10 Biggest College Football Storylines to Watch in 2014 Spring Practice
Spring practice is upon us, meaning it's time for a yearly reminder of its three basic rules:
1) Everyone is undefeated.
2) It's a fun time to experiment with younger players and move some pieces around.
With that out of the way, there are some major storylines across college football. With so much star power moving on to the NFL, now is the time to find out who will be among the new household names next fall.
From coaching changes to injuries and everything in between, here are the top 10 spring storylines to watch.
10. Is Chris Petersen Ready for the Big Stage at Washington?
The first reaction to Washington's coaching change is that it actually came out ahead when it lost Steve Sarkisian to USC and hired Chris Petersen from Boise State.
Petersen posted an astounding 92-12 record in eight seasons with the Broncos. Though it's trendy to question Boise's strength of schedule, Petersen recorded wins over teams like Georgia, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Oregon State and Oklahoma.
He's out-coached some of the best in the college game and put a few players in the NFL, like Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin, in the process.
All of this would suggest Petersen is ready for a bigger stage, and the Washington job feels like a natural fit.
Things haven't been instantly easier for Petersen, though. Projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles was one of two players suspended by Petersen last month in connection to an alleged assault (H/T Adam Jude of The Seattle Times).
Washington won't be tested until the Sept. 27 home game against Stanford. Beating the Cardinal would be quite a statement for Petersen.
9. Ohio State Prepares Without Braxton Miller
The BCS National Championship run didn't quite work out last season like Ohio State thought it would. After finishing the regular season 12-0, the Buckeyes lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
In Columbus, Ohio, all that means is it's time to try again. However, Ohio State will basically be without starting quarterback Braxton Miller, who had shoulder surgery. Barring an unforeseen complication, Miller will be ready to go when the season starts.
That will open up the Buckeyes' backup quarterback competition, which is never a bad thing. Still, as B/R's Michael Felder writes, Ohio State is missing a chance to get better with Miller standing on the sidelines.
Practicing without your star player is never how any team wants to start the offseason. How Ohio State will cope is one of this year's bigger question marks.
8. Texas' Quarterback Competition
In many ways, this is a storyline of what could be.
David Ash has to be the early front-runner to be the starting quarterback for Texas next season, but there are a few factors that could change that.
For one, it will be interesting to see how he practices after missing most of last season with a concussion. Is he sharp? Rusty? Backup Tyrone Swoopes didn't do much in limited playing time to suggest he's ready to take the reins of the offense.
Perhaps that by itself gives Ash an edge, but who knows how the quarterbacks will look until things get underway.
Anytime a new coaching staff takes over, though, there's usually an open competition at just about every position. First-year coach Charlie Strong didn't waste any time looking to upgrade the quarterback spot, either.
USC transfer Max Wittek has been heavily connected to the Longhorns, telling Blake Munroe of 247Sports in February that Texas was the first school to contact him. Earlier this month, Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that Texas "remains the leader" for Wittek's immediate playing services.
How Wittek impacts the quarterback competition, if he does at all, would be one of the most fascinating offseason storylines for 2014.
7. At Louisville, It's out with Teddy Bridgewater and in with Bobby Petrino
It's not often a program loses one star while bringing back another, but 2014 is a year of firsts in many ways for Louisville.
The Cardinals, entering the ACC, will be without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a likely top pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Who replaces Bridgewater will not only be one of the top storylines in the ACC, but in all of college football.
The only other quarterback to see playing time in 2013 was Will Gardner, who completed a modest-but-efficient 8-of-12 passes for 112 yards and two scores.
Do the Cards look to Gardner, or perhaps a transfer to bridge a gap?
This is a question that will be answered by first-year coach Bobby Petrino, who returns to Louisville after leaving in 2007. Petrino has a off-the-field baggage and a bad reputation, but there's no doubting the guy can coach.
It was a bold move by Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich to give Petrino another chance. But remember, it's not how many times you fall of your motorcycle; it's about getting back on.
6. Florida Introduces Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper
Last season, the Florida Gators were able to stay healthy in the way that Spinal Tap drummers were able to stay alive.
