What We've Learned About Every Top 25 College Football Team This Offseason
College football's 2017 offseason is less than two months away from its long-overdue conclusion, but what have we learned thus far about the teams expected to be players on the national landscape?
In some cases, like Clemson's quarterback battle and Texas' search for a new running back, well, we haven't learned much. But for most of the top teams, there has been at least one revelation in the past six months that could have major ramifications on the season ahead.
Admittedly, trying to read the tea leaves from spring-game box scores and summer-opening depth charts can be an exercise in futility, but darn it, something has to hold us over until the fall!
25. Tennessee Volunteers: QB Competition Remains a Coin Flip
What We've Learned: It's still anyone's guess what Tennessee will do at quarterback.
Joshua Dobbs had been a dual-threat staple at QB for the Volunteers since October 2014. Quinten Dormady made a few garbage-time appearances over the past two seasons, but other than that, it was all Dobbs.
And it's still entirely unclear what Butch Jones plans to do to replace him.
Dormady entered the spring—and will likely enter the fall—as the front-runner for the job. In addition to being the elder statesman of the group, he completed each of his 10 pass attempts in Tennessee's storm-shortened spring game.
However, spring numbers rarely mean anything, especially when trying to settle a QB battle in which one of the candidates relies more on his feet than the other. It's tough to gauge the impact of redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano from one outing in which the play was blown dead any time a defender got within 10 feet of him.
"There were limitations today," Guarantano told ESPN's Greg Ostendorf after the spring game. "We didn't really have any quarterback run game. We had short whistles. We had different things that I'm able to do—extend plays—that I wasn't able to do today. But I think today was a great day for me and all the rest of the quarterbacks."
Joe Rexrode's spring game takeaway for The Tennessean tells the whole story in one sentence: "These coaches won't know the right answer here for sure until they see these guys handle the pressure of a real game situation."
Dormady will probably start, but look for both guys to see a ton of playing time in the first two games prior to the big showdown with Florida.
24. Washington State Cougars: Kyrin Priester Still Not the Answer
What We've Learned: Washington State's plans for replacing Gabe Marks and River Cracraft won't include Kyrin Priester.
In 2015, Priester played a minor role in a Washington State passing attack that amassed more than 5,000 receiving yards. He was responsible for 33 receptions for 241 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, however, the only stat Priester has been padding is his number of times dismissed from a team.
He was booted from Clemson's program one game into the 2014 season, after which he landed at Washington State and was granted immediate eligibility. But according to Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review, the confrontational attitude that led to his departure from Clemson eventually found its way to Pullman.
Priester was kicked off the Cougars team before the 2016 season and was dismissed again this past May after being given a third chance.
Had he been able to just get along with the coaching staff and show up on time for meetings, there's no doubt he could have carved out a big role in the receiving corps. Just from Marks and Cracraft graduating, there are 142 receptions, 1,595 yards and 18 touchdowns up for grabs in this offense. But instead of Priester, it looks like Kyle Sweet and Robert Lewis will be the ones benefiting from those departures.
23. Oregon Ducks: Seeking Toughness at All Costs
What We've Learned: Oregon's new strength and conditioning coach pushed his guys too hard.
After winning fewer than five games in a season for the first time since 1991, Oregon had a lot of offseason work to do in order to reclaim its usual spot among the nation's elite.
Unfortunately, it seems the new strength and conditioning coach wanted to do all of that work in one workout.
Within days of getting the S&C job at Oregon, Irele Oderinde worked his guys so hard that three of them (Doug Brenner, Sam Poutasi and Cam McCormick) ended up in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis—a fancy word for what happens when overexertion results in the breakdown of muscle tissue which can lead to serious kidney damage.
The players were released from the hospital a few days later, and Oderinde was reinstated after a one-month suspension, but the media circus surrounding the situation led to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd and Jon Solomon doing a deep-dive look into what it takes to become a S&C coach and whether the welfare of the student-athlete is being properly considered in workouts.
"The NCAA requires only a 'nationally accredited strength and conditioning certification program' on a coach's resume," wrote Dodd and Solomon. "However, training has become so specialized that experts say the NCAA rule is both too broad a requirement and not nearly enough of one—as players continue to die in the offseason."
