The 2013 Post-Spring College Football Top 25
With another year of spring football in the books—outside of New Mexico State, which will officially drop the curtain on May 4—college football will hit pause until teams begin reporting to fall camp. I'm sorry, New Mexico State, but the show must go on.
To celebrate this intermission, we’ve created the "Post-Spring Football Top 25." SPOILER ALERT: New Mexico State did not make the cut.
Using our February Spring Football Top 25 as a baseline, we’ve taken into account spring observations, injuries, roster shuffles and other happenings over the past few months. For the most part, the moves aren’t dramatic, although there were a handful of noteworthy shifts and new additions.
With teams locked in place until recruits arrive on campus in the fall, there likely won’t be much movement until then.
Please note: If your team is in the news between now and conference media days, this is not typically a good thing. Although quiet is boring, it also means the offseason is progressing as planned. Injuries, arrests and other offseason attrition can begin to take its toll, and silence indicates the plan is moving forward at the intended pace.
Anything more and the results may vary.
As for the results of the latest top 25—and I’m certain we will all agree on each and every team and ranking—here it is. If your team is not included, it’s likely due to a personal vendetta.
Just thought I’d get that out of the way right now.
25. Arizona State
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: Not Ranked
We’ve exhausted our Todd Graham Joke Rolodex, which means it’s time to turn to football.
The No. 25 spot is one which could go to many deserving football programs on the rise, but I see this Arizona State group as one with fascinating potential.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly returns after improving significantly over last season, and I expect him to build upon his 30 touchdowns from a season ago.
After closing with a bang, running back Marion Grice will be back after totaling 315 yards and five touchdowns in the final two games. D.J. Foster, the talented freshman runner, should also be a more of a focal point of the offense.
On defense, hello, Will Sutton.
One of the nation’s top defensive linemen, Sutton surprised everyone by announcing he was coming back for 2013. The front seven remains largely intact, which is good news, considering this unit was first in tackles for loss and second in sacks in 2012.
If ASU can stop the run (81st in 2012), look out.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 25
If his spring is any indication, quarterback Bryce Petty will keep the offensive juggernaut firmly operational.
Petty, the likely successor with Nick Florence gone, was sharp in the team’s spring game. He finished 13-of-15 for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, it was only a scrimmage and Baylor’s defense isn’t exactly a brick wall, but his experience in this system should aid his development.
And if he runs into trouble, he can always hand it to either Lache Seastrunk or Glasco Martin.
The two-headed running attack should be explosive, as the tandem ran for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. Much of Baylor’s offensive line also returns, which is good news for all.
As for the defense…well…they still have one. Let's start there.
It wasn’t good last season, although it did improve, and takeaways became more frequent. Still, it has to be better. It doesn’t have to be elite (or even great) for Art Briles’ group to win games, but it does need to build upon the momentum it established at the end of last season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 20
With key pieces and playmakers on offense returning—and the Big Ten still picking up the pieces from a season ago—you would assume momentum would be in the Wildcats’ favor. The problem, however, is spring was not kind to Pat Fitzgerald and Co.
Injuries in Evanston were brutal, especially to the offensive line. Things were so bad that Fitzgerald had to basically call off the spring game altogether. Making matters worse, the O-line needs to be reworked with more than half the starters from 2012 gone.
Zeroing in on the positive, and there is still plenty, quarterback Trevor Siemian, running back Venric Mark and quarterback/running back/wide receiver Kain Colter will all be back in 2013. Seriously, if you haven’t gotten a chance to watch Colter in action, do so.
If the line can sort through injuries and inexperience, the offense will be tough to defend.
22. Boise State
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 22
Over the past five seasons, Boise State is 61-5. It’s remarkable, really. Talk about the schedule all you like, but we're witnessing a rather ridiculous run.
In 2012, however, quarterback Kellen Moore graduated and in stepped Joe Southwick. After starting slow, Southwick clearly became more comfortable, and it showed. The result was an 11-2 season that ended with a solid bowl win over Washington.
Southwick, who didn’t throw an interception the final four games of the season, will likely be better. He’ll also get back six of his seven favorite offensive targets as this group looks for more game-changing plays.
