College Football Predictions for 2014 Spring Practice
Though the 2013 college football season is over and the 2014 campaign is months away from its commencement, the process never really ends for teams across the nation.
With several programs already kicking off their spring practices and the rest set to hit the field shortly, the long road to the fall is rapidly taking shape.
Several programs will begin replacing star players before they're even selected in the NFL draft.
Texas A&M's battle to replace quarterback Johnny Manziel is ready to begin, while Florida State will look for new playmakers to support its Heisman Trophy quarterback, Jameis Winston.
We'll breakdown those competitions and make several other predictions for college football's top programs this spring.
Texas A&M's QB Battle Will Remain Wide Open
All three of the main contenders battling to replace Johnny Manziel will be present at spring practice for Texas A&M, but that doesn't mean the top candidate will emerge right away.
Senior Matt Joeckel and sophomore Kenny Hill have already been joined by an early enrollee in Kyle Allen.
Allen, who was the No. 1 pro-style quarterback and No. 10 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite Rankings for 2014, will start from the back of the race.
However, he is a great talent and can't be counted out. All three of these signal-callers have a legitimate chance at winning the job.
Expect this one to last through the fall.
Dalvin Cook Will Show He's a Future Star
The best decision a recruit can make is to enroll early.
Dalvin Cook, a 5-star and the No. 2 running back in the 2014 class, joined Florida State early and will have an outstanding chance to earn playing time next season.
Florida State running backs coach Jay Graham has already lauded the future star Seminole, per Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com:
This young man right here is special. He’s electric with the ball in his hands. I think he averaged about 11-12 yards a carry. He didn’t get the ball a lot, but every time he touched that ball he made some big plays. He has great ball skills; he can make plays on the perimeter. He has great body control.
He has the ability to score from anywhere on the field.
Cook might take a No. 2 role behind the bruising Karlos Williams, who elected to return for his senior season after running for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He'll also have to fend off Ryan Green, among others, but Cook is physically ready to play right away, which will be clear when spring practice is over in Tallahassee.
Joel Stave's Starting Job Will Be Challenged
Joel Stave was decent in his first full year starting at quarterback for Wisconsin, throwing for just shy of 2,500 yards while leading the Badgers to a 9-4 record.
However, as they fell short of a BCS bid and lost their final two games of the season, Badger fans were left hoping for more.
As reported by The Janesville Gazette (subscription required), head coach Gary Andersen said Stave will be No. 1 going into the spring, but the competition is open:
Andersen reiterated Joel Stave will enter spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback. And although Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and walk-on Connor Senger are expected to get work, the staff wants to evaluate Gillins, a dual-threat quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla.
“It's going to be very important that we give the quarterbacks an opportunity to compete in spring ball,” Andersen said. “When I say that, there's only so many reps to go around. So we have got to construct practices in a way for D.J. to be able to compete and have an opportunity to be able to play and highlight what he brings to the table.”
Gillins is the best runner of the group and could help to open up the offense to where it was while Russell Wilson was at the helm.
While Stave is still the guy, he'll have to work to keep things that way.
Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson Will Make OSU Fans Forget About Carlos Hyde
It's never good news to lose a 1,500-yard rusher like Ohio State did with the departure of Carlos Hyde.
However, the Buckeyes should be well set at the running back position anyway.
An extremely promising duo, Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson, is poised to step up and ease the pain of the loss of Hyde and Jordan Hall.
Wilson is a very versatile 5'10", 180-pound playmaker who will play a role in the return and passing game, as well as taking his share of carries. He finished fourth on the team with 983 all-purpose yards last season.
At 6'0", 218 pounds, Elliott is more of a traditional back who could be No. 1 on the depth chart. He ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns last year.
Together, they'll make an outstanding one-two punch.
Cameron Robinson Will Show He's Ready to Start in 2014
Offensive line is the toughest position on the field for freshmen to start immediately.
Most first-year players just aren't physically ready to take a starting role on the offensive front, especially for a team like Alabama.
At 6'7", 335 pounds, he's actually bigger than all of the Crimson Tide's starting offensive lineman from last season.
