Articles By Steven Lassan
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.
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North Division Spring Outlook
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
Three Things to Watch in Baylor’s 2014 Spring Practice
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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.
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.
|Early NFL Draft Departures||Returning Starters: Offense||Returning Starters: Defense|
SEC West Spring Outlook
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Tech Helmets... pic.twitter.com/AZujcavUjo— Trey Haverty (@TreyHaverty) February 27, 2014
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.
|Early NFL Draft Departures||Returning Starters: Offense||Returning Starters: Defense|
SEC East Spring Outlook
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Lost||Early NFL Departures||Returning Offensive Starters||Returning Defensive Starters|
East Division Spring Outlook
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Utah fans: Good news today about QB Travis Wilson but we are months from full-go confirmation on him bring ready to play again.— ESPN Pac-12 (@ESPN_Pac12blog) February 25, 2014
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.
|Lost Early to the NFL||Returning Offensive Starters||Returning Defensive Starters|
Atlantic Division Spring Outlook
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stanford opens spring practice with a few holes to fill and some new faces on the coaching staff, but the program is poised to build off last year’s 11-3 mark. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons and has claimed back-to-back Pac-12 titles. Coach David Shaw is an impressive 25-4 in Pac-12 contests (including conference championship games), while Stanford is looking for its third consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl in 2014.
The Pac-12 is one of the top conferences in college football, and Stanford will be up against a North Division that features Oregon and an improving Washington team. Shaw has been a model of consistency through his first three years on the Farm. And as any college football program has success, new challenges are created. That motto holds true for the Cardinal in 2014, as there’s some key personnel and coaches to replace.
Stanford Cardinal 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 11-3 (7-1 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: February 24
Spring Game: April 12
Five Things to Watch in Stanford's 2014 Spring Practice
|Aug. 31||UC Davis|
1. New faces on the coaching staff. Considering Stanford’s success, it’s no surprise its assistants have been targeted by other programs. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left to be the head coach at Vanderbilt, Mike Sanford was named the offensive coordinator at Boise State, and David Kotulski followed Mason to Vanderbilt. Shaw promoted Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator, hired Peter Hansen to replace Kotulski and Lance Taylor was brought aboard to coach running backs. Shaw has one more opening to fill, but there’s not expected to be a significant transition period under the new staff. Anderson has worked at Stanford since 2007, and his experience under Mason should ensure the defense remains one of the best in the Pac-12.
2. Who steps up at running back? Stanford has produced a 1,000-yard rusher for six consecutive seasons. Will that streak run to seven? Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson combined for 2,062 yards last season but expired their eligibility after the Rose Bowl. The cupboard isn’t completely bare for coordinator Mike Bloomgren, as Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale return. Sanders was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and high expectations surround the Oklahoma native. But Sanders won’t have to carry the entire workload, as Wright and Seale have experience, and incoming freshmen Christian McCaffrey and Isaiah Brandt-Sims are capable of playing this season. While running back is a question mark, there’s enough talent returning for Shaw and Bloomgren to feel alright about this position.
3. Restocking the trenches. The Cardinal expect quarterback Kevin Hogan to take another step in his development this spring, and Shaw and Bloomgren want to rely on their ground game to set the tone on offense 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?
4. Filling the voids in the front seven. Not only must Stanford’s defense adapt to a new coordinator (Lance Anderson), but this unit suffered some key losses in the front seven. The Cardinal must replace standout ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro, and linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov also depart. Much like the offense, there’s talent waiting in the wings to step into the starting lineup. Henry Anderson earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season and is due to become an even bigger piece of the line in 2014. Blake Lueders and Luke Kaumatule shifted from other positions to the defensive line and join Anderson as key cogs in the trenches. Aziz Shittu is another name to watch at end, but Anderson also needs to develop more depth behind tackle David Parry. While the losses on the line are huge, the departures at linebacker are even bigger. Murphy and Skov’s production and leadership will be difficult to replace, but there’s a solid foundation to build around in A.J. Tarpley and Kevin Anderson. James Vaughters, Joe Hemschoot, Blake Martinez and Noor Davis are other names to watch this spring.
5. Who replaces Ed Reynolds at safety? The losses in the defensive line and linebacking corps were more significant, but Reynolds will be tough to replace. He recorded 87 tackles and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Of course, having a standout like Jordan Richards back at the other safety spot will help Stanford’s secondary remain one of the best in the Pac-12. The Cardinal has options to replace Reynolds, including converted receiver Kodi Whitfield and converted quarterback Dallas Lloyd. Devon Carrington was listed as the backup to Reynolds last year and expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl. If Lloyd or Whitfield doesn’t win the job, Zach Hoffpauir or Kyle Olugbode could be the answer.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
Yes, Stanford has some personnel losses and a few changes on the coaching staff. But David Shaw won’t allow the Cardinal to fall too far in the win column. Assuming the line jells early in the year, quarterback Kevin Hogan should take another step forward in his development. It’s a lot to ask the defense to replicate last year’s numbers without Murphy, Skov, Reynolds, Gardner and Mauro. However, this unit is still one of the best in the Pac-12. Stanford will be in the mix for another BCS bowl and will contend with Oregon for the North Division title.
The Big 12 didn’t have a banner year in 2013 with only three teams finishing in the final Associated Press poll. Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State combined for 32 victories last season, while the rest of the conference combined for 38 wins. While last season left a lot to be desired, the Sooners defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and Kansas State has momentum after a strong close to the year.
As spring practice opens in the Big 12, each team has a handful of question marks the coaching staff hopes to find solutions for over the next few months. Oklahoma is considered a slight favorite over Baylor for the top spot in the conference, but Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas will be tough outs for the rest of the Big 12.
Texas Tech is a darkhorse to watch this season, but the Red Raiders have a few significant question marks on defense. Assuming a quarterback emerges, TCU should rebound after going 4-8 last year. And West Virginia has enough returning talent to expect a run at a bowl game after a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the teams heading into spring practice with personnel losses from last season and returning starters on both sides of the ball.
|Seniors Departing||Lost Early to NFL Draft||Returning Offensive Starters||Returning Defensive Starters|
Key Storylines Around the Big 12 for Spring Practice
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?
Is Grant Rohach ready to emerge as the No. 1 quarterback?:
The Cyclones have question marks on both sides of the ball, but Rohach’s development is the key to the season. The California native finished 2013 by throwing for 631 yards and six touchdowns over the final two games, leading Iowa State to back-to-back victories. New coordinator Mark Mangino should help Rohach’s growth, and the Cyclones are bringing in a potential impact recruit at receiver in Allen Lazard. Iowa State’s schedule is tough. But if Rohach builds off the final two performances of 2013, the Cyclones could push for six wins this season.
Improving the passing attack:
When you win four games in two years, it’s hard to call many areas of that team a strength. Kansas has some pieces to build around, including running back Darrian Miller, all-purpose threat Tony Pierson and All-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney. However, for the Jayhawks to show significant improvement in the win column, quarterback play and the receiving corps needs to show progress this offseason. Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart each played significant snaps at quarterback last year, but neither showcased enough to have the full-time job going into the spring. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will get a chance to unseat Heaps and Cozart, and Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell should provide the quarterback a No. 1 target. But can the Jayhawks find a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver? Is Justin McCay ready to live up to the hype?
Finding a No. 1 running back:
With John Hubert and Robert Rose expiring their eligibility, Kansas State’s returning leaders in rushing yards are quarterbacks Daniel Sams (807) and Jake Waters (312). And there’s little in the way of returning experience at running back for coach Bill Snyder. Demarcus Robinson was a four-star recruit by Rivals but has only 11 carries in two years. Sophomore Jarvis Leverett Jr. was a three-star recruit in 2012 and will be in the mix to replace Hubert, while incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack is a name to watch this fall. A wildcard option to watch in the ground attack is Sams, as he could spend time at running back or receiver this season. Kansas State has a few other voids to fill, including spots at linebacker, cornerback and at tackle. However, this team is positioned to compete for a spot among the top 25 in many preseason polls.
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.