22. Texas Longhorns: Still Searching for Answers at Running Back
What We've Learned: Several injuries and one early departure to the NFL leaves Texas in a quandary at running back.
It certainly wasn't a surprise when D'Onta Foreman declared for the NFL draft after rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a junior, but it meant new head coach Tom Herman would need to use this offseason to determine who his new No. 1 ball carrier would be.
Injuries have significantly complicated that process.
Chris Warren III is the most likely recipient of the job, but a knee injury limited him to just four games last season and a hamstring injury kept him from participating in spring practices. His name sits at the top of a long list of Longhorn RBs who missed practices in March and April. Toneil Carter, Tristian Houston and Kyle Porter all suffered ankle injuries, while Kirk Johnson is still recovering from his second knee surgery.
Maybe Texas is just getting all of its injuries out of the way early and will have a happy and healthy 2017 season. If not, Daniel Young—a 3-star freshman who didn't join the team until after spring practices ended—could be a candidate for significant touches, simply out of necessity.
"It makes you nervous," Herman told reporters during media availability at the end of March. "I'm glad we signed two (RBs)."
21. South Florida Bulls: The Defense Should Be Better
What We've Learned: South Florida's defense has already improved.
In signing Charlie Strong as the new head coach, USF made it abundantly clear that improving the defense is the top priority in 2017. The Bulls gave up at least 17 points in each and every game last season and allowed at least 39 on five occasions. They gave up 482.0 yards per game, which ranked in the bottom 10 nationally.
Some of those numbers can be attributed to the pace at which they were able to score on offense, as the defense was on the field for nearly 83 snaps per game. In terms of yards allowed per play, the Bulls were right around the national average. But they'll need to be better than that in order to reach their (attainable) goal of an undefeated season.
The good news is they bring back nine defensive starters, including leading tackler Auggie Sanchez and top secondary weapon Deatrick Nichols. That much retention almost always results in tangible improvement, and that's without accounting for the philosophical change at head coach.
Spring game box scores mean about as much in college football as spring training box scores mean in Major League Baseball, but the initial returns look good for the Bulls, as the final score of their spring game was 15-14.
Granted, star QB Quinton Flowers only played for two series and projected starting running back D'Ernest Johnson did not play due to an ankle injury, but holding both offensive sides below 17 points is a step in the right direction.
"Defensively, if you look at last year, they felt like they were the weak link," Strong said after the game, according to Jamie DeVriend of the Daily Stampede. "They just wanted to improve and show that we can play defense."
20. West Virginia Mountaineers: Will Grier Will Be Eligible
What We've Learned: Florida transfer Will Grier has finally been ruled eligible for the entire 2017 season.
For the first six weeks of the 2015 season, Grier was a freshman phenom at QB for Florida. He wasn't quite putting up first-year numbers like Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston did, but he led the Gators to a 6-0 start and was maybe one more week away from becoming a legitimate Heisman candidate and possibly the most talked-about player in the country.
For the first six months of West Virginia's offseason, there was only one question that mattered: Can Grier play right away?
Grier was suspended for one year after testing positive for a banned substance, but it was unclear whether the NCAA would force him to serve the final six games of that suspension after transferring to WVU and sitting out a year. But, finally, on June 20, head coach Dana Holgorsen announced on Twitter that Grier will be permitted to play in the season opener.
"I'm obviously excited to get out there against Virginia Tech," Grier told Langston Wertz Jr. of the Charlotte Observer. "But the spring game was awesome, to compete with my teammates in front of the fans, the people that support us. It was a great experience. But I can't wait for Virginia Tech."
With that mystery now solved, expectations for the Mountaineers should be a bit higher than they were for the first two-thirds of the offseason. You won't find many experts predicting WVU to finish ahead of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State, but good luck finding anyone foolhardy enough to suggest that isn't a distinct possibility.
19. Kansas State Wildcats: Bill Snyder Has Cancer
What We've Learned: Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder will continue to coach through throat cancer.
One of the biggest college football offseason bombshells was the mid-February news that Snyder will remain the head coach at Kansas State despite undergoing treatments for throat cancer.
