10 Returning Players Who Will Be on the Hot Seat After National Signing Day
National signing day is a time enjoyed by nearly everyone in the college football world.
Coaching staffs are rewarded after a year (sometimes several) of hard work and they get to start working on a plan for developing the incoming class. The signees have fulfilled what is typically a lifelong dream of playing college football. The fans' anticipation builds higher than ever about the future of the program despite the regular season being seven months away.
Even current college football players get excited about the new additions which, theoretically, will make the team better the following year.
But while national signing day is cause for celebration in most football circles, it signals something much different for players who are coming off an underwhelming year: Time to get better.
Much like a job in the real world, one's spot on the depth chart is rarely permanent. There are a few exceptions of course, such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Florida State's Jameis Winston or Ohio State's Braxton Miller. But new recruits means exciting young talent gunning for playing time.
And unless football starts allowing 12 men per side, the amount of playing time a coach has to divvy up isn't going to increase. So who's on the hot seat headed into the 2014?
We're taking a look at ten players who must take their game up a notch following national signing day, or they may see their spot taken by a kid with more talent or by someone who just plain wants it more.
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QB Joel Stave, Wisconsin
The starting quarterback at Wisconsin prior to Joel Stave was a guy by the name of Russell Wilson. You may have noticed him holding up the Lombardi Trophy after leading the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl in just his second NFL season.
In other words, Stave had big footsteps to follow. 2012 was a tough year for the Badgers' signal-caller, but he got things going in 2013 and actually turned into a pretty decent quarterback. He ended the season with nearly 2,500 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, although he did toss 13 interceptions.
The only thing separating Gary Anderson's team from finally winning a Rose Bowl (after failing in three straight) is an elite passer, someone with the dynamic ability of Wilson. Few freshmen have that kind of talent, but signee D.J. Gillins might be one of them. The dual-threat quarterback was rated the fourth-best player at his position by 247sports, and his speed on the ground likely means he'll get a serious look at the starting job.
Given Stave's experience, it's still his spot to lose. But with Gillins already enrolled in school, the returning starter must step up his game to hold off the talented incoming freshman.
RB Byron Marshall, Oregon
You might find it odd for a 1,000-yard back to make this list, especially one that racked up 14 touchdowns on a team that finished 11-2. But there's never really been much doubt about the talent of Oregon's Byron Marshall.
The intriguing players beneath him on the depth chart, however, should have Marshall putting in extra time this offseason. First there's Thomas Tyner, a true freshman who rushed for over 700 yards while being listed third on the depth chart for much of the season. He's the lightning to Marshall's thunder, though he's as big, if not bigger.
Enter Royce Freeman, a bulky, 220-pound 5-star running back with skills to aid Oregon's recent red-zone struggles. With decent speed to go along with power not seen since LeGarrette Blount, you can expect Freeman to be an immediate contributor.
Marshall is a talented back who will likely get a look from the NFL when his career is over. He may arrive at the start of the 2014 season and explode on to the national scene, making his inclusion in this list look downright silly. But he has two incredibly talented players beneath him on the depth chart, making the upcoming season crucial for his future in football.
QB Anthony Jennings, LSU
It might not be fair to put LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings on the hot seat after starting just one game, but such is the case on a national powerhouse team like the one in Baton Rouge.
Jennings started the Tigers bowl game against Iowa and played poorly, completing just 36.8 percent of his passes for 82 yards and an interception. As the next man up after Zach Mettenberger, he was thrown into a tough situation. It should be mentioned, however, that he led a late-game comeback in the regular-season finale against Arkansas and helped the Tigers beat the Hawkeyes in bowl season.
While that alone might be enough at some schools to get a free pass to the starting spot in 2014, that certainly won't be the case with the highly touted Brandon Harris arriving soon. Harris, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback by 247sports, had offers from a number of major programs, including both Auburn and Alabama.
He's the kind of player who can make an immediate impact, and with the arrival of running back Leonard Fournette to the LSU backfield, the Tigers may be a capable passing game away from having one of the nation's best offenses. Jennings must quickly take his game to the next level, or he'll risk being passed by the incoming Harris.
QB Matt Joeckel, Texas A&M
Texas A&M quarterback Matt Joeckel is next in line to start for the Aggies—at least if you were going by seniority.
Instead, it may actually be the talented Kenny Hill who gets the nod. Joeckel did complete 60 percent of his throws for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns in four appearances this past season, but whoever replaces Johnny Manziel will need to display some semblance of the dynamic ability the former Heisman Trophy winner had.
But Hill was actually considered here as well, because incoming freshman Kyle Allen is the guy everyone seems to be talking about. Allen was the top-ranked quarterback by 247sports, and he has an intriguing combination of poise, arm strength and mobility. In other words, if there's a name to replace Manziel and keep fans on the edge of their seats, it's Allen.
Joeckel would be wise to not look in the rearview mirror and instead focus on getting better and throwing his own hat in the ring for the starting gig. But it's hard to ignore the talents of Hill and Allen, each of whom will be doing everything they can to be the next starting quarterback at Texas A&M.