The quarterback battle:
Mike Gundy’s team returns only nine starters next year, but Oklahoma State should still be a factor in the Big 12 title picture. The Cowboys have not won fewer than eight games since a 7-6 mark in 2007, and there’s promising young talent on offense, including running back Desmond Roland and receiver Jhajuan Seales. However, all eyes this spring will be on the quarterback battle. Junior J.W. Walsh has the experience, but incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early and is expected to push for time. Daxx Garman and Richard Lagow are also in the mix, but the job is expected to go to Walsh or Rudolph. Walsh is a dual-threat option, while Rudolph is a prototypical pocket passer. Will a quarterback claim the job this spring? Or will Rudolph and Walsh take their battle into the fall?
Rebuilding on offense:
Despite the defense leading the Big 12 in fewest yards per game (conference-only contests), the Horned Frogs finished with their worst record under Gary Patterson. After watching the offense manage just 349.1 yards per game in Big 12 action, Patterson made changes to his offensive staff. Doug Meacham was hired away from Houston to call the plays, while Sonny Cumbie joins the staff after four years at Texas Tech. Meacham and Cumbie were solid additions, but both coaches will have their work cut out for them this preseason. The Horned Frogs need to find a quarterback, as Casey Pachall has expired his eligibility, and Trevone Boykin could slide to receiver. If Boykin doesn’t stay at quarterback, there’s not much in the way of proven options under center. Zach Allen, Tyler Matthews and Carson Snyder have combined for just three pass attempts, while incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein will have an opportunity to win the job this preseason. The question marks on TCU’s offense extend to the line where two starters depart from a unit that struggled in 2013. The Horned Frogs also need more consistency from the receiving corps and at running back. This spring is the first step to finding answers for TCU.
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.
Restocking the defensive line and secondary:
The Red Raiders finished 2013 with a fury, handling Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl. Kliff Kingsbury has Texas Tech on the right track, but there are a few glaring concerns heading into spring practice. The receiving corps needs to reload after losing Eric Ward and Jace Amaro, but a bigger concern is on defense where only three starters return. The line must replace standout end Kerry Hyder, while the secondary loses three starters, including safety Tre Porter. To help with the personnel losses, Texas Tech dipped into the junior college ranks, bringing five players who can help this season. It’s always risky relying on junior college recruits to make an immediate impact, but the Red Raiders needed players who can play right away and help with depth this season. Finding two new starting cornerbacks and developing depth up front will be critical to Texas Tech’s chances at beating last year’s eight wins.
The quarterback battle:
Considering West Virginia had to replace quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it was no surprise the offense took a step back from its 2012 production in 2013. However, the drop-off was greater than most anticipated. The Mountaineers still averaged 410.8 yards per game, but the scoring average dropped by 13 points. Quarterback play has been a strength in Dana Holgorsen’s offenses and spring practice will be critical to developing a pecking order under center after a season of lackluster play from the quarterbacks. Three players started under center last year, but Ford Childress left the team before spring practice, and Clint Trickett is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Paul Millard is the team’s No. 1 quarterback – for now – but keep an eye on junior college recruit Skyler Howard. Will Millard take a step forward in 2014? Or will he leave the door open for Howard, incoming freshman William Crest or Trickett to eventually win the job in the fall?
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s status for spring practice is uncertain, as the Heisman Trophy candidate will have minor shoulder surgery. ElevenWarriors.com first reported the news on Thursday night.
Miller’s shoulder injury occurred in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, but he finished with 234 passing yards on 16 completions.
Miller’s injury is to his throwing shoulder, but the surgery is regarded as minor.
It’s uncertain if Miller will be forced to miss any practices or if he will just be limited. If Miller is out or limited for any of the practices, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett will have an opportunity to work as the No. 1 quarterback.
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.
There’s no question quarterback is the most important position on the field. And the scrutiny on signal-callers is at an all-time high with college football’s playoff set to start in 2014. While some teams like Florida State or Oregon have zero concerns about their starting quarterbacks, other programs are searching for an answer in spring practice.
But there’s also another category for teams to fall into. Teams like Georgia, Missouri and Pittsburgh are technically breaking in a new starter, but there’s not much concern over the quarterback position.
Although names like Missouri’s Maty Mauk, Georgia’s Hutson Mason and Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik are far from household names, these players could play a key role in determining a division or conference title.
In addition to Mauk, Mason and Voytik, here are a few other quarterbacks that could be breakout stars in 2014.
College Football's Top 10 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2014
Jacob Coker, Alabama
With Jameis Winston entrenched for at least one more year in Tallahassee, Coker took advantage of the graduate transfer rule and left Florida State for Alabama for a chance to win a starting job in the SEC. Although Coker has to compete with a host of options this spring (Blake Sims, David Cornwell, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman), he is considered to be the favorite to start Alabama’s season opener against West Virginia. The junior doesn’t have a ton of experience from his two years in Tallahassee, but there’s also a lot to like about the Alabama native. Coker completed 21 of 41 throws for 295 yards and one touchdown in two seasons with the Seminoles. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds – along with a strong arm – Coker has all of the intangibles coaches want in a quarterback. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the best in the nation at developing quarterbacks, and Coker gave Winston a run for the starting job in the fall. Although Coker doesn’t have a start on the collegiate level, there’s no shortage of talent or potential as he looks to win Alabama’s starting job this preseason.
Matt Johnson, Bowling Green
Bowling Green made one of the offseason’s top hires in Dino Babers, and the Falcons should be the frontrunner to win the MAC in 2014. The former Baylor assistant built one of the top offenses in the FCS ranks last year, as Eastern Illinois averaged 48.2 points per game and averaged 372.4 passing yards per contest. Johnson appears to be the perfect triggerman for Babers’ offense after throwing for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter in 2013. The Pennsylvania native also tossed only seven picks in 369 attempts and added 230 yards and five scores on the ground. As long as Johnson quickly adapts to the new offense, he should have a monster season under Babers’ direction.
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
It’s hard to put too much stock in what happens in bowl games, but it’s also hard to ignore Knight’s performance against Alabama. After throwing just 90 passes during the regular season, Knight hoisted 44 attempts against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, completing 32 of those for 348 yards and four scores. The performance against Alabama was easily the best of Knight’s 2013 season. However, there were other bright spots for the Texas native throughout the regular season. Knight threw for 171 yards and added 82 on the ground against Kansas State, while he rushed for 123 yards in a 48-10 win against Iowa State. If Knight can build off his bowl performance, he could elevate Oklahoma into contention for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff. The Sooners need to reload in the receiving corps, but there’s still talent on the offensive line, and with Blake Bell moving to tight end there’s no question which quarterback will be taking snaps in Norman this fall.
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Aaron Murray’s late-season knee injury was a huge blow for Georgia’s offense, but it also created an opportunity for Mason to secure the No. 1 spot heading into spring practice. In relief of Murray against Kentucky, Mason completed 13 of 19 passes for 189 yards and one score. In his first career start, Mason rallied Georgia to a 41-34 overtime win against Georgia Tech by throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Considering the sloppy conditions, the Gator Bowl isn’t the best judge of Mason’s ability, but he did manage to throw for 320 yards in that game. Mason is still largely unproven despite his performances at the end of 2013. However, Georgia’s supporting cast is strong, and Mason has spent the last four years waiting for this chance. With a strong grasp of the offense, Mason should take full advantage of his opportunity to be the Bulldogs’ starter.
Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk appears to be the next in a line of successful quarterbacks produced by Missouri. After James Franklin suffered a shoulder injury against Georgia, Mauk’s production helped to keep the Tigers in contention for the SEC East title. In his first start against Florida, the Ohio native threw for 295 yards and one touchdown on 18 completions. Mauk threw for five touchdowns against Kentucky and passed for 163 yards and three scores against Tennessee. Even though his 1,071 yards and 11 passing scores from last year were impressive, the most important number from Mauk’s final stat line was just two interceptions in 133 attempts. Mauk’s completion percentage could use a little work (51.1 percent), but he averaged nearly 16 yards per completion (15.7). He will have a few ups and downs in his first full season as the starter, but all signs point to a breakout year for Mauk.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
After finishing last season on a three-game winning streak, along with the return of 16 starters, Dan Mullen could have the best team of his tenure coming back to Starkville. Prescott is one of the driving forces behind Mississippi State’s hope for a breakout 2014, as the Louisiana native finished the season by throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns in the 44-7 blowout win over Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Prescott showed flashes of promise in SEC play by recording 303 total yards against Texas A&M and led Mississippi State to a comeback win over Ole Miss in the regular-season finale. Prescott still has room to improve, but with Tyler Russell expiring his eligibility, he will spend all preseason working with the No. 1 offense. The junior is a perfect fit for Mullen’s offense and could approach 1,000 rushing yards after leading the Bulldogs with 829 yards on the ground last year.
Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Paul Chryst got a glimpse of the future when Tom Savage suffered an injury in the bowl win over Bowling Green. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t miss a beat with Voytik at the controls, as the Panthers posted 13 points in the second half and punted only once on five drives. Voytik completed 5 of 9 passes for 108 yards against the Falcons and rushed for 24 yards on two attempts. The Tennessee native threw only 11 passes last season, but there’s no question about his talent, ranking as the No. 16 quarterback recruit in the 2012 signing class. As evidenced by his work at Wisconsin, Chryst knows how to develop quarterbacks and make the most out of his talent. Voytik has the talent and intangibles and should flourish under Chryst’s tutelage this season. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Voytik’s development that he will be throwing to standout receiver Tyler Boyd and protected by a line that returns four starters.
P.J. Walker, Temple
Temple started 0-6 last year but rallied to win two out of their final six games, including a 41-21 road contest at Memphis in the season finale. A key reason for the turnaround was Walker’s emergence as the team’s starting quarterback. The New Jersey native started the final seven contests and finished the season with 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns, while tossing only eight picks on 250 attempts. Walker also added 332 yards and three scores on the ground. Another positive sign for Temple was Walker’s completion percentage (60.8), as well as a solid 13.7 yards per completion. Even though top receiver Robby Anderson won’t return, Walker is poised to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Davis Webb, Texas Tech
With Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, Webb enters spring practice entrenched as Texas Tech’s No. 1 quarterback. With a clear path to the starting job, along with a standout performance in the Holiday Bowl, Webb appears to be on his way to emerging as Texas Tech’s next star quarterback. As a true freshman last year, the Texas native threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns on 361 attempts, while tossing only nine picks. Webb completed 62.6 percent of his throws and threw for at least 385 yards in five out of his last six games. The Red Raiders need to replace standout receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro, but Kliff Kingsbury should have this offense performing at a high level once again.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
The Tar Heels were one of the hottest teams in the ACC by the end of 2013, and Larry Fedora’s team should be a factor in the Coastal Division title picture this fall. Williams was one of the top factors behind the late-season turnaround, taking over starting quarterback duties after Bryn Renner was lost for the year with a shoulder injury. The North Carolina native’s first career start came against Virginia Tech in early October, passing for 277 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-17 road loss. The Tar Heels fared better in Williams’ next start, winning a 45-14 matchup against Virginia, followed by a 34-27 road win at Pittsburgh. Williams was sharp in an easy win over Old Dominion, gashing the Monarchs defense for 469 total yards and four touchdowns. Fedora has assembled one of the ACC’s top running back corps, along with a handful of talented weapons at receiver. Williams will face competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, but all signs point to the junior building off a successful finish to the 2013 season.
Other Names to Watch
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
Armstrong will have to compete with Johnny Stanton and Zack Darlington for the starting spot, but he showed flashes of promise in his redshirt freshman season, throwing for 966 yards in nine games, including 163 in the bowl win over Georgia.
Drew Barker, Kentucky
True freshman passer is a key piece for Mark Stoops’ rebuilding effort in Lexington. Barker ranked as the No. 119 prospect in the 247Sports Composite this season and will have an opportunity to win the starting job this spring.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
The Wolfpack struggled on offense last season, but improvement should be noticeable in 2014. With former starters Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell no longer in the picture following a disappointing 2013 campaign under center, Brissett is a welcomed upgrade. He was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school and threw for 455 yards in two seasons at Florida.
Will Gardner, Louisville
There’s no doubt Louisville will miss Teddy Bridgewater. But Gardner is an intriguing option for new coach Bobby Petrino. The Georgia native completed 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards in mop-up duty last year and has upside to develop in the Cardinals’ new offense.
Jared Goff, California
Goff had his share of freshman mistakes last year, but he finished 2013 with a respectable stat line – 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns. Under the direction of Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin, Goff should be in for a significant jump in production in 2014.
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Hunt averaged only 9.8 yards per attempt last year, but the New York native played his best in Syracuse’s final two games. In the win against Boston College, Hunt threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards and one score. In the 21-17 victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, Hunt completed 19 of 29 passes for 188 yards and added 74 yards and two scores on the ground. Both games should serve as a sign of progress for the Orange's offense under coordinator George McDonald heading into 2014.
Jaquez Johnson, FAU
Finished first season at FAU with six passing touchdowns over final two games and led the team with 772 rushing yards. Johnson was named as Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year last season and accounted for 2,648 of FAU’s 4,615 yards in 2013.
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Kiel ranked as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 signing class but never played a snap at Notre Dame. The Indiana native threw for 4,831 yards and 61 touchdowns in two seasons at Columbus East High School and was the Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year in 2011. Kiel has all of the physical tools necessary to succeed at Cincinnati, and with Munchie Legaux likely sidelined until this summer, he should have a clear path to the starting job.
Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren were instrumental in developing San Jose State passer David Fales. Liufau showed promise in limited action last season, finishing the year with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns on 149 completions. Liufau closed the year by throwing for seven touchdowns and just three interceptions over his final three games.
Wes Lunt, Illinois
Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six scores for Oklahoma State in 2012, and the Illinois native should be a good fit in Bill Cubit’s offense. However, the receiving corps for the Fighting Illini is a concern.
Cyler Miles, Washington
Miles was suspended indefinitely in early February due to an off-the-field incident. If he returns to the team, the sophomore should be a breakout player in the Pac-12. Miles completed 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns last year. He made one start (Oregon State) and led the Huskies to a 69-27 victory over Oregon State.
Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
Mullens was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and seemed to get better with every snap. He finished 2013 with 1,776 yards and 13 touchdowns but arguably had his best performances in the final two games (MTSU and UAB). In the Golden Eagles’ 62-27 dismantling of UAB, Mullens threw for 370 yards and five scores. The Alabama native will have some extra guidance in 2014, as his high school coach (Chip Lindsey) was hired by Todd Monken as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson ranked as the No. 41 prospect in the 247Sports Composite ranking for the 2014 signing class. He will have to compete with Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly for the starting job, but Watson has upside and talent to emerge as Clemson’s starting quarterback. And enrolling early to get a jumpstart on learning Chad Morris’ offense certainly doesn’t hurt.
Mike White, South Florida
White did not play at all in the first six games but finished 2013 as South Florida’s No. 1 quarterback. The final stat line wasn’t too kind for White (3 TDs, 9 INTs), but the true freshman threw for 311 yards against Houston and nearly led South Florida to a win over UCF. White needs more help from his supporting cast, and the sophomore should benefit from a full offseason to work as the No. 1 passer.
Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from the team on Tuesday due to a violation of team rules.
Harvey-Clemons was already slated to miss the first three games of 2014 due to a suspension, but coach Mark Richt decided to dismiss the safety permanently this week.
Harvey-Clemons was regarded as a five-star prospect by Scout.com in the 2012 signing class. He played in 14 games as a freshman, recording 14 tackles and one pass breakup.
As a sophomore, Harvey-Clemons was expected to emerge as one of the key players on Georgia’s defense. He missed two games but recorded 66 tackles and one interception.
Harvey-Clemons has two years of eligibility remaining and could transfer to another FBS school.
Major news: Josh Harvey-Clemons has been dismissed from the Georgia football team for a violation of team rules, UGA announces.— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) February 18, 2014
Michigan tight end Jake Butt suffered a torn ACL during winter conditioning drills and is out indefinitely. The news of Butt’s injury was announced through the team’s website on Thursday.
As a true freshman last season, Butt caught 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Eight of his receptions came over the final two games, including a touchdown catch in the 42-41 loss to Ohio State.
