a step back on defense next season with a handful of key performers departing. However, the drop-off may not be as great as some may suspect with a solid core of talent still in place in Columbia.

South Carolina

Rebuilding the defensive line:

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and line coach Deke Adams will have their hands full this spring. The Gamecocks lose three key performers from last year’s defensive line, including ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Clowney and Quarles were both first-team All-SEC selections, and Sutton registered three sacks last season. South Carolina isn’t hurting for options in the trenches, but it’s hard to replace the talent that Clowney, Sutton and Quarles are taking to the NFL. Darius English has flashed potential in a backup role over the last two years and was listed as the backup to Clowney in 2013. Gerald Dixon and Mason Harris are slated to battle to replace Sutton, while J.T. Surratt will anchor the middle with Quarles departing. Other names to watch include Gerald Dixon Jr. and Kelsey Griffin at tackle, along with incoming junior college recruit Jhaustin Thomas. Dante Sawyer was expected to push for time in the fall, but the Georgia product will instead go to junior college. As we mentioned earlier, there’s certainly talent and potential here. However, it’s unrealistic to expect the same caliber of play of last year’s group. With matchups against Texas A&M and Georgia in the first few weeks of the season next year, this defensive line will be tested early in 2014.

Tennessee

Restocking the offensive line:

Losing five players at a particular position isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that unit struggles all season and can be replaced with more talent and upside the following year. However, that usually doesn’t hold true when discussing the offensive line. Tennessee loses all five starters in the trenches, including standout left tackle Antonio Richardson. There’s very little in the way of proven commodities for coach Butch Jones, as junior Mack Crowder made one start last season, and Marcus Jackson made five as a freshman in 2012. Considering the losses up front, it was no surprise Jones hit the recruiting trail hard for replacements. Junior college recruit Dontavius Blair is expected to push for time, while Coleman Thomas and Ray Raulerson enrolled early to compete this spring. It’s not easy to blend five new offensive line starters together in a short amount of time. But Jones and his coaching staff should be busy this spring trying different combinations and pairings to find the right mix up front. 

Vanderbilt

Patton Robinette or Johnny McCrary at quarterback?:

New coach Derek Mason will spend this spring implementing his schemes on both sides of the ball. The Commodores are coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, and the cupboard isn’t bare for Mason and his staff. The defense needs attention in the secondary, but most of the focus for Vanderbilt will be at quarterback. Patton Robinette started three games last year and will face a challenge from talented redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary. Robinette threw for 642 yards and four touchdowns in limited action last year. However, his completion percentage was just 52.3 and he tossed five picks on 88 attempts. McCrary was a three-star prospect by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and threw for 9,025 yards and 78 touchdowns in his high school career. One factor that might complicate the quarterback battle is the turnover at receiver. The Commodores lose standout Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause, leaving Jordan Cunningham (15 receptions) as the team’s leading receiver. The battle between Robinette and McCrary could extend into fall practice as Mason and coordinator Karl Dorrell give both players a chance to lead the offense in 2014.

Teaser:
SEC East 2014 Spring Preview and Storylines
Post date: Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Utah Utes, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/former-oklahoma-qb-kendal-thompson-transfers-utah
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Former Oklahoma quarterback Kendal Thompson will transfer to Utah. The news was officially announced by the school on Wednesday, and Thompson is eligible to play for the Utes in 2014.

With Trevor Knight expected to claim the top spot in Norman, playing time for Thompson was going to be limited at Oklahoma.

Thompson played sparingly in two years with the Sooners, throwing only 13 passes for 64 yards and one touchdown.

The addition of Thompson is another piece of good news for Utah’s quarterback situation heading into 2014. Travis Wilson was recently cleared to participate in non-contact drills this spring, but his status for the upcoming season is still in question.

Thompson doesn’t have a lot of experience, but with Wilson’s status uncertain, this is a good pickup for coach Kyle Whittingham. As an athletic quarterback, Thompson could help Utah’s offense in select packages and provides the staff with another arm in workouts this preseason.

 

Teaser:
Former Oklahoma QB Kendal Thompson Transfers to Utah
Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 12:41
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2014-spring-preview-and-storylines
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It’s tough to glean much from spring practice, but for the 14 teams in the Big Ten, these preseason workouts couldn’t get here fast enough. 2013 was a disappointing year for the conference, as only three teams – Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin – finished in the final Associated Press top 25 poll. 

The Spartans finished No. 3 in the final poll, while the Buckeyes closed the season with back-to-back losses after a 12-0 start. Wisconsin finished Gary Andersen’s first year in Madison with a solid 9-4 record.

But the rest of the conference was largely a disappointment. Michigan entered 2013 with hopes of winning the Legends Division title. However, the Wolverines slumped to 7-6 and won just three Big Ten contests. Northwestern was pegged as a potential wildcard to watch in the division title picture, but the Wildcats finished 5-7.

The news wasn’t much better in the Leaders Division, as Indiana missed out on a bowl with a 5-7 mark, and Purdue struggled mightily in Darrell Hazell’s first season with a 1-11 record.

