50 Biggest College Football Position Battles to Watch in 2013 Fall Camp
The end of August is the beginning of the long-awaited 2013 college football season, and that means there are just a few days left for starting positions to be decided. Even if they're only figured out as far as Week 1, decisions have to be made.
From Alabama's offensive line to Wisconsin's quarterback competition, depth charts all across the country are still etched in warm Jell-O. Here are the 50 biggest battles, presented in alphabetical order by team.
Alabama Crimson Tide
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Alabama has two major battles heading into fall camp: backup running back and starting right tackle.
Backup Running Back
While the starting position is never completely safe, the talented T.J. Yeldon will certainly not be doing anything to jeopardize his No. 1 spot on the chart. The backup running back at Alabama has recently been getting almost as many carries as the starter.
This keeps legs fresh and scoreboard operators busy throughout the season. While Kenyan Drake currently holds the No. 2 spot, the rest of the 2013 signing class will arrive in the fall.
This means that there are a lot of talented running backs coming to Tuscaloosa to join the ranks of the legendary Saban-era tailbacks.
Depth at running back has fueled Alabama's success in recent years, and this season will be no different. (If it's different, the results will also be different, and no coach in his right mind would strive for different results than Alabama's had in the past four years.)
Starting Right Tackle
Alabama lost three All-American offensive linemen to the NFL during the 2013 draft, but most of those positions have already been filled. Right tackle is the one slot that didn't already have a practically locked-in starter to replace the departed star.
During the fall camp, Austin Shepherd (expected winner), Leon Brown (JUCO transfer) and Brandon Greene will compete for the starting slot. In a sport where games are decided at the line of scrimmage, this could be the most important battle on Alabama's roster.
After all, no running backs are going to succeed without a stout line in front of them.
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The Arizona Wildcats lost their starting quarterback, Matt Scott, this offseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars picked him up out of free agency. Arizona's biggest concern heading into the fall is choosing his replacement.
B.J. Denker has the edge so far, but freshman Anu Solomon is not far behind. Ultimately, Rich Rodriguez will put the right guys on the field. His goal, just like everyone else, is to win football games.
Denker has limited in-game experience. RichRod would field a promising freshman in a heartbeat, especially if it would give him the experience to help win the Pac-12 over the next couple of seasons. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little success now for a lot of success later.
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There isn't a starting spot on the Arkansas roster that's set in stone apart from Trey Flowers. However, it would have been incredibly misleading, lazy and factually inaccurate to put that many positional battles from Arkansas all in the top 50.
The quarterback battle is clearly the one that matters most. Tyler Wilson has to be replaced, and there is a wealth of raw talent in the hunt for the No. 1 spot. Brandon Allen is the intuitive choice, and the spring game gave him the edge heading into the offseason.
Keep your eyes on Allen's younger brother, Austin Allen. He will arrive in the fall, and his 4-star talent could prove to be enough to gain the starting position.
Brandon Allen tossed one touchdown and three interceptions last season. If his little brother turns out to make better decisions with the football, talent just may trump experience.
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Auburn had one of the worst seasons in history in 2012, and that doesn't bode well for many of the returning starters. Some, like running back Tre Mason, are unlikely to be booted from their starting positions.
On the other hand, guys like Kiehl Frazier should be concerned about their futures. Gus Malzahn is going to be looking more at knowledge than experience as he makes the decision for the starting quarterback. That makes total sense, because Auburn fans certainly don't value the experience they had over the past two seasons.
While Frazier is technically the returning starter, it's not like he has tenure. He can lose that spot to someone who picks up Malzahn's system faster.
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Baylor has a few positions to replace, but the wide receiver section of the depth chart is the most wide-open. So far, the depth chart shows three sophomores and a junior in the starting slots and all freshmen at No. 2.
It's all going to come down to results. Most wide receivers will pale in comparison to what Terrance Williams brought to Baylor last season, but the internal competition may produce even better wideouts than he was.
Baylor needs to find the proper combination on the field in 2013, but one thing is certain: The Bears have found the right coaching staff.