Butt has seven months to heal until the season opener, but it’s uncertain if he will be at full strength by late August.
In order for Michigan to improve off its 7-6 record from last season, the Wolverines have to give quarterback Devin Gardner more help. Unfortunately for Gardner, Butt’s injury is a setback for the receiving corps, especially with the departure of Jeremy Gallon. The cupboard is far from bare at tight end with Devin Funchess returning. However, Butt appeared to be on his way to being a significant piece of Michigan’s passing attack in 2014.
Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux has been granted an eligibility extension, and the Louisiana native will return to the Bearcats’ team in 2013.
The extra year was granted to Legaux after he missed nearly all of 2013 due to a leg injury. Prior to the season-ending injury against Illinois, Legaux threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns.
Legaux will have one season of eligibility remaining, and he is expected to compete with Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel to be Cincinnati’s starting quarterback in 2014. However, as a result of his leg injury, Legaux is not expected to return to practice until this summer.
Rutgers and the American Athletic Conference have reached an agreement to allow the Scarlet Knights to depart for the Big Ten in time for the 2014 football season.
There was little doubt Rutgers would play in the Big Ten next year, but there was a question about how much the school would have to pay to leave the American Athletic Conference.
On Wednesday, Rutgers announced it will pay $11.5 million to leave for the Big Ten.
According to the Star-Ledger, the Scarlet Knights have already paid $5 million of the exit fee and the rest will be paid over the next four years.
The Scarlet Knights (along with Maryland) will officialy join the Big Ten on July 1.
College football’s national signing day is essentially the start of a new season for every coaching staff. With the recruiting class officially in place, all coaches can turn the page to the next season and have a clear view of the roster for the upcoming year. But while most of the talk on national signing day centers around which true freshman can make the biggest impact for a program for that upcoming season, don’t overlook junior college recruits. While recruiting a JUCO prospect is risky, they are solid stop-gap solutions and a short-term answer for a team that might be short on depth at a particular position.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham dipped into the junior college ranks for help in defending the Pac-12 South title. The Sun Devils return only two starters on defense, which is where Graham looked for immediate help. Linemen Dalvon Stuckey and Edmond Boateng will help replace Will Sutton, while defensive back Kweishi Brown should factor into the mix to replace Robert Nelson, Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby in the secondary.
Arizona State was just one of a handful of programs looking for immediate help, as Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State all signed potential instant impact players. The Crimson Tide signed two potential standouts for the defensive line, while the Cowboys added Tyreek Hill, a potential gamebreaker on offense.
Identifying which junior college prospects will make the biggest impact is no easy task. Athlon has compiled a list of 15 impact junior college transfers, as well as a list of other players to watch in 2014.
15 Impact Junior College Recruits for 2014
Dontavius Blair, OL, Tennessee
Blair is just one recruit in Tennessee’s whopping 35-man class, but the Alabama native is one of the most important signings for 2014. The Volunteers lose all five starters on the offensive line, including standout tackles Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James. Blair ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the 247Sports Composite junior college ratings and comes to Knoxville after a two-year stint at Garden City Community College. Adjusting to life in the SEC is no easy assignment for a junior college lineman, but Blair played his high school ball in Anniston, Ala., so he’s no stranger to the expectations within the conference. At 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Blair has the necessary size to start at one of the tackle spots for Tennessee in 2014.
Terrell Clinkscales, DL, Kansas State
Clinkscales is one of nine incoming junior college recruits for Kansas State, ranking No. 10 in the 247Sports Composite ratings. Clinkscales played in 2011 at Grand Rapids Community College, recording only 13 tackles in six games. After Grand Rapids disbanded its program, Clinkscales sat out 2012 before landing at Dodge City Community College. In 2013, the Illinois native was a second-team NJCAA All-American and recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss in 10 games. Kansas State isn’t in dire need of talent on the line, as end Ryan Mueller will contend for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and Travis Britz returns after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season. However, Clinkscales should be a key piece in the line rotation up front and could earn a starting spot before the first game.
Jermaine Eluemunor/Avery Gennesy, OL, Texas A&M
Even with first-team All-SEC tackle Jake Matthews departing, the Aggies should still have a formidable offensive line. Guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi and center Mike Matthews are back, while tackle Cedric Ogbuehi turned down an opportunity to leave early for the NFL. But you can never have enough talent or depth on the offensive line in the SEC, so Kevin Sumlin and his staff landed two top-10 offensive linemen this signing class. Eluemunor is rated slightly higher by scouting services, checking in as the No. 7 player in the 247Sports Composite, while Gennesy is No. 9. According to Texas A&M’s signing day release, Eluemunor could play tackle or guard, while Gennesy is mentioned just as a tackle. While those positions could change in spring practice, both players are likely to factor prominently into the Aggies’ offensive line this year.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill is listed as an athlete in Oklahoma State’s signing day release, and the Georgia native is expected to be an all-purpose threat for the Cowboys’ offense in 2014. How Hill will be utilized by coordinator Mike Yurcich isn’t exactly certain, but the 5-foot-9 speedster is a key piece of the rebuilding effort on offense next year. Hill ranks as the No. 3 junior college prospect per 247Sports' Composite ratings and he averaged 16.6 yards per reception in 2013. Speed is one of Hill’s best assets, as evidenced by his 20.14 seconds mark in the 200 meters. Desmond Roland should be set as Oklahoma State’s starting running back, but the coaching staff will find ways to get the ball in Hill’s hands out of the backfield or as a receiver.
Skyler Howard, QB, West Virginia
Quarterback play is usually an automatic strength in a Dana Holgorsen-coached offense. But that wasn’t the case last season, as the Mountaineers started three different players under center, and the offense finished with just 16 touchdown passes. Ford Childress is no longer on the team, leaving Paul Millard and Clint Trickett as the most experienced options heading into 2014. Trickett is not expected to play this spring due to shoulder surgery, which leaves Millard and Howard battling for the starting role. The Texas native played only one season at Riverside City College (coached by former San Diego State coach Tom Craft), throwing for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns. Howard also displayed nice mobility, rushing for 343 yards on 108 attempts. Considering he has only one year of starting experience on the collegiate level under his belt, Howard will need some time to adjust to playing in the Big 12. However, he was rated as the No. 89 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and shows good timing and anticipation on his junior college film. Howard is listed at 5-foot-11, but he is a good fit for West Virginia’s spread attack.
Kenny Iloka, S, TCU
Defense is always a strength for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs, and TCU should have one of the best units in the Big 12 next season with the return of eight starters. The secondary is Patterson’s biggest concern with the departure of standout cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode. Iloka is the brother of former Boise State safety George Iloka and ranked as the No. 61 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. At Tyler Junior College in 2013, Iloka recorded 126 tackles and 3.5 sacks. At 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, Iloka has the size to be an impact safety and should have an easy transition into TCU’s 4-2-5 scheme.
Dominick Jackson, OL, Alabama
With left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio leaving early for the NFL, and guard Anthony Steen expiring his eligibility, Alabama has two significant holes on its offensive line. Spring practice is a key period for this unit, as the Crimson Tide once again has all of the pieces to win the national championship. However, the offensive line and quarterback play will determine how far this team can go in 2014. Kouandjio is a huge loss at tackle, but the cupboard is far from bare for line coach Mario Cristobal. Leon Brown was listed as Kouandjio’s backup and played in nine games last season. Talented sophomore Grant Hill and incoming freshman Cameron Robinson could all compete for time at left tackle. But Jackson also is squarely in the mix for snaps after a successful stop at the College of San Mateo. The 6-foot-7 tackle ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite junior college rankings and was a member of the PrepStar JUCO All-America Team. Jackson will have a tough transition from the junior college ranks to playing on the SEC level. However, he appears to have the size and skill set necessary to play a big role in Alabama’s offensive line next year.
