College Football Spring Practices: The 10 Best Position Battles

David LutherFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2012

College Football Spring Practices: The 10 Best Position Battles

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    College football is back!

    Okay, not really, but it's about as close to back as it's going to get for about the next five months or so.

    Spring practice is underway at many schools, and the rest will be starting up within the next week or two.

    And just like the return of leaves and flowers, position battles are the sure sign that the weather is about to turn warmer.

    Every season produces its fair share of entertaining and important competitions for that coveted top spot on the depth chart, and 2012 isn't going to be any different.

    With the plethora of talent making its way to the NFL this spring, college teams are left to their annual quest to find the “next big thing.”

    While some programs hope for a star that will guide the program to the BCS, others are desperately seeking a player to pull the team out of the gutter.

    The position battles are important either way, and here are 10 of the best position battles we'll see over the course of 2012 spring practices.

Texas Quarterback Battle: David Ash vs. Case McCoy

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    Texas fans have certainly seen their fair share of trouble over the past few seasons.

    Ever since the 2010 BCS national championship game loss to Alabama, things just haven't been going right for Mack Brown and the Longhorns.

    While 2011's 8-5 was a clear improvement over 2010's 5-7, the Longhorns aren't quite back to their old ways just yet.

    The biggest thing keeping Texas down has been inconsistent (at best) play from the quarterback position.

    The good news for Texas fans is that Garrett Gilbert is gone. Left in his wake are two promising youngsters, both capable it seems of taking over the starting job full time in 2012.

    Both Ash and McCoy have shown glimpses of promise, but both were shaky in taking over for Gilbert in the second half of 2011.

    Ash was the full-time starter in the Longhorns' Holiday Bowl victory over California, and many believe that gives him the inside track to the starting job.

    But this spring will be an important barometer of where each player stands today.

    Perhaps more importantly, it will be a measuring stick for the program as a whole. If Ash can cement his position as the man to beat for the top spot, it's one less thing Texas has to worry about moving forward.

    If, however, there's a protracted quarterback controversy in Austin, there's a chance the indecision could hamper the entire program moving forward—and spell the beginning of the end of the Mack Brown era at Texas.

Oklahoma Running Back Battle: Dominique Whaley vs. Roy Finch vs. Others

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    While most people would assume Dominique Whaley will be the favorite to start in 2012, he's still nursing his ankle, which he broke last season against Kansas.

    Depending on how his recovery progresses, the decision to start him may not be so clear cut.

    Roy Finch stepped into the starting role nicely last season, and kept Oklahoma's running game from becoming completely irrelevant.

    Both Brennan Clay and Danzel Williams also enter into the mix, although either of these two will need to have an explosive spring followed by a solid fall camp to break into the top spot on the depth chart.

    While this position battle may not be the flashiest in the nation, it's importance to OU's Big 12 chances in 2012 is huge.

Florida Quarterback Battle: Jeff Driskel vs. Jacoby Brissett

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    It's probably safe to say now that John Brantley didn't quite turn out to be the Tim Tebow Jr. Gator fans were hoping to see.

    The job of restoring SEC greatness to Florida will now fall on the next quarterback to become a Gators starter—either Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett.

    We saw both of these young quarterbacks last season, as Will Muschamp gave each an early audition for the 2012 starting gig.

    Unfortunately, neither stepped forward as the preeminent favorite, and the result is a bona fide quarterback competition in Gainesville.

    Driskel and Brissett will also need to deal with new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who moves in from Boise State.

    Learning a new system and being evaluated by a fresh pair of eyes will probably provide a little more clarity moving forward.

    We may have a favorite to become the next starter by the time spring practice concludes.

Wisconsin Quarterback Battle: Curt Phillips vs. Jon Budmayr vs. Others

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    A new quarterback won't be the only new feature of the Badgers' offense in 2012.

    After seven years as offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst has left the program.

    His replacement, Northern Illinois's Matt Canada, has his work cut out for him as he attempts to find a decent replacement for Russell Wilson.

    It's highly unlikely that any new Badgers quarterback will turn out to be the killer dual threat that Wilson was in 2011.

    And with stud running back Montee Ball returning, there's a certain expectation that Wisconsin will fall back into its old habit of running the ball down the opposition's throats until they vomit.

    Of all the big quarterback races this spring, Wisconsin's will likely be the most unpredictable.

    None of the potential new signal callers gets the blood pumping, and none of them is particularly bad, either.

    But the one person that could really shake things up in Madison is someone who's not a Badger—yet.

    The rumors about Danny O'Brien are about as varied as you can find on the Internet these days, but there's no secret that teams in need of a quality quarterback will welcome O'Brien into the program with open arms.

    Given Wisconsin's recent success with a transfer quarterback, Bret Bielema is as likely as any other coach to land the former ACC Freshman of the Year.

    And Wisconsin's chances at a third-consecutive Big Ten title may ride on it.

Auburn Quarterback Battle: Clint Moseley vs. Kiehl Frazier

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    When Auburn took a relative tumble in 2011, it really wasn't a shocker. After all, Cam Newton is a once-in-a-decade type of player.

    While 8-5 certainly isn't bad, it's not anywhere close to a national championship.

    Just a year later, and Auburn is again looking for a new starting quarterback—maybe.

    Clint Moseley stepped into the starting role last season, keeping the listing Auburn ship afloat long enough for a decent finish to the year.

    Moseley's chief competition will come from sophomore Kiehl Frazier. Frazier also saw a few snaps last season, and proved to be an effective leader of a ground game.