On defense, cornerback is the biggest area of concern. After allowing only 15.8 points per game, the Broncos lose both starters from a year ago. The defensive line remains largely intact, and this group will be tasked with getting more consistent pressure to take some burden off the back end.
21. Oregon State
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Previous Rank: 17
From 3-9 to 9-4, Oregon State’s dramatic turnaround was one of the big surprises of 2012. With the smiles, applause and late-night trips to In-N-Out Burger out of the way, the focus now turns to the future.
Although the Beavers—new logo and all—will likely be closer to what we saw a season ago, can they take that next step?
The quarterbacks, both of whom saw major minutes a year ago, return. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both played brilliantly at times, inconsistent at others. Regardless, head coach Mike Riley will likely take the decision on a starter down to the last moment.
At running back, Storm Woods will try to improve upon a brilliant first season. With four linemen returning, it seems likely he'll pick up where he left off.
Defensively, can this unit come close to matching the success it had a season ago? In a Pac-12 with plenty of offensive firepower, Oregon State gave up only 20.6 points per game (22nd in the nation).
If it can match this kind of production, a 10-win season seems possible.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 21
For a moment, forget about the final two games of Nebraska’s season.
Forget about the two losses and 115 points the Cornhuskers allowed in 120 minutes—ugh, that actually happened—and the 2012 season could be viewed as an overwhelming success. Even with these mulligans, the season was a step forward.
As for 2013, there’s both good and bad news.
The good news is the offense. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was fabulous last fall, and he’s back for his senior year. He’ll have wideout Kenny Bell as his primary target, and I believe Bell could be poised for a monster season. After averaging more than 17 yards per reception a year ago, they have to get him the ball more.
The bad news is the defense, and much of this opens old wounds. The front seven has to be almost entirely replaced. Only four starters return. Then again, after giving up a Nick Saban season’s worth of points in eight quarters, is this a bad thing?
New blood is welcomed here.
USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 19
It was a positive spring for Oklahoma at a time when it desperately needed it.
At quarterback, Blake Bell—the artist formerly known as the “Belldozer”—played well, looking the part of a full-time QB. If his tenure at the position is going to work, his play (and nickname) will have to change.
How he adjusts to life as a dropback passer—in an offense that demands it—will be critical for Oklahoma as it moves forward without Landry Jones. The running game should be solid with Damien Williams and Brennan Clay working behind an experienced offensive line—with the exception of Lane Johnson, who was taken in the top five of the 2013 draft.
On defense, however, we will have to wait and see. There are holes at every level, and the depth at both defensive line and defensive back will be thin until new bodies arrive on campus. In a pass-happy Big 12, this will likely make or break the Sooners.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 23
The buzz surrounding Jim Mora’s group has been strong this spring, and the UCLA Bruins are on the right end of my biggest move over the past few months.
Quarterback Brett Hundley seems destined for stardom. After showing flashes of brilliance in his first year under center, he looks like he’s ready to take a dramatic next step come fall. With running back Johnathan Franklin off to the NFL, Hundley will need to be better until new backs step up.
The offensive line—which was incredibly young and inexperienced last season—also has to get better in a big way. In fact, this group will likely be pivotal. It allowed 46 sacks a season ago. An offseason together will hopefully bring improved results.
On defense, the front seven has been more active in spring, but there are still holes. After hauling in a top-10 recruiting class, youth could likely become a factor (for better or worse) in 2013.
17. Oklahoma State
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Previous Rank: 18
As the saying goes: If you have three quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback. Typically, I’d agree with that, although the situation at Oklahoma State feels different.
For one, Mike Gundy’s offensive system is conducive to success. Quarterbacks have thrived in it in recent years, regardless of how NFL-ready they might be. And two, Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt can all play. All three logged minutes during the 2012 season. Deciding on a starter won’t be easy.
Chelf appears to have an edge, but this could change.
On the topic of change, Oklahoma State heads into 2013 with two new coordinators. The defense is senior-heavy, but it has to play better. The focus has been getting pressure throughout the spring, but then again, who isn’t focusing on that right now?
Switching to the other side, the biggest hole to fill is at running back. Joseph Randle and his 1,400-plus rushing yards and 14 touchdowns will be a tough to replace.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 16
One of college football’s most profitable and polarizing brands brings out varying opinions when it comes to expectations. 2013 is no exception.
