Ranking the Top Teams from the First Big Saturday of Spring Football

Dan Vasta@CI_StatsGuruSenior Writer IIIApril 16, 2012

Ranking the Top Teams from the First Big Saturday of Spring Football

0 of 12

    The spring is winding down, and there is finally football on for all of the crazed fans to watch with excitement.

    Relax—it is just the spring, although many of the future stars are getting their chance to shine in these scrimmages.

    Some players may shine in these games, and some of them that do may never get a chance to even see the field once the season gets underway.

    Whether some of these players end up redshirting or providing the much-needed depth in their grueling conferences, nothing beats spring football.

    The countdown starts as we are under 20 weeks before we can officially start the season, but it also gives the nation something to talk about other than the scandal of Bobby Petrino.

    Looking at the first big Saturday full of scrimmaged games, here are some grades and early leans from the group of teams that have wrapped up their spring.

Michigan Wolverines

1 of 12

    Denard Robinson was pulled after a drive, but the linebackers absolutely stole the show alongside backup running back Thomas Rawls.

    Rawls had two touchdowns as he continually gashed the defensive line. Question marks remain with the loss of David Molk and Mike Martin, both of whom were senior leaders one season ago.

    Although the coaching staff wants to become more physical, the team from an overall perspective was fairly impressive. 

    The secondary, of course, is led by Jordan Kovacs, but Blake Countess continued to impress at corner.

    Michigan should go as far as the line of scrimmage can take them, but there is still some work that needs to be done. In the spring game, the offensive line was able to control the game at will, with the way Rawls and Fitzgerald Toussaint were able to run.

    Taking on Alabama in the season opener, though, is a whole new battle, so the hope is that defensive line will be able to improve and develop during the summer. 

    Grade: B+

    Rank: Looking like Top 10 quality

Florida State Seminoles

2 of 12

    The offensive line has a ton of upside, but they didn't look all that great against the Seminoles' defense. Florida State will feature one of the most talented and deepest front fours in all of college football.

    E.J. Manuel and Clint Trickett were under duress all game, though they were able to connect more times than not.

    Well, maybe not so much Manuel, who did struggle at times (28-of-51) with two picks. Yet, the receivers are loaded with playmakers, and the sky is the limit.

    James Wilder, Jr. proved to the nation that he has a chance to become special in the near future, but the day was all about the defense.

    Xavier Rhodes and Bjoern Werner did not suit up, and yet the depth behind two of those stars looked magnificent. 

    Developing a running game and punting, and allowing guys like Cameron Erving (and Bobby Hart) to develop up front, are the only things holding back the Seminoles from more than just an ACC Championship.

    Grade: A-

    Rank: Looking like Top 10 quality

Oklahoma Sooners

3 of 12

    The defense was torched a bit by Oklahoma's offense, and Landry Jones only had one drive (resulted in three points).

    Blake Bell was the story at quarterback (14-for-19, 179 yards 1 TD), and freshman wide receiver Trey Metoyer also dazzled many of the spectators.

    Oklahoma has a ton of future stars like any premier program, but the depth at receiver is nasty.

    Landry Jones should top last season's numbers, but this squad can only go as far as the defense takes them.

    Loaded with talent in the secondary, Tony Jefferson has moved to safety to be able to slow down the high octane passing offenses in the Big 12.

    The defensive line needs to be able to bounce back after losing Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis.

    They have depth for days at linebacker, but the front four really will dictate their chances of winning the Big 12. 

    Grade: B+

    Rank: Looking like Top 10 quality

Boise State Broncos

4 of 12

    D.J. Harper will be the easy choice as the opening-day starter at running back, but he did not suit up this past weekend.

    Drew Wright is the backup and he shined, but people are still questioning what this offense will look like without Kellen Moore.

    Can you blame them?

    The 50-victory man himself is long gone, and Joe Southwick likely has the job if he continues to improve. He played well in the spring game, capping his opening 76-yard drive with a touchdown.