The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers this year, and the divisions have been shuffled once again. The balance of power seems to rest in the East with Ohio State and Michigan State. But the West features some intriguing teams, including Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

 Seniors LostEarly NFL DeparturesReturning Offensive StartersReturning Defensive Starters
Illinois15069
Indiana211710
Iowa15075
Maryland16079
Michigan17078
Michigan State18065
Minnesota19077
Nebraska23035
Northwestern14097
Ohio State18257
Penn State17146
Purdue21066
Rutgers20195
Wisconsin26053

East Division Spring Outlook

Indiana

Getting defensive in Bloomington:

One look at the stat sheet clearly shows where Indiana’s focus needs to be this spring. Despite averaging 489.1 yards and 38.4 points per game, Indiana finished 5-7 last year. Clearly, offense isn’t an issue for coach Kevin Wilson. But the defense? Well, that’s another story. The Hoosiers allowed a whopping 7.4 yards per play last season and gave up 41.9 points per contest (conference-only games). Wilson made changes to his staff, hiring well-traveled assistant Brian Knorr to call the defensive signals in 2014. Knorr ran a 3-4 attack last season at Wake Forest and could implement that scheme in Bloomington. The cupboard isn’t bare on defense, as cornerback Tim Bennett, linebacker T.J. Simmons and defensive tackle Darius Latham headline a core of young players poised to make strides with another preseason under their belt. After a dreadful 1-11 mark in 2011, Indiana is 9-15 over the last two years. Wilson is making progress but getting to a bowl largely depends on how far the defense progresses before the season opener.

Maryland

Putting the pieces together on the offensive line:

The Terrapins were only a team with a 7-6 record last year, but entering spring practice, this squad doesn’t have a ton of glaring concerns. Sure, each side of the ball has room to improve. However, Maryland is in relatively good shape entering its first season in the Big Ten. With Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out this spring due to injuries, Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo will get an extended opportunity to work with quarterback C.J. Brown. But perhaps the biggest concern for coach Randy Edsall is an offensive line that allowed 2.4 sacks per game in ACC action. The Terrapins reeled in three potential impact recruits in Derwin Gray, Larry Mazyck and Damian Prince, and even if all three players don’t start, they should help improve the overall depth up front. Three starters return in the trenches for 2014, and the staff moved Evan Mulrooney to guard to bolster the depth there. Considering Prince won’t arrive until the fall, it’s unlikely the line will find stability until then. However, this spring is the first chance for Edsall to start sorting out his options in the trenches as Maryland officially becomes a Big Ten team. 

Michigan

Developing an offensive line:

Yes, Michigan needs more consistency from quarterback Devin Gardner, and the rushing attack has to give Gardner more help, but the biggest question mark for coach Brady Hoke this spring is clearly the offensive line. This unit struggled with consistency last season, and the Wolverines recorded just 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten action. Making matters worse is the line loses tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield - easily the top two players on the unit in 2013. There is talent returning in the trenches, as Michigan reeled in back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes from 2012-13. The entire starting five is up for grabs. It’s time for players like Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Kyle Bosch to emerge as the leaders for the offensive line.

Michigan State

New faces on defense:

Despite losing six starters, the Spartans should remain one of the best defenses in the nation in 2014. But there’s no question a transition period is ahead with the departure of cornerback Darqueze Dennard, linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, tackles Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover and safety Isaiah Lewis. Coordinator Pat Narduzzi isn’t hurting for talent, as end Shilique Calhoun is one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten, and cornerback Trae Waynes is poised to emerge as an All-Big Ten performer. This spring is all about Narduzzi getting the new faces acclimated into starting roles on the depth chart. Damon Knox and Joel Heath and Brandon Clemons will be tasked with anchoring the interior of the line, while some shuffling is needed at linebacker with the departure of Bullough and Allen. At cornerback, Arjen Colquhoun and Jermaine Edmondson were listed as the backup to Dennard last season. Will one of those players emerge as the starter? Or will Narduzzi take a look at Darian Hicks opposite of Waynes? This defense certainly has its share of question marks, but Narduzzi should find the right answers before the season opener.

Ohio State

Starting over on the offensive line:

Going into the 2013 season, the Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation. What a difference a year makes. Ohio State is essentially starting over in the trenches with only one starter returning as the team is set to open spring practice on March 4. The list of departed players is heavy on all-conference performers, with center Corey Linsley, guard Andrew Norwell and tackle Jack Mewhort all taking home first-team honors last year. Guard Marcus Hall didn’t earn a first or second-team mention, but he garnered an honorable mention spot for the all-conference team. Ohio State recruits as well as any team in the nation, so talent won’t be an issue. However, it may take some time for the line to jell and develop consistency. Taylor Decker is the unit’s only returning starter and is expected to shift from right to left tackle this spring. Replacing Decker on the right side could be senior Darryl Baldwin, and guard Pat Elflein should be a starter at one of the guard spots. But who replaces Linsley at center? Will that be Jacoby Boren? Ohio State should have a spot among the top-10 teams in the nation in 2014. However, the Buckeyes won’t finish ahead of Michigan State in their division unless the line quickly emerges as a strength.

Penn State

Finding a go-to receiver for quarterback Christian Hackenberg:

Spring practice in Happy Valley is all about getting acclimated to the new surroundings and players for new coach James Franklin. The former Vanderbilt coach is inheriting a talented roster from Bill O’Brien, including rising star Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. As a true freshman last season, Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns and completed 58.9 percent of his throws. Of Penn State’s 241 completions in 2013, 97 of those went to Allen Robinson. As expected, Robinson chose to leave early for the NFL in early January, leaving Eugene Lewis (18 receptions) as the team’s top returner at receiver. The Nittany Lions are loaded with talent at tight end, starting with Kyle Carter (18 receptions last year), Adam Breneman and Jesse James. But who will step up at receiver? Is Lewis ready to be the go-to guy? How much of an impact will incoming freshman De’Andre Thompkins make this spring? Answering the question marks at receiver, along with addressing the secondary are two key areas to watch for Penn State over the next few months.

