Predicting MVPs of Each Top 25 Team's Spring Game

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

Predicting MVPs of Each Top 25 Team's Spring Game

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    Even though it’s easy to argue that the inter-squad spring games in college football aren’t oozing with real meaning, at least they mean that we’ll have real, live football to discuss.

    Indeed, while it’s difficult to get too fired up about inter-squad games, it is exciting to have genuine on-field evidence as to what a team may look like this fall.

    And this means that we’ll also begin to see which individuals may be huge role players in the story that will ultimately be the 2013 college football season.

    The following slideshow takes this forward-looking approach and boldly predicts the MVP for each of the early Top 25 teams' spring game.

    These are the guys who will impress us the most in the spring showcase showdowns or whom the media will proclaim, based on some inter-squad dominance, will be the difference makers in 2013.

    For an early Top 25, we’ve utilized Bleacher Report’s own Adam Kramer’s 2013 Spring Football Top 25, while returning starter figures come from Phil Steele’s super-duper database.

25. Baylor

1 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 6

    Projected MVP: Bryce Hager, LB

    Though many folks will be tuned in to Baylor’s spring game to see how the Bears plan to replace QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams, the diamond in the rough at this affair might actually be a defensive guy.

    Incoming junior LB Bryce Hager led the 2012 Bears in tackles. In all, he amassed 124 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles.

    Coming into 2013, Hager will be a key cog in a defense that struggled epically last season to the tune of finishing No. 113 in scoring.

    The Baylor D will need to be much improved this fall in order to cover for what will be a very young offense.

    Hager’s shining performance this spring will bode well for Bears fans' hopes that Baylor’s football revival is still well under way.

24. Vanderbilt

2 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP: Brian Kimbrow, RB

    Regardless of which QB shines this spring at Vanderbilt, look for RB Brian Kimbrow to build an impressive launch pad into his sophomore season in 2013.

    While Vandy has a QB battle brewing between Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette to replace Jordan Rodgers, it’s much clearer as to who will carry the load in 2013 in terms of replacing 1,000-yard RB Zac Stacy.

    And remember, this is a squad that finished last season ranked No. 58 in rushing yards vs. No. 81 in passing.

    Kimbrow, an incoming sophomore from Memphis, Tenn., was the Commodores' No. 2 back in 2012. He racked up 413 yards and three TDs as a rusher and an additional 486 yards as a return man.

    With increased touches both this spring and then this coming season, look for Kimbrow’s name to be prominent in more than the weekly box scores.


23. UCLA

3 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 27

    Projected MVP: Brett Hundley, QB

    With four starters from the offensive line and the starting QB back from the No. 31 ranked scoring offense in the nation in 2012, the Bruins ooze with potential for next season.

    And though there will be loads to like about the UCLA spring game this year, it will be difficult to outshine the star who already gleams as brightly as incoming sophomore QB Brett Hundley does.

    Hundley made a surprising run to the front of the pack as a freshman last season. He finished the year with 3,740 yards and 29 TDs via passing and an additional 355 yards and nine scores via rushing.

22. Boise State

4 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP: Joe Southwick, QB

    After spending the 2012 spring session trying to earn the job under center, QB Joe Southwick ought to be the MVP of Boise State’s April affair.

    Southwick was 248-of-372 for 2,730 yards, 19 TDs and seven picks as a junior in 2012, which earned him a QB rating of 141.42.

    Though Southwick isn’t likely to put up Kellen Moore-type stats, he will have a much more experienced squad to back him up in 2013. Boise State is returning 12 total starters, not including Southwick.


21. Nebraska

5 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 6

    Projected MVP: Ameer Abdullah, RB

    When you’re lacing it up as the starting I-back for the offensive unit that finished last season ranked No. 8 in rushing vs. No. 91 in passing, you’re likely to be the toast of town.

    With four starters due back on the O-line, incoming junior RB Ameer Abdullah will likely blow up his 1,137-yard and eight-score performance from 2012 in 2013.

    In case you don’t buy into the fact that Abdullah won’t wow the spring crowd as a RB, remember that he also caught 24 passes for 178 yards and two scores in 2012. If that weren’t enough, he racked up 569 yards and another score as a return man.

