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Every Top 25 College Football Team's Spring Practice MVP

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

Every Top 25 College Football Team's Spring Practice MVP

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    Alabama's Derrick Henry was the Crimson Tide's MVP during spring practice.
    Alabama's Derrick Henry was the Crimson Tide's MVP during spring practice.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Spring practice is almost wrapped up for the 2014 college football offseason, and we've learned just about as much as we possibly can from a series of practices involving partial rosters and spring games that hold little resemblance to an actual competition.

    Still, each team had at least one player who stood out during this period—someone who would earn an MVP award if such things existed for spring football.

    Using Bleacher Report's preseason Top 25 rankings from the start of spring ball as a starting point, here are the unofficial most valuable players from each of the country's best teams based on their spring practice performance and effort.

25. Clemson Tigers

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    RICHARD SHIRO

    Tavaris Barnes, Sr., DT

    Spring practice statistics are irrelevant, and the numbers from the end-of-season spring game should never be taken too seriously. But it's hard to ignore what Tavaris Barnes accomplished in March and April, especially when he logged five sacks in the spring game.

    He had two sacks in three seasons, but as he continues to get stronger and more confident, the 6'3", 270-pound fifth-year senior is poised for a breakthrough. If he can keep this effort up, it will prevent opponents from double-teaming star defensive end Vic Beasley.

24. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    Cody Prewitt, Sr., S

    Spring ball usually isn't a place for veterans or established starters to shine because those players know what their future holds. But Cody Prewitt didn't treat spring practice like a walk in the park; instead, he reaffirmed his place as one of Ole Miss' most important defenders.

    Prewitt, who was named to several All-America teams last season, forced a pair of fumbles during the Rebels' spring game to cap a great offseason training program. The 6'2", 212-pounder is considered the No. 3 senior free safety in the country, according to CBS Sports.

23. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Davis Webb, So., QB

    With Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring from the program since the end of last season, Davis Webb suddenly went from being in a quarterback competition to being the one and only real option for Texas Tech. But rather than be complacent in spring ball, he kept pushing to improve.

    He had arguably the best spring performance of any college football player in the country, throwing for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in a trio of scrimmages, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Krista Pirtle.

22. Kansas State Wildcats

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Daniel Sams, Jr., QB/WR

    Daniel Sams split time at quarterback last season with Jake Waters, but with Waters establishing himself as the go-to passer for Kansas State, it's time for Sams to find a new role. Sams has spent spring practice learning the wide receiver position, as the Wildcats look to maximize his athleticism.

    "He has got to be on the field, K-State coach Bill Snyder told Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle."We have got to find the spot."

    Sams threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 807 yards and 11 TDs last season, but how he will contribute in 2014 remains a mystery. An indication of his involvement should come during K-State's spring game on Saturday.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nati Harnik

    Imani Cross, Jr., RB

    While senior Ameer Abdullah is firmly entrenched as Nebraska's starting I-back, there's always that need for a solid, capable backup. Cross locked up that job, using a strong spring session to ensure he'll still be the No. 2 guy ahead of Terrell Newby.

    Cross rushed for 100 yards and two scores in the spring game, showing off good speed for a 225-pound rusher while still blasting through tacklers when needed.

20. Texas A&M Aggies

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    L.G. Patterson

    Tra Carson, Jr., RB

    The former Oregon player showed a lot of promise during spring ball, and at 6'0" and 230 pounds, he could be just what Texas A&M needs to balance out its offense. Carson showed great footwork and speed for his size, and though the Aggies had no spring game, his effort during practices was enough to stand out.

    "I don't get caught," Carson told Robert Cessna of AggieSports.com. "They ask me how fast I am. I tell them I stop at the end zone."

    He had 308 rushing yards in 2013 but only got 58 attempts as A&M stuck mostly to the air or had Johnny Manziel scrambling around. With pro-style true freshman Kyle Allen looking like the front-runner to be the starting quarterback, Carson would fit well as a complement to the passing game.

19. Georgia Bulldogs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Leonard Floyd, So., LB

    Georgia's most talented unit is at running back, but in terms of depth and potential impact on the 2014 season, the honor goes to the linebackers. And Leonard Floyd is a big reason for that, as he demonstrated in spring ball that he's ready to show his freshman season wasn't a fluke.

