Just like that, the month of February is soon in the rear-view mirror, meaning that spring football is ready to take place in a week or so for all of the top teams in college football. This time of year gives every program a chance to look over its team, iron out the weaknesses and see exactly what it is working with entering the new season.
Every team in the country has question marks. It doesn't matter if you are Southern Mississippi, a team that couldn't win a game last season, or you are the back-to-back defending national champions. With players leaving, injuries taking place and coaching staff changes, there are always things a college football team can improve on.
Spring practice is a chance for the coaching staffs to try to make sure those question marks turn into respectable strengths, or at the very least, don't interrupt a season with a bright future.
As we are oh so close to kicking off spring ball, here is the biggest area of concern for each team in the Top 25.
Note: Rankings are in order of the 2012 postseason AP Poll.
Nebraska managed to win 10 games last year off of its surprisingly good offense. That unit will remain much the same, but it is the defense that needs to drastically improve if the Cornhuskers are going to once again compete for a Big Ten conference title.
The defense only returns four starters on that side of the ball, including only four from the front seven. Nebraska ended the season giving up a combined 1,229 total yards in the final two games, which of course resulted in the two biggest losses of the season.
The Cornhuskers have the pieces in place to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the Big Ten, but the defense needs to answer the bell this spring.
Question: Offensive line
The Michigan offensive line will be a shell of what it was last season. The good news is that left tackle Taylor Lewan will still be around, and Michael Schofield will continue to hold down the fort at the other tackle position. The bad news is that the three guys in the middle will need to be replaced, leaving the meat of the offensive line with some serious question marks.
Head coach Brady Hoke has done a great job recruiting up front the last couple of years, and many of those young players will have a chance to show what they are made of during the offseason. Still, this is an issue that is never patched up overnight, as getting a whole line to play together is one of the harder things to do in all of football.
With the switch to the pro-style offense, the offensive line is critical for the Wolverines' success.
Vanderbilt has one of the top receiving corps in the country and is experienced up front with three offensive linemen returning as well. The Commodores now just need a quarterback to help lead the way and take this team to the next level of success in the SEC.
Austyn Carta-Samuels has experience starting before, but his 13 interceptions to 20 career touchdowns aren’t exactly comforting. Other guys such as Patton Robinette and Johnathon McCrary have yet to play a down and will need to prove themselves quickly to the coaching staff if they expect to have a legitimate shot at the starting job.
If Vandy can figure this position out, the 2013 version of the Commodores will be dangerous
Question: Defensive line
Northern Illinois replaced Boise State last season as the underdog that shocked college football. The offense will remain in good hands with quarterback Jordan Lynch leading the way, but the defensive line has to replace the top-two sack leaders in Alan Baxter and Sean Progar. The two players combined for 17.5 of the Huskies' 38 sacks on the year.
The team only has one experienced defensive lineman returning out of the four. However, the positives are that the Huskies do play in a pass-first conference, the MAC, which may allow them to get away with these issues a little bit. Still, having a consistent pass rush and being solid up front is always an area you want to be strong in.
San Jose State had a ball-hawking secondary last season, intercepting a total of 15 passes. A lot of that should remain the same with Bené Benwikere returning for his senior year, but this is a unit that only has one full-time starter coming back. Some of the top tacklers from this defense in Cullen Newsome and James Orth have both graduated and have left holes for new head coach Ron Caragher to fill.
The Spartans have a lot of guys in the defensive backfield who saw playing time a year ago, which should give them a head start on the upcoming season. However, adjusting to the new roles will be key, and it will be interesting to see if guys can handle the pressure of the increased reps.
Question: Defensive line
The reason Oregon State was able to surprise last year was because of the defense. The Beavers can continue to build on that success with seven defensive starters returning, but must find two reliable replacements at the defensive tackle position. Both space-eaters in Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai have used up all of their eligibility and have left gaping holes up front on the defensive line.
Due to being strong up front, Oregon State ranked third in the Pac-12 in run defense and was able to wear down teams in the conference. If there is any chance of this taking place again in 2013, the defensive tackle position will need to be addressed.
I honestly can't remember a Texas defense being as bad as it was last season. One of the few things you can usually guarantee in this sport is seeing a dominant defense down in Austin, as the Longhorns have a long tradition of bullying opposing offenses. Last season it was anything but, as Texas allowed 403 total yards a game, which includes being ranked eighth in the Big 12 in run defense.
Just think about that for a second.
Now the sky hasn't completely fallen on this program, as nine defensive starters return, including Jackson Jeffcoat at defensive end. Much like every year for Mack Brown and his coaching staff, the talent is there to make the improvements, it is now just a question of if the guys are willing to put in the work and redeem themselves after such a poor showing.
With many question marks on offense last season, it was the Boise State defense that kept the Broncos in games. Now, the questions remain offensively, but the other side of the ball was hit hard during the offseason. Player such as J.C. Percy, Tommy Smith and Jamar Taylor will all be missed. That is three of the top four tacklers from last year who are no longer on this Broncos team.