20. Northwestern

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    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP: Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB

    One of the many fascinating stories to come out of Northwestern’s stunning 10-win season in 2012 is that of sophomore LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, who finished the year as the team’s No. 3 tackler.

    Ariguzo nabbed two interceptions, returned a fumble for a TD, registered 91 tackles (10.5 for a loss), collected three sacks and broke up five passes in 2012, making him a key element of a defense that finished the season ranked No. 29 in scoring.

    Though an offense that returns seven starters in 2013 will no doubt garner some attention at the spring game, the MVP of the game and perhaps the season will be Ariguzo from Gahanna, Ohio.

19. Oklahoma

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    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP: Blake Bell, QB

    Landry Jones’ graduation from the Sooners program signals the first true QB controversy at Oklahoma since Sam Bradford took over the starting job in 2007.

    And though Kendall Thompson and Trevor Knight will both get plenty of action this spring, it’s finally time to see what Blake Bell can do as the front-runner.

    Even though he has amassed 24 rushing TDs since 2011, Bell has only thrown 20 passes as a collegiate QB—meaning that he’s a long way from sealing any deals.

    That said, neither Thompson nor Knight has any sort of in-game experience, meaning Bell will likely get more time on the field in the spring game. If he can use his golden opportunity to perform well, he’ll be the man of the match.


18. Oklahoma State

8 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 20

    Projected MVP: Clint Chelf, QB

    Keeping track of who Oklahoma State’s starting QB was in 2012 was a lot like trying to remember who Marsha Brady was dating after she ended things with bug-loving Harvey Klinger.

    Did you know that the Cowboys finished last season with three QBs each with over 1,000 passing yards?

    Looking back at last spring, the race to the starting job was between the same three guys who will battle it out again for this year’s role.

    First, you’ve got incoming sophomores Wes Lunt (the first and third starter last season) and J.W. Walsh (the second starter), and then you’ve got incoming senior Clint Chelf (the fourth and final starter).

    The reason that Chelf, rather than Lunt or Walsh, will walk away with the honors at Oklahoma State’s 2013 spring game goes way beyond the fact that he was the most recent starting QB for the Cowboys.

    Remember that Chelf, who had waited in the wings behind Brandon Weeden, was supposed to be the guy in 2012, but he wound up getting overlooked and ultimately bumped (three times over) for the two freshmen.

    Chelf has had the carrot dangled in front of him only to lose out, and what better motivator to make him the most focused man in the race?

    This is a guy who understands what it will take to keep his job—which he almost didn’t have—for his senior season.

17. Oregon State

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    Spring Game: Friday, April 26

    Projected MVP: Charlie Tuaau, DE

    With super-stud DE Scott Crichton and his 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks gone to the NFL draft, Oregon State is saddled with a big job in reloading a D-line that returns only two starters from a year ago.

    And keep in mind that this unit finished 2012 ranked No. 28 in defensive scoring.

    This all sets up nicely for JUCO transfer DE Charlie Tuaau, a 3-star rated prospect from Riverside C.C. in Riverside, Calif. and the No. 71 overall rated player in the JUCO 100.

    It’s pretty simple: The Beavers will be looking for a huge spark at DE, and Tuaau might garner loads of positive attention at the spring game if he can ramp it up quickly.

16. Texas

10 of 25

    Spring Game: Saturday, March 30

    Projected MVP: Johnathan Gray, RB

    At long last, it looks as if Texas has settled on a starting QB before the season actually starts, meaning that we may have at least of couple of games before the two-QB system rears its ugly head again.

    Either way, with David Ash as the man under center, it may be time to look elsewhere for legit MVPs at Texas’ spring game, which kicks off relatively early on March 30.

    With a whopping 19 starters back for the Longhorns (tied for the No. 1 slot nationally), it’s easy to identify a wide range of guys who could be standouts for Texas early and often in 2013.

    But, with five guys returning from last season’s O-line, why not make a safe bet and say that RB Johnathan Gray, who led the team in rushing yards as a freshman last season, is ready for his breakout season?