Abu Lamin, DT, South Carolina
South Carolina’s defense ranked second in the SEC by holding opponents to just 20.3 points per game. Repeating that number in 2014 will be a challenge, especially as the line looks to replace ends Chaz Sutton and Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. The Gamecocks still have talent in the trenches, led by sophomore end Darius English and senior tackle J.T. Surratt, but Clowney, Sutton and Quarles leave big shoes to fill. Lamin is expected to be a part of the solution up front next year. The North Carolina native redshirted in his first season at Fort Scott Community College and recorded 34 tackles with 1.5 sacks in 2013. At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Lamin already has the required size to be a factor in the SEC. And with the Gamecocks returning a few experienced options in the trenches, Lamin can serve as a rotation player until he is ready to push for a starting spot.
Derrick Moncrief, S, Auburn
Improving the defense is one of the top priorities this spring for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, and the Tigers brought in three junior college recruits to provide competition with the returning options on the roster. Defensive linemen DeVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence will play a lot, but Moncrief could have the biggest impact on the defense. The Alabama native spent two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and recorded seven interceptions during that span. Moncrief ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and is expected to play a significant role in the secondary.
Claude Pelon, DL, USC
Steve Sarkisian has a few holes to fill next year, but the Trojans could rank as a top 10-15 team in most preseason polls. The defense returns nearly intact, starting up front with ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai and nose tackle Antwaun Woods. Pelon was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, as he will help with depth right away in the trenches. The Florida native was a Prep Star JUCO All-American and recorded 9.5 tackles for a loss last season. Pelon ranked as the No. 15 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and is likely headed for a spot on the interior of USC’s line. Even with Woods returning at nose tackle, Pelon is due for a role on USC’s defensive front in 2014.
D.J. Pettway/Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama
If you are signed as a junior college prospect at Alabama under Nick Saban, you certainly aren’t brought in to sit on the bench. Pettway and Reed will help replace Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan and will also add to an embarrassment of riches that Saban has assembled up front, including A’Shawn Robinson, Brandon Ivory, Darren Lake, Jonathan Allen and incoming freshman D’Shawn Hand. Pettway was dismissed from Alabama last February after an off-the-field incident, but he returned to Tuscaloosa after spending 2013 at East Mississippi Community College. Reed was a teammate of Pettway’s last season and ranks as the No. 13 prospect in the 247Sports Composite ratings. With Pettway and Reed poised to make an immediate impact, Alabama should have one of the top defensive lines in the SEC next year.
Dalvon Stuckey, DT, Arizona State
The Sun Devils lost a plethora of talent on defense, including standout defensive tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford and both starting cornerbacks (Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor). To help with the rebuilding effort, coach Todd Graham is bringing in four junior college transfers to help on defense. Stuckey is one of the key recruits in the 2014 signing class, ranking as the No. 34 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The Florida native checks in at 6-foot-3 and 308 pounds but can be explosive at the point of attack. At Pearl River Community College, he recorded 23 tackles for a loss as a freshman and posted two sacks as a sophomore in 2013. Stuckey should help Arizona State replace the production lost by Sutton and ends Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway.
Tui Talia, DL, Oregon
New defensive coordinator Don Pellum returns a solid core for 2014, but the Ducks have a significant need for players to emerge at defensive tackle. Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli expired their eligibility after the Alamo Bowl, leaving Alex Balducci and Sam Kamp as the team’s top tackles for next season. Talia is the No. 22 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite after spending two years at Diablo Valley College. The California native recorded 19 sacks over the last two years and is expected to be a key piece of the Oregon defensive line next year. Talia’s 270-pound frame suggests he will likely end up on the outside, but the Ducks could play him on a handful of snaps on the inside.
D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
Even though running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson left early for the NFL, Auburn’s offense should once again be among best in the SEC. But 2014 could signal a slight shift in play calling for Gus Malzahn, as Nick Marshall should be more comfortable in his second year under center, and the Tigers return one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. This group got even deeper during the offseason with the addition of Williams from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The Louisiana native ranked as the No. 1 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite after catching 51 passes for 733 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013. Williams is a big target at 6-foot-3 and should be another valuable weapon for Marshall.
Rika Levi/Keland McElrath/Marcus Smith/Brandon Thorpe, DL, Texas Tech
We generally list one player in this spot, but let’s cheat a little and cover all of Texas Tech’s junior college signings on the defensive line in this space. The Red Raiders are bringing in four junior college prospects up front, with Levi rated the highest as the No. 119 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. As evidenced by the four incoming prospects, the defensive line is a significant need for coach Kliff Kingsbury. Texas Tech has to replace Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and this unit struggled to stop the run last year (98th nationally). Even if none of these four players become impact performers for Texas Tech, the defense has more options to rotate in the trenches and the overall depth seems to be improved.
Other Names to Watch in 2014
Geronimo Allison/Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR, Illinois
The Fighting Illini desperately need receivers to emerge for quarterback Wes Lunt. The top three targets from last season are gone, leaving Allison and Stone-Davis with a chance to play right away.
Kareem Are/Chad Mavety, OL, Florida State
Neither player is expected to start, but Are and Mavety will bolster Florida State’s depth in the trenches.
Devante Averette, LB, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys need to overhaul their linebacking corps with Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey expiring their eligibility.
Tarow Barney, DL, Penn State
Barney is a rare junior college prospect headed to Happy Valley. He’s a key pickup for a Penn State defense that needs more depth on the defensive line and has to replace DaQuan Jones.
Edmond Boateng, DL, Arizona State
Boateng should help Arizona State’s need for talent on the defensive line. The Virginia native will participate in spring practice.
Kweishi Brown, DB, Arizona State
Brown is due for a significant role in Arizona State’s secondary with the departure of Robert Nelson, Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby.
Jarell Broxton, OL, Baylor
The Bears tapped into the junior college ranks to help replace three starters on the line. Broxton could play at tackle or guard.
Jamie Byrd, DB, South Florida
Rated as the No. 85 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Expected to push for a starting role in a young South Florida secondary this preseason.
Darrius Caldwell, LB, Arizona State
Another junior college player likely to make an impact at Arizona State. Caldwell will help the Sun Devils replace Carl Bradford and Chris Young at linebacker.
Fahn Cooper, OL, Ole Miss
Has some work to do in order to get eligible, but Cooper would be a key pickup for Hugh Freeze’s rebuilding effort on the offensive line.
Andre Davis, WR, Kansas State
Averaged 20.5 yards per reception at Santa Rosa Junior College in 2013. Wildcats need another receiver to team with Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton after Tramaine Thompson expired his eligibility after the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Kenya Dennis, CB, Missouri
Dennis is rated as the No. 100 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and is the only junior college prospect signed by Missouri in this year’s class. He should help fill the void left behind by departing senior E.J. Gaines.
D’Vonta Derricott, LB, Kansas State
Kansas State is in need of impact players at linebacker with Blake Slaughter out of eligibility. Jonathan Truman is settled in at one spot, but the other two positions are up for grabs.
Dominique Harrison, CB, Oregon
Harrison is a cousin of Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch and will help the Ducks replace Terrance Mitchell in 2014.
De’Chavon Hayes, RB, Arizona State
D.J. Foster should be Arizona State’s go-to back, but there will be carries available for Hayes.
David Hedelin/Miguel Machado, OL, Michigan State
Hedelin and Machado help bolster the depth in the trenches for Michigan State, as the Spartans lost three starters from last season.
Calvin Heurtelou/Michael Wyche, DL, Miami
Hurricanes need more depth and talent on the defensive line. Heurtelou and Wyche will help both of those areas in 2014.
Cory Johnson, DT, Kentucky
Johnson could team with incoming freshman Matt Elam to anchor Kentucky’s defensive tackle spots in 2014.
Jonathan Johnson/Trevor Kelly, DL, California
With a new coordinator (Art Kaufman) and the return of a few players from injury, California’s defense should show improvement in 2014. Adding players like Johnson and Kelly will only help improve the talent and depth for next season.
Akeem Judd, RB, Ole Miss
Rated as the No. 31 prospect in the 247Composite, averaging 5.9 yards per carry at Georgia Military College in 2013. Judd should factor into Ole Miss’ backfield rotation, which returns I’Tavius Mathers, Mark Dodson and Jaylen Walton.
Joe Keels, DE, Nebraska
Keels is listed as the No. 29 prospect in the 247Composite and will help fill the void created by the departure of Avery Moss.
Josh Keys, DB, Texas Tech
Another key pickup for Texas Tech on the recruiting trail. Could factor into the mix at safety or cornerback.