Regardless, head coach Will Muschamp relieved offensive coordinator Brent Pease of his duties and brought in Duke O-coordinator Kurt Roper.
Roper is known for running a more uptempo offense—The Blue Devils finished 19th in total plays in 2013—something the Gators haven't done much under Muschamp. Additionally, quarterback Jeff Driskel is returning from a season-ending broken fibula. How does he develop under Roper?
“I think he’s [Driskel] more comfortable in the [shot]gun,” Muschamp said via Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. “A lot of the reason why we went to this was because of Jeff and as we move forward at the quarterback position.”
Getting healthy and picking up the tempo will be Florida's primary focus. It better work. On his third O-coordinator, and following a 4-8 season, Muschamp is running out of time to fix things.
5. South Carolina Rebuilds on Defense
Now-former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney announced his departure for the NFL with SEC speed. Moments after the Gamecocks' Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin, Clowney confirmed he was going pro.
He's not the only loss, though. Defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton are gone, as are starting cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree (backup Ahmad Christian is transferring, leaving South Carolina thin at that position).
Clowney's departure gets the publicity because, at best, he's a top NFL draft pick; at worst, he's still a likely top-five selection. Still, there's a lot of talent South Carolina must replace on that side of the ball.
Who steps up for the Gamecocks? Will there be any drop-off in 2014? The process of answering those questions begin in earnest.
4. So Does Michigan State
South Carolina has a lot to replace on defense, but so does Michigan State. What's more is that the Spartans have the added bonus of trying to live up to what was the best defense in the country.
Gone are defensive linemen Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds; linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough; and defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis.
Quick, hard-hitting analysis: That's a lot.
Michigan State has the best defensive coordinator in the country, Pat Narduzzi. If Sparty's defense can even come close to replicating last year's success, Narduzzi will have earned every penny of his new $900,000 contract.
He'll also probably be a head coach by this time next year.
3. Steve Sarkisian Returns to USC
The Lane Kiffin era is over at USC, and the Trojans opted not to give the job to interim coach Ed Orgeron. Instead, Steve Sarkisian returns to Los Angeles after five years at Washington.
Sarkisian was an assistant with the Trojans from 2001-03, and again from 2005-08, but this is his first time as the program's head coach.
How will he do? He wasn't regarded as the splashiest hire USC could have made. Sarkisian inherited a winless Huskies program in 2008, but never won more than eight games a season.
According to Phil Steele, Sarkisian will have 14 starters coming back from last year's 10-win team, including quarterback Cody Kessler (Max Browne is also in the quarterback competition). Can Sarkisian get more production out of the offense, especially with wide receiver Marqise Lee moving on to the NFL?
2. Clemson Moves out of Its Tajh Mahal
As far as ACC quarterback battles go, Clemson tops the list.
The chance to succeed Tajh Boyd seems likely to come down to one of three quarterbacks: senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson.
Since Stoudt has the most experience on his side, he can try to separate himself this spring. However, there's a lot of excitement around Watson. Like Boyd, Watson would give the Tigers a true dual-threat option in the backfield.
Watson is already on campus, meaning the Tigers' quarterback competition will take place all offseason rather than just fall camp. That said, a decision could come down to the wire.
1. Replacing Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M
Okay, so "replacing" is loosely defined here.
In terms of pure excitement and playmaking ability, there was no one in college football who could do what quarterback Johnny Manziel did for Texas A&M the past two seasons. Unless A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has another Manziel waiting in the wings, there really is no "replacing" the 2012 Heisman winner.
That said, football requires someone to receive a snap from the center*. Thus, the Aggies must replace Manziel.
The three names that will be mentioned heavily this spring are Matt Joeckel, Kenny Hill and early enrollee Kyle Allen. Joeckel was second on the team in passing yards (293) and touchdowns (two), but Hill saw playing time as well.
Allen was the No. 1 pro style quarterback in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports.
Allen and Hill have the most upside given their youth, and perhaps as a result, an advantage in the competition.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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