    He had a team-high 6.5 sacks as a true freshman, but he should pass that total quickly this fall. He played all over the field in practice, chasing down ball-carriers and pushing through the line almost at will.

18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Joe Raymond

    Malik Zaire, Fr., QB

    When Malik Zaire told The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) that "without a doubt" he would be Notre Dame's starting quarterback for the Aug. 30 season opener against Rice, the statement came off mostly as youthful confidence. Then he wowed during the spring game, capping a great series of practices while competing alongside 2012 starter Everett Golson.

    Zaire threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. He has a very good chance to back up his bold prediction.

17. Missouri Tigers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Maty Mauk, So., QB

    Missouri's quarterback situation is nice and secure, thanks to the way Maty Mauk looked during the spring. His performance helped allay fears that he wouldn't live up to being the full-time guy despite a solid job of filling in for injured James Franklin last season.

    Tigers coach Gary Pinkel told David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune that Mauk's teammates have a lot of confidence in him, which bodes well for a good performance on the field this fall.

16. North Carolina Tar Heels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Justin Thomason, Jr., DE

    North Carolina's offense is going to get most of the attention this fall, but Justin Thomason's effort this spring showed there's reason to be happy about the other side of the ball, too.

    He has displayed a lot of progress since the end of the 2013 season, and that carried over into a spring session, where he held his own against the Tar Heels' solid offensive line. In the spring game, he had two sacks and contributed to a unit that knocked down 11 pass attempts.

15. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Credit: 247Sports

    D.J. Calhoun, Fr., LB

    An early enrollee who was considered a 4-star talent in high school, per 247Sports, D.J. Calhoun impressed coaches and teammates throughout spring ball and is among a handful of first-year players that Arizona State expects to have on the field this fall. 

    He turned the heads of many of ASU's returning players this spring, according to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic. And at just 215 pounds, he has room to grow as he heads toward his first season of play.

14. USC Trojans

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Jr., TE

    One of Steve Sarkisian's biggest success stories at Washington was his development of Austin Seferian-Jenkins into an NFL talent at tight end. He might be doing the same now at USC with Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

    The 6'4", 235-pound junior was one of the most impressive players during spring ball, showing off great hands and good footwork. He had three catches in the spring game, including a 30-yard reception.

13. LSU Tigers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Brandon Harris, Fr., QB

    Harris firmly planted himself in the battle for LSU's starting quarterback job with a great spring, capping it off with a solid performance in the spring game.

    He only completed 11 of 28 passes in that contest, but he looked far better than Anthony Jennings and was particularly good when running with the ball. Though he's not a lock for the job, the fact he's in it right now keeps the Tigers from having to settle on Jennings. Instead, LSU can go with the best option.

12. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dylan Thompson, Sr., QB

    Spring practice wasn't about determining who would be South Carolina's replacement for Connor Shaw, as Dylan Thompson pretty much had the gig locked up as soon as Shaw graduated. But the Gamecocks wanted to see progress and leadership from the senior, and he didn't disappoint. 

    He showed complete control of the offense and should be able to step right in without any problems. He looked poised as a relief option last season, and that experience should come in handy right away. The Aug. 28 opener against Texas A&M will be a good starting test.

11. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Andy Manis

    Tanner McEvoy, Jr., QB

    Tanner McEvoy came to Wisconsin last year as a highly touted junior college quarterback, but to get on the field, he had to move to safety and work as a reserve. But now that he's back under center, he has shown he can be a real challenger to Joel Stave for the starting job.

    "I think he's proven through spring ball that he's continually gotten better," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen told Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal.  

    If Stave's injuries continue to be a problem, Badgers fans could see a different guy running the offense this fall.

10. Baylor Bears

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    Tony Gutierrez

    Shawn Oakman, Jr., DE

    At 6'9" and 270 pounds, Shawn Oakman casts an imposing shadow, but he didn't get much chance to show that last season. Now with a starting job in his hands, he's going to take over like he did in spring ball.

    He was the best player on the field when he was in on defensive snaps throughout practice, and he backed that up in the spring game with two sacks and an overall chaotic disruption of Baylor's normally error-free offense.

9. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Nick Vannett, Jr., TE

    With starter Jeff Heuerman missing the tail end of spring ball with an injury, Nick Vannett had his chance to show what he was capable of. And he fared so well that Ohio State might toy with using two tight ends this fall, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

    At 6'6" and 260 pounds, Vannett provides a big target for Braxton Miller to throw to over the middle, and in his limited opportunities in the past, he's come through for the Buckeyes.

8. UCLA Bruins

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Myles Jack, So., RB/LB

    UCLA's spring game isn't until Saturday, but at this point Myles Jack has still been the most impressive player on the field. And coming off a freshman year when he surprised everyone with his two-way talent, that's saying a lot.

    He isn't likely to play much at running back this season, as Jim Mora told the Los Angeles Times' James Barragan and Chris Foster, but the coach hasn't ruled out the option either. And knowing how valuable he is to the team, Jack has reportedly taken out a $5 million insurance policy on himself that includes a "loss of value" rider, according to Yahoo Sports' Rand Getlin.

7. Stanford Cardinal

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Noor Davis, Jr., LB

    After spending his first two years in a losing battle for playing time behind several talented teammates, Noor Davis is getting a chance to stand out in the middle of Stanford's defense. He fit in well during the spring and should continue the Cardinal's trend of solid linebackers.

    He was especially strong in the spring game, according to Jack Blanchat of SB Nation's Rule of Tree blog. While his play exposed some issues in Stanford's offensive line, it also showed he's going to be a force this season.

6. Oregon Ducks

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    Rick Scuteri

    Dwayne Stanford, So., WR

    The loss of Bralon Addison to a knee injury put a big hit on Oregon's receiving corps, but thankfully the Ducks have a lot of depth to fall back on. Among those who will now get a great shot to step in is Dwayne Stanford, who has shined in spring practice so far.

    Oregon's spring game isn't until May 3, but to this point he looks like he's completely recovered from injuries that kept him out all of last season.

5. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Patrick Semansky

    Derrick Henry, So., RB

    Henry burst onto the scene in the Sugar Bowl, putting in a stellar performance in Alabama's loss to Oklahoma. But with T.J. Yeldon still entrenched as the starting tailback, Henry's performance had to be taken with a grain of salt.

    The 6'3", 238-pound bruiser kept that bowl game momentum throughout the spring and looks to be ready to step in for Yeldon in the event of injury or ineffectiveness. For now, he'll serve as the backup and slide into the same role that many of Alabama's best backs were in before becoming starters.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Sue Ogrocki

    Eric Striker, Jr., LB

    Eric Striker was already a known quantity for Oklahoma, and he had already locked up his spot on the outside of the linebacker unit before spring practice. But he didn't play during the spring like someone who knows he'll be starting in the fall.

    "Eric's very disruptive," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops told Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. "Obviously, he has a scheme he's trying to execute but there's stuff you can't coach. Eric has great instincts."

    He was a beast in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and that dominant play carried over into spring. He capped the workouts with a great effort in the end-of-spring scrimmage, recording two sacks.

3. Michigan State Spartans

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Jalyn Powell, Fr., S

    Michigan State's unique tradition of having seniors "draft" underclassmen prior to its spring game (which is set for Saturday) often serves as a springboard for young players to make a name for themselves. It's also a sign that a player is turning heads in spring practice.

    That's what Jalyn Powell has done with his work in the secondary. The safety was the No. 1 draft pick this year, according to the Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode.

    "He plays hard, he plays fast, he makes plays, he always plays with a chip on his shoulder, no matter what," MSU wide receiver Tony Lippett said of Powell.

2. Auburn Tigers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    D'haquille Williams, Jr., WR

    The top-rated junior college prospect in the country by 247Sports, D'haquille Williams looks like the perfect complement to Sammie Coates as Auburn's second wide receiver. He might end up being the top option before all is said and done, based on how he clicked with Nick Marshall in the spring game.

    Williams had four catches for 85 yards in that game, and with the Tigers looking to be more balanced and throw more this season, he should have a huge year. What he did in the spring was only the tip of the iceberg.

1. Florida State Seminoles

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    David J. Phillip

    Rashad Greene, Sr., WR

    With Kelvin Benjamin off to start a pro career, Florida State had a big hole to fill at wide receiver. Rashad Greene was identified as the best person to take over the top wideout spot, and he didn't disappoint during the spring.

    The senior is in the top seven on the Seminoles' all-time list in receptions, yards and touchdowns, but now as the go-to guy, his numbers are ready to explode. He showed off his dominance in the spring game, catching 11 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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