It’ll likely be a tale of two teams. On one hand, you have the offense, which is adopting a no-huddle, shotgun approach. David Ash will be tasked with leading this attack.
In a conference that has undergone significant change and departures, Ash returns as one of the few “veteran” quarterbacks in the Big 12. With the helping hand of an explosive group of running backs, the offense could improve upon the 45.7 points per game it averaged in 2012.
The defense, however, is a question mark, to say the least. It regressed significantly last season, and this was with defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Both are off to the NFL.
The good news: Jackson Jeffcoat should (hopefully) be healthy for fall. If so, he’ll be one of the nation’s premier defensive ends. He needs help, though, and Texas has to figure out a way to stop the run.
Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 13
If you’re looking for that “sleeper” team, the one that could burst well beyond expectations, TCU is where I’d start.
Despite playing more freshmen than anyone, the Horned Frogs were still the Big 12’s best defensive group. Although this isn’t an overwhelming stamp of approval, returning eight Freshmen All-Americans says something about the future.
One of those freshmen, defensive end Devonte Fields, might be the best defensive player in the country not named Jadeveon Clowney. He’s that good, and the rest of the nation will learn this soon enough.
The return of quarterback Casey Pachall creates a unique situation. He hasn’t “officially” been named the starter, although it seems likely if he can avoid the demons that forced him to leave the team last year and enter rehab.
We’ll learn much about this TCU team out of the gate. LSU is on tap in Week 1, and if you’re looking for points and scoreboard explosions, you might want to head elsewhere.
USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 14
No one benefited from spring football more than the LSU Tigers.
Eleven underclassmen decided to take their talents to the NFL, which left plenty of roster holes. Outside of perhaps Alabama, however, no team has mastered the art of replacing talent with talent in a short amount of time.
Still, LSU loses its primary havoc creators in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, while tackling machine Kevin Minter is also gone. This kind of production won’t be easy to replace, but again, the track record of doing so is strong.
On offense, the recent arrest and suspension of running back Jeremy Hill is worth monitoring. After a promising offseason, Hill’s status is now in jeopardy.
And, yes, Zach Mettenberger’s development will be integral. He flashed moments of brilliance in the second half of last season, but he has to be more consistent. Mettenberger was once again solid this spring.
Then again, we were having this same conversation a year ago.
13. Florida State
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Previous Rank: 15
This offseason has been about change for Jimbo Fisher. Many talented players have departed, including quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, offensive tackle Menelik Watson, running back Chris Thompson, linebacker Brandon Jenkins and others.
That's a lot. Not only that, but Fisher's coaching staff is almost entirely new. He lost both coordinators, and the staff features a lot of new faces.
Yet despite these changes, one change and new face could trump them all. The Jameis Winston era appears to be underway.
After a brilliant spring capped off with a fabulous showing in the spring game, the buzz surrounding the quarterback of the future is growing by the day. In fact, quarterback Clint Trickett could sense it. He decided to transfer only days after the Seminoles’ spring game.
Winston has yet to be named the starter, but he undoubtedly will be. What the sophomore does in his first year will go a long way in dictating FSU’s 2013 success.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 12
As the Ohio State frenzy picks up steam, Michigan has quietly put itself in an intriguing position.
The Denard Robinson era is over, and the Devin Gardner era will “officially” begin under center. Gardner has bounced around the past few years, although he should benefit from finally getting the majority of first-team snaps. Backup quarterback Russell Bellomy suffered a torn ACL during the spring, so depth at the position is becoming a concern.
If Gardner stays healthy and plays well, it won’t matter. We know he can play, but we don’t know his ceiling. If he can take that next step, the Wolverines could be a surprise team in 2013.
Switching sides, keep an eye on the rehab of linebacker Jake Ryan. The team’s leading tackler is battling back from a torn ACL, but he’s ahead of schedule. He’s targeting a mid-October return, according to coach Brady Hoke (per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com), which would be a boost for a unit on the rise.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Previous Rank: 10
Injuries were not kind to the Florida Gators this spring, especially along the offensive line. In fact, there was a point late in practice when Florida was operating with only six healthy offensive linemen. That forced it to change the spring game altogether.