    This competition likely won't be decided until the fall, and making the right choice could make or break the Tigers chances in the cut-throat SEC-West.

Boise State Quarterback Battle: Joe Southwick vs. Grant Hedrick

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    It's hard to imagine anything more frightening to Boise State fans than the departure of Kellen Moore.

    Except maybe watching the Broncos set up for game-winning field goal.

    Seriously, though, the impact of Moore's departure cannot be overstated.

    He was the winningest starting quarterback in FBS history, and he was one of the biggest reasons Boise State had enjoyed the success it has over the past few seasons.

    But before you start to dismiss Boise State, take a second to remember that this won't be the first time the Broncos have had to figure out a way to replace a quarterback viewed as the lifeblood of Boise success.

    While neither Southwick (who has the inside track at the starting job) nor Hedrick has the pure talent we saw from Moore, either should be able to step in and keep the Broncos from falling completely off of the map.

Oklahoma State Quarterback Battle: Clint Chelf vs. J.W. Walsh vs. Wes Lunt

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    It's probably not too much of a stretch to say that Oklahoma State's 2012 outlook probably doesn't match up too well with the 2011 result.

    Stranger things have happened, but it's going to be a steep climb back up to the top of the Big 12 mountain in 2012, especially with the talent drain at some key skill positions.

    Obviously, the biggest hole is being left by Brandon Weeden, and the competition to replace him will dominate most Oklahoma State offseason headlines.

    Clint Chelf will be given every opportunity to prove that he's the right choice to fill Weeden's cleats come the fall.

    As the primary backup to Weeden, he knows the system and shouldn't have too many problems picking things up where they left off.

    But besides Chelf, head coach Mike Gundy has two well-hyped prospects waiting in the wings.

    If wither JW Walsh or Wes Lunt are as good as we've all been led to believe, then we could see a quarterback competition rapidly heat up in Stillwater.

    Both Walsh and Lunt have plenty of upside.

    Walsh seems to be more athletic than Chelf, and Lunt (who enrolled early to participate in spring practices) has a howitzer for an arm.

    Either of them could do well in the high-flying Cowboys offense.

South Carolina Wide Receiver Battle: Battle Royal Between 10 or More Players

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    It's not an easy task to replace a player who was arguably the best wide out in the program's history, but that's exactly what Steve Spurrier will have to do this spring.

    Alshon Jeffery was a sticky-fingered receiver who could also make impressive moves after the ball was in his hands.

    And while South Carolina will have plenty of solid wide outs returning in 2012, the real race will be for that coveted number one spot.

    So who will emerge as the “go to” receiver for the Gamecocks?

    Ace Sanders is an early favorite, as he came through in the clutch several times for USC last season. But he'll have some hefty competition from both Nick Jones and Bruce Ellington. They both had a lot to do with 2011's successes.

    We also can't count out highly-touted prospects KJ Brent, Shamier Jeffery and Shaq Roland.

Oregon Quarterback Battle: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota

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    When Darron Thomas announced he was leaving Oregon to pursue a lucrative career in the NFL, Oregon fans were disappointed, but the rest of the nation wasn't completely shocked.

    But that means that head coach Chip Kelly will have to find a replacement a year sooner than expected, and when we're talking about the complex, high-octane Ducks, that's easier said that done.

    Sophomore Bryan Bennett is the early favorite to secure the top spot on the depth chart, as he's already spent time taking snaps in actual games.

    That being said, Oregon does have a potential rising star ready to step out onto the field in 2012.

    Honolulu native Marcus Mariota spurned his native Hawaii to play for Kelly in Eugene, and the hype surrounding this redshirt freshman is reminiscent of what we saw a few years ago about guys named Thomas and James.

    It's way too soon to talk about Mariota knocking Bennett out of the top spot, but it he lives up to expectations, don't be surprised if he does before the season kicks off.

Notre Dame Quarterback Battle: Tommy Rees vs. Andrew Hendrix vs. Others

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    The continuing quarterback saga at Notre Dame may turn out to be one of the most entertaining stories of the 2012 preseason.

    Despite posting another 8-5 season in 2011, head coach Brian Kelly is making strides with the program.

    It seems pretty silly, considering he's just two seasons in, but there's already talk about Kelly's future at Notre Dame among the fan base.

    It doesn't come as a galloping shock, but Notre Dame fans are a finicky bunch.

    One would think they'd be used to not winning national championships by now, but no.

    If Kelly doesn't make a move towards the BCS soon, he may become one of the most successful coaches ever fired.

    How quickly Notre Dame “rebounds” is heavily dependent on the starting quarterback for the Irish in 2012.

    Right now, there are four legitimate candidates for the job.

    Tommy Rees stepped in last season for the benched Dayne Crist, and did an adequate job.

    The difference in Rees's place from September to November was apparent, and he continues to mature as a signal caller.

    There's no reason to think he can't retain the starting job.

    Andrew Hendrix was touted as the next big man on campus as the Rees-led offense seemed to plateau late in the season, and the hype surrounding Hendrix could very well carry over to this spring.

    Showing some development will definitely raise his stock price.

    Hendrix has already proven his ability on the ground, so some aerial development is all that's needed for a run at the starting position next season.

    Behind these two are freshmen Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel, the five-star prospect and top quarterback recruit in the nation for the class of 2012.

    Raw talent is the key for both of the youngsters.

    If they perform well this spring, you can expect a media circus surrounding the quarterback depth chart in South Bend come August.