Nick Kurtz/Devon Blackmon, WR, BYU
BYU’s receiving corps is set for a major makeover next season, as Cody Hoffman, JD Falslev and Skyler Ridley have all expired their eligibility. Kurtz and Blackmon – and UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie – will head the rebuilding effort in Provo.
Davonte Lambert/Devaroe Lawrence, DL, Auburn
Lambert and Lawrence will help the line replace the production lost by the departure of Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae.
Devin Lauderdale, WR, Texas Tech
Red Raiders need a few targets to emerge with the departure of Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro.
Eric Lauderdale, WR, Arizona State
Sun Devils need a No. 2 receiver to emerge to pair with Jaelen Strong. Is Lauderdale the solution?
Jeremy Liggins, ATH, Ole Miss
Massive 6-foot-4, 295-pound prospect could play tight end, defensive end or even quarterback for the Rebels.
Haniteli Lousi, OL, Oregon
Lousi is rated as the No. 20 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and will compete for one of the starting guard spots this offseason.
DeAndre Mann, RB, Kansas
Should help the Jayhawks replace 1,000-yard rusher James Sims.
Von Pearson, WR, Tennessee
The Volunteers had success in the junior college ranks with former receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and Butch Jones hopes Pearson can provide the same type of impact. The Virginia native caught 93 passes at Feather River College in 2013.
Jerrard Randall, QB, Arizona
Expected to battle Jesse Scroggins, Anu Solomon and Texas transfer Conner Brewer for the starting job in Tucson.
Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
Another weapon for Texas A&M’s high-powered offense.
Chris Sanders, DB, Baylor
Former Georgia defensive back comes to Baylor after two years at Eastern Arizona College. Sanders picked off three passes last season.
Drew Sarvary, OT, Florida
Gators need immediate help in the trenches. Sarvary is a three-star prospect according to 247Sports and will have a chance to earn snaps this spring.
Justin Scott/Sylvester Townes, OL, West Virginia
Scott and Townes should compete for a spot on West Virginia’s line this preseason, which returns only two starters in 2014.
Tee Shepard, CB, Ole Miss
Former Notre Dame commit was a late flip to Ole Miss. Shepard should help upgrade the overall depth and talent in the secondary for the Rebels.
Sebastian Tretola, OL, Arkansas
The Razorbacks must replace standout center Travis Swanson, but there’s reason for optimism with young linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper back after each started eight games in 2013. Tretola should factor into the mix at tackle next year.
Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois
The defense was a huge liability in Champaign last year. The Fighting Illini ranked 104th in scoring defense and 110th in yards allowed. Ward ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and will have a chance to start or make an immediate impact next year.
Chris Weatherd, LB, Tennessee
Ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Weatherd is expected to help Tennessee’s pass rush next year.
Kenderius Whitehead, DE, Georgia Tech
Yellow Jackets need help on the defensive line with the departures of Jeremiah Attaochu, Emmanuel Dieke and Euclid Cummings.
Blake Whiteley, TE, Texas
Whiteley is a native of Vancouver and ranks as the No. 51 product in the 247Sports Composite.
Owen Williams, DL, Tennessee
Rebuilding both lines will be a priority for coach Butch Jones this offseason. Williams was the No. 113 prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Jeff Worthy, DT, Arizona
Former Boise State lineman was a key pickup for Rich Rodriguez as Arizona looks to upgrade its defense.
With Trevor Knight entrenched as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Blake Bell is looking for a way to get on the field. Bell started eight games at quarterback in 2013, but the coaching staff plans to move the Kansas native to tight end this spring.
Knight finished the season with a standout performance against Alabama, completing 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.
Bell came into the 2013 season as a potential All-Big 12 quarterback but never settled into the No. 1 role.
At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, Bell has the size to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs. And with Oklahoma losing Lacoltan Bester and Jalen Saunders, more weapons for Knight are needed in 2014.
On paper, this seems like a good move for Oklahoma. If Bell transitions to his new role, he could be a valuable piece of the passing game next season.
Washington quarterback Cyler Miles and receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow were suspended indefinitely by coach Chris Petersen on Thursday afternoon. According to a release from the school, the players were suspended due to a violation of team rules.
The Huskies are scheduled to start spring practice on March 4, and it’s unclear if there will be any clarification on either player’s status for 2014 by then.
Both players are slated to have significant roles in Washington’s offense this season. Miles completed 31 of 67 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns last year and is expected to be the starting quarterback when spring practice opens. Stringfellow caught 20 passes for 259 yards as a true freshman and was scheduled to see more playing time in 2014.
If Miles does not return to the team in time for spring practice, Troy Williams or Jeff Lindquist will get the nod at quarterback.
With National Signing Day in the books, coaches have a clear view of their roster for the upcoming season. Although most recruits won’t arrive on campus until the summer, the coaching staff now has a better idea of what the depth chart might look like for the next year.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini finished his sixth season in Lincoln with a solid 9-4 mark, and the Cornhuskers enter spring practice with momentum after beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six years at Nebraska. However, the expectations in Lincoln are to win a Big Ten championship, and Pelini and his staff hopes the 2014 signing class is another step in claiming a conference title.
Where Nebraska’s 2014 Signing Class Came From
The Cornhuskers signed a total of 24 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will bring on 18 players as walk-on recruits.
While some programs can live off in-state recruiting to fill out a class, Nebraska has to go outside of the state borders.
The Cornhuskers inked prospects from 13 states, including four from Texas, three from Florida and two from Missouri.
Here’s the full breakdown of Nebraska’s recruiting class:
|Texas - 4||Nevada - 1|
|Florida - 3||Wisconsin - 1|
|Nebraska - 3||Kansas - 1|
|Louisiana - 3||Virginia - 1|
|Missouri - 2||Alabama - 1|
|Illinois - 2|
|Mississippi - 1|
|Georgia - 1|
Of note: 22 of the 24 prospects signed came from the high school ranks, with only two junior college recruits.
Areas of Focus
|Defensive Backs - 5||Running Backs - 2|
|Wide Receivers - 4||Tight End - 1|
|Offensive Line - 4||Kicker - 1|
|Defensive Line - 4||Linebacker - 1|
|Quarterbacks - 2|
With Nebraska set to lose guards Spencer Long and Andrew Rodriguez, center Cole Pensick and tackles Brent Qvale and Jeremiah Sirles, the offensive line was one of this team’s biggest needs in 2014. Ideally, the Cornhuskers will be able to redshirt their four recruits on the line. However, signing four players will help keep the numbers at a stable level for Pelini. Illinois native Tanner Farmer is the highest rated lineman of the bunch, ranking No. 251 nationally in 247Sports Composite rankings. Nevada’s Nick Gates ranks No. 293 in the same evaluation, while D.J. Foster ranks No. 474 nationally.
As we mentioned above, the signing class in 2014 isn’t necessarily about answering the needs for the upcoming year. Instead, a recruiting class is often the answer for the next two or three seasons. But in Nebraska’s case, with cornerbacks Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, along with safety Andrew Green departing, more depth was needed right away in the secondary. Five defensive backs were signed, including junior college recruit Byerson Cockrell. The other four defensive backs inked by Pelini were all three-star recruits, including Nebraska native Luke Gifford (No. 867 in 247Sports Composite).
Four receivers signed in the 2014 signing class, which is clearly a need with Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell set to expire their eligibility at the end of this season.
Another area of focus was the defensive line, as a total of four prospects are slated to join that unit. Junior college recruit Joe Keels and freshman Peyton Newell are two names to watch this preseason.
Byerson Cockrell, DB (East Mississippi Community College)
Recorded 33 tackles and three interceptions at East Mississippi Community College last season.
Zack Darlington, QB (Apopka High School)
Missed most of senior year due to injury. Rated as the No. 440 national recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite rankings.
Joe Keels, DE (Highland Community College)
Rated as the No. 43 junior college recruit by ESPN.
Potential Impact Recruits for 2014
Zack Darlington, QB
Tommy Armstrong should have the inside track to win the starting job, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton and Darlington will have a chance to make their case for the No. 1 spot this preseason.