Rutgers

Finding answers on defense:

The Scarlet Knights have question marks on both sides of the ball, but the defense is the bigger area of concern in a division with Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana. Rutgers allowed 412.8 yards per game last season (5.7 yards per play) and gave up 34 points per game in eight American Athletic Conference contests. Youth played a role in the defensive struggles, as the Scarlet Knights lost a handful of key contributors from 2012. New coordinator Joe Rossi will have his hands full in 2014, but there are a few building blocks in place. The linebacking corps is solid with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder returning, while tackle Darius Hamilton could be an all-conference performer on the interior. The secondary took its share of lumps last season, but nearly everyone returns, including Anthony Cioffi who played in 12 games as a true freshman. Rossi coordinated the defense in the Pinstripe Bowl against Notre Dame, and the Scarlet Knights managed to hold the Fighting Irish to 5.5 yards per play. Don’t expect this unit to become a shutdown group by the season opener. But with Rossi calling the plays on a full-time basis and another offseason for the young talent to work with the staff, Rutgers should be able to find some improvement on defense this spring.
 

West Division Spring Outlook

Illinois

Developing the defensive line:

We could pick a couple of storylines to watch for Illinois, but considering Bill Cubit’s track record of success, the Fighting Illini should be able to figure out a few answers in the receiving corps for new quarterback Wes Lunt. A bigger issue for third-year coach Tim Beckman is the defense, specifically the line. Opponents pounded Illinois’ defense for 277.6 rushing yards per game in Big Ten action, while this unit also allowed 24 scores on the ground in that span. Tim Kynard is the only significant loss on the line, but there’s also very little in the way of potential all-conference talent. To jumpstart the competition this spring, Beckman is bringing in two early enrollees to compete for time. Junior college recruit Joe Fotu had 2.5 sacks at Laney Community College last year, while incoming freshman Paul James III ranked as the No. 200 recruit in the nation by ESPN in 2013. More help is also on the way from junior college recruit Jihad Ward in the fall. Each unit on the defense has to improve for Illinois to make a bowl in 2014. Can Beckman and coordinator Tim Banks find a few answers this spring?

Iowa

Finding replacements at linebacker:

Iowa usually finds quality linebackers, so this isn’t likely to be a glaring concern when the season begins. However, the Hawkeyes are losing three impact defenders at this position, so the spotlight will be on the new starters this spring. Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris each tallied over 100 stops last season and will be missed. Senior Quinton Alston is the unit’s most-experienced option, recording 24 stops over the last three years. Reggie Spearman is a name to remember after playing in 10 games as a true freshman, while Travis Perry should have the inside track to grab the third starting spot.

Minnesota

Mitch Leidner takes over as the No. 1 quarterback:

Shortly after the regular season ended, Philip Nelson decided to transfer from Minnesota to Rutgers, leaving Leidner as the top quarterback entering spring practice. The Minnesota native performed well in limited action last season, throwing for 619 yards and three touchdowns on 43 completions. Leidner also rushed for 407 yards, including 151 yards against San Jose State. With Nelson moving on, Leidner has a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback. Working with the first-team offense should help the sophomore transition into the starting lineup, but the Golden Gophers also need to work on developing more options in the receiving corps. Drew Wolitarsky is the top returning wide receiver with 15 catches, while tight end Maxx Williams grabbed 25 passes last year. Leidner needs to prove he can consistently beat defenses with his arm, but his development will also hinge on improvement from the receiving corps.

Nebraska

Starting over on the offensive line:

It’s easy to pencil in the development of Tommy Armstrong here, but Nebraska’s biggest concern on offense should be the line. Four key players from last year are gone, including center Cole Pensick, tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale and guard Andrew Rodriguez. Left guard Jake Cotton is the only returning starter. Mark Pelini and Mike Moudy combined for five starts last season and should figure into the mix in 2014. But what happens at the tackle spots? Zach Sterup has the necessary size (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) to anchor the right side of the line, and he will have an opportunity to claim a starting spot this spring. Junior college transfer Chongo Kondolo redshirted last year and was a touted recruit in last year’s class. Will he factor into the rotation in the trenches? Or will junior Matt Finnin claim the left tackle job vacated by Qvale? Coordinator Tim Beck and line coaches Barney Cotton and John Garrison will be busy this spring as they look to find the right combination up front.

Northwestern

Trevor Siemian’s time at quarterback:

Northwestern’s five victories last season were the fewest under coach Pat Fitzgerald since a 4-8 mark in 2006. Injuries played a significant role in the disappointing win total, especially with the loss of standout running back Venric Mark early in the year. But 2014 is a new season, and the Wildcats return 16 starters that should help this team rebound back into bowl contention. Kain Colter departs at quarterback, and after sharing the job the last two years, Trevor Siemian is set to take the No. 1 job this spring. Siemian isn’t the runner that Colter was, but he threw for 3,461 yards over the last two years. But is he ready to be the full-time quarterback? Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Matt Alviti, who is a dual-threat option that could work his way into the mix. This spring is Siemian’s chance to put his stamp on the starting job, as well as develop a rapport with a talented receiving corps.

Purdue

Finding playmakers on offense:

In eight Big Ten contests last year, Purdue averaged just 4.4 yards per play and 13 points per game. Those numbers are a far cry from the Joe Tiller era in West Lafayette, and second-year coach Darrell Hazell opens spring practice looking for answers. Quarterback play is under the microscope after three players received snaps last year. Danny Etling took the majority of snaps and finished his freshman campaign by throwing 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns. Etling has room to improve, and he will be pushed by Austin Appleby and early enrollee David Blough. The question marks extend to the running backs, where leading rusher Akeem Hunt managed just 464 yards last year. And the Boilermakers need to more consistency from the receiving corps, as well as improved play from the offensive line (39 sacks allowed last season). This spring is Hazell and coordinator John Shoop’s first opportunity to find some answers before 2014.

Wisconsin

Improving the passing attack:

The Badgers lose several key pieces from the defense, but the passing offense is expected to receive the most attention from coach Gary Andersen this spring. In eight Big Ten games last year, Wisconsin averaged only 201.9 yards per game and tossed nine picks to just 13 touchdowns. Joel Stave started all 13 games last season, but he will face competition from Tanner McEvoy, who is slated to return under center after spending time at safety in 2013. In addition to McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins are expected to get an extended look under center in the preseason. The Badgers’ passing concerns don’t stop at quarterback. Receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen have expired their eligibility, leaving the cupboard a little thin in proven options in the receiving corps. This spring presents a huge opportunity for players like Jordan Fredrick, Alex Erickson, Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright to make an impression at receiver.

