Every Power-5 Conference Team's Biggest Concern Heading into Fall Camp

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

Every Power-5 Conference Team's Biggest Concern Heading into Fall Camp

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    Tennessee's need to replace all of its starters on the offensive line (as well as on its defensive front) is the biggest concern for the Volunteers heading into fall camp.
    Tennessee's need to replace all of its starters on the offensive line (as well as on its defensive front) is the biggest concern for the Volunteers heading into fall camp.USA TODAY Sports

    Five weeks from now, the 2014 college football season will be officially underway. Well, sort of, if you consider a Wednesday night game between transitioning Georgia State and FCS Abilene Christian to be the appropriate start to the year.

    The big games will begin in earnest the following night, Aug. 27, which means we have over a month left to wait for five months' worth of nonstop college action. And with the openers just around the corner, that means preseason training camps are about to get going.

    The summer has been a relatively quiet time for most programs, unless they've had the misfortune of a player getting into trouble or suffering a freak injury. In most cases, it's been all about final preparations for camp, which includes figuring out what the biggest concern each team has heading into practice.

    We've also gone ahead and determined the most pressing issue facing each team in the five power conferences (as well as major independents BYU and Notre Dame) as fall camp nears. Check out what your team should be worrying most about, or what you can hope your rival will be unable to address in time for the start of the 2014 season.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Concern: Cornerback play

    With as good as Alabama seems to recruit on an annual basis, it's not a surprise that it was able to snag the second- and third-best cornerbacks in the 2014 class. What is surprising is that the Crimson Tide's overall outlook from that position heading into fall camp is one where Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey could be starting right away.

    Alabama was ranked 11th in passing defense nationally last season, allowing just over 180 yards per game. However, that number was skewed by the fact the Tide were torched by the pass-heavy teams on their schedule. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns, while Oklahoma's Trevor Knight had a career game with 348 yards and four TDs in the Sugar Bowl.

    The starting corners from the 2013 team (Deion Belue and Cyrus Jones) combined for just three interceptions and eight pass breakups. Belue is now gone, with junior Bradley Sylve a candidate to join Jones in the starting lineup. But Brown was impressive as an early enrollee in spring ball, and Humphrey is considered just as good as Brown, so it could be a pair of true freshmen starting outside when Alabama opens against pass-happy West Virginia if last year's holdovers don't step up.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Concern: Finding a go-to running back

    Arizona doesn't know who its quarterback is going to be this fall, with as many as six candidates (including former USC player Jesse Scroggins, former Texas player Connor Brewer and former LSU player Jerrard Randall) vying for the starting job. Even with all that uncertainty at such an important position, it's not nearly as concerning as what the Wildcats will do at running back.

    Ka'Deem Carey went pro after his junior season, and he was such a workhorse in 2012 and 2013 that not much young depth was built up behind him. That means there's only one player on Arizona's roster—junior Jared Baker—who carried the ball last year, and that was just 27 times for 127 yards.

    There are some untested freshmen (both redshirt and true) who will likely get a lot of looks this fall, and they could be good, but for now the coaching staff has to be concerned about who will produce from a position that was so essential to Arizona's offensive success the past two years.

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Concern: Game experience

    Arizona State lost eight starters from its very strong 2013 defense, and the offense also has to replace several key players who were a big part of the Sun Devils winning the Pac-12 South last season. According to college football guru Phil Steele, that lack of returners and other factors such as senior starters makes ASU the 108th-most experienced team in FBS heading into 2014.

    Some of those who are back from a year ago are very good and will be able to carry a big load, such as senior quarterback Taylor Kelly and junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Senior safety Damarious Randall and junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood should also be integral in what happens this season, but beyond them there's a lot of newness.

    ASU's plans on the defensive line took a hit on Monday when junior college transfer Dalvon Stuckey announced he was not going to attend the school, according to the Arizona Republic's Doug Haller. He was in line to potentially start at defensive tackle. He was the second JUCO recruit ASU had lost in the last few weeks, with starting linebacker candidate Darrius Caldwell also not qualifying, according to Haller.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Concern: Quarterback play

    Brandon Allen is in line to be the starter for the second straight season, and he figures to only improve after a very subpar 2013 performance that saw him complete 49.6 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.

    The 6'3", 216-pound junior averaged fewer than 145 yards per game last season, but that was also due to the Razorbacks going heavy on the run. They'll do the same this year with a great one-two backfield of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, but even with all that running talent Arkansas needs more from its quarterback spot.

    Allen's backups are a redshirt freshman (his brother, Austin Allen) and a true freshman (Rafe Peavey), neither of whom have had the chance to show they can do better. If Brandon Allen doesn't improve, they might get their chance soon enough.

Auburn Tigers

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    Concern: Defensive health

    As great as Auburn's offense was in 2013 and should again be this fall, the Tigers were suspect at times on defense during their run to the championship game. Improvement on that end is necessary to remain in contention for another title berth, and while there's plenty of talent on the roster, the wellness of that group is a huge concern.

    According to Bleacher Report's Justin Ferguson, Auburn had 11 different players miss part or all of spring practice due to various injuries. That included notables such as senior defensive end LaDarius Owens (knee), senior linebacker Robenson Therezie (hand) and sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson (knee), all projected starters.

    Lawson's injury turned out to be much more severe, as Gus Malzahn revealed at SEC media days that the player was recovering from surgery for a torn ACL and could miss the entire season.

Baylor Bears

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    Concern: Stopping the pass

    With an offense as explosive as Baylor's was last year and should be again this season, it's not necessary to have a defense that holds opponents to 10 points per game. That would be nice, but it's not critical.

    What is essential, though, is being able to limit what opponents can do offensively so the Bears offense doesn't have to carry the torch for the entire season. That wasn't the case in 2013, as Baylor was quite good on defense but now has some holes to fill in the secondary, where it lost six contributors.

    The physical play of Ahmad Dixon and K.J. Morton from a year ago might not be possible from the younger cornerbacks in the program, so Baylor may have to adjust how it covers. That's something that will get a lot of work during fall practice.

Boston College Eagles

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    Concern: Dependable pass-catchers

    Boston College's wide receivers caught 93 passes in 2013, and 77 of those were by departed senior Alex Amidon. Of the many holes the Eagles had to plug on offense, and there were several, this is the most concerning.