Tanner Farmer, OL
At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Farmer has the necessary size to play as a true freshman. Even if Farmer doesn’t start, he could be a valuable piece of the two-deep on the offensive line.
Nick Gates, OL
Another potential future stalwart on the offensive line will likely factor into the two-deep.
Joe Keels, DE/Byerson Cockrell, DB
When you bring in junior college recruits, you don’t bring them in to sit on the bench. Expect Keels and Cockrell to find a place on the depth chart this year.
Drew Brown, K
Should battle to replace Pat Smith at kicker.
After finishing inside of the top 30 in the team recruiting standings from 2011-13, Nebraska slipped to No. 35 nationally in the 247Sports rankings. The slight drop comes after finishing No. 17 nationally in 2013. Is it a reason to panic? Not at all. As all college football fans know, recruiting rankings are an inexact science. The Cornhuskers wisely added players on the offensive and defensive lines, while offering spots to receivers who can help with depth in 2014 or an even bigger role in 2015. Most of Nebraska’s starting lineup next year is in good shape, so there may be only a few players from the 2014 signing class making an immediate impact.
On paper, this appears to be a solid all-around class by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers finished No. 6 in the Big Ten and signed 22 three-star recruits. There’s always room to improve, but Pelini and the staff added a group that will help Nebraska compete for the Big Ten West Division title in 2014.
National Signing Day is essentially Christmas morning for college football coaches. The first Wednesday in February officially marks the addition of 20-30 new players for each roster, which is the result of nearly a year of work on the recruiting trail. And of course, coaching staffs are relieved just to get the class on campus and not have to worry anymore about a player changing his mind at the last minute or wondering if the parents will agree to sign the letter of intent.
Recruiting evaluations and rankings are an inexact science. Some five-star players won’t pan out into All-Americans, while a handful of two or three-star recruits will develop into some of the top players in the nation.
But while there are misses in recruiting evaluations, some of the star ratings do turn out to be accurate. And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at which players could make an impact in their first season on campus.
It’s never easy to predict which freshmen could make an early impact in 2014. However, here’s a quick look at 10 players that can make a splash on the gridiron next season, along with a handful of names to watch this preseason.
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2014
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
After two prolific seasons in College Station, Johnny Manziel decided to leave for the NFL. Manziel leaves big shoes to fill, but the Aggies seem to have three capable options waiting to battle for the starting spot. Sophomore Kenny Hill and senior Matt Joeckel have an edge in experience, but Allen’s talent and upside will be tough to keep off the field. The Arizona native was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the 247 Composite rankings, finishing his high school career with 8,201 yards and 86 touchdowns. Allen doesn’t have Manziel’s mobility, but the 6-foot-3 freshman has a quick release and is one of the most accurate passers in the 2014 signing class. Enrolling in time to participate in spring practice will help Allen’s development, and he is expected to push Hill and Joeckel for the starting job.
Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
We will cheat just a bit in this space and list two players instead of one. Although Alabama finished No. 2 in the SEC in pass defense, the Crimson Tide need immediate help in the secondary. Deion Belue and John Fulton expired their eligibility, and the cornerback play wasn’t quite up to Alabama’s usual standards last year. Even though it’s tough for true freshmen to make an impact at cornerback in the SEC, Brown and Humphrey should help right away. In the final 247Sports Composite rankings, Brown ranked as the No. 9 recruit, while Humphrey was No. 12. Both players have the athleticism and talent to make an immediate contribution in the secondary. And it’s likely Brown and Humphrey will find their way onto several future All-SEC lists.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Running back is arguably the easiest position to play as a true freshman in college, and Cook is just one of a handful of incoming recruits that will likely make a significant impact on the 2014 season from this position. Cook is the No. 13 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is regarded as a five-star prospect by Rivals. Playing time in the Florida State backfield is available right away, as James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman left early for the NFL. Karlos Williams converted from safety to running back during the 2013 season and is expected to open the year as the No. 1 option. However, Cook should see plenty of action. The Miami native has excellent speed and elusiveness and has the size (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) to be more than a specialty player for the Seminoles. Expect Jimbo Fisher to get Cook involved early and often in 2014.
Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry off to the NFL, the wide receiver position is a glaring need for LSU. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning statistical option at the position, catching only seven passes for 145 yards last year. Dural and Avery Peterson provide a solid foundation for new quarterback Anthony Jennings, but Dupre is a big catch on the recruiting trail. The New Orleans native turned down an opportunity to play at Florida State and committed to the in-state Tigers. Dupre was the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and averaged 17.9 yards per catch as a high school senior. Expect Dupre to be prominently featured in LSU’s passing attack next year.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
As the No. 1 rated recruit in 247Sports Composite ranking, it should be no surprise Fournette makes an appearance on this list. The New Orleans native committed to LSU in early January and is already slated for a big role in the backfield in 2014. The Tigers lost Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue to the NFL Draft, leaving Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard as the top returning rushers. Magee and Hilliard are capable options, but Fournette is a special talent. At 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, Fournette has the size to be an every-down back, while also possessing good speed to break big plays on the ground. Look for Fournette to emerge as LSU’s No. 1 back (and a potential All-SEC player) in 2014.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Even though Texas A&M has to replace Johnny Manziel, the defense is an even bigger concern for Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies allowed 6.4 yards per play in 2013 and finished last in the SEC by giving up 32.2 points a game. Youth and injuries played a role in the defensive struggles, but more talent and difference-makers are needed. That’s where Garrett comes into play. The 6-foot-4 defensive end registered 20.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a high school senior. Most scouting reports believe Garrett has room to improve as a pass rusher, but he has excellent athleticism and has the upside to grow into a dominant defensive end. Garrett is the type of player Sumlin needs to turn Texas A&M’s defense into a strength.
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
Not only is McMillan poised to claim a spot on the all-name team next season, the Georgia native is likely to be one of the top impact recruits in the nation. Ohio State had an uncharacteristic year on defense last year, finishing seventh in the conference in yards allowed per game and 11th against the pass. Urban Meyer wasn’t going to stand pat after 2013, and changes started on the coaching staff, with Larry Johnson Sr. joining from Penn State and Chris Ash coming from Arkansas to share the defensive coordinator title with Luke Fickell. The back seven of the defense will receive the most attention this preseason, especially after cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier left early for the NFL. McMillan is the No. 22 recruit in the 247Sports Composite ranking and is a five-star prospect by ESPN. The Georgia native is physically ready to play and can anchor the middle of the linebacking corps if he wins the starting job this preseason.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
With quarterback Trevor Knight coming off a strong performance in the Sugar Bowl, Oklahoma is a team on the rise for the 2014 season. Can the Sooners build on that momentum and claim a spot in the playoffs? Much will depend on Knight’s development, but Oklahoma also needs a go-to back to emerge. Enter Mixon. Brennan Clay and Roy Finch have expired their eligibility, leaving talented, but inexperienced options in Keith Ford and Alex Ross as the top two running backs. Mixon was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, while 247Sports Composite rankings placed the California native No. 21 nationally. Mixon checks in at a sturdy 6-foot-1, 209 pounds and is regarded as one of the top all-around backs in the 2014 signing class. If Mixon is as good as advertised, he might be the final piece in Oklahoma’s run to a Big 12 title next year.
Cameron Robinson, OT, Alabama
Offensive linemen can significantly benefit from a redshirt year to develop in the weight room, but Robinson may not have that luxury. Alabama loses two starters from last year’s line, including standout left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Robinson is the No. 4 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is considered the top offensive line prospect in the 2014 signing class. The Louisiana native is a mammoth 6-foot-7 tackle prospect that has all of the tools to start for three years at tackle in Tuscaloosa. Although Robinson is eventually the answer to one of Alabama’s tackle spots, with Austin Shepherd returning after starting 13 games last year, and standout junior college recruit Dominick Jackson also on the way to Tuscaloosa, Robinson can ease his way into the starting lineup.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Replacing Tajh Boyd’s production will be no easy assignment for Clemson. That task is made even more challenging with the departures of receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. But the news in Death Valley wasn’t all bad so far this offseason, as offensive coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave to be a head coach, and the receiving corps is still in good shape with Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams returning for next season. Watson enrolled early to compete with Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly this spring, and there’s a good chance the true freshman will win the No. 1 job. Watson accounted for 17,134 yards in his high school career and was the No. 41 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Georgia native is also a dual-threat option, and if he quickly picks up the offense this spring, Watson could have a huge freshman campaign under Morris’ direction.