Already 77 years of age—five years older than any other FBS head coach—no one would have begrudged Snyder for calling it a career after getting that diagnosis. Guys a decade younger who aren't going through chemotherapy barely have the energy to survive the grind of preparing for one season while recruiting for the next three.
But Snyder somehow made it through a six-week cycle that involved a four-hour round-trip drive to Kansas City and back for daily morning treatments, according to George Schroeder of USA Today.
"I was able to be in my office every day," Snyder boasted to Schroeder.
The man was already a coaching legend. Save for a three-year retirement in the mid-2000s, he has been at Kansas State for nearly three decades. He's already in the College Football Hall of Fame and is currently coaching in a stadium named after him. There were going to be great articles written about Snyder during the 2017 season even before anyone knew about his health troubles.
Now that the man is a cancer survivor, it's almost a given that there will be at least one longform piece written about him per week. And if the Wildcats happen to rally behind him and vie for a spot in the College Football Playoff, there might be no reason to pay attention to any other story for the next six months.
18. Miami Hurricanes: Going Back to the QB Drawing Board
What We've Learned: With Brad Kaaya leaving early for the NFL, Miami's QB competition is wide open.
Over the last three seasons, Miami Hurricanes not named Kaaya attempted a grand total of 76 passes—two-thirds of which came during a two-week stretch of the 2015 season that Kaaya missed due to a concussion. Malik Rosier attempted four passes in September 2016, but other than that, it was all Kaaya last year.
Suffice it to say, the 'Canes had a few eggs in that basket and took a major hit when he made the decision to forgo his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL draft.
Six months later, we still have no clue who will replace Kaaya.
In early April, Daniel Nordwall of Fansided's Canes Warning said it looked like Rosier was the leader of the pack. Less than two weeks later, Matt Porter of Palm Beach Post's Canes Watch blog suggested that redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs was the front-runner for the position.
A few days after that, both Rosier and Shirreffs struggled in Miami's spring game, increasing the likelihood that N'Kosi Perry wins the job as a true freshman, despite the fact the 4-star QB was not an early enrolee and thus had no chance to show the coaching staff anything this spring.
The best/worst part of this battle is that these guys are likely just fighting for a one-year gig, with committed 2018 recruit Artur Sitkowski a strong candidate to replace whomever takes the throne.
Our shot-in-the-dark guess is that Shirreffs is the starter for Week 1, Rosier spends a lot of time on the field in rushing situations and Perry gets the most snaps in the month of November. But if any of those three impresses early and becomes the full-time guy, Miami would be the clear favorite to win the ACC's Coastal Division.
17. Florida Gators: Malik Zaire to the Rescue
What We've Learned: Graduate transfer Malik Zaire appears to have drastically reduced the uncertainty in Florida's QB competition.
Once billed by B/R, CBS, Sports Illustrated and countless others as one of the biggest QB battles to keep an eye on this spring, Florida's situation became a bit more cut and dry once Notre Dame transfer Zaire was ruled eligible to play immediately.
Zaire does still have to win the job this fall, but that shouldn't take long, given the lack of an established favorite.
Redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask spent the spring trying to surpass the injured Luke Del Rio on the depth chart. Even head coach Jim McElwain was willing to admit after Florida's spring game that Franks would enter the second half of the offseason ahead of Trask, but there was no indication where Del Rio falls in that conversation after undergoing surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and missing the spring.
Long story short, there's a reason Zaire opted for the Gators rather than Texas, North Carolina or Wisconsin. This is easily his best opportunity to immediately become the starter.
Granted, Zaire isn't bringing a ton of experience to Gainesville. He only attempted 98 passes over the past three seasons. But that's 98 more passes than Franks or Trask threw against college secondaries, and his 6-0 TD to INT ratio is a heck of a lot better than Del Rio's 8-8 mark from last season.
Barring injury or a fall practice slate in which Franks or Del Rio clearly plays his way ahead of Zaire, look for the former member of the Fighting Irish to be leading the Gators in the season opener against Michigan.
16. Stanford Cardinal: Palo Alto Has Recruiting Pull
What We've Learned: David Shaw is recruiting better than ever.