When the Gators get to fall practice, however, the group should be in much better shape. The focus will then turn from health to production, especially on offense.
Jeff Driskel has to be more consistent at quarterback, and he also needs help. With significant departures on defense, Florida will have to score more points than it did last season. It ranked 78th in points nationally, so this isn't exactly deep, thoughtful analysis.
As for that defense, it’ll have to operate without defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. A healthy Ronald Powell could help matters, and he could be a menace up front if he can battle back from a torn ACL.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 7
I’m still incredibly high on Clemson, although I’ve pumped the brakes ever so slightly as we head to intermission.
There is much to like, and that conversation, of course, begins with quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd’s terrific season (did you know he had 46 touchdowns?) was capped off with a gutty bowl win against LSU, a game in which he had to run for his life. He loses wideout DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington, whose contributions were underappreciated.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins returns, however. If he can stay healthy, he will likely be featured prominently.
On defense, the front seven could turn out to be pretty formidable. Vic Beasley, Tavaris Barnes and Corey Crawford have received rave reviews in the spring up front. If they can get pressure on the quarterback, the rest of the defense—including the inexperienced secondary—should be better than it's been in recent years.
9. South Carolina
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 11
Although quarterback “controversies” typically indicate a weakness, the situation at South Carolina is unique.
Steve Spurrier played both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson at quarterback last season, and thus far, the situation appears far from settled a year later. Regardless of who sees the majority of fall snaps, they will be playing behind an offensive line that remains almost entirely intact.
Replacing the likes of do-everything-man Ace Sanders won’t be easy, and this team has to find more offensive weapons. Bruce Ellington had moments at wide receiver, and he will be a focal point of the passing offense.
On defense, well, there's Jadeveon Clowney. I could stop right there, but this team actually has significant holes. The linebacker group will be entirely new, and there will also be fresh faces in the defensive backfield.
When you have the best defensive end college football has seen in some time, however, the players around him will immediately be that much better.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 9
Have you seen Louisville’s 2013 football schedule? If you haven’t, here you go. It is real, but it is not spectacular.
Anything short of an undefeated season would be a disappointment for Charlie Strong. This will likely be Teddy Bridgewater’s final season before a date with the NFL, and a program on the rise could look to take that next step with Bridgewater under center.
Then again, upsetting the Florida Gators as more than a two-touchdown underdog in a BCS bowl doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room to grow.
The defense will look to do just that, and there were times when this group struggled last year. Pretty much the entire unit returns, however, including defensive end Marcus Smith, who could be poised for a big season.
Speaking of big seasons, there is no ceiling on Bridgewater. He is still growing as a passer after making monumental strides last year, and he’s not done improving. Buckle up.
7. Notre Dame
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Previous Rank: 6
Everett Golson’s spring game had a similar feel to one of his 2012 starts. Granted, the weather was far from ideal, but the theme in his young career remains the same: immensely talented, a big arm, superb athletic ability and inconsistent.
Much of his development (or lack thereof) will help shape the season for the Irish. He loses his gifted tight end, Tyler Eifert, to the NFL, which will certainly force offensive adjustments.
While Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are out at running back, this could still prove to be a strength of this team by the middle of the season. George Atkinson III will have his chance, and the gifted Greg Bryant will compete for playing time as soon as he gets to campus.
Despite the loss of Manti Te’o, the defense should still be a force. Louis Nix will be the centerpiece along the defensive line. Consistent recruiting over the past few years will likely pay off on this side of the ball.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 8
The more I learn about this Georgia team, the more I like.
It’s impossible not to like this offense. Mark Richt’s group will be one of the most talented in the country, and it'll be even better if the offensive line can hold up. Quarterback Aaron Murray will, once again, be one of the nation’s best, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better running back duo than Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
Also, look out for wideout Malcolm Mitchell. If he can stay healthy (and actually focus on one position, as the team says), he could be destined for stardom himself.
On defense is where the questions will surface, and there are plenty of them. The Bulldogs have lost the majority of their starting defense—including linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.