California Golden Bears
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California is under new management in more ways than one. Sure, ex-Louisiana Tech coaches have infiltrated the Golden Bears' staff, and that's a good thing. However, the quarterback situation is not good at all.
Three passers are vying for the starting position, and not a single one of them has started a college football game. This is both an issue and an opportunity for Cal. There is little or no experience, so there will be growing pains. However, there isn't a ton of learned material, either.
This means that the crew responsible for developing Colby Cameron essentially has a blank slate with each of the Cal quarterbacks. The fall competition will shake things out a little more, but this competition may not be over until well into the season.
Duke Blue Devils
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The country is rebuilding at quarterback, generally speaking, and the Duke Blue Devils are no exception. Standout passer Sean Renfree is missing from the lineup, and someone has to replace him.
Luckily, that quarterback will still have Jamison Crowder to throw to, but that doesn't make the competition any less fierce or meaningful. In fact, if kind of enhances it. Whichever player earns the starting gig will have Crowder padding his stats.
Renfree was special, so there will be a drop from 2012 to 2013, but that doesn't mean that 2013 can't be a better overall season for Duke.
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Florida had one of the worst passing attacks in the country last season, and it was the defense that led the Gators to the Sugar Bowl. With the fall season comes a lot of uncertainty on offense. No skill position is set in stone, and here are the three major battles for them.
Jeff Driskel is the clear starter as soon as he recovers from his appendectomy, but that will be contested heavily by his backups. If he does develop into the signal-caller that he can be, then the battle will be for the backup position. Any depth chart can be decimated by injury at any point in time, so it's important to have your backups ready to go.
This battle wouldn't be nearly as important if Florida weren't a national contender. Injuries can make the difference between the national championship and the Alamo bowl; just ask Texas.
Aside from Quinton Dunbar, the receiver positions are wide-open. There's some raw talent all over the field, but nobody has produced as well as expected when they were recruited.
The quarterback definitely shares some of the blame for that, but the receiving corps wasn't exactly wide-open on the field last season, either.
Florida running back, Matt Jones, is recovering from a viral infection, and he is out indefinitely. Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown will be expected to contend for the starting position in the interim. With Toledo and Miami on the schedule as the first two games, this battle could determine Florida's ceiling for the 2013 season.
Without solid options at all three of these positions, Florida could start the year 0-2. That would be devastating to the potential title contender.
Florida State Seminoles
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After losing 11 players to the NFL this past draft, essentially every position at Florida State is up for grabs. There are two major battles that will determine FSU's ability to succeed in 2013, and they are at quarterback (almost settled) and defensive end.
Jameis Winston had an excellent spring game, and he appears to have the starting job, but he's not unbeatable yet. Admittedly, Clint Trickett was the best competitor he had during the spring, and Trickett is at West Virginia now.
While Winston is definitely penciled in at starter, there is a difference between a hot streak at the right time and proven success. Winston will have one more camp with which to solidify his No. 1 slot or lose it to Jacob Coker.
Of course, if Coker continues to improve, this battle may not even be officially resolved until well into September.
Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine were both defensive ends drafted in the school-record 2013 cycle. The position is definitely set to be filled with talent, but that doesn't mean it's going to be filled with first- and second-round talent immediately.
Florida State's offense stands to contend for the ACC title. If the defense doesn't reload, FSU's 2013 could look a lot like West Virginia's 2012 did. Jimbo Fisher probably won't take five losses, but FSU fans should be cautiously optimistic about the fall.
Werner and company were incredible specimens. Sometimes, you don't know what you had until you've lost it.
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Georgia lost a lot of talent to the draft, but the most important thing is that Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall all return on offense. Every one of those players can overcome any losses on the rest of the offense.
The defense is where the question marks are. From the defensive line all the way to the secondary, there are issues that need to be addressed quickly.
Garrison Smith has the most experience of any returning end, so his job as a starter is basically secured, especially since he performed well last year. On the other side of the field, it's a free-for-all among Ray Drew (most likely to start), Sterling Bailey, Jonathan Taylor and JUCO-transfer Toby Johnson (most likely to rock the boat).
Georgia has to answer these questions, or the season could get out of hand against Clemson in Week 1. It absolutely takes defense to beat the Tigers, and even that isn't enough sometimes.
