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Preseason College Football Rankings 2013: Spring Game Previews for the AP Top 25

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIOctober 9, 2016

Preseason College Football Rankings 2013: Spring Game Previews for the AP Top 25

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    The postseason polls have been out for almost two months, and the preseason editions are due in August. The only thing standing in the way of any team on the postseason list is the spring.

    From national signing day to spring drills to the NFL draft, the most beautiful season of the year is the most deadly to college football. Stars turn pro, heavy contributors graduate and rosters are shuffled like a blackjack deck at a Vegas casino.

    Even with the best talent on the field, college is not the NFL. Team chemistry changes annually, and losses at the quarterback position can destroy championship contenders faster than they became factors in the first place.

    Here is a spring preview for each of the current AP Top 25.

    *All NFL draft information is from CBSSports.com and spring game dates are from FBSchedules.com

25. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    The Nebraska Cornhuskers enter the spring with some huge questions from the 2012 season. While Nebraska did well enough to make it to the Big Ten title game, something went horribly wrong that day against the Wisconsin Badgers.

    The good news for Nebraska is that it doesn't lose a single superstar, though the 'Huskers do lose a few players in the top-20 range at their positions.

    Nebraska has a lot to overcome, but the talent on the roster should fill the various needs nicely. The biggest questions for the 'Huskers are at running back and quarterback.

    Rex Burkhead is leaving the gap at tailback, and Taylor Martinez is questionable under center. Can Martinez step up and be the best version of himself?

    At least part of that answer will come during the spring game. Martinez has enough potential to make up for the loss of solid contributors. If he can get good protection from the offensive line and perform to his capability, then Nebraska could be in for another run at the Big Ten title.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 6, 2013.

24. Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan has plenty of work to do before the 2013 season kicks off, and replacing key players is a big part of that. Luckily for Michigan, they aren't losing any superstars.

    Denard Robinson will be the most difficult player for the Wolverines to replace. He was moved from quarterback to all-purpose offensive weapon so Devin Gardner could take over behind the center.

    Replacing an offensive player like Robinson, who has seen the Big Ten defenses from the quarterback position, is terribly difficult. With that whole-field vision leaving, the Wolverines are going to have a tougher time exploiting opponents' weaknesses.

    On the other hand, if Gardner comes out of the gate quickly, he'll be good enough to take advantage of defenses that aren't well-prepared for a Michigan squad that has a great passer.

    Watch Gardner during the spring game. Michigan will only play as well as he does.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13, 2013.

23. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Vanderbilt loses Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers. Both players are in the top 20 at their positions for the 2013 NFL draft.

    Stacy was a record-breaking tailback for the Commodores, and he will be missed. Rodgers is less accomplished than Stacy, but he's equally hard to lose.

    Vanderbilt will have to show some serious talent at both those positions in order to earn a spot on the 2013 Preseason AP Poll.

    The spring game will separate the starters from the backups, and it may just separate the Commodores from the Top 25. Whether that's a good (higher) or bad (lower) separation will depend on what happens on the field.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13, 2013.

22. Northern Illinois Huskies

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    Vanderbilt isn't the only team on this list that had a record-setting player on its roster in 2012. Northern Illinois has a major advantage, though. The Huskies' stellar athlete will be back in 2013.

    Jordan Lynch, the NCAA record holder for multiple stats during his 2012 year, will lead the Huskies to another stellar season. As a result, Northern Illinois should enter comfortably ranked in the AP Top 20 when the August edition of the list is released.

    Watch for Lynch in the spring game, though. The Huskies did not do well against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, and he could lose a high preseason rank just as fast as he could win it.

    One other major factor that the Huskies need to improve is the line of scrimmage. Florida State handled the line on both sides of the ball in the Orange Bowl, and the Huskies have to prove that they took a step forward this spring.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13, 2013.

21. San Jose State Spartans

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    The Spartans are losing three NFL draft picks this offseason that are projected to go before the seventh round starts. They are losing offensive tackle David Quessenberry and tight end Ryan Otten, who are both in the top 15 at their position for this draft class.

    San Jose State still has a legitimate shot at the preseason poll because quarterback David Fales is returning. Fales led the Spartans to a great season in 2012.

    They almost took down Stanford, and their only other loss last season was to Utah State. The Spartans are looking for an offensive line and a replacement for outside linebacker Travis Johnson.

    If the Spartans can prove that they have valid successors for the three NFL-quality players that are leaving, then the Spartans will make it into the bottom five of the preseason poll.

    If the spring game just looks like a bunch of kids playing football in their back yard, then expect the Spartans to need to earn their way into the rankings by winning games on the field.

    Spring Game: Saturday, March 23, 2013.

20. Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State returns most of its recognizable names, but the two it doesn't bring back were major contributors at the collegiate level. Jordan Poyer (cornerback) and Markus Wheaton (wide receiver) aren't just heading to the NFL, they are expected to go in the second round.

    Replacing two second-round picks is clearly not going to be a cakewalk, but the Beavers have a few players to watch that could make up a lot of the difference: Storm Woods (tailback) and Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion (both are quarterbacks).

    The only problem with that scenario is there isn't a cornerback on the roster that is as good as Poyer. His presence down the field was a big part of Oregon State's No. 22 scoring defense in 2012, and running the schemes with a backup at the position is going to involve some growing pains.

    If a cornerback emerges during the spring as a threat even half as big as Poyer, Oregon State will enter near the middle of the Top 25. If not, then the Beavers will drop accordingly.

    Spring Game: Friday, April 26, 2013.

19. Texas Longhorns

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    Texas loses two potential first-round picks in Kenny Vaccaro (No. 1 free safety) and Alex Okafor (No. 6 defensive end) via the 2013 draft.

    Marquise Goodwin, the player that helped spark Texas to an Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State, will also leave the Longhorns. Rated as the country's No. 13 wide receiver, he's most likely to go in the third round.

    This leaves David Ash and Case McCoy to once again battle for the starting quarterback position, and it leaves sophomore running back Johnathan Gray to pick up all the slack on offense.

    Texas fans will naturally watch Gray during the spring game to see if he's truly capable of wearing down a defense in 2013.

    However, the biggest offensive battle to watch during the final scrimmage is at quarterback. Regardless of how awesome your star running back is, you must have a quarterback.

    On defense, the Longhorns need help across the board, and those two first-round picks are really going to put them behind the curve. The spring game is going to show a lot of fans what to expect from Texas, and it's a can't-miss game for the Longhorns faithful.

    Spring Game: Saturday, March 30.

18. Boise State Broncos

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    Boise State is still recovering from the loss of its most recent superstar quarterback, Kellen Moore, two springs ago. The Broncos have to put together some sort of offense that can launch them back up the rankings.

    The Broncos fielded the nation's eighth-best scoring defense in 2012, and they lose their best cornerback (Jamar Taylor, projected in the second round) to the draft.

    Boise State needs the offense to crank it up, because the defense will be acclimating to its new secondary. Yes, Boise State can afford to have some defensive drop-off, but not if the offense is unable to bring home victories in the process.

    Boise State will also lose D.J. Harper, 2012's leading rusher, to the offseason attrition monster. While losing a running back shouldn't be that big a deal, the combination of all the losses and the lack of an excellent quarterback is a lot to overcome.

    As tempting as it may be to pay closest attention to the tailback situation, it would be better to watch the ball instead. With so many things changing for the Broncos, the spring game is going to be filled to the brim with valuable information.

    If it's all good news, Boise State may make it into the last set of BCS bowls. If not, then the Broncos might want to go ahead and favor youth on the field to prepare for the playoffs.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

17. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern is coming off a great 2012 season, and the Wildcats don't lose all that much talent to the offseason.

    The bad news is that they have definitely lost the element of surprise. In 2012, the Wildcats tore out of the gate to a 5-0 start before falling to Penn State.

    They were bowl-eligible before the Big Ten even realized what was going on. In 2013, all the Big Ten enemies will focus on Northwestern's 110th-ranked passing attack.

    If the enemy knows you can't pass the ball well, then he can focus on weakening your strengths. If a team can force Northwestern to beat it through the air, then the Wildcats had better be ready to do just that.

    All eyes should be on the quarterback this spring, as his success is essential to the team's success.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

16. Utah State Aggies

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    Utah State will be missing Will Davis (cornerback) and Kerwynn Williams (running back) beginning in the 2013 season. Williams' loss is borderline devastating, as his performance keyed many of the Aggies' 11 wins.

    In 2012, if Williams rushed for more than 50 yards, the Aggies won the game. In 2013, someone will have to fill his shoes. Yes, Utah State will need a running back, but all the Aggies really need is a difference-maker.

    He can be anywhere on the offense or defense, as long as he can make up for what they are missing in Williams.

    The tailback battle will be the centerpiece of the spring game, but any player can take on his role as the game-winner.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 20.

15. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma just got a huge bite of reality sandwich in the crushing loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners thrived on their 15th-ranked scoring offense, and it's going away this spring.

    Oklahoma is losing four draft picks that will be selected in the fourth round or higher, and the Sooners lose three more players that could go as seventh-round picks or free agents.

    The biggest loss will be quarterback Landry Jones, who led the Sooners to another Big 12 co-championship in 2012 despite his subpar performance (by his standards).

    Oklahoma has a ton of players to replace, and none of them is mediocre. A seventh-round selection might look mediocre to some, but plenty of teams are succeeding with non-pro talent at the positions Oklahoma has to reload.

    Oklahoma will be looking for replacements at quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, running back, defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. There isn't a unit on the field that's returning all of its talent.

    The Sooners' spring game is going to be a massive experiment with what they have to use, and the winning combination might elude them into the fall.

    If the coaches can do their jobs perfectly the first time, then Oklahoma's spring game will be one of the best ones in the country to watch. If not, then Oklahoma fans will be nervous until the Sooners land that first victory in 2013.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

14. LSU Tigers

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    LSU finished 2012 with a disappointing bowl loss to the Clemson Tigers. Zach Mettenberger wasn't playing his best game, and the LSU defense couldn't do enough to make up for that.

    LSU faces one of the worst exit classes of any school in recent memory, and the Tigers post 12 players that could be drafted into the NFL. Only one of those players projects as a seventh-round pick or worse, and all 11 of the others are expected to go in the sixth round or higher.

    Outside of those 12, there are still seven who could be swept up unexpectedly. LSU is losing 19 contributors to the offseason, and Mettenberger is going to have to break out as soon as possible to make up for those losses.

    From wide receiver to safety, the Tigers will have holes to fill. Luckily, Les Miles recruits well, and he should have bodies to fill those positions. However, he has to fill them quickly and solidly.

    The SEC West got a lot tougher when Kevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel and the rest of the Aggies came to town. LSU will have a lot of work to do this spring to ensure that 2007 doesn't look like the high point of Miles' career.

    All eyes will be on Mettenberger during the spring game, because the team will be on his shoulders for much of the 2013 season.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 20.

13. Louisville Cardinals

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    Louisville's quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, had a breakout season in 2012 capped off by a major Sugar Bowl win over the then-No. 3 Florida Gators.

    Bridgewater led Louisville to a nine-game opening win streak and finished 11-2 on the season last year. The Cardinals only lose two NFL-quality players to the draft. Furthermore, neither of those players is expected to go higher than the sixth round.

    Louisville loses replaceable talent, and the Cardinals are returning a potential Heisman winner under center.

    Pay attention to the quarterback. He could carry this team to at least another shared Big East title in 2013. If things play out well, then Louisville could be heading to the final round of BCS bowls.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

12. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State has done some great things under Bill Snyder, and his most recent headliner almost took him to a national championship against Notre Dame.

    While Kansas State has recent history on its side, quarterback Collin Klein will be leaving for the NFL this spring. The Wildcats will have to quickly develop a new go-to guy under center, and replacing Klein will be anything but easy.

    To make things even harder, the Wildcats lose six potential draftees this April. That includes potential second-round linebacker Arthur Brown.

    No matter what side of the ball you evaluate, Kansas State is going to have to rebuild with high-caliber players to remain a contender for the Big 12 crown.

    The spring game will show whether that's happening, and K-State fans should watch the quarterback situation closely. Klein may not have been a best-in-history candidate, but he led the Wildcats to double-digit wins in 2011 and 2012.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 27.

11. Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson's Tajh Boyd returns to lead the Tigers to what could very well be a perfect season in 2013. The Florida State Seminoles will once again try to prove that they are the superior team in the conference, but the Seminoles will have key disadvantages to Clemson. (There will be more on that in the next slide.)

    Once Clemson gets past Florida State, the path to a national championship will then go through South Carolina during rivalry weekend.

    It will all start this spring, as the Tigers begin drills and training to replace Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins, Malliciah Goodman and Rashard Hall.

    If Clemson can have some talented players step into those positions, then quarterback Boyd will have little issue making it to rivalry weekend without any losses.

    The Clemson vs. South Carolina game would be the most meaningful in recent memory if both teams could get to rivalry weekend without any losses. That game might even beat out an undefeated Ohio State game for ESPN's College GameDay, assuming Michigan isn't also unbeaten.

    Watch Boyd during the spring game. He could be the Heisman winner in 2013 if the team can begin to gel by then.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

10. Florida State Seminoles

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    As mentioned in the previous slide, Florida State will again compete for the ACC crown against the Clemson Tigers. (Yes, there are other contenders for the 2013 title, but those two have been at the top for the last two seasons.)

    The Seminoles have to replace EJ Manuel under center, and there are 11 other players who will all probably be drafted this April. That's not going to be easy to overcome, especially with some of their talent: Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes, Menelik Watson and Lonnie Pryor, just to name a few.

    Florida State has a lot of question marks all over the field. If the coaches can turn them into Xs and Os instead of those question marks, then Florida State will remain a contender during its rebuilding year.

    If not, then Clemson will have to battle it out with someone else. Either way, Florida State fans need to watch both sides of the ball during the spring game.

    It will be partially misleading, since both sides are missing first-round talent, but it will still give good information on what to expect next year.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

9. Florida Gators

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    More than three seasons have passed since Tim Tebow left the Florida locker room, and the Gators are still searching for a quarterback.

    No, they aren't necessarily in need of a Tebow-caliber man behind the line. Last season's performance proved that. Even with the nation's 118th-ranked passing attack, the Gators cruised to an 11-2 season.

    What's really going to hurt the Gators is the 10 missing NFL-quality players from the 2012 roster. While spring is a time for any quarterback to earn his starting role for 2013, the pressure on him will be intense.

    There won't be a likely fifth-ranked scoring defense to back him up next season. Six of the 10 players heading for the draft are off the defense, and two of them may be first-round selections.

    The quarterback that can handle pressure the best will be the clear choice to start at the beginning of the 2013 season.

    If you're watching one thing, watch the body language of the quarterbacks during the spring game. If anyone looks poised and calm in the pocket and while scrambling, he's your new man.

    Even if he throws a couple of picks or fumbles once or twice, those are teachable skills. Teaching someone to be calm in the face of adversity takes much more time than teaching someone to avoid throwing into disguised coverages.

    This spring should be highly entertaining for Florida fans, and the 2013 season should be equally fun to watch.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 6.

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    The playing field between South Carolina and Georgia gets evened out a bit in 2013, since Georgia draws one of the major SEC West powers for the first time since 2010.

    This will help South Carolina contend for the SEC title even while losing talented players like Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders to the NFL draft.

    The Gamecocks lose a potential eight draft picks this spring, and they won't be easy to replace. Even though Lattimore and Sanders are listed as fourth- to sixth-round picks, those projections don't reflect their talents.

    Lattimore sustained a major injury again in 2012, and Sanders really could have benefited from another season in college. As it stands, South Carolina is supposed to be replacing above-average talent instead of stars.

    Connor Shaw had better keep his wits about him and keep being the balanced passer that he has been over the past couple of seasons. If so, then there is plenty of reason to believe that South Carolina can contend for the SEC title next year.

    After all, South Carolina weathered the loss of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for 2012, so the Gamecocks should be OK without Sanders in 2013.

    Watch the quarterback situation this spring. While Shaw has a ton of experience that will allow him to stay ahead of backup Dylan Thompson, Thompson proved that he can win in the face of the enemy against Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl.

    Also watch the replacements. There will be a ton of skill-position battles on the field, and they will be more than a little entertaining.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

7. Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford won the Pac-12 in 2012, and mostly by taking down the seemingly invincible Oregon Ducks. Stanford went on to win back-to-back games against the UCLA Bruins to claim the title.

    However, through the season, the Cardinal lost some questionable games to Washington and Notre Dame that cast a small shadow over the program. While a conference title the season after losing the No. 1 draft pick is more than respectable, those losses still looked out of place.

    In 2013, Stanford will retain its quarterback, but neither superstar tight end Zach Ertz nor tight end Levine Toilolo will be there. Stepfan Taylor, the No. 7 running back in the 2013 draft, won't be back either.

    Stanford's spring game is going to be about finding a new set of tight ends and a running back. Essentially, the quarterback will be replacing all of his supporting cast except the majority of his offensive line.

    If a wide receiver is going to step up and make a name for himself, the spring game is the opportune moment.

    For that, Stanford's edition of the spring festivities is among the most interesting in the nation.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia has a tougher schedule this coming season than it had in 2012, but that may play out in the Bulldogs' favor. While Georgia went on to play Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs lost by four points.

    Had they had one extra tough game to help develop them as a team, who knows what would have happened. In 2013, they will get that game in the form of a cross-divisional battle against the LSU Tigers.

    Georgia will head into spring practice missing five players ranked seventh or better at their positions for the 2013 NFL draft, which will make next season a real test of team mettle.

    On the other hand, they return 2012's second-best quarterback in the league in terms of passer efficiency. He finished, like Georgia, just a notch behind Alabama.

    It's difficult to predict how each team is going to recover from major losses to the NFL, but if Aaron Murray plays his cards right and takes advantage of LSU's "rebuilding" status, then the SEC could be Georgia's for the taking.

    Watch Georgia's defense in the spring game. All five of those top-seven players are on the defensive side of the ball. Murray is going to look good. If he looks really good, then the defense has some serious training to do.

    If he looks as good as (but not much better than) last season, then Georgia may be in for a long-overdue conference championship.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 6.

5. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M is missing six players that will likely be drafted, including two almost-guaranteed first-round picks. Damontre Moore (defense) and Luke Joeckel (offense) are massively talented players on each side of the line of scrimmage.

    There will be some personnel shuffling to ensure the losses are minimal, but Joeckel is a likely top-three pick. It doesn't matter how much you shuffle, there is going to be a noticeable difference wherever the newest guy ends up.

    The other major factor working against Texas A&M is that every team the Aggies play in 2013 will have one full year of reviewable film on Johnny Manziel.

    If Manziel can make progress at his position (not easy to do when you've already won a Heisman as a freshman), then the Aggies have a great shot at a national championship in 2013. All Manziel needs to do is stay one step ahead of the competition.

    Unfortunately, his competition is Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Mark Richt—well you know where this is going.

    Watch the spring game for weaknesses on the line of scrimmage and how Manziel reacts to the potential breakdown of one side of the offensive line. Is he good enough to work around it? If so, then that national title may be less than a year away.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame is entering the season that is its greatest moment of truth for this generation. Was the 2012 season a fluke, a one-time thing or a warning to the rest of the nation of what is to come?

    To make this clear, there are major players leaving for the NFL like Manti Te'o (linebacker) and Tyler Eifert (tight end). Notre Dame doesn't have to have a second-straight perfect regular season to prove that it is a national contender truly coming out of hibernation.

    Just a couple of wins over confirmed great teams would do the trick. Even commanding wins over lesser teams, like Purdue or Pittsburgh, would satisfy most skeptics.

    Notre Dame's spring game will be full of kids fighting for playing time (and stardom) at wide receiver, tight end, running back and almost all over the defense.

    Unfortunately, Notre Dame won't be able to take advantage of the entire signing class until the fall, but the skill positions are up for grabs.

    Notre Dame needs to come back stronger at the offensive skill positions (except tight end, where Eifert's skill set is not easily mimicked).

    Between Brian Kelly and an Everett Golson that should be an improvement over the last time he played, Notre Dame is in the driver's seat for a national championship run.

    Just don't lose faith, Irish fans, if the Golden Domers don't have a perfect season in 2013. It doesn't really mean anything when you lose players like Eifert and Te'o in the same draft class.

    This is a rebuilding year at almost every section of the lineup. The only major exception is the quarterback.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 20.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State also faces a major moment of truth, and it's eerily similar to Notre Dame's. Is Urban Meyer really that good, or were there other factors at work other than the head coach?

    Meyer's track record in the college football world aids the debate, but common sense says that there were a combination of events that led to the Buckeyes' perfect 2012 regular season.

    Of course, that debate is easily settled: Meyer has had a full year to coach there now. Even if 2012 was helped along by the rest of the Big Ten recovering from losses like Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), a year of Meyer coaching is historically better.

    Ohio State lost eight potential pro-level players this offseason, but it also signed Meyer's first full recruiting class. Plus, he had an undefeated season and 2013 bowl eligibility to sell to the recruits.

    During the spring game, look for Johnathan Hankins' replacement to rear his head and make himself known to Buckeye Nation. Also look for Braxton Miller to be vastly improved at his dual-threat ability from last season.

    Meyer was Tim Tebow's coach in college. That doesn't mean that Miller is the next Tebow, but Miller could certainly become the leader of Meyer's next national championship team.

    Spring will show Buckeyes fans what's coming in 2013. After all these years of "whoops!" those fans should be salivating already.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 13.

2. Oregon Ducks

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    Is Oregon's staff capable of continuing what Chip Kelly started? Great news, Oregon fans: You don't have to wait until next season to find out.

    You'll see what the team is able to do this spring, and you're really only missing Dion Jordan, Kyle Long and Kiko Alonso. Yes, there are other NFL-quality players leaving, like Kenjon Barner, but those players are all replaceable.

    If you doubt that, just think back to LaMichael James. He didn't look replaceable, yet Barner made it easy to wish James well in the NFL.

    Kelly left, but he couldn't take the whole roster with him. The Ducks are still loaded with talent. Marcus Mariota will return to give Johnny Manziel a run for his Heisman money, and De'Anthony Thomas will be back to return kicks for touchdowns and generally light up the scoreboard.

    The major spring battles are for the NFL-bound players' spots, and the rest of the team will support Mark Helfrich as best they can. Considering he auditioned as the offensive coordinator of the point-a-minute Ducks squads, that should put a smile on Oregon fans' faces.

    The spring game will be the debut of the new staff, and there should be little or no drop from the previous coach. Kelly did a great job at Oregon, but the team's spirit and body language over the past couple of years hints that they "got" his program.

    If that's true, it will be evident this spring and in the 2013 season.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 27.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama bade farewell to five potential first-round picks and a total of nine probable pro players this offseason, and that will be tough to overcome.

    However, Alabama has lost a lost of key players over the last few seasons and has still managed to win three of the last four national titles.

    When Mark Ingram left the Capstone, Trent Richardson took over. Eddie Lacy likewise took over for Richardson, and T.J. Yeldon is poised to pick up where Lacy left off.

    Though the offensive line will take a major hit (three out of five are leaving, and two will probably be picked in the top half of the first round), A.J. McCarron will return to lead the offense through the time of trial.

    Alabama's spring game has become less about answering whether the Tide can win a national championship, and more about answering how they will win it.

    The answer is never easy, but it's simple: They do what they've done in order to succeed. From 2009 to 2012, Alabama only missed out on one national title, and the Tide aren't going in to the 2013 season with any other goal in mind.

    During the spring game, there will be a fierce battle for the starting running back position, and there will be plenty of fights for the vacant offensive line slots.

    Don't forget to watch the wide receiver battle, as Amari Cooper will have plenty of competition there, too. The Alabama spring game will be a showcase of every weapon that the Tide will take away from 2012.

    The bad news for opponents is that Alabama will add another No. 1 recruiting class to the depth chart this fall. If that doesn't worry you, Alabama fans will quickly remind you that Yeldon and Cooper were part of 2012's class, and they did pretty well for themselves in their true-freshman season together.

    Names like Jalston Fowler are likely to reappear if at all possible this spring, too.

    Spring Game: Saturday, April 20.

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