    Chris Potter and Matt Miller have the ability to stretch opposing defenses, so the offense is really not the concern (is it ever under Petersen?).

    The defense lost its entire front four, but they do return a few who saw the field quite a bit last season.

    Michael Atkinson batted down the first pass of the ball game, and he has the ability to take over games similar to how Billy Winn and Chase Baker did.

    An athletic and talented secondary is still growing, and so many people want to make bold statements at times like these, but at the end of the day there is so much time before the season opener.

    The Broncos are young and improving, and we should know by now that the coaching staff (regardless of coordinators) will always put their team in a position to win.

    Grade: B

    Rank: Looking like Top 20 quality

Iowa Hawkeyes

5 of 12

    James Vanderberg will be threading the needle a lot—at least, that was what the spring game showed us. After losing both Marcus Coker (dismissal) and at the moment Jordan Canzeri (ACL), the Hawkeyes will need to get creative in terms of moving the ball.

    Throwing the ball will be the first, second and possibly the third option for this offense. They lose their all-time superstar in Marvin McNutt, and it is imperative for a few stars to begin to shine. 

    Keenan Davis is one guy that will be counted on, as will tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, but Don Shumpert and a few other youngsters will need to come through once Big Ten gets underway.

    There was some bad in this spring game like there is for every squad, but the key is about growth and development. 

    Both lines of scrimmage lost quite a bit, and for the first time in a while it does not look like there is a future NFL star on the current roster. All is not doom and gloom since the schedule looks quite positive (only four road games).

    Grade: B- 

    Rank: Looking like Top 25 quality

South Carolina Gamecocks

6 of 12

    Marcus Lattimore is still recovering from his knee injury, so in South Carolina's spring game we saw many fresh, new faces that will provide depth in the gauntlet known as the SEC.

    Filling for Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver will be the duo of DeAngelo Smith and D.L. Moore. There is not likely going to be just one guy that fills in for the former stud, but Connor Shaw and a healthy Marcus Lattimore will help as they should only get better in time.

    The defense up front was not as stellar as many wanted, with Mr. Clowney registering for only 1.5 tackles. No need to fret, since he is still a beast alongside Devin Taylor.

    There was a concern in the secondary, and losing Stephon Gilmore will bring up a ton of questions all summer long.

    Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Clemson all have talented receivers, and it will be intriguing to see how much the Gamecocks improve by then.

    Grade: B

    Rank: Looking like Top 10-15 quality (without Lattimore I wouldn't worry)

Alabama Crimson Tide

7 of 12

    Is it really possible for the rich to get richer despite losing a ton of NFL players?

    A team that just lost Trent Richardson does have arguably the best offensive line in the nation, but the backfield is loaded for the present and near future.

    Most of us already knew about Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler, but we didn't expect T.J. Yeldon to burst on the scene this fast and this soon.

    Yeldon had 16 carries for 88 yards, and he also caught five passes for a game-high 91 yards and a touchdown. 

    The defense may not be better than last season, but the depth is impressive as there are over a dozen guys just in the front seven who can come up and lay a lick on you.

    In a game with expected anticipation, there were many youngsters that impressed us.

    Nick Saban continues to seemingly get the baddest men on the planet out there, and the season could not come soon enough for the Crimson Tide.

    Grade: A

    Rank: Looking like Top Five quality

Auburn Tigers

8 of 12

    In the grueling and grinding SEC, you could be a top-25 team on paper and find a way to lose four or even five games throughout the season.

    That happened to Auburn a season ago, and Gene Chizik is doing everything in his power to improve upon a respectable 8-5 campaign. 

    In the spring game, both Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley impressed at quarterback, and the skill positions are not too shabby either. 

    Emory Blake figures to become a star on the rise in the SEC, but a lot of the talk has been on the defensive side of the ball.

    Dee Ford has NFL speed and then some off the edge, but LaDarius Owens was among several that impressed us in this quick, fast-paced 36-27 victory won by the blue squad.