    Sure, Gray only rushed for 701 yards and three TDs, but with 149 touches, more than any other Longhorn in 2012, he’s already the go-to guy.

15. Florida State

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    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP: Jameis Winston, QB

    In another huge QB battle at a major BCS school, Florida State will likely draw a lot of attention this spring and into the fall as the ‘Noles work to replace EJ Manuel.

    Up for the starting job in 2013 are Clint Trickett, the incoming junior who backed up Manuel last season; Jacob Coker, an incoming sophomore who has thrown five passes in his collegiate career; and Jameis Winston, who redshirted last season.

    Though Winston is the only guy in the race to have never laced it up in college, he’s also the most highly decorated of the three and the only who has been compared to Colin Kaepernick.

    Winston was a 5-star prospect when he signed with FSU in 2012. He was ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat QB and the No. 10 overall player in the nation by Rivals.

    Though it’s too simplistic to say that Winston will just come in and blow everyone else off the field, if he’s half as good as advertised, he’ll garner a boatload of attention and premature accolades very quickly.

    Could Winston be this season’s Johnny Manziel?

    Stay tuned to find out.


14. LSU

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 20

    Projected MVP:  Jeremy Hill, RB

    Since it seems safe to say that fans won’t leave LSU’s 2013 spring game breathlessly extolling the Tigers’ high-flying pass offense, we’ll look for another offensive angle for MVP.

    Jeremy Hill led the 2012 LSU team in rushing with 755 yards on 142 carries, but these numbers are a bit misleading.

    Yes, the freshman led the team in ground yards, but he pulled off this feat by virtue of full participation in only eight of the Tigers' 13 total games last season.

    Hill did manage 61 yards on 10 rushes in the Week 3 blowout vs. Idaho, but other than that, he didn’t crank it up for real until he had his SEC coming-out party with 124 yards and two scores vs. South Carolina.

    For a team with defensive holes to fill and a passing game that finished 2012 ranked No. 94 nationally, look for Hill’s play to be a huge positive souvenir that Tiger fans can take home after the springtime football festivities in Baton Rouge.


13. TCU

13 of 25

    Spring Game:  TBA

    Projected MVP:  Devonte Fields, DE

    Though there will be plenty of talk about whether or not QB Casey Pachall can come back on campus this fall and yank the starting job back from Trevone Boykin, who replaced him after the DWI incident, these guys aren’t automatically the most obvious MVP candidate for TCU.

    The more likely toast of the town at TCU this spring is DE Devonte Fields, who earned unanimous honors as the Big 12 freshman defender of the year in 2012.

    Fields finished his freshman campaign with 53 total tackles, a whopping 18.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles, four broken-up passes and an interception.

    The only things this kid was short of last year were five golden rings and a couple of lords a'leaping.

    Fields joins eight other returning starters from a unit that ranked No. 10 against the run in 2012, meaning that he may be the anchor for one of the best defenses in the country in 2013.

12. Michigan

14 of 25

    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Devin Gardner, QB

    With Denard Robinson out of the picture, the spotlight will shine brightly on incoming junior QB Devin Gardner, who should be able to fight off true freshman Shane Morris for the starting job this spring.

    The interesting facet about Gardner, and what sets the stage for a degree of media frenzy, is the fact that he only has five starts for the Wolverines under center.

    Prior to the final five games of 2012, Gardner was purely a backup to Robinson.

    To add to the intrigue, it’s up in the air as to which Gardner we’ll see this spring: the guy who led Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa or the kid who only competed 50 percent of his passes in losses to Ohio State and South Carolina.

    Either way, Gardner trumps the rest of the field in experience. With most of the reps this spring, look for his play to be the big story of the Wolverines’ spring extravaganza.


11. South Carolina

15 of 25

    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Bruce Ellington, WR

    While the rest of college football is still in hibernation, the Southcocks' leading receiver from 2012, Bruce Ellington, is hitting the hardwood as a guard for South Carolina’s basketball team.

    And with Ace Sanders off to the NFL draft, look for Ellington to swing straight into spring football to make a huge splash at the Gamecocks' inter-squad game on April 13.