Teaser:
Big Ten Football 2014 Spring Preview and Storylines
Post date: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 11:19
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-running-backs-rise-2014
Body:

With spring practice already underway for some college football teams, the countdown to the 2014 season has officially started. There’s still a long way to go before August and the season opener, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which players are ready for a big jump in production.

Earlier this spring, Athlon Sports examined which quarterbacks are on the rise heading into the start of offseason practices. Now, the focus shifts to the running backs. There always seems to be a couple of running backs who where relatively unknown heading into the year but finish among the nation’s leaders in rushing yards. That trend should continue in 2014, as there are plenty of talented backs on the cusp of a breakout year.

Florida State’s Karlos Williams flashed his big-play potential after moving from safety early in the season. With Devonta Freeman and James Wilder leaving for the NFL, Williams - and touted true freshman Dalvin Cook - should handle the bulk of the carries in the backfield. Another player to keep an eye on is Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott. With Carlos Hyde departing, Elliott is due to become the No. 1 back in Columbus. Can he record over 1,000 yards next year?

In addition to Williams and Elliott, here are a few other running backs that could be breakout stars in 2014.

College Football’s Top 10 Running Backs on the Rise for 2014

Tevin Coleman, Indiana
An ankle injury robbed Coleman of three games at the end of the season, and he finished the year just short of 1,000 yards (958). Coleman scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 2013, averaged an impressive 7.3 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 193 yards. Despite playing in nine games, the Illinois native earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. The Hoosiers should have one of the Big Ten’s top passing attacks with Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson returning at quarterback, but Coleman should expect to see more opportunities in 2014. Prior to his injury, Coleman had back-to-back 100-yard efforts, including 215 yards against Illinois. If he stays healthy, Coleman will surpass 1,000 yards and could push for a spot on the first or second All-Big Ten team.

Ezekiel Elliott/Dontre Wilson, Ohio State
Keeping quarterback Braxton Miller upright and healthy is a huge part of Ohio State’s playoff hopes in 2014. The best way for the Buckeyes to accomplish that goal? Surround their Heisman Trophy candidate with a strong supporting cast. Carlos Hyde led the way on the ground last season, rushing for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns on 208 attempts. Miller was the team second-leading rusher, recording 1,068 yards on 171 carries. Reducing Miller’s workload should be a priority, and Elliott appears to be poised to take over Hyde’s position as the top running back. The Missouri native was impressive in limited action last year, rushing for 262 yards on 30 attempts. Elliott scored twice and averaged an impressive 8.7 yards per carry. It’s unrealistic to expect the sophomore to maintain that average with more attempts, but he possesses a good blend of size and speed to handle at least 200 carries for the Buckeyes’ offense in 2014. And while we mention the Ohio State backfield, don't forget about Wilson. As a true freshman last year, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry on 31 attempts. Elliott and Wilson should be a dynamic combination for the Buckeyes in 2014.

D.J. Foster, Arizona State
With Marion Grice dealing with a leg injury late in the year, Foster moved into the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and Arizona State’s rushing attack didn’t miss a beat. In a 58-21 win over rival Arizona, Foster rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns, and he posted 132 yards on 20 attempts against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. Even though Foster and Grice were similar in yards per carry last season, both brought something different to the table. Foster is more of an all-around threat, but he is likely to see his workload increase in 2014 with Grice expiring his eligibility. The Arizona native led the nation in receptions (63) and receiving yards (653) by a running back in 2013 and was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection. Foster may not handle 200 carries, but he’s a lock for at least 1,000 yards of total offense.

Leonard Fournette, LSU
High expectations surround Fournette heading into the 2014 season. As the No. 1 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings, the New Orleans native is expected to make an immediate impact, With Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue leaving early for the NFL, Fournette should have a clear path to significant carries as a true freshman. Fournette rushed for 7,619 yards and 88 touchdowns during his high school career and earned the 2014 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year award. With a young quarterback taking over, combined with one of the best offensive lines in the SEC returning to Baton Rouge, LSU should plan its offense around the ground attack. With Fournette and Terrence Magee handling the carries, the Tigers should have no trouble pushing for double-digit wins for the fifth consecutive season.

Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri
Missouri’s three-headed monster at running back (Henry Josey, Marcus Murphy and Hansbrough) helped the Tigers finish second in the SEC in rushing offense last year. Josey left for the NFL, but Missouri’s ground game won’t suffer too much with Hansbrough and Murphy returning for 2014. Hansbrough finished second to Josey by rushing for 685 yards and four touchdowns, with his best performance coming against Indiana (104 yards on 13 attempts). The Texas native was picked as the team’s Most Improved Tailback coming out of spring practice and certainly backed up that honor with his play last year. There’s no question Murphy is going to see plenty of opportunities in the backfield. But Hansbrough ranked second among Missouri running backs in carries last season and averaged a healthy six yards per attempt. With potentially 75 more carries on tap this year, Hansbrough should push for 1,000 yards.

Derrick Henry, Alabama
Considering Henry’s production in limited action, it’s probably fair to say the true freshman was underutilized by the coaching staff. 36 attempts isn’t enough of a sample size to determine value, but Henry averaged 10.6 yards per rush and took his only reception of the season (Oklahoma) for a 61-yard score. Even at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, it’s clear Henry is capable of providing some big-play ability outside of his usual thunder. T.J. Yeldon is set to assume the No. 1 spot in the backfield this year, but Henry is due for a significant bump in carries. And with a new quarterback taking over in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to build its offense around Yeldon and Henry’s production in 2014.