The two starting corners are going to be Damian Swann and Sheldon Dawson, unless something drastic happens. On the other hand, when Georgia plays the three-corner set, look for heavy competition among Devin Bowman, Shaq Wiggins (freshman), Brendan Langley (freshman) and Kennar Johnson (JUCO).
Reggie Wilkerson, who would have contended heavily for a slot, suffered a season-ending injury during the summer, so he will not be in the mix. Georgia needs a lock-down secondary against teams like Clemson and South Carolina.
Those season-making games are in Weeks 1 and 2, so there isn't a lot of time to get things worked out.
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The Houston Cougars are one Case Keenum shy of contending for an American Athletic Conference title in their first season in the AQ ranks. David Piland is the returning starter, but don't expect the Cougars to do him any favors.
If any one of the other four scholarship quarterbacks shows he is the better option, Piland will become the backup at a moment's notice. Open competition for starting spots is an excellent way to motivate would-be complacent players.
Piland didn't seem bored at all last season, but he wasn't improving toward elite status quickly, either. If he has one player to watch out for the most, it's JUCO-transfer Billy Cosh. Cosh is a winner, and he could slip into the starting role if he plays as well as he's able.
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Idaho has an unexpected quarterback battle that it needs to settle before kickoff. Starting quarterback Dominique Blackman was kicked off the team last October, and the starting position is still open heading into fall camp.
Chad Chalich, Taylor Davis and Josh McCain all have their pros and cons, but a decision will have to be made. Idaho cannot afford another season like 2012. Even if the Vandals don't make the postseason, a second straight one-win season would be heartbreaking.
Illinois Fighting Illini
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Illinois has another quarterback battle on its hands, and there will be another one in 2014. Nathan Scheelhaase was the starter last season, and he'll be back in 2013 to do it all over again.
Riley O'Toole, Miles Osei and incoming freshman Aaron Bailey will fight him for the field this fall. The biggest issue with Scheelhaase was his four touchdowns vs. eight interceptions. Turnovers can ruin a game more quickly than anything else.
Even a lower completion percentage (to a certain point) is more desirable than a bad touchdown-to-interception ratio, especially a negative one.
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The Indiana Hoosiers are in a precarious spot heading into fall camp. Previous starter Tre Roberson is back and healed from a broken leg that took him out after two games in 2012. The Hoosiers' win-loss record looked bad, but they missed the postseason by four (or fewer) points per loss.
That means that Cameron Coffman is probably good enough to take Indiana bowling. Head coach Kevin Wilson says that the Hooisers are unsettled at quarterback because all three guys are in a "dead heat" for the job.
Coffman, Roberson and Nate Sudfield are all performing equally, and that's both good and bad. For a team that needs less than a touchdown more in each game to make the postseason, having a quarterback battle that lasts well into the season could do more harm than good.
It would behoove the Hoosiers to make this decision in the fall, before the season opener.
James Vandenberg graduated and left zero FBS experience in his wake. How will things turn out?
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The Iowa Hawkeyes are in the opposite situation as Indiana. The Hawkeyes have three quarterbacks fighting for the starting spot, and not one of them has taken a snap at the FBS level. Only Cody Sokol has played outside of high school, and that was in junior college.
Sokol, Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard will head into fall camp not knowing what's on the other side. For the next few weeks, all three will share the starting job until someone emerges victorious. For the sake of Iowa fans, let's hope that the starter ends up being the overall better signal-caller.
There's nothing worse than watching two guys implode to reveal the starter. What if the third contestant simply implodes later...during the season?
Kansas State Wildcats
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Collin Klein will not be back to lead the Kansas State Wildcats to the postseason again in 2013. Normally, the backup quarterback would take over starting duties in the event of a graduation, but Bill Snyder constantly pursues talent.
In that vein, Snyder has brought in a JUCO quarterback to help elevate the Wildcats' potential in 2013. Daniel Sams, Klein's backup, will be competing with Jake Waters, the JUCO transfer for the job.