    While Florida transfer Tyler Murphy will replace Chase Rettig at quarterback and sophomore Myles Willis appears to be a capable back who can provide most of what workhorse running back Andre Williams did in 2013, no single player in the wide receiving unit can be looked at as a replacement for Amidon. Junior Dan Crimmins had 11 catches for 61 yards last season, making him the top returner from 2013, while senior Bobby Swigert had 22 receptions for 249 yards in 2012 but missed all of last year with an injury.

BYU Cougars

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    Concern: Defensive front-seven performance

    BYU graduated three starting linebackers, most notably second-round NFL draft pick Kyle Van Noy, as well as key defensive line contributor Eathyn Manumaleuna from a unit that was among the most effective (yet also more underrated) in the country. Spring practice could only give so much of a glimpse of what the replacements could do.

    To help shore up the linebacking corps, end Bronson Kaufusi has been moved off the line so he can use his speed more effectively from further back. The 6'7", 263-pound junior once played for BYU's basketball team, and his athleticism will be key for the Cougars this season.

California Golden Bears

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    Concern: Defensive line presence

    California allowed nearly 46 points per game last season in going 1-11, so it's not like the Golden Bears had a very stout defense. Still, the loss of four key contributors—as well as a valued walk-on, Ted Agu, who tragically died in April after collapsing during a training run—from the defensive line will make improvement on that side of the ball a lot harder to accomplish.

    Senior Kyle Kragen is the most experienced player returning to the defensive line, while junior Brennan Scarlett returns after missing all of last season with a hand injury suffered late in 2012. Beyond that there are a handful of players with limited experience, so look for Cal to work in several newcomers during fall camp to help develop depth up front.

Clemson Tigers

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    Concern: Offensive inexperience

    The Clemson team that put up awesome offensive numbers the last few years—particularly in 2013, when the Tigers averaged more than 40 points and 500 yards per game—will not be on the field this fall. It will still be coordinator Chad Morris' schemes and approach, but most of the key contributors will be new.

    Turnover happens every year to most FBS programs, but at Clemson the loss of quarterback Tahj Boyd, receivers Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins and running back Roderick McDowell means inexperienced replacements at every skill position.

    Whether it's senior Cole Stoudt or freshman Deshaun Watson at quarterback, the offense should be in good hands because of those players' skills and the system, but the lack of game experience is still worrisome and could lead to early struggles on a schedule that features trips to Georgia and Florida State in the first four weeks.

Colorado Buffaloes

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    Concern: Pass-rush improvement

    Colorado only registered 18 sacks in 2013, a rate of 1.5 per game that was tied for 100th in FBS. It's why the Buffaloes allowed more than 38 points per game, and why despite improvement from the season before they still went 4-8 and never competed against the Pac-12's better teams.

    To make that change, Colorado needs its defensive linemen to create pressure on the quarterback. While defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe has graduated, the rest of the line returns. Whether it's through sacks or swallowing the pocket to force bad throws, something has to improve in order for Colorado to make stops and not try to win shootouts to gain victories.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Concern: Defensive pressure

    While Duke allowed a respectable 26.6 points per game last season, in many instances it wasn't able to stop teams from moving the ball at will. Opponents averaged more than 174 rushing yards per contest, and the 23 sacks in 14 games ranked 89th-best in FBS.

    The two most accomplished pass-rushers graduated, which leaves the linebackers to have to do most of the work up front once again. Seniors Kelby Brown and David Helton combined for 185 tackles last year, but they'll need more help from the down linemen so that the young secondary doesn't get exploited.

Florida Gators

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    Concern: Quarterback depth

    While former Florida passing recruits are on tap to start at Boston College (Tyler Murphy) and North Carolina State (Jacoby Brissett), the Gators are heading toward fall camp with a starter who is coming off an injury and then a lot of uncertainty after that.

    Jeff Driskel, a 6'4", 230-pound junior, broke his leg in the third game of last season and was done for the year. But he looked good enough in spring practice to get the nod as starter pretty early, though a lot of that had to do with a lack of depth behind him.

    At SEC media days last week, Florida coach Will Muschamp was adamant in pointing out the need to develop a strong backup behind Driskel. Who that will be, though, is very uncertain, as sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg didn't look good in his limited action in 2013 and true freshman Will Grier is untested.

Florida State Seminoles

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    Concern: Punting

    First, let's get this out there: Florida State was so good last season on its way to a national title it hardly ever had to punt the ball. With a team that scored more than 51 points per game (and had a kicker in Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo who could make pretty much any kick from any distance), there wasn't much of a need to punt the ball.

    Which is good, because if there was one thing the Seminoles were not good at in 2013, it was punting. Cason Beatty had just 42 attempts, and while he averaged 41.1 yards, he was inconsistent when it came to either pinning opponents inside the 20 or booming off a long one when needed. According to ESPN.com's David Hale, Florida State ranked 112th or worst in FBS in several punting categories.

    It never ended up hurting FSU last season, but in a tight game it could. Beatty punted six times in the BCS title game against Auburn and didn't look good on most of them, and this season the Seminoles face several potential strong opponents who could use a bad punting game as the key ingredient in an upset.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Concern: Secondary

    Georgia's defensive backs were the team's biggest weakness in 2013, and since the season ended, that unit has managed to get worse instead of better. Graduation didn't hurt as much as attrition from dismissals and transfers, negating a lot of the momentum that should have come with the hiring of Florida State's Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator.

    Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was the first to go, getting dismissed in February. Cornerback Shaquille Wiggins announced his transfer in May, and then safety Tray Matthews was dismissed in June and later transferred to Auburn (while Harvey-Clemons and Wiggins ended up at Louisville). The situation was so severe during the spring that running back J.J. Green was moved into the secondary to help with depth.

    Whatever work gets done to shore up the back line during the fall will get tested early, as Georgia's first two opponents are Clemson and South Carolina.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Concern: Blocking for the option

    Georgia Tech will continue to stick with the triple-option run game that Paul Johnson has used since he got to the school in 2008, though he admitted at ACC media days on Monday that the Yellow Jackets "got away from" that approach during last season's subpar 7-6 performance.