Shock Linwood, Baylor
Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be missed, but Art Briles isn’t hurting for options in the backfield. All-name teamer Shock Linwood is slated to be the No. 1 back this spring after a strong showing in 2013. With Seastrunk sidelined due to injury, Linwood rushed for 182 yards against Oklahoma and gashed Texas Tech for 187. The Texas native finished the year with 881 yards and eight touchdowns on 128 attempts. Linwood is a big-play threat in the backfield and should be a preseason first-team all-conference selection. Even though Linwood appears to be capable of handling 200-215 carries, Briles and coordinator Philip Montgomery will likely find a running mate for him this season. A potential candidate will be 220-pound sophomore Devin Chafin or 6-foot-3 incoming freshman Terence Williams. Regardless of the backup situation, Linwood is in for a monster year as Baylor’s No. 1 back.

Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State
Roland played sparingly through the first six weeks of the season but provided a spark to Oklahoma State’s rushing attack in the second half of 2013. Roland gashed Iowa State for 219 yards and four touchdowns on 26 attempts and recorded 144 yards and two scores against Oklahoma in the regular season finale. The Cowboys have some turnover on offense to overcome this season, as quarterback Clint Chelf expired his eligibility, and line coach Joe Wickline left for Texas. But the changes should create more opportunities for Roland, as he will handle the bulk of the carries for Oklahoma State’s offense with Jeremy Smith departing. The Cowboys plan to involve junior college recruit Tyreek Hill, freshman Devon Thomas and sophomore Rennie Childs in the rushing attack, but all signs point to Roland emerging as a potential All-Big 12 candidate.

Dwayne Washington, Washington
Change is in the air in Seattle this spring. Steve Sarkisian left for USC, and the Huskies hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State to take the program to the next level. Petersen has a track record of success from his stint in Boise, and he is the right fit for a program that is on the cusp of a spot in the preseason top 25 this year. But Petersen certainly has some work to do this spring. Quarterback Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey depart, leaving big shoes to fill on offense. Sankey’s 1,870 yards won’t be easy to replace, and Petersen and coordinator Jonathan Smith could use multiple backs in 2014. Washington is a name to remember after he rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns in a backup role last season. He was a three-star recruit and redshirted in his first year on campus. Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier should factor into the mix, but the guess here is Washington emerges as the Huskies’ No. 1 back this preseason.

Karlos Williams, Florida State
Williams was a five-star talent out of high school and spent the first two years of his career on defense. But shortly after the win over Pittsburgh on Labor Day, the Florida State coaching staff moved Williams to offense, a move some believed should have taken place earlier in his career. As expected, Williams showcased his athleticism and speed in limited duty at running back in 2013, rushing for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns on 91 attempts. The Florida native averaged a whopping 8.0 yards per carry and is expected to open spring practice as the Seminoles’ No. 1 back. Williams won’t have to carry the entire workload for coach Jimbo Fisher, as top recruit Dalvin Cook will contribute right away, and Ryan Green and Mario Pender will be in the mix for snaps. Even if Williams doesn’t top 200 carries, it’s clear his athleticism and speed will be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses. Look for Williams to have a huge breakout season as the top back in Tallahassee.

Other Names to Watch in 2014

Peyton Barber, Auburn
Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne return, but Barber should find a role in Auburn’s offense this season.

Greg Bryant, Notre Dame
Bryant played in three games (three attempts) before redshirting in 2013. The Florida native ranked as the No. 46 recruit in the 2013 signing class and is poised to take on a larger role in the Notre Dame backfield this year.

Devin Campbell/Anthone Taylor, Buffalo
Campbell rushed for 502 yards as a true freshman in 2012 but recorded only 11 attempts in 2013. Taylor was the top backup to Branden Oliver last season, rushing for 399 yards on 82 attempts. With five starters returning on the offensive line, Campbell or Taylor could emerge as an All-MAC performer.

James Conner, Pittsburgh
Conner and Isaac Bennett will share carries once again in 2014, but Conner is due for a bump in opportunities after gashing Bowling Green for 229 yards and one touchdown in the Little Caesars Bowl.

Braylon Heard, Kentucky
Heard averaged 6.7 yards per rush on 52 attempts at Nebraska in 2012. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Heard should team with Jojo Kemp to form a much-improved Kentucky rushing attack.

Elijah Hood, North Carolina
The Tar Heels certainly aren’t hurting for options at running back. Khris Francis, T.J. Logan and Romar Morris combined for 1,065 rushing yards last season, but Larry Fedora and coordinator Seth Littrell will find a way to get Hood involved with the offense. And it may not be long before the true freshman assumes the No. 1 role in the backfield.

Kareem Hunt, Toledo
The Rockets have produced a 1,000-yard rusher for four consecutive years. Hunt should continue that streak in 2014 after rushing for 866 yards and six touchdowns on 137 attempts last year. He could be one of the top statistical backs outside of the BCS in 2014, especially with a solid offensive line leading the way in Toledo.

Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Hurd ranked as the No. 40 recruit in the 2014 signing class by the 247Sports Composite rankings. At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, Hurd is a physical specimen at running back with an intriguing blend of speed and power. The Tennessee native will have a chance to earn playing time this spring with the departure of Rajion Neal.

Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
The Sooners have a trio of talented options in the backfield. Keith Ford and Alex Ross played sparingly last season, but both players were big-time recruits. Mixon will join the competition this summer, and the California native was the No. 1 all-purpose back according to 247Sports. Ford and Ross will factor into the mix, but it will be tough to keep Mixon off the field in 2014.

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
Adam Muema made a surprising decision to leave San Diego State for the NFL, but the cupboard isn’t bare for coach Rocky Long. Pumphrey rushed for 752 yards and eight scores, while catching 22 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2013. At 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Pumphrey seems to be suited as part of a tandem approach in the backfield. However, he should approach at least 200 overall touches as a sophomore.

