25 College Football Spring Storylines to Watch for 2014

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Athlon previews the top spring storylines to watch.

25 College Football Spring Storylines to Watch for 2014

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

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

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

College Football's Top 25 Storylines for Spring Practice

Alabama

The quarterbacks:

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

Florida State

Restocking at defensive tackle:

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

Oklahoma

Can Trevor Knight build off his Sugar Bowl performance?:

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

Notre Dame

The return of Everett Golson

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

Ohio State

Starting over on the offensive line:

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

Baylor

First look at the new faces on defense:

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

Florida

Starting over on offense:

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

Oregon

Concerns at defensive tackle:

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

Auburn

Finding the right answers on defense:

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

Texas A&M

Finding answers on defense:

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

Georgia

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

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

Miami

Looking for improvement on defense:

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

LSU

Starting over on offense:

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

Washington

Filling voids at quarterback and running back:

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

Arizona State

Rebuilding the defense:

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

Michigan

Developing an offensive line:

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

North Carolina

Replacements on the offensive line:

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

Missouri

New faces on defense:

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

UCLA

Who replaces guard Xavier Su’a-Filo?:

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

Texas

Finding answers on offense:

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

South Carolina

Rebuilding the defensive line:

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

Louisville

Adjusting to the new 3-4 defense:

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

Wisconsin

Improving the passing attack:

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

Arizona

New starters at quarterback and running back:

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

Virginia Tech

Finding a spark on offense:

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

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