While neither will be expected to immediately perform at Klein's level, the development process needs to begin in earnest this fall. Look for a heated battle that might not be decided by Week 1. Kansas State has enough issues that 2013 will be a rebuilding season no matter what.
The Wildcats can afford to let the battle rage into late September, but October would be pushing it.
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Kentucky has problems, but the Wildcats have addressed the major one with the coaching change after last season. Heading into fall camp, the most efficient solution to the Kentucky situation will be choosing a starting quarterback.
Max Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles will compete for the starting job, and the advantage belongs to Whitlow at the moment. He's the better dual-threat, and Kentucky is lacking at wide receiver.
While Smith is the better pure quarterback, that won't matter if he doesn't have anyone open to throw the ball to. Whitlow will give Kentucky more offensive options, which should lead to more wins. This battle will be determined by the quarterback who is the best individual playmaker, not the better passer.
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LSU lost some major talent to the NFL, but what else is new? The Tigers have two positions that are heavily contested entering fall camp: defensive end and running back.
Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are the favorites heading into fall camp, and they've already been given clearance as the starters. However, since they are replacing Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, there will be a noticeable difference between the 2012 and '13 defensive lines.
That opens the position up to shuffling during the fall cycle. John Chavis consistently fields some of the country's best defenses, and he'll do that again in 2013. The question is whether Hunter and Rasco are really the best choices.
With the season opener against TCU looming, it will benefit the Tigers to make sure they've got the right personnel the first time out. If not, they could open 0-1.
The question here isn't whether LSU will filed a good running back; LSU always fields at least one. The question is who the starter will be. Jeremy Hill has legal provisions which will allow him to play football, but that doesn't mean that LSU will let him play.
Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard will vie for the starting position, and LSU's rushing attack will hinge on how well they play. Both are good, tested tailbacks with large upsides. They may even end up splitting the duties fairly evenly.
In the talent-rich upper echelon of college football, there is never such a thing as having too many running backs. It will be interesting to see if a true starter emerges.
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Maryland's starting running back has been suspended from the team for the entire 2013 season. Although the prosecutors dropped the charges against Wes Brown, the suspension has stuck.
In the meantime, Brandon Ross and Albert Reid will compete for starting time. Maryland has quite a few offensive issues to handle in its near future, but if either of these candidates doesn't perform well, Maryland could be in for another down season.
Michigan State Spartans
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Michigan State did well last season, considering the loss of Kirk Cousins to the NFL. The Spartans kept most of their losing games close, and just a few altered bounces of the football could have put them into the Capital One Bowl.
Connor Cook, Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry are not going to let Andrew Maxwell rest on his laurels and take the starting position for granted. Hot seats aren't just for coaches, and Maxwell will have to perform in order to stave off this potential two-quarterback system that Mark Dantonio has spoken of.
NC State Wolfpack
Mike Glennon is no longer with the 'Pack, but his position must be filled.
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NC State saw some success under its previous starter, Mike Glennon. Now that he's in the NFL, the competition is well underway for the replacements.
Brandon Mitchell, a previous contender for the starting slot at Arkansas, will enter the mix this fall. Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker were already at NC State and competed against each other during the spring game. Freshmen Bryant Shirreffs and Josh Taylor are also included in the battle.
Nevada Wolf Pack
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Stefphon Jefferson was an incredible running back for the University of Nevada, and replacing him is no small challenge. Don Jackson (JUCO transfer), Chris Soloman (redshirt freshman), Kendall Brock (junior) and Xavier Stephens (freshman) will all be in contention for the primary role in Nevada's rushing attack this fall.
Nevada has a long list of candidates for the job, but what the Wolf Pack need is a short list of options on game day. That shouldn't be extremely difficult to come up with, but the nagging what-ifs could haunt Nevada for weeks to come.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Notre Dame lost Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood this offseason, and the rushing attack is in a sort of limbo. Georgia Atkinson III will be a slight favorite entering fall, but he'll have some serious competition.
Amir Carlisle and William Mahone will doff their redshirts in 2013 and enter the mix, and two 4-star tailbacks from the 2013 signing class will join them: Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
Fall camp will sort the mess out, and Notre Dame's rushing attack should be just fine when kickoff comes around.