Five More Names Likely to Make an Impact
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans is from Auburn, Ala., yet decided to sign with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-3 linebacker is a good fit as an edge rusher for the Alabama defense.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
Hurd is one of the top recruits in Butch Jones’ monster 36-man class. The Tennessee native is listed as a five-star prospect by 247Sports.
Ermon Lane, WR, Florida State
Lane is one of two elite receiver prospects to sign with Florida State. The Homestead native could be one of Jameis Winston’s top targets in 2014.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
Rudolph is the second of Florida State’s instant impact recruits at receiver. The West Palm Beach native is regarded for his excellent hands and speed.
Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
The missing piece in Stanford’s offense last year? A tight end. Schultz should solve that problem in 2014.
Other Names to Know for 2014
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
LSU is loaded with talent in the secondary. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White anchor one of the top pass defenses in the nation next year, but safety Craig Loston must be replaced. Adams will likely find his way onto the field in some capacity in 2014.
Drew Barker, QB, Kentucky
Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith are back in the mix in 2014, but Barker will be tough to keep off the field. He ranked the No. 6 pro quarterback by 247Sports.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State
Blacknall was a late pickup in the recruiting process for James Franklin, and he could be one of Penn State’s key additions. With Allen Robinson off to the NFL, Blacknall will have an opportunity to earn immediate playing time.
Andrew Brown, DT/Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Coming off a 2-10 season, it’s rare to see a program land a five-star recruit. However, the Cavaliers landed two five-star prospects, and Brown and Blanding should be on the field right away this year.
K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor
Cannon could be Baylor’s answer to replacing Tevin Reese’s speed and big-play ability next season.
Lorenzo Carter, DL, Georgia
Even though the Bulldogs return nearly everyone on defense, Carter – the No. 18 prospect in the 247Composite rankings – will be tough to keep off the field for new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
Elam is one of the key recruits for Mark Stoops’ second class in Lexington. He should play right away on Kentucky’s defensive line, especially with Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble departing at tackle.
Will Grier, QB, Florida
Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College, but Jeff Driskel is returning from a leg injury that forced him to miss most of 2013. Driskel is Florida’s likely starter, but Grier will provide competition.
Da’Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama
Nick Saban reeled in another elite recruiting class, which includes one of the top defensive line hauls in the nation. Hand is the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and should find his way into the rotation next year.
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU
It’s never easy to start as a true freshman in the SEC. But if Anthony Jennings struggles in his first year as LSU’s starting quarterback, will the Tigers let Harris play?
Drake Harris, WR, Michigan
Although Michigan’s offensive line is the team’s biggest concern this spring, the Wolverines also need to develop more weapons for quarterback Devin Gardner. Harris may provide a boost to the receiving corps right away.
Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
Even with Khris Francis, T.J. Logan and Romar Morris already in place at running back, North Carolina will have to find a way to get Hood on the field.
Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC
The No. 7 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings was a Signing Day pickup for Steve Sarkisian. Jackson could play on offense or defense.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers held off a challenge from other BCS programs to land Jones in the 2014 signing class. Jones should team with David Cobb to give Minnesota an effective one-two punch.
Laurence Jones, S, Alabama
Landon Collins is set at one safety spot for Nick Saban, but who will replace the contributions from Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix?
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
Stephen Morris has expired his eligibility at Miami, leaving Kaaya, senior Ryan Williams, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and sophomore Gray Crow competing for the No. 1 job.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
It’s rare for Iowa State to sign a top-100 recruit, so getting Lazard to Ames is a big deal for Paul Rhoads. The Cyclones return Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs, but Lazard will be tough to keep off the field.
Damien Mama, OL, USC
The Trojans need bodies on the offensive line with two starters leaving. Mama will play for new coach Steve Sarkisian in 2014 and will take a two-year Mormon mission after his freshman season.
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
As his nickname would indicate, Noil is fast, athletic and a potential game-changer for Texas A&M’s offense. The Aggies have one of the SEC’s top receiving corps, but Noil will have a place on the field in 2014.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan
Wolverines appear to be set at cornerback with Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess, but Peppers will find a role in Greg Mattison's defense.
Damian Prince, OT, Maryland
The Terrapins have to upgrade their talent to compete in their new Big Ten home, and Prince – a five-star tackle – should help the offense in 2014.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
With Clint Chelf departing, the Cowboys will turn to J.W. Walsh and Rudolph to battle for the starting job this spring.
Foster Sawyer/Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU
Casey Pachall is gone, and Trevone Boykin will likely play in an athlete role on offense in 2014. Sawyer or Muehlstein have an opportunity to win the starting job.
David Sharpe, OT, Florida
The Gators need immediate help on the offensive line. Sharpe was selected to the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Arrion Springs, CB, Oregon
Could Springs help fill the void left by Terrance Mitchell’s early departure to the NFL?
Dylan Summer-Gardner, S, Boise State
Summer-Gardner ranks as the No. 87 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is the prize of Bryan Harsin’s first recruiting class at Boise State.
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida
The Gators got a huge contribution from one true freshman at cornerback last season (Vernon Hargreaves III). Could Tabor make the same type of impact?
Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze and his staff wasted no time getting top recruit Laremy Tunsil into the mix last year. With that in mind, Taylor could be in the mix for playing time this fall.
Racean Thomas, RB, Auburn
Tre Mason emerged as one of the top running backs in the nation but chose to leave Auburn for the NFL. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are back, but there’s room for Thomas to find a role in 2014.
Casey Tucker, OT, Stanford
Another standout offensive lineman heads to Stanford. Tucker was the No. 82 prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Tyler Whiley, WR, Arizona State
Whiley was listed by some recruiting services as a cornerback recruit, but he appears ticketed for a spot at receiver in 2014.
Dexter Wideman, DT, South Carolina
Wideman flipped from Florida State to South Carolina on Signing Day. His commitment is huge for a defense that has to replace standout tackle Kelcy Quarles.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Someone has to replace Ka’Deem Carey. Is this Fresno native the next star running back under Rich Rodriguez?
Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami
Duke Johnson is expected to miss spring practice recovering from a leg injury suffered in the loss to Florida State. The junior should be at full strength for the season opener, but Yearby gives Miami a good fallback option if Johnson needs a lighter workload early in the year.
File Away for 2015
Keller Chryst, QB, Stanford
Kevin Hogan still has two more years of eligibility remaining, but Chryst will be a name to watch in 2015 or 2016 as Stanford’s quarterback of the future.
David Cornwell, QB, Alabama
It’s not out of the question Cornwell wins the starting job this offseason, but with Jacob Coker transferring in from Florida State, it’s hard to envision the true freshman starting in Week 1.
J.J. Cosentino, QB, Florida State
When it comes to quarterbacks, there’s not a better evaluator of talent than Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. 2014 could be Jameis Winston’s last season in Tallahassee, and with a redshirt year ahead, Cosentino could be in the mix to start in 2015.
Morgan Mahalak, QB, Oregon
If Marcus Mariota leaves for the NFL after 2014, Mahalak will be in the mix to take over as Oregon’s starter in 2015. A redshirt year makes sense for the California native with Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues returning as backups next year.
Sean White, QB, Auburn
Is White the replacement for Nick Marshall in 2015?
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
With Todd Gurley returning and Keith Marshall back from a torn ACL, playing time could be limited for Michel in 2014. However, Gurley isn’t expected to stick in Athens for his senior year, which leaves Michel in position to take the top spot in the Georgia backfield in 2015.
Jacob Park, QB, Georgia
Hutson Mason should be set as Georgia’s starter in 2014. Park seems destined for a redshirt and an opportunity to compete for the starting nod in 2015.
Arizona has announced a small tweak to its football uniforms for 2014. The Wildcats used a gradient look on their numbers last season but will switch to a solid color in 2014.
The gradient numbers are an interesting look for jerseys, but the solid color is easier to identify.
Here’s a look at the updated jerseys for 2014: