College Football Spring Stock Watch: Who's Rising, Who's Falling?
We're not halfway through what seems like far too long of an offseason that college football puts us through, with almost five months still remaining until those first games of the 2014 season get us back to our happy place.
To help us get by during the downtime, there have been early NFL departures, incoming recruit signings and, now, spring football to follow and discuss. Most spring games are set for the next few weeks, and then a painfully long dormant period sets in before Georgia State and Abilene Christian begin the 2014 campaign in earnest Aug. 27.
It's been the status quo for most in the college football world, fitting into that whole "no news is good news" realm. But for others, offseason activity has either led to a rise or fall in a team, coach or player's stock.
Here's a look at who's rising and who's falling during the spring.
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Gary Andersen did enough in his first season with Wisconsin to show the school that it wanted to make sure he stuck around for a while.
On March 24, the school announced Andersen's contract had been extended through the 2018 season, with his 2014 salary raised to $2.2 million. He's also set to get a $100,000 raise each year during the contract.
After coming from Utah State to replace Bret Bielema, Andersen jumped right in and had a solid first year, going 9-4 and leading the Badgers to a New Year's Day bowl game.
While many power teams in college football are trying to beef up their future schedules in anticipation of how schedule strength will affect their chances to qualify for the College Football Playoff, Baylor seems to be taking the complete opposite approach.
The Bears announced earlier this month that they booked a 2019 nonconference game against Incarnate Word, a small private school in Texas that is transitioning up from Division II to the FCS ranks. The game is in line with most other out-of-league opponents Baylor has set up in the future, which include an FCS opponent most years and only one BCS-level foe (Duke in 2017 and 2018)
Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw has defended the football scheduling and said that games against the likes of Alabama or Ohio State wouldn't be exciting for him or his coaches, per ESPN radio host Craig Smoak.
Blake Bell, Oklahoma
While Blake Bell might have lost out on the position he's grown up playing, his skill set and size have helped him remain valuable to Oklahoma. He's just now doing it as a tight end.
Bell, who is 6'6" and 264 pounds, chose to stay at Oklahoma rather than transfer somewhere he could still be quarterback, the position he played his first three seasons with the Sooners. His transition to tight end has been strong, with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops telling Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval that Bell "has a natural feel for space and what the quarterback is looking for."
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bret Bielema didn't have the best first season at Arkansas, going 3-9 with the Razorbacks in 2013. He also didn't score himself many style points by being in favor of a proposed rule that would force offenses to wait 10 seconds before snapping the ball.
But Bielema has stuck to his guns when it comes to concerns regarding player safety, which more than anything else has to be considered admirable.
His latest public declaration in this regard came when he tweeted out a photo (h/t Stu White of FanSided.com) of the helmets his players will be wearing this season, ones designed by Riddell to help cut down on concussions. While his stance on the slow-down rule got jeers, despite him saying it was rooted in safety concerns, Bielema should be applauded for continuing to champion this cause.
Trevone Boykin, TCU
Trevone Boykin lost his starting job as TCU's quarterback last season and ended up finishing the year as a wide receiver as a way to utilize his skills and athleticism. The QB position is open again for 2014, though, and despite his past struggles, Boykin appears in good position to win the gig back.
Alex Apple of The Dallas Morning News reported last week that he is currently the Horned Frogs' No. 1 quarterback midway through spring practice. TCU has a pair of freshmen coming in this summer who may get a chance to win the job, but for now, Boykin has returned to his old place in charge of the Frogs offense under new co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham.
Shane Carden, East Carolina
Shane Carden has toiled in relative anonymity during his career at East Carolina, only getting some attention when the Pirates play (and beat) a big-school opponent or in a bowl game.
But for his senior season, Carden gets the chance to play at a higher level with East Carolina moving into the American Athletic Conference. In addition to facing North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia Tech in nonconference play, ECU will have a chance to get some added TV games as part of the AAC's television package.
That should bode well for Carden, who is already on the radar of pro scouts, with Mike Huguenin of NFL.com listing him among the top seniors to watch for 2014.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Dalvin Cook was one of the highest-rated players in the 2014 recruiting class, listed as the No. 13 overall prospect by 247Sports' composite rankings and a 5-star running back who had a chance to play right away for Florida State. His early enrollment gave him on a jump on that goal, but then a freak injury put him on the sideline indefinitely.