Josh Robinson, Mississippi State
We mentioned Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in the quarterbacks on the rise article, and his backfield mate deserves a mention here. Robinson has averaged 5.9 yards per carry over the last two years and rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries against Arkansas last season.

Barry Sanders, Stanford
Son of NFL great Barry Sanders was a top-100 recruit in the 2012 signing class and rushed for 52 yards on five attempts in his first taste of game action in 2013. With Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson departing, Sanders is due for an increased workload in what appears to be a backfield-by-committee approach for Stanford in 2014.

Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt
New coach Derek Mason is no stranger to a run-first mentality on offense after spending the last four years at Stanford. The Commodores may not copy that exact gameplan with former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell calling the plays, but the offensive line should be solid with four starters back, and the offense should lean to the run with two young quarterbacks (Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary) battling for time. Seymour is only 5-foot-7, but the Florida native led the team in attempts (164), yards (716) and touchdowns last year (14). With a few more attempts and a solid offensive line leading the way, Seymour should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2014.

Rushel Shell, West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen is known for his offenses, especially of the passing variety. But with a loaded backfield returning to Morgantown, the Mountaineers should lean on the ground in 2014. Dreamius Smith, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison are in the mix, with Shell joining the action after sitting out 2013 as a transfer from Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania native ranked as the No. 5 running back by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class. He may not win the job outright, but Shell will make a difference for the Mountaineers.

William Stanback, UCF
Storm Johnson bolted early for the NFL, but UCF’s backfield is set with Stanback returning after a solid freshman season. In 13 games, Stanback rushed for 443 yards and six touchdowns on 105 attempts. His best performance came against Houston (74 yards), while also rushing for 65 yards against Louisville.

Kelvin Taylor, Florida
Taylor’s performance was one of the few bright spots in Florida’s dreadful offense last year. He rushed for 508 yards and four scores in his true freshman campaign, including 96 in a 19-14 loss to South Carolina. If the Gators can find some answers in the trenches, Taylor could approach 1,000 yards with the right opportunities.

Thomas Tyner, Oregon
Oregon certainly isn’t hurting for options in the backfield. Byron Marshall returns after rushing for 1,038 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, while true freshman Royce Freeman is another weapon for coordinator Scott Frost. Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine scores as a true freshman in 2013, and the Oregon native is the team’s top big-play threat in the backfield. Even though Marshall has earned his carries, and Freeman is due for a role, Tyner needs more carries this season.

Myles Willis, Boston College
The Eagles probably won’t replace Andre Williams with one player, but Willis proved to be a capable option in limited action last year. The Georgia native rushed for 346 yards on 60 attempts (5.8 ypc), including 70 on 17 attempts against Syracuse. With a solid offensive line returning to Chestnut Hill next year, Willis should find plenty of room to run in 2014.

Aaron Wimberly, Iowa State
New coordinator Mark Mangino is tasked with improving an Iowa State offense that finished eighth in the Big 12 last season. Getting the ball to Wimberly should be a priority after he rushed for 567 yards on 141 attempts in 2013, including an 117-yard performance against Texas.

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Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s playing career was in doubt after a pre-existing condition was discovered after concussion tests in November.

However, Wilson recently received good news, as he was cleared to participate in spring practice.

Wilson still has more tests in his future to determine his playing status for 2014, but this is clearly a step in the right direction.

In nine games last year, Wilson threw for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 386 yards and five scores on 81 attempts.

More will be known about Wilson’s status for 2014, but there are encouraging signs that he can return to the field. Assuming he is able to play, Utah’s offense will have plenty of intrigue, especially with new coordinator Dave Christensen calling the plays.

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The ACC has experienced a few changes through realignment over the last couple of years, and the final piece of the puzzle appears to be the addition of Louisville as the No. 14 team in the league. Maryland is off to the Big Ten, and the Cardinals will slide into the Atlantic Division in 2014. Stability is crucial for the ACC, as the conference seems to have momentum after what transpired on the gridiron last season.

Florida State ended the SEC’s national title streak with a last-minute victory over Auburn in Pasadena in the BCS Championship. The Seminoles are loaded for another national championship run, and coach Jimbo Fisher continues to bring in elite talent on the recruiting trail. Florida State is clearly the class of the conference heading into 2014, but Clemson should be a top 15-20 team. The Tigers return 11 starters, and three options will battle to replace Tajh Boyd under center this spring.

The pecking order in the Atlantic Division is clear, but things are murky in the Coastal. Miami is likely to open 2014 as the favorite, and it’s time for Al Golden to take this team to the conference championship game. If the Hurricanes aren’t the favorite, North Carolina or Duke can make a compelling case for the top spot. The Tar Heels are loaded on offense, and the Blue Devils return most of the core from last year’s team. Virginia Tech is a wildcard heading into spring practice. As usual, the Hokies should be strong on defense. However, the offense remains a work in progress and may struggle to top last season's totals.

 Seniors 
Departing
Lost Early to the NFLReturning Offensive StartersReturning Defensive Starters
Boston College18136
Clemson19356
Duke16086
Florida State24476
Georgia Tech17065
Louisville20274
Miami26057
NC State20166
North Carolina16277
Pittsburgh18076
Syracuse20157
Virginia8078
Virginia Tech14085
Wake Forest15035

Atlantic Division Spring Outlook

Boston College

Starting over on offense:

With quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon expiring their eligibility, Boston College’s offense is essentially starting over in 2014. Williams and Rettig combined for 4,243 of the Eagles’ 4,774 yards last season, while Amidon caught 77 of the team’s 164 receptions. Needless to say, coach Steve Addazio and coordinator Ryan Day will be busy this spring. The news isn’t all bad for Addazio and Day, as Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse are a good foundation at running back. At quarterback, Florida transfer Tyler Murphy has experience, and the staff was able to redshirt James Walsh last year. Spiffy Evans and Harrison Jackson are back at receiver, and the offense can build around a solid line that returns three starters. This spring is Addazio’s first look at the replacements, and the offense can begin to develop some clarity at quarterback, running back and receiver.

Clemson

Life without Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd begins this spring:

The offseason was a mixed bag of news for Clemson. There was good news: Offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave Death Valley. But there was also plenty of bad news, as quarterback Tajh Boyd and running back Roderick McDowell expired their eligibility, and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant left early for the NFL Draft. Morris and coach Dabo Swinney have a rebuilding effort ahead on offense, but there shouldn’t be too big of a drop-off in production. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson will compete for the starting quarterback job. Stoudt has the edge in experience, but Watson is a star in the making. The receiving corps also has talent, headlined by Adam Humphries, Mike Williams and Gerome Hopper. Charone Peake also returns to the lineup after missing most of last season with an injury. The first priority for Clemson is the quarterback battle. Is this Stoudt’s job to lose? Or do all three candidates have a shot to open the year as the No. 1 quarterback? This spring will be the first opportunity for Swinney and Morris to sort out their options on offense.

Florida State

Restocking at defensive tackle:

With 13 starters returning, the Seminoles are in good shape to defend their national championship. Repeating as college football’s national champion won’t be easy, but Florida State has no shortage of talent waiting to step onto the field. New coordinator Charles Kelly should ensure there’s little drop in production on defense, but there’s a big concern at defensive tackle. Timmy Jernigan was one of the nation’s best last season, and he bolted early for the NFL. Additionally, Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister expired their eligibility. With Jernigan, McDaniel and McAllister gone, the depth is thin at tackle. Nile Lawrence-Stample is the top returner on the interior, with Desmond Hollin, Justin Shanks, Eddie Goldman and Keith Bryant battling for snaps this spring. The Seminoles will add more talent to the mix in the fall when Adam Torres, Arthur Williams, Derrick Nnadi, Fredrick Jones and Demarcus Christmas arrive for their freshman season. Not all of the incoming freshmen will compete for time, but some could be needed for depth in 2014. Finding answers at defensive tackle is even more critical when you consider the losses at linebacker (Telvin Smith and Christian Jones), along with active defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks.

Louisville

Adjusting to the new 3-4 defense:

Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is no easy task, but Will Gardner has potential and played well in limited action last year. While the quarterback situation is something to watch, Bobby Petrino should push the right buttons on offense. With Petrino back on the sidelines in Louisville, the focus of spring practice should shift to the defense. The Cardinals led the nation against the run last season and finished second in points allowed. However, only four starters return from last year’s unit, and there’s a transition period as new coordinator Todd Grantham shifts the personnel to a 3-4 scheme. Lorenzo Mauldin is expected to be an All-ACC performer, and the senior will move from end to linebacker this spring. Other personnel moves are anticipated, especially as Louisville looks for replacements at safety with the departure of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare on defense, but it may take some time for the players to adjust to a new 3-4 approach.

NC State

Jacoby Brissett’s time to shine:

The Wolfpack had a revolving door at under center last season, with five quarterbacks attempting passes. But 2014 is expected to be a different story in Raleigh. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is clearly NC State’s No. 1 quarterback and is an upgrade over last year’s options. Brissett has talent (No. 75 player by Rivals in 2011 signing class) but has thrown only 74 passes in two seasons at Florida and completed 4 of 10 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in NC State’s 2013 spring game. The Wolfpack have a solid supporting cast in place to help Brissett, including running back Shadrach Thornton and receivers Bryan Underwood and Jumichael Ramos. As a first-year starter, Brissett is going to have his share of ups and downs. However, he should be an upgrade over last year’s options. This spring is all about getting him ready to take the first snap of 2014. 

Syracuse

The front seven on defense:

The Orange have a few question marks on both sides of the ball, but this team is positioned to make another bowl in Scott Shafer’s second season. Quarterback Terrel Hunt grew more comfortable as the starter late in the year, and there are promising receivers with Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime. With the offense expected to take another step forward in 2014, the focus of spring practice should on defense. Seven starters are back, but this unit loses tackle Jay Bromley and linebacker Marquis Spruill. Bromley was one of the ACC’s underrated defenders last season and recorded 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss. Without Bromley, who steps up to be the difference maker in the trenches? Senior Eric Crume is an option, and massive junior college recruit Wayne Williams (335 pounds) could be a name to watch on the interior. In addition to securing the interior of the line, Spruill’s production at middle linebacker must be replaced. Luke Arciniega was listed as his backup last season, but the defense also needs more from Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch.

Wake Forest

Rebuilding from scratch:

New coach Dave Clawson has plenty of experience in rebuilding. After going 3-19 in his first two years at Fordham, Clawson guided the program to a 26-10 mark over the final three seasons. Clawson used the same blueprint at Richmond, taking the Spiders from 3-8 in 2004 to 9-4 in 2005. At Bowling Green, Clawson went 14-23 in his first three seasons but finished with an 18-8 mark over the final two years with a MAC Championship in 2013. Clawson has his work cut out for him this season, as Wake Forest returns just eight starters and loses quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. This spring is all about finding playmakers on offense, along with developing Tyler Cameron at quarterback. The defense returns five starters but nose guard Nikita Whitlock must be replaced. The Demon Deacons have a handful of question marks and concerns, but this spring is the first step in Clawson’s rebuilding plan to get the program back on track.