    With QB Connor Shaw and four starters from the O-line back in 2013, look for Ellington to potentially explode this season—an expectation that should be quantified by saying we’re talking about SEC stats, not Big 12 numbers.

    Ellington caught 40 passes as a sophomore last season for 600 yards and seven scores and then tacked on an additional 406 yards on kickoff return duty.

10. Florida

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 6

    Projected MVP:  Jeff Driskel, QB

    The announcement in January that Jacoby Brissett is transferring from Florida means that all eyes will be on QB Jeff Driskel this spring.

    Though Driskel was already expected to be the starter going into 2013, without the threat of Brissett, who participated in six games in 2012, the spotlight and the pressure will be directly on Driskel.

    Given the fact that Florida’s pass offense was among the worst units in the entire FBS last season (it finished with a dubious No. 118 ranking), it’s likely that the media will glean any type of positive performance from Driskel in the spring game and herald it as the beginning of a new era.

    The stability that comes from knowing early who your starting QB is will hopefully help the Gators to improve their offense.

    And just maybe it will give Driskel the confidence he needs to be more productive in 2013.

9. Louisville

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Teddy Bridgewater, QB

    Though there is a lot to like about a Louisville defense that returns nine starters to a unit that ranked No. 36 in scoring last season, the star of the Cardinals' spring revue will likely be QB Teddy Bridgewater.

    Straight off the huge win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, Louisville and the nation will be giving Bridgewater’s spring numbers an extra-special glance.

    Bridgewater went 287-of-419 for 3,718 yards, 27 TDs and eight picks as a sophomore in 2012. He netted a passer rating of 160.49, which was No. 8 among FBS passers last season.

8. Georgia

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    Spring Game:  Tuesday, April 16

    Projected MVP:  Todd Gurley, RB

    With 10 starters due back on offense and only three from the defense, Georgia fans probably ought to hope that their spring MVP is a LB or DE.

    But, since we live in a world that celebrates yards before sacks, it seems safe to say that incoming sophomore RB Todd Gurley might blow up in both the spring game and the 2013 season.

    Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 TDs last season as a freshman and added an additional 243 yards and another TD on seven kickoff returns.

    What’s a huge plus for Gurley and Bulldog fans is that Georgia is expected to return its entire starting O-line from a unit that was ranked No. 18 in scoring in 2012.


7. Clemson

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Tajh Boyd, QB

    The “Tajh Boyd for Heisman” express should start in earnest on April 13 with Boyd being declared the unanimous MVP of Clemson’s annual spring game.

    Boyd smoked through his junior season in 2012 with 3,896 passing yards, 36 TDs and 13 picks. When you add in a completion percentage of 67.2, you get a QB rating of 165.58, which was No. 5 in the FBS last season.

    And don’t forget that Boyd was fairly successful as a rusher in 2012, tacking on 514 yards and 10 scores on 186 carries.

    Clemson brings back four starters from the offensive line from a year ago. When you add the six due back on defense, you get the feeling that if the Tigers can run the tables, the spring game might be the start of Boyd’s very real Heisman campaign.


6. Notre Dame

20 of 25

    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 20

    Projected MVP:  Stephon Tuitt, DE

    After the Irish’s meltdown loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, Notre Dame fans, and more than likely a good chunk of the college football nation, will look to the spring game in South Bend in search of answers.

    Indeed, what will the Irish look like post Crimson Tide, post Te’o and post not echoing through the ages? Can they possibly take their 14 returning starters and repeat their successes from a year ago?

    Given that the team was built on a top-ranked defense last year, it’s a safe bet that the team MVP is among the eight returning starters from a D that ranked No. 2 in scoring.

    The standout guy from this bunch is incoming junior DE Stephon Tuitt. Besides his memorable 77-yard fumble return for a TD against Navy, he racked up 45 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, nine QB hurries and one blocked kick in 2012.

    If the Irish are to rise again in 2013, Tuitt is likely to be leading the way on defense.

5. Oregon

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 27

    Projected MVP:  Marcus Mariota, QB

    Beyond the obvious storyline regarding the loss of coach Chip Kelly to the NFL, the big news at Oregon is that it returns 15 starters from its 12-1 team in 2012.