    Tech still managed to rush for 299.3 yards per game last season, which ranked sixth in FBS, but three longtime starters from the offensive line have graduated. That puts likely starting quarterback Justin Thomas in a bind if the Yellow Jackets struggle with inexperience up front, even though Thomas seems a better fit to run the option than 2013 starter Vad Lee.

    Guard Shaquille Mason is a good anchor piece to build around, but the rest of the line will be mostly new and will need to work hard in fall practice to jell into a cohesive unit.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Concern: Lack of defensive playmakers

    Illinois' defense wasn't very good in 2013, allowing 35.4 points per game (and only less than 30 points on four occasions), yet there were a few good players on that unit. Those players are gone now.

    For the Fighting Illini to get out of their Big Ten funk—they've lost 20 of their last 21 conference games—they will need some players to be defensive leaders. The best candidates include senior defensive backs Zane Petty and Earnest Thomas III as well as incoming junior college defensive tackle Jihad Ward.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    Concern: Can Nate Sudfeld be the guy?

    Indiana went back and forth between sophomores Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld at quarterback last season, with each getting his share of starts and snaps. Roberson had a breakout game in the finale against Purdue, throwing for six touchdowns passes and recording 427 yards of total offense, but he and Sudfeld were still neck-and-neck when spring practice ended.

    Then Roberson decided to leave the program, transferring to FCS Illinois State for 2014. Third-string quarterback Cameron Coffman also transferred back in January, basically making the 6'5", 232-pound Sudfeld the starter by default.

    Last season Sudfeld threw for 2,523 yards and 21 touchdowns, but he lacks Roberson's mobility. Indiana also has to replace four of its top five receiving options, which puts more pressure on Sudfeld to be accurate and effective.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Concern: Reloading at linebacker

    A big part of why Iowa's defense was one of the best in the country last season—averaging less than 19 points per game to finish ninth in FBS—had to do with a great trio of linebackers who were patrolling the middle of the field. But Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris all graduated, with Hitchens and Kirksey getting drafted.

    Senior Quinton Alson and junior Travis Perry each played in every game in 2013, but they combined for just 16 tackles. The experience void could be troublesome initially, and although the Hawkeyes have a soft overall schedule, the linebacking corps could be an area that opponents find a way to exploit.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Concern: Finding a pass rush

    Iowa State lost three of its four top tacklers from the defensive line, which leaves only senior Cory Morrissey to get the job done among experienced returners. He struggled to perform well last year with veterans around him and will need help this fall as well.

    In 2013 the Cyclones didn't have a player with more than 3.5 sacks, thus enabling opposing quarterbacks all the time they needed to find receivers downfield and throw on what was otherwise a decent secondary. Without pressure up front, there's no way ISU is going to be able to slow teams down enough to be competitive.

Kansas Jayhawks

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    Concern: Montell Cozart's development

    All signs pointed to quarterback Montell Cozart redshirting in 2013 and saving him for the future—until Kansas suddenly put the 6'2", 195-pound dual-threat passer in for a series in the sixth game of the season. He played sparingly in the Jayhawks' remaining games but never looked comfortable either running or throwing the ball.

    With Jake Heaps having transferred to Miami, Cozart is now the guy by default. He completed only 23 of 63 passes last year, and his rushing average of 4.8 yards per carry wasn't very good for a run-first quarterback. Adding to the situation will be a unit of receivers who didn't make big catches a year ago, as well as running game that doesn't feature a go-to rusher.

    Cozart will be thrown into the fire for better or worse this year, so Kansas' coaches have to be concerned with how he develops during fall camp.

Kansas State Wildcats

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    Concern: Thin secondary

    Kansas State had three of its better defensive backs graduate from the 2013 unit that allowed a respectable 220 yards per game and only 13 passing touchdowns. Those numbers figure to go way up in the pass-heavy Big 12 if the Wildcats can't find the right replacements for cornerbacks Kip Daily and Dorrian Roberts and safety Ty Zimmerman.

    K-State often played with five defensive backs, so there are two returners who were strong: junior safety Dante Barnett and senior corner Randall Evans. Those two combined for six interceptions and 15 pass breakups in 2013, with Barnett earning defensive MVP honors in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over Michigan.

    Getting comparable replacements alongside those holdovers will keep the Wildcats effective against the pass, something that will get addressed early and often in fall camp.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Concern: Defending up the middle

    Kentucky lost both interior defensive linemen and its standout middle linebacker, Avery Williamson, which leaves the Wildcats without their best defenders from a unit that wasn't all that good to begin with. Kentucky allowed 31 points per game and wasn't effective at stopping the pass or the run.

    With the middle as thin as it is, that will take away the effectiveness of promising ends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, who last season combined for 16 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Offensive lines will scheme to double them, unless Kentucky can develop some talent in the middle to force blockers to focus there as well.

    Two of the Wildcats' top recruits are defensive tackles: 4-star prospect Matt Elam and 3-star junior college signee C.J. Johnson. Johnson showed signs of promise during spring practice, while Elam is still a mystery because he didn't enroll until June.

LSU Tigers

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    Concern: Quarterback

    When Zach Mettenberger went down with a knee injury in the 2013 season finale against Arkansas, the relief play of Anthony Jennings gave LSU fans a glimpse of what they could expect from the quarterback position in the future.

    Then Jennings stunk it up in the bowl game, and suddenly the quarterback spot was a huge question mark for the Tigers heading into 2014. Even after losing juniors early to the draft from other skill positions, the incoming and existing talent available at running back and wide receiver was enough to allay production and performance fears.

    The same isn't the case for quarterback, where as of now LSU only has Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris on the roster as scholarship quarterbacks. Harris, a 4-star dual-threat prospect who enrolled early, was impressive in the spring but not enough to firmly place him in the lead for the job heading into the fall.

Louisville Cardinals

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    Concern: Defensive pressure

    Bobby Petrino's acumen for offense should make any replacements fit right in, even if that includes the successor to first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater. Louisville fans should be more concerned about what Petrino and his staff have in mind to plug up the major holes on the defensive line.

    All three starters have moved on, and the backups from 2013 who are still on the line had a combined 26.5 tackles. As the new starters take time to fall into line, more pressure is put on a linebacker corps and secondary that also have significant losses to address. A feature of the Cardinals defense should be Lorenzo Mauldin, a 6'4", 243-pound senior who was converted from defensive end as part of coordinator Todd Grantham's switch to a 3-4 defense.