According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Cook fell while going up a set of stairs in FSU's weight room, injuring his shoulder. The injury happened prior to the start of spring practice and required surgery, and coach Jimbo Fisher said Cook would be out for the entirety of spring ball.
Sonnone quoted Fisher as saying Cook would be "full go" for the fall, but for now, his shot of being an integral part of the Seminoles' national title defense has taken a major hit.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Jeff Driskel wasn't having the greatest year as Florida's quarterback last season, but it was far more productive than the passers who stepped in after he broke his leg in the third game of the year. Now in a battle to get his old job back, Driskel appears as motivated as ever to show he can be the man to lead the Gators offense.
Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel reported on March 25 that coach Will Muschamp believes Driskel has "distanced himself" from Skyler Mornhinweg and Will Grier for the starting job. Driskel, a redshirt junior, is 12-3 as Florida's starter despite averaging only 141 passing yards per game in those starts.
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Randy Edsall got Maryland into a bowl game this past season, and he's bringing in a decent 2014 recruiting class that features 5-star offensive lineman Damian Prince. The Terrapins only have one commitment for their 2015 class, according to 247Sports, though, and none beyond that.
Whether that's by design or not depends on how you interpret Edsall's recent public declaration regarding recruiting. According to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg, he wants the recruiting process to be changed so that schools can't offer a scholarship to a player until September of his senior year of high school.
This would prevent coaches from making a verbal offer to a player far in advance. Edsall said this change would help cut down on de-commitments from players who flop from one school to another before actually signing.
If such a plan were to be approved it would massively change the entire recruiting process. For now, though, it just looks like Edsall is trying to level the playing field.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Devin Gardner was almost a one-man offense for Michigan last season, one of the few pieces of consistency on a unit that would score 63 points one week and then have negative rushing yards the following time out.
A toe injury knocked Gardner out of the Wolverines' bowl game, and it also sparked a competition between him and replacement Stephen Morris.
But Gardner has shown great progress from the injury and participated in spring practice from the opening workout, something that Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder wrote was a huge surprise to Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
Gardner appears to be the front-runner to get back his old job, as the fifth-year senior will look to finish his career on a high note.
After an up-and-down 2013 season plagued by injuries and defensive breakdowns, the offseason and spring practice were looked at by Georgia as a chance to start fresh with an eye toward a great 2014 campaign.
But the Bulldogs dismissed safety Josh Harvey-Clemons in February after he violated team rules. Then, in March, four players were arrested on suspicion of theft by deception for allegedly double-dipping on scholarship stipend checks.
Defensive end James DeLoach, wide receiver Uriah LeMay, safety Tray Matthews and defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor have continued to participate in spring practice, and no team-imposed discipline has been announced. Whether that happens or not, the off-field issues aren't what coach Mark Richt wanted to have to deal with this offseason.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech was already going to be breaking in a new quarterback for the 2014 season, as 2013 starter Vad Lee transferred from the program. But the Yellow Jackets will also be without three other returning players, at least for their first two games, due to suspensions.
The school announced March 28 that running back Dennis Andrews and wide receiver Anthony Autry will miss the first two games for violating Tech's student-athlete conduct policy. This comes on the heels of a previous suspension, also for two games, of receiver Darren Waller for violating team rules.
Kenny Hill, Texas A&M
Sophomore Kenny Hill had as good a chance of becoming Johnny Manziel's successor at Texas A&M as anyone, and his battle with senior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kyle Allen has been one of the most closely watched of any position competition in college football.
But Hill has now dropped out of that competition indefinitely, with ESPN.com's Sam Khan reporting March 28 that he was suspended following an arrest for public intoxication.
Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval wrote that such a suspension doesn't automatically eliminate Hill's chance of being the starter, as Manziel got the job two months after a disorderly conduct arrest in 2012. But it certainly doesn't help his cause.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Dana Holgorsen came to West Virginia with a reputation for big offensive numbers, having been Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator on some of its most prolific teams. But the Mountaineers struggled to score in 2013, his third season with the program, and they limped to a 4-8 record after going 10-3 in Holgorsen's first year.
Quarterback play has been a key to how Holgorsen's teams have fared; the three passers he used last year all struggled. The competition is open for the job for the 2014 campaign, and while Holgorsen has the public support of athletic director Oliver Luck, he might be facing a make-or-break season based on what happens with the QB position.