With that said, there is hope. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins could turn out to be a star, while Josh Harvey-Clemons could play a handful of positions given his ability. This group is young and inexperienced, but there is talent here. Now it's a matter of finding it.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 4
I like this Stanford team a great deal—enough to keep it in the top five—but I do have some concerns. Not enough to keep them too far down, however.
On offense, David Shaw will have to replace running back Stepfan Taylor, who ran for more than 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Also gone are dynamic tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. These players were key contributors and stable options for a team that has lacked speed on the outside.
However, there is some good news. The offensive line is still developing and absolutely loaded, and quarterback Kevin Hogan should also improve with more time and snaps.
The defense, especially up front, has been the foundation of this team on its path to getting better. Although productive linebacker Chase Thomas is gone, eight starters return. It won't be flashy, but there's no need for it to be.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 5
If Oregon’s spring-game tempo is any indication, new Ducks skipper Mark Helfrich could be the Chip Kelly 2.0 whom many are hoping he'll turn into.
The new boss is the same as the old boss: 117 plays, 65 points and a familiar, frantic pace that will be terrorizing Pac-12 defenses soon enough was on display during this scrimmage.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota appears destined for stardom, and he may already be there. Although his 38-touchdown season as a redshirt freshman was overshadowed by Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Mariota should continue to thrive in this offense.
With Kenjon Barner gone, more touches for running back/wideout/sparkplug De’Anthony Thomas could make this attack even more dynamic. Touted running back recruit Thomas Tyner could also be featured sooner than later.
The defense is certainly a concern, especially with the loss of linebacker Dion Jordan, who went No. 3 overall in the NFL draft. With that said, the secondary will remain intact—the same secondary that led the nation in interceptions a year ago—and the defensive line is loaded with intriguing young talent.
3. Texas A&M
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Previous Rank: 2
Not every team has the luxury of losing the No. 2 overall pick to the NFL draft and replacing him with someone whose talent isn’t far behind. That’s exactly what A&M is doing right now, as Luke Joeckel is off to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Jake Matthews—another potential top-10 pick next year—will slide over to the left side.
Johnny Manziel will continue to be the talk of Texas A&M, but the depth at running back could well be the difference for this offense. There’s a surplus of talented wide receiver recruits coming in, and one or more could serve as complements to Mike Evans.
The defense is something to keep an eye on. Kevin Sumlin will have to replace seven starters. This was a solid, underrated group that gave up only 21.6 points per game last year (good for 25th in the nation).
Oh, and did we mention Johnny Manziel? You’ve heard of him, yes? Some refined throwing mechanics were on display during the spring game, and that could make him even more dangerous.
2. Ohio State
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Previous Rank: 3
The main topic of conversation about the Ohio State Buckeyes won’t be the continued development of quarterback Braxton Miller and his obvious improvement as a passer during the spring. It won’t center on Urban Meyer or the young defense that should be significantly improved.
Instead, it will revolve around the Buckeyes’ 2013 schedule and whether an undefeated season will be enough to get them to the title game. The path to a championship season is clear, although it’s never that easy.
Well, is it?
From a talent standpoint, there’s a ton to like. Although over-analyzing spring performance is never encouraged, Miller looked much more comfortable throwing the football. Keeping him upright will be critical. Additionally, he should have more weapons. Those are all good signs for an offense that had its ups and downs a year ago.
On defense, look out for defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The two combined for seven spring-game sacks (again, spring game, I know), and they will likely be a force out of the gate.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Previous Rank: 1
Yes, the Alabama offense struggled a bit during the spring game. And yes, Nick Saban appeared as though his head might explode—ah, spring tradition unlike any other—throughout.
Still, the current champs are the No. 1 team heading into the 2013 season—of course they are.
The three-headed combo of quarterback A.J. McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and wideout Amari Cooper is without question the nation’s most explosive. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see touted freshman back Derrick Henry in the spring game, although he should be recovered from a broken leg by fall.
On defense, they’ll have to replace cornerback Dee Milliner and tackle Jesse Williams. As you are well aware by now, however, Alabama has mastered the art of the talent assembly line.
Next man up.
The offensive line will have three new starters, although Saban spoke highly of this unit all spring. And when Saban is talking positives about a particular group, well, I didn’t know he actually did that.
What world is this?