    Mauldin told reporters at ACC media days on Sunday that the move "helps out my attributes—my speed, it shows my length, it shows what I can do in open space instead of just rushing off the edge," per Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal. He'll be exciting to watch, but he won't be able to do it all himself.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Concern: Staying healthy

    Avoiding freak injuries is a concern for every college football team to a point. For Maryland, though, it's reached a level of almost abject fear, considering how bad the Terrapins were bit by the injury bug in 2013.

    The problems were actually around in 2012 as well, but last season was ridiculous. Quarterback C.J. Brown was one of four quarterbacks to get hurt, while Maryland's two best receivers—Stefon Diggs and Deon Long—were both wiped out by leg injuries. In addition, numerous starters were lost on defense.

    While most of these players are expected to be at full strength when the Terrapins begin their Big Ten tenure next month, all it would take is one serious injury before the first game to start another snowball effect.

Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes

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    Concern: Duke Johnson's durability

    The bottom fell out of Miami's 2013 season right around the time Duke Johnson broke his ankle during the loss to Florida State that ended the Hurricanes' dream of a perfect record. After that point Miami won just once more and was a shell of its offensive self by the time it was blown out by Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

    Johnson, a 5'9", 206-pound junior, missed all but the tail end of practice but is still expected to be the go-to rusher this fall. His role might be even bigger than expected, though; the Hurricanes' shaky, injury-affected quarterback situation might emphasis the run even more than usual early on.

    At ACC media days on Sunday, though, Johnson told reporters he looks forward to being the featured weapon and isn't worried about the extra carries. But that doesn't mean Al Golden and Miami's offensive coaches are as excited about the notion.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Concern: Offensive line stability

    Michigan's blocking up front broke down far too much last season, contributing significantly to the team's offensive woes as the year went along. The group featured a first-round NFL draft pick in left tackle Taylor Lewan but still struggled to allow the Wolverines to run effectively. As a result, quarterback Devin Gardner was forced to do too much.

    Now that unit is starting over, as Lewan and right tackle Michael Schofield have moved on, taking 84 career starts with them. The interior of the line was where most of the trouble occurred in 2013, and while many of those players return, there's still a lot of concern over how effective they'll be even with an offseason to get better.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Concern: Defensive regression

    Michigan State finished 2013 ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, third in passing defense, second in rushing defense and second in total defense, rankings that helped pace the Spartans to the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory. It will be hard for this year's defense to top or even match those numbers, especially with several stars from last season no longer around.

    While playmaking defensive end Shilique Calhoun is back for his junior year, changes at linebacker and in the secondary will still need more time to be ironed out during fall camp. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard was a first-round NFL draft pick, but the Spartans have some strong holdovers on the back line in junior corner Trae Waynes and senior safety Kurtis Drummond. 

    At linebacker, senior Taiwan Jones will be the focal point, but he'll have to take on a lot of responsibility early as the rest of that unit gets up to speed.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Concern: Run defense

    Looking at where Minnesota graduated starters on defense from last year's 8-5 team gives a strong indication of what opponents will try to do against the Golden Gophers in 2014. There are huge holes to fill in the middle of the defensive line—most notably from the graduation of second-round NFL pick Ra'Shede Hagemanwhile also on the edges of the linebacker unit.

    The main concern for Minnesota heading into the fall is whether it can shore up those areas enough to keep teams from running rampant up the middle and forcing the linebackers up close to the line to help stop that approach. If that happens, then opponents will throw over the middle, putting pressure on a good-but-not-great secondary.

Mississippi Rebels

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    Concern: Offensive line

    Ole Miss has one of the best young offensive linemen in the country in sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a 6'5", 305-pound left tackle who anchored that side all of last year. The rest of the Rebels' big blockers up front aren't anywhere near as accomplished or skilled, which is a concern as fall camp nears.

    Right guard Justin Bell is also back, while left guard Aaron Morris is expected to be in the mix again after missing nearly all of last season with a torn ACL. Morris will help ease the loss of four regulars from the 2013 line, but he can only make up for one spot, leaving the rest up to inexperienced guys such as junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers.

    Ole Miss averaged 30 points and 473 yards in going 8-5 last season, and it brings back veteran quarterback Bo Wallace and exciting sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. But if the line takes a while to come together, it could be rough sledding early, especially in the Aug. 28 opener against Boise State.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Concern: Running back production

    With Dak Prescott serving as such an effective dual-threat quarterback in 2013, Mississippi State was able to get away with not having a running back put up big yardage. And while he is expected to do more of the same this fall in terms of passing and running, having a dependable back to share carries with him would be very helpful.

    Prescott missed time last season with injuries that were related to the beating he took via nearly as many carries (134) as leading rusher LaDarius Perkins (137). Perkins has graduated, which leaves junior Josh Robinson (78 carries, 459 yards, three touchdowns) as the top returning rusher.

    He's not guaranteed to be the starter, though, as MSU's preseason depth chart has him as one of four players on the two-deep list. At 5'9" and 215 pounds, Robinson is solidly built but has yet to show he can be an every-down back, which means fall camp will be just as much about getting him ready for a bigger load as developing other rushers to be ready to step in.

Missouri Tigers

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    Concern: Defensive inexperience

    Missouri was the surprise team of the SEC by winning its division and reaching the conference title game last season, doing so with an efficient offense and a big-play defense that had stars all over. Both sides have to reload after last year's 12-2 team, but there's more to be concerned with on defense.

    Despite losing both Michael Sam and Kony Ealy from their great defensive line, the Tigers shouldn't have any problems up front thanks to the return of seniors Markus Golden and Lucas Vincent and junior Shane Ray. The holes are harder to fill further back, where only junior linebacker Kentrell Brothers and senior safety Braylon Webb are considered veterans.

    Missouri's preseason depth chart features sophomores listed first at both cornerback positions and in each linebacker spot next to Brothers.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Concern: A rebuilt offensive line

    Nebraska remains a run-first team and will have the top returning rusher in the country in terms of 2013 yardage in senior Ameer Abdullah. He gained 1,690 yards last season and figures to put up similar numbers this fall, assuming the Cornhuskers can block for him effectively.