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Few players had more of a breakout game during bowl season than Terrel Hunt, who cemented himself as Syracuse's quarterback. The job he won midway through 2013 is his to keep now, and with the Orange bringing back a lot of pieces from last year's 7-6 team, Hunt's continued development will be key.
When spring practice began in mid-March, Brent Axe of Syracuse.com wrote that Hunt has "embraced the lessons learned" from last season and appears poised to have a great fall.
Cody Kessler, USC
Cody Kessler beat out Max Wittek early last season for USC's starting quarterback job and thrived in the position, leading the Trojans to 10 wins and a bowl victory. Wittek has since announced his transfer from the program.
But Kessler had another battle this spring to hold onto his job, as former 5-star passer Max Browne was given an equal chance at the gig by new coach Steve Sarkisian.
Though he hasn't named Kessler the starter, Sarkisian's comments to reporters March 29 indicate that Kessler has separated himself from Browne in the competition (h/t Bleacher Report's Trenise Ferreira).
Jerry Kill, Minnesota
It's been a good offseason for Minnesota and coach Jerry Kill, even without looking at how the Golden Gophers' spring practice has gone.
First, Kill was awarded with a contract extension through the 2018 season, along with a healthy raise. Then, on March 27, Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the school was going to build a $70 million indoor practice facility.
Minnesota went from 3-9 in Kill's first season to 8-5 in 2013.
Adrian Klemm, UCLA
Adrian Klemm has done a solid job in his three years as an assistant coach at UCLA, both in terms of working with the Bruins offensive line and as a recruiter trying to pull in future prospects. The school rewarded that work announcing March 20 that Klemm received a significant pay raise.
Klemm's base salary was increased from $340,000 to $650,000 but could go as high as $823,000 with incentives and bonuses.
Pete Lembo, Ball State
Pete Lembo led Ball State to a 10-win season in 2013 and in three years with the Cardinals has improved from six to nine to 10 victories. The school is his third coaching gig, as he previously ran the programs at FCS Elon and Lehigh.
Lembo's name was mentioned for some of the coaching vacancies this offseason, but he remained in Muncie. School officials wanted to increase the likelihood he sticks around for a while, as they signed him to an extension through 2018 on March 21.
The extension also comes with a promotion of sorts, elevating Lembo to head coach and associate athletic director.
Jeremy Liggins, Ole Miss
Jeremy Liggins didn't get much media attention during his recruitment from Northeast Mississippi Junior College, even though 247Sports listed him as the top JUCO athlete of the 2014 class. But that was before he showed up at Ole Miss and began taking snaps at quarterback, despite weighing in at nearly 300 pounds.
Seeing a quarterback of that size conjured up images of former Kentucky passer Jared Lorenzen, and suddenly Liggins was becoming someone to watch.
But while the big guy played both quarterback and defensive end last season, and was a standout in high school at quarterback, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger that he's too out of shape to contend for consistent playing time this year.
Massachusetts' foray into big-boy football hasn't gone too swimmingly, and now the Minutemen are searching for a new conference.
The school announced March 26 that its membership in the Mid-American Conference would end after the 2015 season, a move that's tied to a clause that would require UMass to join the league as a full member by 2016 or go elsewhere.
UMass hasn't fared well since moving up to FBS for the 2012 season, going 1-11 that year as well as last fall. The school fired Charley Molnar after two seasons and replaced him with Mark Whipple, who led the Minutemen to the 1998 FCS title and 49 wins in six seasons from 1998 to 2003.
Dan McCarney, North Texas
Dan McCarney's rebuilding project with North Texas paid off last season with a bowl berth, the program's first since 2004, with the Mean Green beating UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
McCarney was rewarded for this success on March 20, signing a five-year contract extension that Brett Vito of DallasNews.com reports will pay him a base salary of $600,000, upping his pay from $545,000.
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
It's hard not to be moving upward after an 0-12 season, but the mood around Miami (Ohio) spring practice seems to be a positive one under new coach Chuck Martin. The former Notre Dame offensive coordinator told Rory Glynn of The Cincinnati Enquirer that the RedHawks are "at a good starting point" heading into spring ball.
Martin didn't have a lot to work with from the previous roster, but he brought over a few Notre Dame players to help get the ball rolling. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix, tight end Alex Welch and defensive back Lo Wood are all graduate transfers who should compete for starting spots.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Dan Mullen got a little extra job security in March when he was reportedly given a contract extension through 2018, according to CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler.
The extra year is a reward of sorts for Mullen leading the Bulldogs to bowl games in four straight years, a first in school history. MSU was 4-6 before running off wins at Arkansas and against rival Ole Miss to become bowl-eligible last fall; then it pounded Rice to win the Liberty Bowl.
Old Dominion Monarchs
Old Dominion is set to begin the second year of its transition from FCS to FBS in college football, and it's only the program's sixth season of existence. Fledgling teams like that often have to take their lumps, both to gain experience and generate revenue.
But the Monarchs don't want to play that way, apparently, turning down $1.3 million to play at Alabama in 2015 on ESPN, according to the The Virginian-Pilot's Harry Minium. He quoted Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig as saying that playing Alabama wouldn't be "an advisable move."
ODU, which joins Conference USA this year, plays at North Carolina State and Vanderbilt in 2014 (and hosts NC State in 2015), but it must feel it's not necessary to be a sacrificial lamb against an elite opponent.
New FBS member Appalachian State isn't following the same tune, opening Aug. 30 at Michigan.
Charone Peake, Clemson
Charone Peake will get to make up for the time he lost after an ACL injury early last season, as his request for a medical redshirt was granted and announced last week by Clemson.
Peake, who will have two years left to play, had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' win over South Carolina State last September before getting injured. He also had two TDs in 2012.
Peake is one of several receivers vying for increased playing time as Clemson looks to replace Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins.
Von Pearson, Tennessee
Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class was one of the best the program has pulled in for quite some time, coming in as the seventh-best group, according to 247Sports. The Volunteers signed more than 30 prospects, and an astounding 14 of them enrolled early to help get coach Butch Jones' second year off to a fast start.
Reports from spring practice—such as this one from Jason Yellin of UTSports.com—indicate there have been a lot of good signs from the newcomers, with 4-star receivers Josh Malone and Von Pearson standing out the most. Pearson probably took the biggest leap forward, so to speak, with an amazing one-handed catch in practice that made numerous highlight reels.
Bleacher Report's SEC lead writer Barrett Sallee notes that Pearson's emergence is huge for a team that will be very inexperienced on its offensive and defensive line and will need playmakers to step up outside.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Bo Pelini weathered a very stressful 2013 season but still managed to get the Nebraska Cornhuskers to nine wins and a victory over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Since then, he's gotten a raise and a contract extension through the 2018 season.
Pelini has also managed to improve his reputation and win back the fans of late, writes Bleacher Report's Erin Sorsensen.
Ultimately, Husker Nation will want victories more than anything else, but for now, Pelini seems to be riding high.
Not every FBS team is holding a spring game to culminate its offseason practice regimen, but in most cases, there's a good reason for that related to stadium construction of something. Not with Pittsburgh, which instead will hold several intrasquad scrimmages.
Panthers coach Paul Chryst told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the spring game was canceled because he wanted to get "one more good work day" out of what he describes as a very young and inexperienced team.
Pitt went 7-6 last year, beating Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. It opens the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Delaware.
Stanford's coaching staff went through significant turnover during the offseason, losing multiple coaches to other programs. That included seeing defensive coordinator Derek Mason get hired as Vanderbilt's head coach.
But the Cardinal managed to make a rather significant late hire of their own, picking up former Texas assistant Duane Akina as their defensive backs coach, per GoStanford.com.
Per the report, Akina, who has 35 years of experience and was on Mack Brown's Texas staff from 2001 to 2013, is credited with developing Longhorns defensive backs Michael Huff, Quentin Jammer, Aaron Ross and Earl Thomas during his tenure.
Texas A&M Aggies
Kevin Sumlin's first two years at Texas A&M have been successful, but they've also coincided with the two-year whirlwind that was Johnny Manziel's college career. With Manziel heading to the NFL, though, Sumlin is facing a "program-defining season" this fall, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee.
The Aggies need to replace their two main weapons on offense (Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans) and shore up a defense that has been less than effective the past two years. Combine that with a rough SEC schedule that begins with the Aug. 28 season opener at South Carolina and also includes trips to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State, and you have the makings of a potential down year in College Station.
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
Dylan Thompson is among the more experienced quarterbacks in college football who will be taking over the position for 2014, having started games in the past when former South Carolina starter Connor Shaw was injured.
