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Bleacher Report's All-Spring Game College Football Team

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Bleacher Report's All-Spring Game College Football Team

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Only three spring games—at Oregon, Oregon State and Miami (Ohio)—remain on the schedule before the first offseason practice session of the College Football Playoff era is done.

    The spring games send us into the summer with an enduring look at our favorite teams and players, at who might be ready to take the next step come fall. And whether that step be from prospect to rotation player, rotation player to starter, starter to star or from star to mega-star, a step up in this sport cannot be ignored.

    For that reason, we have taken a look back at the whole slate of spring games to see who—or which unit—has hinted at taking such a step next season. Some are names you know and some are names you don't. Some are names you maybe never will.

    But all are names who raised their coaches' eyebrows in their final showing of spring camp, heading into the offseason with momentum to improve their standing even more once practice resumes.

    Here is your All-Spring Game College Football Team for 2014.

     

    Note: This list will be updated, if necessary, after the May 3 games.

Quarterback

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Malik Zaire, Notre Dame

    Other quarterbacks put up bigger numbers.

    Will Gardner at Louisville, for example, finished with 542 yards on 32-of-37 passing, albeit mostly against backup defenders.

    But given the context around him—the skill of the defense he was facing; the skill of the offense he played with; the state of Notre Dame's offense last season—no quarterback looked better this past month than Malik Zaire in the Irish's spring game.

    Zaire completed 18-of-27 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception. Viscerally, his performance was even better, as he glided away from defenders with effortless speed and the ball seemed to pop off his hands.

    Will this be enough for him to wrest the starting job away from Everett Golson? That remains to be seen.

    Golson played well himself in the spring game, and he did, after all, lead Notre Dame to the national title game during his last eligible FBS season. It's not like this team needs a different quarterback.

    It just might get one nonetheless.

Running Backs

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

    For the third consecutive year, T.J. Yeldon was named the offensive MVP of the A-Day game, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com. He may never have needed it more than he did this season.

    With Derrick Henry breathing (and continuing to breath) down his neck for touches, Yeldon took 11 carries for 96 yards against a defense that allowed little room to anybody else all afternoon.

    His four carries of 10-plus yards, which included a long of 36, were the only such carries Alabama's offense recorded in the game.

     

    Imani Cross, Nebraska

    With Ameer Abdullah sidelined, Imani Cross reminded folks in Lincoln and beyond that Nebraska's backfield is not a one-man show.

    Not even close.

    Cross had 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only six carries in the spring game, scoring from 20 and 39 yards out. He flashed his trademark power and also a newfound array of finesse moves.

    He and Abdullah should be the best one-two punch in the Big Ten.

Receivers/Tight End

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    WR Josh Malone, Tennessee

    Josh Malone was the most impressive early enrollee during spring camp and might well have been one of the most impressive overall players.

    His good month of practice crescendoed during the Tennessee spring game, when he stole the show with six receptions for 181 yards and three touchdowns and generally looked unguardable.

    Did some of that have to do with the secondary he was going up against? Sure. The Vols are going to give up a lot of points this season, especially through the air.

    But with Malone, Marquez North and Von Pearson on the other side of the ball, they might be able to hang close in a couple shootouts.

     

    WR Fred Brown, Mississippi State

    Fred Brown is not projected as one of Dak Prescott's top targets at Mississippi State this season. That distinction belongs to players such as Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson.

    However, there should be more than enough balls to go around in Starkville, and Brown staked his claim to at least a meaningful role with 10 catches for 219 yards and a pair of scores in the spring game.

    From start to finish, in the short game and the long, Brown dangled Bulldogs cornerbacks and made big plays. It will be hard for Dan Mullen to keep him off the field if he continues this form.

     

    TE Josiah Price, Michigan State

    Josiah Price came on at the end of last season—right as the Michigan State offense as a whole began to click.

    Perhaps that wasn't a coincidence.

    Looking in sync with quarterback Connor Cook the entire afternoon, Price led Michigan State in the spring game with five catches for 81 yards and the game-winning touchdown in clutch time.

    He's one of many reasons the Spartans are optimistic about their offense in 2014.

Offensive Line

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    Auburn Tigers

    The second unit struggled a bit to block Elijah Daniel, but Auburn's first-string offensive line stood out as perhaps the best in the country during spring game season.

    That should be a consistent theme all season.

    Even after losing left tackle Greg Robinson, who is poised to be selected in the top five of the NFL draft, Auburn's four returning starters picked up right where they left off at the end of last season and paved the way for 271 rushing yards on 25 carries for the Blue Team, which had 657 total yards on only 62 plays.

    Robinson's replacement (for the time being), Shon Coleman, looked good in his stead, protecting Nick Marshall's blind side and allowing him to put on a show with his new and improved weapons.

    This group remains perfectly tailored to its scheme.

Defensive Line

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

    Shawn Oakman is a beast.

    There's no other way to put it. The 6'9'' defensive end showed well in a part-time role last season, and now, with a full-time gig in front of him, he looks poised to become one of the best players in the Big 12 after logging two sacks in the Baylor spring game.

    "We can’t block him," said head coach Art Briles, according to Max Olson of ESPN.com, "and I don’t think anyone else will, either."