    All five primary starters from last season have graduated, and what remains is a mostly inexperienced group of players that must come together for this season's team. What helps is that, because of injuries, several of the reserves saw significant time in 2013, as senior guard Jake Cotton has 11 career starts to his name.

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Concern: The quarterback battle

    Larry Fedora has kept the competition between junior Marquise Williams and 4-star true freshman Mitch Trubisky open heading into fall camp, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's done so because either one can get the job done effectively in 2014. Instead, it feels more like he's uncertain which one is the better option and doesn't want to rush to judgment.

    Williams split time with Bryn Renner last season before Renner was injured midway through the year. That put Williams alone at the position, and UNC thrived by rallying from a 1-5 start to finish 7-6 and crush Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. He threw for 1,698 yards and 15 touchdowns while also running for six TDs and a team-best 560 yards.

    What Williams can do is similar to what Trubisky, the No. 8 dual-threat passer in the class of 2014, is capable of doing. Both showed this off during spring ball and will continue to do so when training camp begins, likely making Fedora's decision a very tough one.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Concern: Lack of a breakout running back

    In the second season of Dave Doeren's tenure at North Carolina State, he has what he hopes is the quarterback needed to make the Wolfpack fly in Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett. He also has some promising young receivers on the outside and a lot of size on the offensive line.

    But there's just no explosiveness in the backfield. Last year's top rusher was Shadrach Thornton, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry but rarely broke one off for a big gain. The 6'1", 207-pound junior should be the go-to guy again this season, but heading into the fall, NC State needs to figure out how to make the run game more efficient than the woeful 3.76 yards-per-carry average it had in 2013.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Concern: Venric Mark's durability

    With Northwestern lacking the running half of its quarterback duo from a year ago—Kain Colter, who with 574 yards was the Wildcats' second-leading rusher in 2013—there's a need to have more production from the running backs this fall. Having Venric Mark back at full strength will help with that cause, assuming he's able to perform at his old level.

    Mark, a 5'8", 175-pound senior, missed all but three games last season because of ankle issues. This was after he ran for nearly 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns in Northwestern's 10-3 run the season before. Having been granted a medical redshirt in 2013, Mark is expected to be a big part of the Wildcats' plans this season, and while he looked good in the spring, a better indication of what he can do will come during fall practice.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Concern: Defensive identity

    Notre Dame's defenders will be wearing the same uniforms as what we saw last year, but not much else will be the same on that side of the ball. Not only did the Fighting Irish lose several key players from their front seven, but they also saw coordinator Bob Diaco leave to take the head job at Connecticut.

    New coordinator Brian VanGorder plans to use a 4-3 alignment, compared to the 3-4 that Diaco used so effectively the last few seasons. A schematic change probably works best when combined with personnel turnover, but the concern is whether the Irish have enough lineman depth to make it work. The linebacker situation isn't as drastic, thanks to the return of 6'2", 230-pound sophomore Jaylon Smith.

    Smith, who was the first true freshman to start at linebacker for Notre Dame since 1995, could play all three spots to utilize his skills.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Concern: Offensive supporting cast

    While Braxton Miller is firmly entrenched as Ohio State's quarterback for his senior year, even with him missing spring practice because of shoulder surgery, whom he will work with as offensive weapons remains uncertain. The Buckeyes lost standout running back Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey Brown from last year's 12-win team.

    The running back situation is OSU's most intriguing heading into the fall, writes Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod, because the competition features "no shortage of former blue-chip prospects." Dontre Wilson is the top returner (besides Miller) in terms of rushing yards, but the speedy sophomore has been moved to H-back and will be used more as a receiver after winning that position during spring practice.

    That leaves the door open for several talented young players, most notably 6'0", 218-pound sophomore Ezekiel Elliott and 6'0", 216-pound Bri'onte Dunn. Dunn, a redshirt sophomore, played sparingly as a freshman but sat out the 2013 season.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Concern: Catching the ball

    While Oklahoma has one of the hottest commodities in the country at quarterback in Trevor Knight—he of the breakout performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabamathe rest of what the Sooners are going to do on offense remains a mystery. Or, rather, who is going to do things on offense.

    The top two running backs from 2013 have graduated, while the receiving corps features four players who caught passes (with junior Sterling Shepard responsible for 51 of those 68 receptions). The talent from those ready to step in is immense, but talent only goes so far before actual execution becomes more important.

    The addition of Blake Bell at tight end after a few years at quarterback will be interesting to see, as will whoever else contributes in the passing game. That may include 5-star freshman Joe Mixon, who was the fourth-best all-purpose back in the 2014 recruiting class and figures to be a big part of Oklahoma's running game as well.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Concern: A completely rebuilt secondary

    Oklahoma State lost players all over its defense, but nowhere is the loss more painful than in the secondary, where all four starters are gone. Actually, the top five defensive backs in terms of tackles (combining for 238, as well as 12 for loss) and interceptions (10) have departed, leaving some big shoes to fill.

    OSU played a lot of guys in the back, so there's a good amount of game experience to tap into. That includes Larry Stephens, a senior who missed nearly the entire 2013 season after getting hurt in the opener, but the replacements will have to get up to speed quickly.

    OSU's opener is against Florida State, and while the defensive line is strong at stopping the run, that just means teams will try to pass more to compensate, thus testing the secondary.

Oregon Ducks

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    Concern: Defensive line depth

    Oregon's biggest losses from the 2013 team come up front on defense, where it saw starters Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi all move on after helping put up a solid run and pass defense a year ago. There are high hopes for a trio of returners who figure to play alongside senior Tony Washington, but beyond that there's uncertainty in the trenches.

    Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci all saw a lot of time last year, but they don't have the size or stats that those they're replacing put up. The Pac-12 is one of the most prolific offensive leagues in the country, and without big, strong and fast guys on the defensive line, it will be tough to slow down the great running games and big-armed passers that are all over Oregon's schedule.

    How the Ducks handle their defensive line situation could dictate how their first year under new coordinator Don Pellum goes. Pellum, who has been with the program for more than two decades, takes over for Nick Aliotti, who retired after 15 years as defensive coordinator.

Oregon State Beavers

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    Concern: Line of scrimmage control

    Even with Biletnikoff Award-winning wide receiver Brandin Cooks in the NFL, Oregon State figures to have plenty of great options for Sean Mannion to throw to from his receiving unit and his stable of sure-handed running backs. And on defense the linebackers and secondary are stocked with veterans who have been through the craziness that is the Pac-12's high-scoring world.

    In between all that, though, is where the Beavers have questions and concerns. Lots of them.

    In order for Mannion to stay upright and minimize his mistakes (he threw 15 interceptions and was sacked 25 times in 2013), he'll need strong blocking on the offensive line, but OSU lost three starters who had combined for more than 110 career starts. Mannion still has his standout center in senior Isaac Seumalo, but the rest of the line will be a work in progress during fall camp.

    And on the defensive line, it's the same situation: Senior end Dylan Wynn is back, but that's about it.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Concern: Youth and inexperience on the outside

    Penn State has one of the best young quarterbacks in the country coming back in Christian Hackenberg, who might have been the country's top freshman player in 2013 if not for what Jameis Winston did last season. Having Hackenberg back and working with an offensive mind like new coach James Franklin should be fun to watch.

    That is, if the Nittany Lions can find the right guys to catch the ball.

    Penn State lost its two most prolific receivers from a year ago, but it really was just the one guy (Allen Robinson) whose loss matters. Robinson had 97 catches for 1,432 yards in 2013, totals that were better than any four other players on the roster. Sophomore Geno Lewis and a pair of junior tight ends are well-regarded, but until they can show in a game they'll be able to contribute well, the receiving unit will be cause for concern.

Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Concern: Offensive depth

    Some of Pittsburgh's top skill players are pretty good, like quarterback Chad Voytik and running backs James Conner and Isaac Bennett, while others such as sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd are really good. Boyd might be the best underclassman wideout in the country, and his huge first season (85 catches, 1,174 yards, seven touchdowns as well as a punt return TD) made what he's going to do this fall a highly anticipated act.

    But the Panthers don't have much behind those starters, an issue of depth that nearly became a disaster in the spring when both Conner and Bennett were injured and missed the final few practices. According to Bill Connelly of SB Nation, losing starters could provide a nightmare scenario for Pittsburgh: "If the top layer of talent gets injured, there are almost no proven entities below—not for quarterback, running back, or receiver, and really not for the line either."

    As fall camp nears, Pitt's biggest concern has to be developing depth across the board on offense both to help with future teams and to be ready for injuries that affect this year's squad.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    Concern: Offensive improvement

    Purdue scored a season-high 36 points in its final game of a horrible 1-11 season but still lost by 20 points. Before that, the Boilermakers had managed to reach the 20-point plateau just four times and had one stretch where they failed to score at all over a period of nine quarters.

    Nearly everyone who contributed on offense in 2013 is back this fall, which could be looked at as a good thing from the experience standpoint or a bad thing from the performance angle. Head coach Darrell Hazell has had a full offseason to work with his team and get some consistency in place, but results from spring practice indicated things haven't gotten much better on offense.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Concern: Fitting in on defense

    Rutgers has made the necessary upgrades to its offense to try and compete in its first season in the Big Ten, with the hiring of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator leading this cause. But while a veteran offensive mind was brought in to help on that side of the ball, the Scarlet Knights went with youth on defense by promoting special teams coach Joe Rossi to be the defensive coordinator.

    Whether that move will pay off remains to be seen, especially with most of the personnel changes on the team happening on defense. That group gave up a lot of big plays in 2013 and contributed to Rutgers' second-half backslide. If improvements aren't made, the Knights' tough schedule—they face six of the Big Ten's bowl teams from a year ago, as well as Penn State—could be even harder to navigate.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Concern: Cornerback play

    Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree were among the best pass-defending duos in the country last year, helping South Carolina finish 12th nationally in pass defense at 196.2 yards per game. That was despite facing a schedule full of big-name quarterbacks including Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Georgia's Aaron Murray.

    Now that Hampton and Legree are gone, though, the outlook for pass defense doesn't look as rosy. Veteran safeties will help, but the lack of production and experience from existing cornerbacks like Rico McWilliams and others is concerning. The 2014 recruiting class includes four corner prospects, but three of those—Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and Darin Smalls—are among a slew of recruits who may not qualify academically, according to Josh Kendall of The State.

Stanford Cardinal

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    Concern: Linebacker production

    Two of the most significant losses Stanford has had to deal with from its 2013 Rose Bowl team both come at linebacker, where Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy were dominant forces who not only patrolled the field efficiently but also provided key leadership. The Cardinal will no doubt find the right guys to step in at those linebacker spots, but heading into fall camp this is still an area of concern.

    Senior A.J. Tarpley was a stud last year and should be just as big this season, while junior Kevin Anderson showed so much promise in 2013 that he is expected to be one of the most important pieces of the defense this fall. Stanford coach David Shaw told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News that Anderson "was good enough to start if he didn't have a first-team All-American in front of him," referring to Murphy.

    While the Cardinal look strong elsewhere on defense and can use leadership and production from those areas to help fill in the gap, there's still a need for the linebackers to be the focal point of the defense and control what happens.

Syracuse Orange

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    Concern: Consistency

    Syracuse went 7-6 in 2013, getting into a bowl game in its first season as an ACC team (after going a respectable 4-4) and then beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The victories were mostly impressive, but at the same time the losses were pretty bad to witness.

    The Orange lost by 21 at Northwestern and by 35 at home to Clemson. They were felled 56-0 at Georgia Tech and 59-3 at Florida State. To somehow still finish above .500 despite those results is a testament to the team's resiliency, but it also shows how inconsistent Syracuse's play was last season.

    Heading into the fall, coach Scott Shafer has to be most concerned with being able to get his team to perform at the same level each week, no matter the difficulty of the opponent. This fall the Orange face Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State in a three-week span, and without a level of consistency, things could fall apart quickly.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    Concern: How best to use Trevone Boykin

    In 2013 Trevone Boykin spent much of the season battling Casey Pachall for the starting quarterback position before eventually getting moved to receiver while still staying involved in the run game. He finished the year as the Horned Frogs' second-leading passer and rusher and tied for fourth in receptions.