Coastal Division Spring Outlook

Duke

Starting over on the defensive line:

After going 10-4 and playing in the ACC Championship last year, Duke is coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The Blue Devils return 14 starters in 2014, but there are a few concerns heading into spring practice. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper left for Florida, and Cutcliffe promoted from within, giving the play-calling duties to Scottie Montgomery. Considering Cutcliffe’s track record on offense, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much on the stat sheet. But a concern for Duke is the departure of three key players on the line, including standout end Kenny Anunike. In addition to Anunike, end Justin Foxx and tackle Sydney Sarmiento depart after starting up front in 2013. Cutcliffe and co-coordinators Jim Knowles and Jim Collins shifted Kyler Brown from linebacker to end to help alleviate the losses there. The Blue Devils are also counting on Dezmond Johnson, Jonathan Jones and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo to step up their production this season. The spring will be the first look at a rebuilt defensive line, which will be a critical unit to watch as Duke hopes to repeat as the Coastal Division champion.

Georgia Tech

New faces in the backfield:

Despite having winning ACC records in five out of his six seasons at Georgia Tech, coach Paul Johnson is starting to feel a little heat from the fanbase. The Yellow Jackets are 14-13 over the last two years and will be picked near the bottom of the Coastal in 2014. In order for Georgia Tech to contend for a division crown, Johnson has to find new playmakers in the backfield. Quarterback Vad Lee left for James Madison at the end of the year, leaving Justin Thomas as the team’s No. 1 option under center. Thomas is a good athlete and should be a good fit in Georgia Tech’s offense. At running back, David Sims and Robert Godhigh depart after each player rushed for over 700 yards last year. Zach Laskey is the team’s leading returning rusher (485 yards), but the Yellow Jackets need to find more playmakers on the ground.

Miami

Looking for improvement on defense:

Sure, there’s a quarterback battle set to take place in Coral Gables this spring, but most of the attention for the coaching staff should be on the defense. The Hurricanes ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense last season, which came one year after finishing last in the conference. The numbers weren’t pretty for Al Golden’s defense, which allowed 6.2 yards per play in ACC-only games and gave up 32.8 points per game in eight conference contests. For a team that has the No. 2 ranked roster in the ACC, the ongoing defensive struggles are a mystery. While the numbers from last year are ugly, there’s hope for improvement with seven starters returning, while another solid recruiting class will help with overall depth. Each level of the defense has a potential impact player, starting with Anthony Chickillo at defensive end, Denzel Perryman at linebacker and Tracy Howard at cornerback. But can coordinator Mark D’Onofrio develop or find more difference makers on defense this spring?

North Carolina

Replacements on the offensive line:

The top spot in the Coastal Division is expected to be up for grabs once again next year. The Tar Heels finished 2013 by winning six out of their final seven games, and with seven starters back on both sides of the ball, Larry Fedora’s team is positioned for a run at the division title. Marquise Williams will have to compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, but the promising junior is expected to win the No. 1 spot. The Tar Heels are loaded with talent at the skill positions, including receiver Quinshad Davis and running back T.J. Logan. If there’s a concern on offense, it’s a line that loses two standout players in left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine. Guards Caleb Peterson and Landon Turner and tackle Jon Heck provide a solid foundation, but left tackle and center are arguably the two most-important positions on the line. Can Fedora and new coordinator Seth Littrell find answers in the spring? One name to watch is incoming freshman Bentley Spain – the No. 115 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – who enrolled early to compete this spring.

Pittsburgh

Filling the voids on defense:

With a favorable schedule and promising young talent on offense, the Panthers are a team on the rise in the Coastal Division. But in order for Paul Chryst’s team to jump into division title contention, the defense has to fill a few holes to fill. Tackle Aaron Donald will be difficult to replace after earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, and the Panthers also lose fellow tackle Tyrone Ezell, linebacker Shane Gordon, cornerback K’Waun Williams and safety Jason Hendricks. Pittsburgh’s defense ranked a respectable fifth in conference-only games in fewest yards allowed. However, the Panthers gave up 27.2 points per game and struggled on defense inside the red zone and on third downs. With Matt House calling the plays for the second season, will this defense show improvement despite losing its best player? This spring is a big opportunity for players like tackle Darryl Render and end Shakir Soto as Pittsburgh looks to replace Donald’s production and improve off last year’s totals.

Virginia

Quarterback play under the spotlight:

Talent certainly isn’t an issue at Virginia (No. 6 roster in the ACC), but the Cavaliers have won just six games over the last two years. Coach Mike London enters 2014 on the hot seat, and a tough schedule is on tap for his team once again. For Virginia to surpass last year’s two victories, it needs more from quarterback David Watford. In eight ACC contests, Watford threw only five touchdowns and tossed eight interceptions on 203 attempts. Backup Greyson Lambert didn’t fare much better, completing only 44 percent of his throws and tossing two picks on 75 attempts last year. Watford should enter spring with an edge on Lambert to start, but this battle could extend into the fall once freshman Corwin Cutler arrives on campus. With Kevin Parks returning at running back and an experience at receiver and tight end, there’s potential with this offense. However, Virginia’s passing game won’t improve unless the quarterback play is better in 2014.

Virginia Tech

Finding a spark on offense:

The final numbers for Virginia Tech’s offense weren’t pretty last season. The Hokies finished 13th in the ACC in total offense and averaged just five yards per play. Under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech managed just 28 points in its final two games and scored under 20 points seven times in 2013. This unit enters spring practice with a myriad of question marks, starting under center where Logan Thomas expired his eligibility after the Sun Bowl loss to UCLA. Mark Leal is the favorite to replace Thomas, but he has just 48 pass attempts in his career. Leal needs to prove he has control of the No. 1 spot this spring, while Loeffler has to provide the senior with more help in the supporting cast. The Hokies averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season, while inconsistency was a concern in the receiving corps and on the offensive line. Virginia Tech will be fine on defense, but it’s hard to see improvement off last year’s 8-5 mark without significant growth on offense.

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