College Football Spring Games 2013: Top Position Battles and Lessons We'll Learn
With spring games kicking off across the country, fans will finally get the chance to take a look at some of the prime positional battles taking place on their respective teams.
After last season's spectacular finish, it's hard to stay patient during the spring, as always. Some key players on some high-profile teams have left for the NFL, so it's going to be interesting to see who can step up and become the new leaders at several positions in 2013-14.
Here's a look at some of the positional battles that intrigue me the most this offseason. Sporting News has the complete schedule for the spring.
Once Russell Wilson disappeared, so did star-quarterback play for Wisconsin. With star running back running back Montee Ball headed to the NFL, the Badgers need someone to emerge at the position more than ever.
The early favorites now appear to be Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, according to head coach Gary Andersen (per ESPN).
Stave averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt while on the field last season, tossing six touchdowns and three interceptions
Phillips averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt while tossing five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Wisconsin entered the spring game with seven different quarterbacks, highlighting how determined the program is to find a quarterback that can consistently produce.
Ohio State, DL
Star defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and John Simon are headed to the NFL, so the Buckeyes will have to re-address the line. Hankins was important against the run in 2012, while Simon notched nine sacks, including four sacks against Wisconsin.
The Badgers do have talent on the line—including defensive end Noah Spence—but taking that talent on paper and translating it on the field is always a challenge.
Sophomores Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington, as well as juniors Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, will also have to step up. Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is expecting big things out of Bennett, according to the Plain Dealer.
With Matt Barkley headed to the NFL, USC faces a dilemma this year that is rare for the program: It has to find a quarterback.
A three-man battle featuring Max Wittek, Cody Kessler and 2013 recruit Max Browne will take place during the offseason.
Wittek took over for Barkley when he was injured late last season, but the youngster didn't fare well. He averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt while tossing five interceptions and two touchdowns in two starts (both losses).
Kessler is in his third year with the program, but given Lane Kiffin went with Wittek over him when Barkley went down, that should tell you something. Wittek has more potential than Kessler, even after his rough couple of games last season.
Last but not least, we have Browne. Browne has a realistic shot of eventually taking hold of the reins this season for the Trojans. He's not only supremely talented, he's also more polished than a lot of the 2013 quarterback recruits. His combination of size, arm strength and accuracy could see him under center before long.
Notre Dame, RB
The losses of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick means somebody—or a group of bodies—will have to step up in 2013-14.
George Atkinson III showed flashes last season, averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 51 rushes and scoring five touchdowns. He figures to get an expanded role from the start.
But don't forget about 2013 recruits Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. Bryant, the No. 45 overall recruit in the 2013 class (according to 247Sports.com), has the talent to eventually surpass Atkinson on the depth chart.
Returning players Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone also have a shot to make some noise (McDaniel rushed for 125 yards on 23 carries last season).
The fact that the Gators did so well without many threats in the receiving corps last season is astounding. Jordan Reed led the team with 45 catches and 559 yards. Second-leading receiver Quinton Dunbar managed 36 catches for 383 yards.
Young quarterback Jeff Driskel needs more help and—with Reed headed to the NFL—a variety of players have to step up, and fast.
Former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has been brought in as the receivers coach for the Gators. He has a slew of receivers to work with, but only a few (including freshmen Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood) who realistically have the potential to be molded into big-time playmakers.
Will Barry Sanders Jr. break out this season?
Stepfan Taylor—who was a beast for the Cardinal last season—is headed to the pros. Now it will be up to such players as Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney and 2012 recruit Barry Sanders Jr. to help fill in the gap in the backfield.
In limited carries, Wilkerson averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. Gaffney actually left the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system to return to Stanford in February. Sanders was ranked as the No. 4 all-purpose back in the 2012 recruiting class by 247Sports.com and impressed former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton playing on the scout team late last season. Will Sanders flash the ability his father did back in the day? We shall see.
Each of these players has the potential to aid developing quarterback Kevin Hogan, who showed strides last season. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out.
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