Now, rather than draw out a competition for that position, Steve Spurrier quickly named Thompson the starter for 2014 and has expressed a lot of confidence in his fifth-year senior, per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.
South Carolina has a team that should contend for the SEC East title, and with Thompson already locked in as the starter and paired with running back Mike Davis, the Gamecocks can get everything lined up for the fall.
Don Treadwell, Kent State
Don Treadwell's first foray into head coaching didn't go so well, as he was fired midway through his third season at Miami (Ohio) last October with an 8-21 career record. That included an 0-5 start to a season that would see the RedHawks finish 0-12.
But Treadwell has found life after Miami, signing on to be the running backs coach at Kent State, according to CoachingSearch.com's Pete Roussel. That gig will enable him to coach against his former team, as Kent travels to face Mid-American foe Miami on Oct. 25.
While UCLA is going through a spring practice regimen that will likely focus on fine-tuning things for the 2014 season, the Bruins got a nice jump on 2015 and beyond with the news that 5-star quarterback Josh Rosen had committed on March 20.
Rosen, listed by 247Sports' composite rankings as the No. 1 pro-style passer in the country and the fourth-best prospect overall in the 2015 recruiting class, gives UCLA a possible instant replacement for Brett Hundley after his expected departure to the NFL.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels
UNLV should be spending the bulk of its focus this offseason on replacing the departed stars who helped the Runnin' Rebels achieve their first bowl invitation since 2000. Instead, the school is preparing for the possibility of a bowl ban due to academic issues.
According to Taylor Bern of the Las Vegas Sun, UNLV will find out in June if there are any sanctions related to its APR score, a figure used by the NCAA to measure academic progress on athletic teams. If the school falls below a two- or four-year benchmark, there could be a bowl ban or scholarship losses.
Either could seriously impact the program's attempts to remain relevant after years of being a bottom-dweller.
The FBS ranks have seen a lot of newcomers in the last few years, but for the most part, those fledgling teams struggled to gain a footing.
UTSA might be the exception, thanks to a solid fanbase and a coach, Larry Coker, with national championship experience.
The Roadrunners went 7-5 in 2013, but because they were a second-year FBS team, they were only able to receive a bowl bid if no other teams were eligible. That didn't happen, but an overabundance of experienced players coming back should make getting a bid this coming season a strong possibility.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky lost its coach and its most productive offensive player from the 2013 team that went 8-4 yet did not secure a bowl berth. However, the Hilltoppers look like a team on the rise—and the timing is perfect, as they'll move from the Sun Belt into Conference USA this year.
New coach Jeff Brohm has an experienced quarterback to work with in redshirt senior Brandon Doughty. With Brohm as his coordinator last season, Doughty set school records for passing yards and completion percentage.
Jamaal Williams, BYU
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall had to deal with more than just football March 25 when he was asked about reports that running back Jamaal Williams had been cited for underage drinking.
The religion-based institution has a rigid honor code, but Mendenhall told the Deseret News' Brandon Gurney that Williams' arrest, which occurred Feb. 16, had already been addressed internally and that his player was "in great standing" with the program.
Williams, who ran for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns last season as a sophomore, is scheduled to appear in court again in May.
Jameis Winston, Florida State
As if being the Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback of the national championship team wasn't enough, Jameis Winston has shown he could be a legitimate two-sport professional athlete based on how he's fared this year for Florida State's baseball team.
Winston, a relief pitcher, has allowed one earned run and recorded four saves while striking out 13 in 13 innings for the 22-5 Seminoles. He even participated in an age-old baseball tradition, the bench-clearing kerfuffle, during a March 26 game against rival Florida.
Though Winston fully intends on remaining with the FSU football team, Ty Duffy of The Big Lead writes that the two-sport star might be better off picking a career in baseball because of the increased financial benefits.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Malik Zaire is in a battle with Everett Golson to become Notre Dame's quarterback this fall, a competition that's essentially between two newcomers since Golson missed all of 2013 because of an academic suspension.
Golson led the Fighting Irish to the national title game after an unbeaten 2012 regular season, but that doesn't give him a leg up on the 2014 gig, at least as far as Zaire is concerned.
The redshirt freshman told Tom Coyne of The Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports) that when it comes to Notre Dame's season opener, "There will only be one guy starting on Aug. 30th against Rice at Notre Dame Stadium, there will only be one guy out on the field, and I believe that will be me."