    With Pachall gone, it looked like Boykin was in line to take back his old job, with the 6'2", 215-pound junior getting a chance to work with new assistants Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. Then Matt Joeckel came over from Texas A&M as a graduate transfer, and suddenly Boykin's role with TCU was up in the air again.

    Frogs coach Gary Patterson told reporters at the Big 12 media days on Monday that Boykin "wants to be the guy," meaning the starting quarterback, but that might not be where he's most helpful. Wide receiver depth and experience could be an issue this season, especially with the Dallas Morning News' Mac Engel reporting Monday that senior Brandon Carter (who had 31 catches in 2013) likely won't play this season because of academics.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Concern: Inexperienced linemen

    While Tennessee made some strides in 2013 under first-year coach Butch Jones, it was still a little ways away from being a true contender in the SEC. If that's going to happen this fall, it will be done with all-new lineups in the trenches. The Volunteers are the only FBS team in the country that has to replace every starter on both the offensive and defensive line, according to ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach.

    There's no doubt that line play, on both sides, is Tennessee's biggest concern heading into fall camp. Though that was a big source of focus during spring ball, the work isn't done and likely won't be completed until well into the season.

    Tennessee's offensive line depth chart features only two seniors, neither of whom are the projected starters, while on defense only one senior is expected to start in defensive end Jordan Williams. He has 39 tackles in 31 games of action for his career, and that's on the high end of past production from those in the mix on the Vols' lines.

Texas Longhorns

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    Concern: The quarterback situation

    Many writers—including Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval—have argued that the first season of the Charlie Strong era at Texas is less about winning every game and more about creating a new culture and establishing new approaches to a storied program. Being able to reverse the Longhorns' recent trend of having questions at quarterback would be nice, too.

    Strong at least got the "who would be the starter" question out of the way early, naming junior David Ash as the man to lead Texas' offense during Big 12 media days on Tuesday. Ash was picked over sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who was thrown into action last year and struggled most of the time, and true freshman Jerrod Heard, a 4-star dual-threat prospect who wasn't a part of spring practice because he hadn't enrolled yet.

    Even with Ash getting the nod, there's still cause for concern. The veteran has been in the mix each of the past two years, but both seasons were cut short by injuries.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Concern: Defensive production

    Texas A&M's defense has been almost as panned as the Aggies offense has been praised during Kevin Sumlin's two seasons, and it doesn't look like much is going to change this fall. But with uncertainty on offense in terms of who will be the leaders at quarterback and wide receiver, it's even more concerning that A&M is heading into fall with far too many question marks on defense.

    A&M had only 21 sacks in 2013, a rate of 1.62 per game that tied for 90th in FBS. The Aggies were 109th in total defense and 110th in rushing defense, and while they made great strides to address these deficiencies by going heavy on front-seven defenders in the 2014 recruiting class, that probably won't be enough. Not when so many returners have had off-the-field run-ins that resulted in either suspensions or dismissals from the team.

    The latest departure was senior defensive lineman Gavin Stansbury, whom Sumlin announced Monday had left the team for personal reasons.

    ESPN.com's Sam Khan, in writing earlier this summer about other A&M defensive departures, noted that "the quandary the Aggies found themselves in last season en route to a horrific defensive showing" is likely to happen again in 2014 with so many newcomers having to contribute heavily right away.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Concern: An empty secondary

    Texas Tech's cornerbacks and safeties were above-average defending the pass last season, mostly because those guys had to go up against the Red Raiders' Air Raid attack every day in practice. That's a saving grace for this program, because all of last year's starters are gone and a whole new crop of secondary contributors will be called upon.

    Tech's depth on the back line became even thinner last week when reserve cornerback Dee Paul left the program. This came around the same time that freshman defensive back Nigel Bethel III was suspended for the Raiders' first three games this season because of an on-campus altercation in late June that originally had led to his dismissal.

UCLA Bruins

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    Concern: Depth on the defensive front

    UCLA's front seven boasts some of the biggest names on the West Coast, particularly in the sophomore class, where defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes and linebacker Myles Jack are as exciting to watch as anyone. Seniors like linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa are the next level of standouts, giving the Bruins plenty of talent and skill up front.

    But behind those guys is where the concern comes in, as departures from last year make UCLA a little thin in the depth department. At least two fresh faces who've never seen the field will end up being part of the defensive line, and at linebacker only a handful of reserves who are still around saw action in 2013.

    Also to be considered is the scenario that befell the Bruins last season; because of depth issues at running back, Jack and Vanderdoes were used in the backfield. And while Jack thrived, causing him to be named the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year, his use as a rusher took away from his value as a tackler. UCLA doesn't want to do that again this year, especially if its depth on defense remains a concern.

USC Trojans

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    Concern: Injury-affected progression

    USC's 2013 season was a mess of coaching changes and near-constant injury adjustments, with several key players missing time at various times during the year. By the end of the season it was a wonder how the Trojans managed to field a team for their blowout win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

    That injury situation carried on into spring ball, as Bleacher Report's Trenise Ferreira noted that 18 returners missed part or all of spring practice while recovering from an assortment of physical maladies.

    While pretty much everyone of significance who was limited or held out of the spring is expected to be fully healthy, including the likes of fifth-year senior cornerback Josh Shaw (broken foot), it will mean that fall practice will be like starting over for a lot of players. The time spent getting players back up to full speed could cut into how much USC is able to focus on schemes and preparation for early games, including the critical Week 2 game against Stanford.

    Even before camp could begin, USC is already dealing with injury issues, as redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow tore his ACL in summer workouts and is out for the year.

Utah Utes

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    Concern: Skill position performance

    Utah got great news recently with the medical clearance of quarterback Travis Wilson, who last year was diagnosed with a cranial artery condition that was considered career-threatening. Wilson's absence in the second half of 2013 was a key contributor to the Utes' severe drop-off in offensive production, as the team averaged fewer than 21 points in the last five games after averaging more than 35 in the first seven.

    But while Wilson's return is great news, what's not as promising is the condition of the running game and receiving corps. Collectively, those units lost seven important pieces from last season. Bubba Poole was the top running back and Dres Anderson the No. 1 receiver in 2013, but beyond that, the experience and production are thin.