WR Evan Spencer, Ohio State
Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer said in November that the Buckeyes would "wipe the floor" with either Alabama or Florida State. But he might not even be on the field often enough to help his team reach the national championship in 2014.
After arriving in Columbus as a 4-star recruit, Spencer has underwhelmed in three seasons. In 2013, he had just 216 yards and three touchdowns receiving. If you take a look at the Buckeyes' most recent batch of recruits, you'll notice 4-star wideouts Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin. Another four players in the class are listed as "athletes."
All that means is that the rich are getting richer, and Urban Meyer will have more offensive weapons at his disposal than ever before. Fans in Columbus will rejoice, and if Braxton Miller stays healthy, a Big Ten championship is very much in the cards.
But for Spencer that means that without major improvement in the offseason, he won't get to play a major role in the team's championship run. Unless he can fulfill his potential and become a go-to receiver alongside Devin Smith, he'll likely get passed up by the talented newcomers.
WR Christian Green, Florida State
Since arriving at Florida State as a highly touted 4-star athlete, Christian Green has been unable to produce much at all.
As a freshman, Green burst onto the scene with 450 yards receiving, making life easy for then-quarterback E.J. Manuel and painting a bright picture for the future of the position. In the two years since, he's only managed 190 yards total.
The other "Greene", Rashad, has things pretty much locked up on his side of the field. But if there's any hope for Green to make something out of his college career, it has to happen now, and here's why: Two of the most highly coveted wideouts in the 2014 class, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane, are both headed to Tallahassee.
Players like that arrive on campus and expect to play immediately, meaning something's gotta give. Either Green will take an important step forward and earn the right to catch passes from Winston next year, or he'll take a backseat to Lane, Rudolph and the other Greene.
QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is one drive away from having two Rose Bowl victories in his back pocket. So why would he be on the hot seat entering 2014?
In short, he hasn't shown the ability to take over games. To be fair, he hasn't really needed too, either. In 2013, he passed for 2,634 yards and rushed for just under 350. He also accounted for 22 scores. He's managed the offense extremely well and the Cardinal have won two straight conference titles. But can you imagine this Stanford team with an elite passing quarterback?
That's what the incoming Keller Chryst might be down the road—or perhaps in seven months when fall camp gets underway. If the latter scenario proves true, then Hogan, regardless of what he's accomplished in the past, will have a battle on his hands.
David Shaw knows that a rugged rushing attack and mistake-free play from his signal-callers is the recipe for success in his offense. But he's also going to play his best players, and if Chryst looks ready to take the starting quarterback spot to another level, Hogan's seat will get warm fast.
QB Jeff Driskel, Florida
Jeff Driskel may be the toughest quarterback in the SEC, if not the entire country. The dual-threat Gator has a strong arm, decent mobility and the poise to be able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball as he's being hit.
But after time off due to an early-season injury, he's going to have to work hard to get back on the field—not because he'll be out of shape, but because of what the incoming Will Grier could bring to the table.
Grier has similar traits to Driskel when you start discussing toughness, but he may already be the better passer. The 6'4" Driskel had just two touchdowns and three interceptions when he went down with an injury.
Given the fact that Driskel has now spent several years in the system, he'll have the upper hand when it comes time for coach Will Muschamp to select a starter. But there's something special and intriguing about Grier, who brings with him the promise of leaving a dismal 4-8 campaign in the dust completely.
QB David Ash, Texas
Texas has officially entered a new chapter in football with the recent hiring of former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong. Most fans can agree that the Longhorns have underachieved in several important areas over the past few seasons.
But with the recent trends of college football, finding a solution at quarterback will be Strong's first obstacle. The best bet is David Ash, who, after struggling a bit in his first couple of seasons, has begun to play really well. Unfortunately, "begun" is the key word, as Ash was hurt in 2013 and replaced by senior Case McCoy.
Behind him is athletic freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who looks a lot like Cam Newton when he moves around in the pocket or launches a pass deep down the field. But the reason Ash's spot is in greater jeopardy following national signing day is that the Longhorns landed Jerrod Heard, a speedy 4-star quarterback who may someday draw comparisons to Vince Young.
If Heard has the magic touch as a freshman, it won't matter how much Ash has improved since first entering the program. Therefore it's up to the senior to heal up, stay focused and bring his all in order to stave off the rest of the hungry depth chart.
QB Maxwell Smith, Kentucky
It might not surprise you to learn that the Kentucky Wildcats didn't get very good quarterback play in 2013. That's typically the case on a team that captures just two victories.
Maxwell Smith, along with Jalen Whitlow, both sophomores, passed a little over 2,300 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Wildcats. Smith actually boasted a 9-to-1 TD/Int ratio, but nine touchdowns isn't getting the job done.
The likely scenario moving forward is one of the two signal-callers staking a stronger claim for the starting spot, and the other perhaps fading back on to the bench. But national signing day saw Drew Barker, one of the premier pro-style quarterbacks in the country, sign with Kentucky.
It's not often that the program lands blue-chip prospects on the gridiron, so with Barker's commitment, the expectations will be fairly high. Unless either Smith or Whitlow can prove to the coaching staff that they deserve a chance to try to lead the team out of the SEC cellar, it could already be Barker's job to lose.