    Included in the bountiful total (No. 24 in the nation) are the starting QB, three receivers and four offensive linemen from an O that finished 2012 ranked No. 2 in scoring.


    Though you could argue that either RB De’Anthony Thomas or QB Marcus Mariota could capture MVP honors at the Ducks April 27 inter-squad party, Mariota will get the most touches, so we’ll go with him as the safe bet.

    Mariota exploded as a freshman in 2012, going 230-of-336 for 2,677 yards, 32 TDs and only six picks. These stats along with an impressive completion percentage of 68.5 netted the youngster a passer rating of 163.23, the seventh best in the nation last season.

    And oh yeah, Mariota was also the Ducks No. 2 rusher in 2012, gaining 752 yards and five scores on 106 carries.

4. Stanford

22 of 25

    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Henry Anderson, DE

    Though many folks will look for news of how QB Kevin Hogan fared in Stanford’s spring game, don’t forget that this is a team built on a stifling defense as opposed to a high-flying offense.

    To illustrate, Stanford finished the 2012 season with 12 wins fired by a defense that ranked No. 11 in scoring as opposed to an offense that ranked No. 72 in points for.

    And this makes the loss of a long string of senior leaders at LB and D-line a scary proposition coming into the 2013 season.

    But this also creates opportunities for guys like incoming senior DE Henry Anderson, who very quietly amassed 50 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, five broken-up passes, three QB hurries and one forced fumble last season.

    A big spring for Anderson would bode well for Stanford’s bid to repeat as Pac-12 champs in 2013.

3. Ohio State

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Braxton Miller, QB

    Though they’ll likely be lots to look for and like in the Buckeyes' springtime festivities, it’s hard to argue against the man of the match being QB Braxton Miller.

    With 2,039 yards of passing and 1,271 yards of rushing as a sophomore in 2012, Miller was personally responsible for 65 percent of Ohio State’s 5,085 total yards of offense last season.

    This means that Miller had the same kind of impact on the Bucks as Johnny Manziel had at Texas A&M. Manziel accounted for 70 percent of the Aggies' total yardage production last year.

    In 2013, Miller will join four returning starters from the O-line, three starting receivers and No. 2 rusher Carlos Hyde, for what may be one of the most complete offensive packages in the BCS.



2. Texas A&M

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 13

    Projected MVP:  Johnny Manziel, QB

    Though it would be nice to pen a six-paragraph discourse on how Texas A&M has holes to fill with a defense that returns only four starters from a year ago and the major attrition on the O-line, predicting a MVP for the spring game won’t be that complicated.

    Yes, the MVP for the spring game and perhaps the entire decade for the Aggies will be Johnny Manziel, freshman Heisman winner and all-around gigantic man on campus.

    As we mentioned in our titillating slide on Ohio State, Manziel’s 3,706 yards of passing combined with his 1,410 yards of rushing accounted for 70 percent of the Ags' 7,111 total yards in 2012.

    Though the MVP title almost seems preordained at this point, it will be interesting to see how Manziel looks on the field now that the impact of the Heisman Trophy has had time to sink in.

1. Alabama

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    Spring Game:  Saturday, April 20

    Projected MVP:  T.J. Yeldon, RB

    Though the defending champion Crimson Tide will no doubt garner loads of attention across the board in their spring festivities, it’s always key as to how the No. 1 back is performing at Alabama.

    And this means that if incoming sophomore T.J. Yeldon can continue to deliver on the promise he showed via his 1,108 yards and 12 scores as a freshman in 2012, he’ll be the toast of the Tide on April 20.

    With Eddie Lacy gone to the NFL draft, Yeldon is set to take over the mantle of the go-to guy in an offense that ranked No. 16 in rushing last season versus No. 76 in passing.

    It’s interesting to note that while lots of folks are talking about whether or not Yeldon is up for the workhorse nature of being the No. 1 guy, he actually carried the ball a full 175 times in 2012, a number that is only 29 less than Lacy’s total touches.

    Though replacing a few key guys on both the O- and D-line might prove to have more impact moving forward, if Yeldon can put up some serious stats in the inter-squad game, he’ll be the bee’s knees.