    New offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, who was Wyoming's head coach last season, has to be concerned about what options he has beyond the top tier of skill players.

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Concern: Lack of big-play potential

    New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has a defensive background, having been Stanford's coordinator and an assistant on that side of the ball the previous four seasons. His pedigree should help the Commodores handle what adjustments need to be made defensively to stay competitive in the SEC.

    Where Mason faces his biggest challenge in the first season is on offense, where Vandy lost quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels and wide receiver Jordan Matthews, among others. In Matthews, that loss is magnified by the fact he was the SEC's all-time receiving leader and accounted for more than 45 percent of the team's receptions and touchdown catches and nearly half of the receiving yardage.

    No. 2 receiver Jonathan Krause also graduated, leaving sophomore Jordan Cunningham (15 catches, 123 yards, no touchdowns) and junior tight end Steven Scheu (nine receptions, 123 yards, one TD) as the most experienced pass-catchers. The SEC has evolved to the point that winning low-scoring games doesn't happen much anymore, so Vandy will need to find some big-play candidates in a hurry.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Concern: Passing accuracy

    Virginia threw the ball a lot in 2013 but didn't complete those passes very often, which was one of the many reasons the Cavaliers were 2-10 and winless in the ACC. Two quarterbacks combined to complete just over 54 percent of their throws last year, with projected 2014 starter Greyson Lambert going just 33-of-75 (44 percent) in his limited time.

    The Cavs have some solid running backs led by Kevin Parks, who ran for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Parks is an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield whose 38 receptions are tied with senior wideout Darius Jennings for the most by any returning player. But for Virginia to have any chance of success this season, its offense will need to be much more accurate and efficient through the air.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Concern: Finding the right quarterback

    With Logan Thomas' long career at Virginia Tech finally over, the Hokies approach 2014 with a major uncertainty at that position for the first time in a while. Several players are vying to be the starter this fall, including senior Mark Leal, sophomore Brendan Motley and former Texas Tech passer Michael Brewer, who is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.

    Coach Frank Beamer told reporters at ACC media days he'll come to a decision quickly once training camp begins, even if he doesn't see separation between the contenders during practice. If a clear-cut leader doesn't emerge right away, whomever Beamer goes with could be just a temporary solution and cause the quarterback position to be a fluid one all season.

    Using multiple quarterbacks by design is one thing; using more than one out of necessity is far less desirable.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Concern: Quarterback uncertainty

    Wake Forest heads into fall camp with not one or two but six potential candidates for the starting quarterback position. New coach Dave Clawson has plenty of decisions to make in his first year on the job, but this one might be the most important.

    Gone from 2013 is full-time starter Tanner Price, who attempted 378 of the Demon Deacons' 408 passes. The top choices to replace Price are his backup from last season, sophomore Tyler Cameron, and junior Kevin Sousa, a well-regarded quarterback recruit in 2011 who's yet to take a snap under center and spent last year on the wide receiver depth chart.

    Three untested freshmen and senior Patrick Thompson round out the competition, with Clawson telling reporters after the spring game that "the quarterback position is fluid. We told the freshmen that we recruited that we would give them a chance to compete, and we're certainly going to give them that chance," per WakeForestSports.com.

Washington Huskies

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    Concern: Pass defense

    While Washington returns all of its starters and most of its reserves on the defensive line, a group that combined for more than 30 sacks last season, there's a dearth of experience returning on the back end of the defense. Three starters and several key contributors have graduated from the secondary. Although there's plenty of young talent to tap into, that group might get thrown into the fire thanks to the Pac-12's abundance of veteran quarterbacks and receivers.

    Washington's schedule includes six conference foes who have quarterbacks entering their third year as a starter, plus the nonconference slate includes tilts with pass-happy Hawaii and FCS power Eastern Washington. Junior cornerback Marcus Peters is the top returner in the back, and he's excellent, but beyond him there's likely to be a youth movement.

    Two of the Huskies' top four signees from 2014 are defensive backs, with 4-star prospects Budda Baker and Naijiel Hale both expected to contribute right away.

Washington State Cougars

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    Concern: A revamped secondary

    Washington State didn't win any honors for its defense as a whole, but it had some darn good individual players, particularly in the secondary. But safety Deone Bucannon and cornerback Damante Horton have graduated, which means the Cougars will have a completely new identity back there without those leaders and a trio of reserves who also are gone.

    The main piece of the revamped unit is Daquawn Brown, a 5'11", 170-pound sophomore who showed a lot of flair last season and should be even better in 2014.

    WSU is still going to give up a lot of yards on defense, whether on the ground or in the air, but the secondary can make big plays if it's able to come together like last year's unit did in spots.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Concern: Run-game distribution

    While West Virginia's passing game was inconsistent and erratic in 2013, its run game was a strong source of dependable production thanks to senior Charles Sims. The Houston transfer had 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns and had nearly 500 yards with seven scores in the Mountaineers' final four games.

    He's gone now, leaving West Virginia with a situation in the backfield where it might actually have too many options and will need to figure out how to spread the wealth. Pittsburgh senior transfer Rushell Shell joins Andrew Buie—a junior who redshirted in 2013 after gaining 850 yards the season before—as well as senior Dreamius Smith and freshman Donte Thomas-Williams in the battle to get carries.

    The candidate pool also includes 5'11", 200-pound sophomore Wendell Smallwood, but his status with the team is unclear following the news that he was arrested on charges of witness intimidation earlier this month.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Concern: Quarterback play

    Joel Stave was Wisconsin's starting quarterback for most of last season, but he wasn't the most effective passer in the game. He didn't need to be, thanks to the Badgers' great run game, and as long as he could find Jared Abbrederis deep every now and then or dump it to tight end Jacob Pedersen over the middle.

    Stave then got injured in the bowl loss to South Carolina and missed most of spring practice while recovering from shoulder issues. That opened the door for converted defensive back Tanner McEvoy to move up the depth chart and provide Wisconsin with a true quarterback battle in fall camp.

    According to Brent Yarina of BTN.com, the quarterback issue is the Badgers' biggest concern heading into the season. Without effective play from either Stave or McEvoy, he told Athlon Sports that "this could be a one-dimensional offense that isn’t nearly as prolific as the ones we’re used to seeing in Madison."

    All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.