Ohio State Buckeyes
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Ohio State had some defensive issues last season. Missed tackles and a defensive line that sometimes looked like Swiss cheese were the major weaknesses. Heading into the 2013 fall, there is still a question at defensive tackle.
Johnathan Hankins left for the NFL a year early, and he is not easy to replace. The favorite to start is Michael Bennett, but Bennett has battled injuries frequently during his time with the Buckeyes, so a more reliable option would be better.
While the battle for the starting position is important, it's even more important for the coaches to develop the depth at the position. Hankins won't be easily replaced, and it's going to take more than one player to do it.
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Oklahoma lost Landry Jones to the NFL through the 2013 draft, and the Sooners' ability to contend for the Big 12 title depends almost entirely on his successor.
Kendal Thompson and Blake Bell were competing for the slot until Thompson fractured his foot on the first day of fall camp. The competition will heat back up once Thompson heals, and Bell has still not been named the starter.
Oklahoma is always in the mix for its conference's title, but the depth chart needs to be cemented. As long as injury is taking out major players, the Sooners will have more to worry about than just the quarterback situation.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
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Oklahoma State has two proven quarterbacks, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Both have similar stats from the 2012 season, but Walsh has the marginally better stat line.
Walsh: 109-of-163, 1,564 yards, 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and 290 rushing yards for seven scores.
Chelf: 119-of-197, 1,588 yards, 15 touchdowns, six interceptions and 162 rushing yards for zero scores.
If Chelf comes back in the fall as the starter, it's going to be based on what he's done over the offseason. Walsh rightfully had the edge leaving the 2012 season, but the bottom line is that it's been more than six months since then.
Anything could have happened in those months, and fans will finally get to see the results this month.
Oregon State Beavers
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Sean Mannion was injured last season, and Cody Vaz took over for him. Vaz won game after game, and the Beavers were on the national map for a time.
Mannion healed up and returned against the Washington Huskies. Unfortunately, he was a little rustier than the coaches thought, and he tossed interceptions frequently throughout that game. By the time the coaches put Vaz back in, it was too late. (Not by much, though.)
As the fall camp rolls around, fans need to keep a couple of things in mind:
1. Mannion is not as bad as he was that day against Washington. That was a negative fluke that just so happened to be extremely noticeable due to Oregon State's publicity.
2. The Washington game was a result of some of Mannion's actions, but it was not his fault. The coaches could have pulled him after three interceptions and still saved the game.
The Mannion vs. Vaz quarterback battle will be awesome, and Oregon State will enter the season as a dark-horse candidate for the Pac-12 title. Whoever comes out on top will be more than capable of winning most of the games on the schedule.
The other passer will not be forgotten or useless. He will provide necessary depth at the position, plus the coaches will keep him fresh by rotating him into fourth quarters whenever possible.
Penn State Nittany Lions
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Penn State has more than one viable option at quarterback heading into the fall. Tyler Ferguson, of course, will be back expecting to contend for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Also, Christian Hackenberg will arrive this fall with the same assumption.
This battle will be epic. Penn State fans will basically get to watch the bout that determines who will lead them through the tunnel of sanctions to the light on the other side.
Either one could develop into an early-declarer, but they would be able to stay until the sanctions were lifted if they wished.
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Purdue just lost two senior quarterbacks this past offseason, and things could go in any direction this fall. Rob Henry returns as a senior to take on true freshman Danny Etling for the title.
So far, those are the two getting the most snaps. Either one could help advance the Boilermakers more in the Big Ten. They apparently have ball-protection issues, but now is definitely the time to have them. It's better than after kickoff, when every loss takes you further and further from bowl season.
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Stanford is doing just fine following the departure of legendary alumnus Andrew Luck. The Cardinal have won the one and only Pac-12 title since he left, but there are questions entering 2013.
The biggest one is at running back. Stepfan Taylor is gone, and it's game on at Stanford. Anthony Wilkerson (Taylor's backup), Tyler Gaffney and Barry Sanders will battle this fall for the starting role.
Sanders bears mentioning because he's the 4-star son of the Barry Sanders you probably thought of when you read that name in the first place. He may be a wild card, but he's worth watching throughout his entire collegiate career, even the first fall he ever suits up.