Michael Casagrande of AL.com speculated that Robinson will benefit greatly from enrolling early:
Robinson is an absolute beast and one of the nation's top recruits overall.
Starting immediately remains a rarity for offensive linemen at Alabama, but if anyone has the potential, it's Robinson. Kouandjio vacated the left tackle job and there were a few players rotating at right tackle, though Austin Shepherd locked it down after getting a push from Grant Hill. Robinson helped his cause by enrolling early so he'll be getting reps in 15 spring practices entering the month of August.
Tennessee Will Top Nation in Spring Game Attendance
Tennessee had the third-highest spring game attendance in the nation in 2013, as more than 60,000 Volunteer fans were eager to ring in the Butch Jones era.
He followed that up with a solid 5-7 season that brought much promise for the future. UT also added a fantastic recruiting class, making the future even brighter.
Tennessee's 2014 class was the seventh-best in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite ratings and featured a boatload of early enrollees.
UT has already been working hard to promote the arrival of that duo, and it'll pay off on April 12.
Max Browne and Cody Kessler Will Be Neck-and-Neck Going into the Summer
Cody Kessler won USC's quarterback competition last season and went on to lead the Trojans to a 10-4 finish in a tumultuous season.
He nearly touched 3,000 passing yards and had a relatively clean 20:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
However, with a brand new coaching staff and a head coach in Steve Sarkisian who is looking to make his mark immediately, the competition will be open once again.
Browne was the No. 1 pro-style quarterback for the 2013 class and is expected to be the quarterback of USC's future.
With a redshirt season behind him, he'll be ready to challenge for the starting job. While Kessler remains the favorite, Browne will do enough to at least extend the fight into the fall.
Drew Barker Will Be No. 1 on the Kentucky Depth Chart
It has been a while since Kentucky has had strong play at the quarterback position.
Last year, Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow combined to throw for just 2,309 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. They have already been joined by early enrollee Drew Barker, a 4-star and the crown jewel of UK's 2014 class.
Smith was the better of the two, but he'll be out for the spring. Kentucky coaches have made it clear that they aren't expecting Barker to come in and save the program immediately.
However, better play is needed at the position and, as Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader detailed, Barker is expecting to play immediately, and head coach Mark Stoops expects him to be in the thick of the competition:
"That's what I came here to do is play," Barker said Wednesday. "That's why I came early also, was to get an opportunity, get the workouts, get the playbook under my wing and everything. I came here to play, and I'm going to try to win the job."
Stoops doesn't seem to disagree with Barker: "I expect him to come in from day one and compete for the starting job, and that's why we recruited him."
After a 2-10 season, the only way to go is up for Stoops and the Wildcats. Don't be surprised if Barker earns the starting nod right away.
Several New Receivers Will Emerge in the Big 12
Last season, quarterback battles dominated the storylines in the Big 12 Conference during the spring.
This season, more of those competitions will be settled, leaving room for several young playmakers to capture the spotlight.
Baylor will welcome in 4-star receiver Davion Hall, an early enrollee from the 2014 class.
Reginald Davis looks ready to blossom for Texas Tech, which will be in grave need of new playmakers on the outside, while Jordan Smallwood is in a similar position for Oklahoma.
The Big 12 lost several talented receivers, so look for the next crop to step up in the spring.
Jalen Brown Will Claim Early Playing Time at Oregon
Jalen Brown was the only high school prospect to enroll early at Oregon, and the Ducks might need him right away.
Top receiver Josh Huff is headed to the next level and No. 3 option Daryle Hawkins is departing as well, leaving openings on the outside.
The 4-star Brown will be on the fast track to earning playing time in the Ducks' receiving corps, as Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com detailed:
"Athletically I feel like everybody else," Brown said. "Of course the older guys have a little bit more experience, but I'll be able to catch up if I keep working hard."
Brown was measured at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, and said he hopes to add another five to 10 pounds of muscle prior to the fall. Twice a week, he participates in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills organized by the players.
"The first week, I was definitely just watching," Brown said. "Now that I've got the hang of things, I get most of the calls down. I'm not thinking too hard, and I'm just playing."
Already adapting quickly, it's only a matter of time before Brown works his way up the depth chart.