     

    DT Tavaris Barnes, Clemson

    Of all the eye-popping stat lines posted this spring—on either side of the ball—none sticks out so much as Tavaris Barnes' at Clemson.

    His five sacks were a record for the spring game and went for a total of minus-31 yards. He had three more tackles on top of them, too.

    Barnes is not the biggest name on Clemson's defense, but he showed that he, like stars Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony, is ready to pick up the slack lost on offense—where Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant all depart—and keep the Tigers relevant nationally.

     

    DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA

    After losing All-World outside linebacker Anthony Barr, UCLA will turn to a committee approach, at multiple positions, to replace its lost pass-rush production.

    In his first public action since the 2012 Holiday Bowl, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who missed all of last season with a hip injury, showed that he will be a big part of that equation by racking up a pair of sacks.

    Now a redshirt senior, Odighizuwa may not start on a talented young defensive line next season, but he will make a palpable impact.

    The Bruins' defense is bigger, stronger, faster and deeper than usual heading into summer workouts.

Linebackers

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

    Eric Striker is the best player on Oklahoma's defense, and Oklahoma's defense is (probably) the best defense in the Big 12. He has a very real chance of being named an All-American next season.

    And he sure looked the part in the spring game.

    Striker was dominant throughout the afternoon, but his stats were highlighted by a pair of sacks on back-to-back plays.

    Not a bad way to follow up on his huge game against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which ended with a clinching strip-sack of AJ McCarron.

     

    LB Ronnie Feist, LSU 

    Ronnie Feist is a physical linebacker—exactly the type of player Les Miles and John Chavis love—who is unafraid to stick his head into a pile and sacrifice his body to make a play.

    He did a whole lot of sacrificing in the LSU spring game, leading the team with 14 tackles and landing a couple of big hits that caught the eyes of Tigers fans for sure.

    He'll compete with Lamar Louis and Debo Jones for a starting spot this fall, but even if Feist doesn't crack the first team, his form in the spring game made it seem like he'll find a role to play regardless. 

     

    LB Peter Kalambayi, Stanford

    Stanford keeps the cupboard stocked well, so even after the mass exodus of defensive players—a group that was among the most successful in program history—and the loss of Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, David Shaw's defense is expected to remain intact.

    One of the players angling for playing time on the revamped defense is linebacker Peter Kalambayi, who led the team with seven tackles and two sacks (for minus-14 yards) during the spring game and helped the Cardinal defense dominate the entire afternoon.

    Alongside A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters, Kalambayi should help Stanford's linebackers remain the class of the Pac-12.

     

    DE/LB Ro'Derrick Hoskins, Florida State

    Chris Casher's absence was Ro'Derrick Hoskins' gain at the Florida State spring game, as the backup end/linebacker hybrid stole the show with two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.

    Playing a variation of the role vacated by Christian Jones, Hoskins looked quick and was frequently around the ball.

    He almost definitely won't start next season, but if he keeps up this type of play, Hoskins will get meaningful snaps on a team that should contend for another national championship.

    That's not too shabby for a youngster. 

Secondary

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    Credit: 247Sports

    CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan

    Starting over junior Blake Countess in the spring game, Jourdan Lewis did not wait long to make his presence known—and make Michigan fans squirm about their quarterback position in 2014—by picking off Devin Gardner on the first pass of the game.

    It was one of two interceptions Lewis had on the afternoon, as his physical, aggressive presence in coverage was an improvement on what UM corners struggled to do last season.

    This was a great jump on his bid to start Week 1.

     

    CB/S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

    Remember this guy's name.

    As a true freshman last season, Jalen Ramsey became the first player his age since Deion Sanders to start at cornerback in Week 1 at Florida State. He played well but moved to safety when injuries demanded he change positions—and he played well there as well.

    Now, Ramsey is playing some weird sort of hybrid role, bouncing around the field at seemingly every spot in the secondary.

    The early results were good, however, as he led the Florida State defense to an impressive spring game performance and picked off Jameis Winston on what might be the best play of the young season.

    Ramsey looks like a nice Thorpe Award dark horse.

     

    S Tyvis Powell, Ohio State

    Tyvis Powell is accepting this award on proxy, on behalf of the entire Ohio State secondary—or, perhaps, on the behalf of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

    The Buckeyes defensive backs looked like a unit revived in the spring game, coming back strong from their awful end to last season with a whole new cast of characters. Braxton Miller was absent, sure, but the way this group shut down big plays could not be ignored.

    Powell was at the vanguard of that effort, playing smart, sound football and stepping up as the emotional leader of this group. We'll know more when the real games start, but so far, so good.

     

    CB Randall Evans, Kansas State

    Randall Evans has been a steady, consistent nickelback throughout his career at Kansas State, starting 11 games in 2013 and seven in the Big 12 Championship season of 2012.

    Now, however, he has a chance to go from steady contributor to leader in the secondary. If his performance in the spring game was any indication, Evans is ready to do so.

    Evans was everywhere for the Wildcats, leading the team with eight tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble forced and recovered (on the same play).

    With an offense that returns Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett and got better as the season went on in 2013, Kansas State could be a contender in the Big 12 if Evans and defensive end Ryan Mueller get the defense playing at a higher level than last year.

    This was a promising start.

Head Coach

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    Bo Pelini, Nebraska

    Because how could it be anybody else?

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