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Oklahoma quarterback Drew Allen has transferred to Syracuse for graduate school. As a grad, he's eligible to start immediately. Since the Orange are trying to replace NFL quarterback Ryan Nassib, every bit of talent helps.
Even if Allen doesn't win the starting job, his presence and prowess can help motivate the entire position group to try harder. If he does win the job, here is a nice statistical analysis of what 'Cuse fans can expect.
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Tyler Bray left Tennessee a year early (a year too soon, according to some who are probably correct), and he left the team in dire need of a quarterback. Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman will be challenging each other for the starting role.
While there is some hope that either one will be at least a little like Bray, the fact is that Tennessee fans would gladly trade a little arm strength for consistency for the next few years. If they can take care of the football and make good decisions, the Vols faithful will be thrilled.
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Texas had some issues last season, but most were solved when injuries healed. Now that the season opener is right around the corner, Texas needs to settle the middle linebacker situation.
Steve Edmond and Dalton Santos will be fighting for the middle linebacker slot, and Texas' defense could ride on how the winner performs. Texas' defense was plagued last season, and fans will expect great things from the 2013 Longhorns.
The middle linebacker will be counted upon to stop things from breaking down in the run-stopping game. If the winner of this battle can't stop the gap in the middle of the field, then Texas could get nickel-and-dimed out of the big 12 title race.
Texas A&M Aggies
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Texas A&M has a few battles on its hands: backup running back, defensive tackle and wide receiver. It's safe to say that Ben Malena is going to handle the majority of the rushing duties in 2013, but one tailback isn't going to be sufficient for the entire season.
Yes, Johnny Manziel, if he isn't ruled ineligible for the latest rounds of "look what he did," will pick up some of the ground game himself. However, another tailback is going to be necessary for Texas A&M to make it out of the SEC with enough energy left to possibly win the conference title.
Backup Running Back
Brandon Williams (Oklahoma transfer), Tra Carson (Oregon transfer) and Trey Williams will all have their names in the hat for the right to carry behind Malena, and the result could decide more than one game.
If you're going to outlast teams like Alabama (who substitutes as fast as Oregon runs plays), you're going to have to keep your players as fresh as the opponents'.
Texas A&M also needs to solidify its defensive line. This is where the fate of every game is decided, and the Aggies need a tackle.
Gavin Stansbury and Brandon Williams are currently on the two-deep, but incoming recruits could prove worthy of moving onto the line. There are four: Isaiah Golden, Hardreck Walker, Jordan Points and Justin Manning.
Mike Evans is clearly the go-to wideout on the list, but there is still an open slot on the other side of the field. Ricky Seals-Jones, Derel Walker and Ja'Quay Williams will all fight for that spot. Walker has at least played some football for the Aggies already.
Williams and Seals-Jones are both untested, though highly touted, recruits. The Aggies have a great quarterback (pending investigation), but he needs more than a couple of targets to hit.
If not, then he's basically going to be throwing into traffic all the time, or Texas A&M would turn into an incredibly talented version of Georgia Tech.
TCU Horned Frogs
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TCU's rehabilitated quarterback has returned to the fold, and he will challenge his replacement to a duel. Casey Pachall (former starter) and Trevone Boykin (returning starter from 2012) will face off in fall practice sessions to determine which one will take the Horned Frogs to a potential Big 12 title in 2013.
Both are winners, and either one could push TCU to the top of the heap. There can be only one, and the battle will be intense. That is, unless the coaches already have a bias toward one of them.
If there is no bias, then the better quarterback should take the field. Second chances don't mean automatic restoration to your previous state of being. Pachall should have the opportunity to win his job back, but it should not be handed to him.
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UCLA lost a major player to the NFL, running back Johnathan Franklin. Quarterback Brett Hundley will definitely make things easier for the tailback who succeeds Franklin, but the rushing attack is necessary in order to make the passing game most effective.
The Bruins definitely have depth, as five players are in the running for the starting slot: Damien Thigpen, Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins, Jordon James and Malcolm Jones. The spring cycle didn't settle much in this debate, because some of the guys were bumped and bruised, leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the results.