    Grade: B+

    Rank: Looking like Top 20 quality

Clemson Tigers

9 of 12

    Tajh Boyd chucked it around and ended up throwing for some yards, touchdowns and interceptions. It was a "take a positive with the negative" type of performance, but the Clemson offense looked explosive without its starting running back (Andre Ellington, offseason surgery).

    We saw many youngsters. though D.J. Howard and Mike Bellamy were the main ones. and both will be key factors once the season gets underway (Bellamy looked sharp).

    Sammy Watkins gave us a mini-burst of the electricity he possesses, but he was not the only one that showed off his talents.

    Martavis Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins should keep the Tigers among the most elite receiving corps in the country, and they have done so throughout all of their spring practices.

    However, it was not the offense that gave up those 70 points to West Virginia during that Orange Bowl massacre.

    Even though they looked legit in the spring game, all of the youngsters who shine in April are not always doing such when it matters most in October and November.

    I am a bit on the fence in terms of throwing them in as a top-10, BCS caliber of a team, but time will tell if these Tigers are primed for such a tough task (if not better).

    Grade: B

    Rank: Looking like Top 15-20 quality

USC Trojans

10 of 12

    Matt Barkley will be hyped as the best player on the planet heading into the 2012 college football season—and deservedly so.

    Despite struggling for his standards in the spring game (23-39, 212 yards, 1 TD/1 INT), Barkley has a plethora of stars to spread out defenses with.

    Some would like to see USC run the ball more effectively, but their passing offense is so unstoppable that the running backs do not need to become superstars.

    The defense and its back seven is filled with a boatload of studs (Isiah Wiley stood out).

    Many are currently arguing (myself included) that there is not a single team in America that has a better combination of stars that can go downfield for a pass as well as break one up.

    The expectations will be lofty with a No. 1 or 2 preseason ranking on the horizon, but Barkley is the guy at the end of the day that may make the Trojans championship-worthy once again.

    Note: Robert Woods did not play so Marquise Lee stole the show at receiver instead.

    Grade: A-

    Rank: Looking like Top Five quality

Georgia Bulldogs

11 of 12

    Georgia may be losing a few starters to begin the season, but they sure are a talented bunch. The red team defeated the black squad 32-21, but we saw a balanced attack on offense.

    It was just Mark Richt had hoped for as Isiah Crowell (still the guy to me) did not start since Ken Malcome ran roughshod in a scrimmage known as the spring game.

    Reaching paydirt twice, Malcome should provide Crowell some rest during the SEC slate, but Keith Marshall is another youngster that is expected to have a decent role.

    We know about Tavarres King and Marlon Brown at receiver, but Jay Rome and Arthur Lynch may become real factors in the passing game for Mike Bobo's offense.

    Murray loved his former high school teammate Orson Charles, but now that he has left for the NFL, we should expect Rome to shine more often (looked great despite defense looking better overall than offense).

    The defense has a ton of speed and athleticism despite the loss of Brandon Boykin, and we should be expecting a defense to once again rank among the best in the country. 

    Grade: A-

    Rank: Looking like Top 10 quality

Miami Hurricanes

12 of 12

    I saved the best for last!

    Well, just kidding, because the offensive performance or lack thereof felt awkward by Hurricane standards.

    Sure, the offense has been brutal recently, but it almost felt like watching high school football. The Miami Hurricanes have gone through a lot last season, and though they have not been nationally relevant for nearly ten years, we never thought it would get this bad.

    The offense was putrid despite having a talented quarterback in Ryan Williams (Memphis transfer) and a slew of unproven youngsters attempt to make a name for themselves.

    Some may argue the offense looked so bad because the defense ranks among the best in the ACC, but there were a ton of drops, interceptions and false starts.

    Any way you spun it, the display was brutal, although do not forget that this is just the stinking spring.

    Prognosticators have labeled the Canes anywhere from 4-8 to 8-4 in the regular season, but Hurricane fans must relax until it gets closer to the season opener against Boston College.

    Grade: C-

    Rank: Looking like they may have to fight to reach a bowl game

    Follow Dan Vasta on Twitter.