5 'Open' Spring Practice Position Battles That Have Already Been Decided
Spring practice is a crucial time for every college football program, in large part because it's the first real chance for position battles to play out in front of the coaching staff.
Every team in the country has to replace an important player at some position, and the candidates hoping to fill the void often engage in on-field wars that can rage on until the week before the opening game of the 2014 season.
Part of the fun for fans is zeroing in on these position battles and trying to figure out which players have a leg up on the competition. What we're looking at is who might already have the job won, despite the month of April still a week away.
You may hear about these "battles" throughout spring and into summer, but here are five notable competitions that may already be decided.
Texas QB Battle
The battle for starting quarterback at Texas is very real, and the "winner" likely won't be declared until fall camp. But if David Ash is able to stay healthy throughout the offseason, the competition may secretly be over already.
As Chris Hummer of dallasnews.com put it, "For now, Ash holds the inside track because of his starting experience."
Hummer wasn't willing to declare Ash the winner, and competition can only bring out the best from each candidate. Among the others vying for the spot are Tyrone Swoopes, a strong-armed sophomore who only appeared in six games in 2013, and Jerrod Heard, a highly touted dual-threat quarterback who will arrive in the fall.
Then there's Ash, who was beginning to put together a solid campaign last fall until becoming injured. In three games, Ash completed over 60 percent of his passes for 760 yards and seven scores. With the senior, there's also a reputation of getting better each season.
In 2011, Ash threw eight interceptions with only four touchdowns. In 2012, however, he tossed 19 touchdowns and had just eight picks total. There's reason to believe those numbers would have been even better in 2013 if not for the injury.
The only wild card here is new head coach Charlie Strong, who hasn't been around these players and may be looking for different traits in his starting quarterback than former coach Mack Brown. But if Strong values experience and proven ability, the quarterback battle isn't really much of a battle after all.
Auburn Defensive End Battle
Being tasked with replacing defensive end Dee Ford isn't going to be easy for anyone, regardless of how many stars that player had coming out of high school.
There's no doubt that Auburn's defensive stud dominated the latter stages of the 2013 season, racking up 10.5 sacks in total. On the other side of the line you'll see the return of LaDarius Owens, who shouldn't have much difficulty retaining his starting spot.
But who will take Ford's place?
The answer, if you believe in potential and freakish athleticism, has to be Carl Lawson. He's a former 5-star talent who racked up four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in just his first season.
The "battle" will also include Elijah Daniel, a bright talent in his own right. But you rarely see a freshman perform the way Lawson did on the defensive line. At that position, it can take several years to adjust to the speed and strength of the college game, yet Lawson was a star right away.
Because Ford is gone, the starting spot is technically up for grabs. But this "open" battle is likely closed due to the inability of the staff to ignore the incredible potential of No. 55.
Michigan QB Battle
2014 is an important year for Michigan coach Brady Hoke—he's quickly running out of rope. Without a solid season that offers up potential for even bigger things the following year, he could be getting the ax.
It's the warm seat that in part allows us to already project the winner of the Wolverines' quarterback battle. Going with senior Devin Gardner might sound like a cop-out, but is there really another option?
The only other signal-caller on the roster with game experience is Shane Morris, who was average at best against the Kansas State Wildcats in the team's bowl defeat.
Not only has Gardner spent time in the system, his numbers suggest that his reputation for being turnover prone and unproductive isn't all that fair. In fact, he threw for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2013 with 11 interceptions. He also completed over 60 percent of his throws, and rushed for 483 yards with 11 scores.
Those aren't Heisman numbers, but it's something Hoke can work with, whereas going with the youngster Morris or freshman Wilton Speight has the potential to be disastrous. In Gardner, Hoke knows what he has. But taking a chance on a young guy and seeing him not perform at the level it takes to win eight or nine games could prove costly. As in, update-your-resume costly.
Sometimes a young gun will blow everyone out of the water and, despite a lack of experience, win the starting gig. But if neither Morris nor Speight can do that, the quarterback battle already has a winner—and it's the only quarterback in the game wearing No. 98.
Baylor RB Battle
Perhaps the easiest call on this list is the one surrounding the Baylor running back situation.
The back with the most experience, Glasco Martin, has graduated. The back with the most talent, Lache Seastrunk, is off to the NFL. Naturally, it should be senior-to-be Shock Linwood's job to lose.
As a junior in a crowded backfield, Linwood rushed for 881 yards and eight touchdowns at over six yards per carry.
The running back with the next highest yardage total returning in 2014 is Devin Chafin, a bruiser who tallied 295 yards as a freshman. But it's Linwood who has the potential to become a household name when next season warms up.
In back-to-back wins over Oklahoma and Texas Tech, Linwood carried the ball a combined 52 times for 369 yards. Chafin and redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson are his only competition at the spot.
Needless to say, this is one battle that may not even be worth a second glance. Because Linwood hasn't officially held starting duties over the course of the season, the backfield spot is, by definition, up for grabs.
But based on what Linwood has shown in his time as a Bear thus far, expect him to not only win the job but challenge for the title of best running back in the Big 12 conference.
Wisconsin QB Battle
As the only quarterback on Wisconsin's roster who attempted more than a single pass in 2013, you'd have to think that Joel Stave as starter sounds about right, and anything else would be ridiculous.
That may be the case, but offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig wasn't quite ready to shut down the quarterback battle before it began. In an interview with ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Ludwig said:
It's Joel's position, he's the returning starter. But like every position on the field, we're going to let the guys compete. Let the best man win. Joel did so many good things last year, but we've got to complete two or three more passes a game. Those are the ones that jump out at you, the ones that are the pitch-and-catch type of plays. Just looking for a higher level of repetitive accuracy.
In 2013, Stave completed nearly 62 percent of his passes and had 22 touchdown throws, although he did toss 13 interceptions. But if he is the only returning quarterback with any real game action, how come the job isn't his already?
That's because the "battle" also includes junior Tanner McEvoy and talented freshman D.J. Gillins, both of whom have the ability to be special.
As with the quarterback competitions at Michigan and Texas, it seems like the only way Stave loses this thing is if he can't shake off a shoulder injury or if one of the backups is simply too good to ignore. But despite this being advertised as a battle to watch in the offseason, we're declaring Stave the winner.