The fall camp will make the decision.
UNC Tar Heels
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The UNC Tar Heels arguably have the most daunting running back situation in the country. Giovani Bernard may not have been the best running back of the 2013 draft, but he was the most essential to his collegiate squad.
Everyone else is simply going to reload or slightly restructure the offense. Bryn Renner is a great quarterback, but he's not good enough to make up for the loss by himself. He simply doesn't have the targets to do so.
Romar Morris and A.J. Blue will step up to the plate to take a swing at the starting slot. Khris Francis will enter the fray this fall, but the other two already have advantages. Romar is the more explosive tailback, and Blue is a bruising rusher with better leadership qualities.
It's anyone's game, and there is nothing wrong with implementing both in differing spots throughout the season.
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USC has to find a quarterback. Regardless of what the defense does or doesn't do in the coming season, the offense has to get better to contend for anything meaningful.
Cody Kessler, Max Browne and Max Wittek will all compete for the title, but only one will get the nod. Wittek performed decently in 2012 while Matt Barkley was injured, but there were some serious pressure issues in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.
It's not that he proved himself incapable of starting, it's simply that he was obviously beatable. Yes, the wind conditions were nasty, but there were a ton of rookie mistakes on top of all that. Luckily, that's in the past.
The coaches will put their best man under center, and that could be any one of these three kids.
Washington State Cougars
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Washington State has three battles to watch this fall: quarterback, offensive line and cornerback.
The Cougars' starter from 2012, Connor Halliday, did not have the success necessary to cement himself anywhere near the top of the depth chart. He may earn the honor, but last year will have little to do with it.
Halliday is up against Austin Apodaca for the starting slot, and he's got a lead over him. Both have advantages over the rest of the pack, but that's the battle to watch if you're looking for your starter/backup roles.
The Cougars were also weak on defense last season, and they need to figure out the offensive line quickly. Washington State finished last in the Pac-12 with 29.08 rushing yards per game.
Needless to say, that has to change if the Cougars want to get anywhere near the postseason. There is no specific position on the line that needs to be upgraded. The entire line needs improvement. It can come from rookies and JUCO transfers replacing old starters, or the starters themselves getting better.
The good news for WSU is that Rico Forbes is back from injury, Jacob Seydel is coming from junior college and some recruits are coming in to help add depth to the line that blocked for the worst rushing offense in the country last year.
Washington State's passing defense ranked 100th out of 124 teams last season by allowing 262.2 yards per game. Only Colorado, California and Arizona did worse in the Pac-12. The Cougars need serious help in other aspects of the game, but these are the biggest.
Mike Leach has a lot of work to do, and he already feels he's gotten the team mentality heading in the right direction, but these three positions need to improve. Competition is the best way to accomplish that.
West Virginia Mountaineers
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West Virginia lost one of the best quarterbacks in the 2012 edition of the NCAA to the NFL draft last season, Geno Smith. The Mountaineers have the monumental task of replacing him, mostly because they'll need another round or two of recruiting classes to build up their defense.
Paul Millard and Ford Childress are the existing WVU competitors for the slot, but they'll be joined by an immediately eligible Clint Trickett from Florida State.
This quarterback battle will get intense through the fall, and as Trickett learns the West Virginia offensive playbook. This battle will be decided by opening day, but it may not be the final decision. Look for Trickett to take some meaningful snaps before season's end.
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Wisconsin is yet another BCS AQ team looking for a signal-caller. Curt Phillips, Joel Stave and JUCO-transfer Tanner McEvoy will be the fighters in this battle.
Wisconsin is looking to break the glass ceiling that has kept it from winning the Rose Bowl in each of the past three seasons. The Badgers have been to all three, but they have walked away without that elusive win.
Phillips is entering his sixth season at Wisconsin, so the age and knowledge base are both there. McEvoy has college experience, but none of it is at the FBS level. Joel Stave has the bonus of being the returning starter, and he's healed from his broken collarbone (last October).
Stave should be the favorite entering the fall camps, but there's no telling which of them will have the best set of skills according to Gary Andersen until fall camp gets rolling.