The defensive line was young enough to remain intact, but the linebackers and secondary are two areas of concern for head coach Chris Petersen. Broncos fans have seen this team fill in the gaps in the past, and this will be another example of having to replace the veterans and keep on plugging away.
Question: Offensive line
Northwestern had the fourth-best rushing attack in the Big Ten last season, and a lot of that had to do with improved offensive line play. But with only two starters returning up front, the Wildcats have to find players to help fill the void. The line really suffers at the guard positions with Neal Deiters and Brian Mulroe both graduating, as is one of the tackles in Pat Ward.
The offensive line is young and does have a few promising players such as Matt Frazier, who saw playing time a year ago before getting injured. However, patching up an offensive line is never easy and it will really test the Northwestern coaching staff once spring ball kicks off.
Question: Running back
Utah State just missed cracking the top 25 in the country as far as rushing offense is concerned. The 204 yards averaged on the ground a game was about one yard less than Arizona State for No. 25 in all of college football.
The Aggies must find a replacement for running back Kerwynn Williams, who was easily one of the more underrated runners in the country, averaging close to seven yards a touch and topping 1,500 yards.
Joe Hill did a nice job in a limited role and Kelvin Lee was a nice surprise as a freshman. Both are expected to battle for touches this spring. Utah State still has a solid dual-threat quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, who is certainly going to help produce in the ground game, but this offense needs to find that lead runner heading into the season opener.
Quarterback Blake Bell has shown that he is more than capable of doing a Tim Tebow impersonation, but he hasn't shown that he can stand in the pocket and make the throws when he needs to. Used more as a runner when he's the backup behind Landry Jones, Bell is now the front-runner to become the full-time starter at the position.
He will have to step up this spring and prove he can carry the offense at a school that is known for producing highly successful signal-callers. If Bell can't get the job done, it only opens the door up for the younger guys such as Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Although he is great with his legs and a tough task to bring down, he has to be able to make the throws as well.
Question: Defensive youth
LSU has questions at quarterback and will have a new-look offense with Cam Cameron running the show, but the defense is what the focus should be on heading into the spring. Sure, there is enough talent on that side of the ball to continue to be competitive, but the youth will be overwhelming. We're talking about a group that has to replace four starters in the front seven and two in the defensive backfield.
This is a defense that will be made up of many underclassmen who will all be expected to learn on the fly. Of course, you would rather have talented players who are capable of getting the job done, but there is a lot of inexperience with this group.
With a game against TCU taking place as the season opener, now is the time to get rid of all of the growing pains.
Question: Offensive line
Louisville enters the offseason with legitimate expectations after finding a way to knock off Florida in a BCS bowl a few months ago. The problem is that the offensive line must hold up better than it did last year if the Cardinals are going to return to a big-time bowl game. This was a unit that allowed 30 sacks back in 2012 and only returns two of those starters.
Charlie Strong has done a tremendous job of recruiting along the offensive line, and a lot of that depth should come in to play this spring. But as we saw last year, this is an area that the Cardinals must get better at if another successful year is going to take place. Louisville can have a Heisman candidate at quarterback all it would like, but if he has no time to throw the ball, it won't mean much heading into the new season.
We saw last year just what a reliable quarterback can do for a team’s success. Collin Klein put Kansas State on his back and the Wildcats have experienced some of the most successful seasons in the program's history. Now, it will be time for somebody else to emerge and help continue to lead this team in the right direction.
Quarterback Daniel Sams saw very little time as a freshman last year but will be thrown into the competition as the replacement for Klein. Kansas State also picked up a JUCO transfer in Jake Waters, who has some dual-threat ability and should be a nice addition to the team.
The Wildcats have a ton of issues to address this spring, but if they can answer the question at quarterback, they will be much better off once the season begins.
Clemson continues to remain a one-dimensional team, and until that changes, it will remain difficult to take that next step to seriously compete for a national title. The offense can consistently score on any defense in the country, but the defense has a hard time stopping a Popsicle from melting in the middle of January.
Finishing seventh in the ACC in total defense, the Tigers have a lot of work to do under defensive coordinator Brent Venables in his second season. The front seven is solid with five guys coming back, but the secondary only has one starter returning, which means true freshman MacKensie Alexander will likely be thrown into the starting lineup.
The Tigers have the goods to win the ACC; it all comes down to how much progress the defense makes.
Florida State has three guys who are capable of winning the starting job at quarterback. Clint Trickett is the most experienced guy on the roster and happens to be the son of the Seminoles offensive line coach. Jacob Coker has the perfect combination of size and athletic ability to get the job done at the position. And of course there is redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who was one of the top quarterback recruits of the 2012 recruiting class.
The Seminoles were often held back from really reaching their full potential the last couple of years due to the inconsistent play of E.J. Manuel. It is now up to the coaching staff to find the right guy to run this offense and get this program back in the national championship conversation.
Florida has a solid group of offensive linemen, running back depth and a quarterback who has the potential to develop into something good. Now it needs to discover playmakers on the outside in order to make everything click. This offense was a train wreck to watch a year ago, and a lot of it had to do with the lack of threats at wide receiver.
Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and 2013 recruit Demarcus Robinson must all step up in a big way this year and help this offense remove the training wheels. Florida is a team that usually isn't short when it comes to the offensive skill positions, which made last season quite bizarre.
If the Gators are going to continue to make a push for an SEC title, the receiver position needs an upgrade.
South Carolina must replace every starting linebacker from last season. With the losses of Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens, the Gamecocks have lost two of the leaders in the middle of the defense. Keep in mind, this doesn't even include D.J. Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman, who have also graduated, which means that the top-four tacklers from last year are no longer on the football team.
The Gamecocks will now be forced to turn to some of the younger guys to fill in all three linebacker spots, including the important SPUR position, which requires a lot of responsibilities from even an experienced player.
Steve Spurrier still has Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge, but he needs more to get his team to the SEC title game.
Question: Running back
Stanford has picked up the identity of most SEC teams: play remarkable defense and pound the ball down the opposing team’s throat with a nice running game. The problem is that the Cardinal have lost their workhorse runner with Stepfan Taylor now trying to carve out a career in the NFL.
This is an offense that does have pieces in place with Anthony Wilkerson and Remound Wright returning, but none have ever taken on a role as a lead runner. Stanford also has Barry Sanders Jr., who will finally be given a chance to show what he is capable of after redshirting last season. Tyler Gaffney is expected to contribute as well after missing the 2012 season due to giving baseball a try.
Stanford looks like it will field a running back by committee until somebody is able to emerge from the pack, but as the last couple of seasons have shown, it is better to have that one lead runner who can help shoulder the load.
I'm sure you have heard of Johnny Manziel once or twice, but he doesn't play the defensive side of the ball. Texas A&M ranked ninth in total defense in the SEC last year, and there are even more concerns with losses of a key few players on defense. Damontre Moore left early for the NFL draft, and the second-best tackler on the team, Jonathan Stewart, is also leaving College Station.
All of the offensive fireworks and flashy plays by Manziel are cute, but you don't win the SEC unless you are elite on the defensive side of the ball. The majority of the pass rush for Texas A&M has left the building and the linebacker corps will feature plenty of new faces.
This is an area that must be addressed before any talks of a national championship are mentioned when it comes to Texas A&M.
There is not one defense in the SEC that returns fewer starters than the Georgia Bulldogs. With only three guys on that side of the ball coming back, the unit will undergo a major face lift, particularly in the secondary with only one familiar face returning.
This is a squad that finished second in the SEC last year in pass defense but has now taken a serious hit in the depth department and lost many big names in the defensive backfield. Both safety positions need to be replaced, and there are concerns at the cornerback position as well with Sanders Commings and Branden Smith both graduating.
Georgia is very similar to Texas A&M, as the offense is looking terrific on paper, but questions defensively make you wonder which direction the team is heading.
Criticize quarterback Everett Golson all you like, but sometimes he needs better weapons around him in order to take that next step. This is why I say the wide receiver position is the most interesting to keep an eye on during spring practice. You should expect the Irish offense to be better than it was a season ago, but it could improve by leaps and bounds if the receivers are able to turn the corner.
There is experience with T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels returning to the lineup, but what is Davonte' Neal going to look like in the slot? Who will emerge at the tight end position and become the next Tyler Eifert, somebody who can catch at a high rate and take some of the pressure off the quarterback?
The Irish have pieces to work with at receiver, but finding that true No. 1 target would be key for the offense's overall growth.
Question: Defensive line
Ohio State must replace seven starters on defense, and four of them are up front on the defensive line. This means that the guys who are expected to help clog running lanes and pressure the quarterback are all going to be baby-faced players who are just barely out of high school.
Guys such as Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are all going to enter the lineup and be expected to contribute at a high level as full-time starters. Highly recruited in the 2012 class, these players barely saw playing time last year and are immediately going to be thrown into the lion’s den.
There is no question the talent level is there, but with the youth factor coming into play, this will be an area worth watching.
Question: Defensive front seven
While the Oregon offense receives all of the credit nationally, the defense has been nothing to sneeze at when giving the circumstances of how long it is on the field. If the underrated production is going to continue, the front seven must be tweaked.
This is a defense that has lost its two best tacklers at linebacker with the losses of Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, and lost a true pass-rusher at defensive end in Dion Jordan.
The Ducks defense was a fast unit that covered a lot of ground and made many game-changing plays throughout the year. There is a lot of leadership and production that will need to be replaced before Oregon can look ahead toward another Pac-12 title run.
Question: Offensive Line
Alabama lost many of its heavy hitters up front with D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack either graduating or leaving early for the next level. The Tide has also hired a new offensive line coach in Mario Cristobal, who has coached offensive lines in the past and helped put the FIU Panthers football program on the map for a couple of seasons.
Although there are holes in the offensive line, Alabama never really starts from scratch. Cyrus Kouandjio has already established himself as a solid tackle, while 2013 recruits Leon Brown and Brandon Hill are both capable of helping out right away and making an early impact.
Nick Saban has a track record of making sure his younger guys are ready to step in and contribute. As long as he can do the same with his offensive line, the Crimson Tide will have very few questions once fall camp begins later in the year.