In Shaw's first six seasons as Stanford's head coach, the Cardinal did not sign a single top-10 recruit and got a grand total of just four top-40 guys, per Scout—No. 14 Kyle Murphy in 2012, No. 20 Solomon Thomas and No. 22 Casey Tucker in 2014 and No. 38 Kaden Smith in 2016.
But in 2017 alone, Stanford got No. 2 Foster Sarell (OT), No. 4 Walker Little (OT) and No. 6 Davis Mills (QB). Throw in No. 1 tight end Colby Parkinson and the Cardinal could have a decade-ending passing dynasty on par with what they had at the beginning of the decade in Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener.
Because Stanford only signed a total of 14 recruits, it ended up at No. 24 in Scout's team rankings algorithm. But only Alabama, Ohio State, USC and Florida State finished National Signing Day with a total of 5-star recruits equal to or greater than Stanford's haul.
Most impressive about the feat is that not one of those 5-star guys played high school ball in California. It'd be one forgettable thing if Shaw had convinced a few studs to stay close to home, but he managed to steal highly coveted guys from Washington (Sarell), Texas (Little) and Georgia (Mills).
How that trio fares over the next couple of years will have major ramifications on Stanford's allure for future high school stars.
15. Louisville Cardinals: Dez Fitzpatrick Could Be Breakout Sensation
What We've Learned: With ample openings in Louisville's receiving corps, redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick could become a star.
Despite putting up ridiculous numbers last season, Lamar Jackson never developed into a go-to guy. Robert Griffin III had Kendall Wright. Manziel had Mike Evans. Deshaun Watson had Mike Williams. And Jackson had...Cole Hikutini?
But all three of Louisville's leading receivers graduated, leaving more than 2,000 receiving yards to be claimed. Based on the guys who played in 2016, Seth Dawkins and Reggie Bonnafon figured to be the next men up, with redshirt freshman Fitzpatrick a distant afterthought at the beginning of the offseason.
Following the Cardinals' spring game, though, Fitzpatrick should enter the fall as a candidate for the No. 1 WR job. He was Jackson's favorite target, hauling in nine catches for 176 yards and two touchdowns, including an impressive toe-tapping, sideline grab on a fade.
Fitzpatrick isn't just some no-name guy who happened to benefit from being one of the only non-injured players by the end of spring practices, either. He was Louisville's second-best high-school recruit in 2016, choosing the Cardinals after turning down offers from Michigan, Nebraska and 16 other teams, per 247Sports.
He was already a strong candidate for a breakout season long before we were given a glimpse of what he and Jackson can accomplish together.
14. Wisconsin Badgers: Watch out for Quintez Cephus
What We've Learned: Sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus impressed during an emotional spring and could emerge as a star for the Badgers.
With 15 returning starters and strong options for most of the ones they lost, the only major positional question mark for the Badgers this offseason was at the second wide receiver spot. Robert Wheelwright's graduation opened the door for someone to become the new second fiddle to Jazz Peavy.
To that end, sophomore Cephus caught the attention of a lot of Badgers fans early in the spring. According to Owen Riese of Bucky's 5th Quarter, Cephus had a breakout performance in a March 30 practice, catching multiple touchdowns and displaying great basketball-like instincts to use his body to get open.
"He was picking up where he left off (last season)," said wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore in mid-April, according to Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The game was starting to slow down for him a little bit. He was able to make some adjustments. If he made a mistake he could tell you why, as opposed to a year ago (when) he couldn't."
A few days after showing off that potential, though, Cephus received the terrible news that his father had been shot and killed back in his hometown of Macon, Georgia.
Football feels pretty trivial in the immediate aftermath of such a heartbreaking loss, but as both an emotional release and as a means of honoring the memory of the person lost, playing the game eventually feels even more important than ever before.
If Cephus can harness that anguish and come back more motivated to dominate in the fall, he could become a star.
13. Georgia Bulldogs: Caught a Major Break at Running Back
What We've Learned: With Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both returning as senior running backs, Georgia's offense could be electric.
It has been nearly seven months since this news broke, but it's still one of the biggest headlines of the offseason: After combining for 1,970 rushing yards and 14 total TDs in 2016, both Chubb and Michel are coming back for one final season with the Bulldogs.
Had both studs left for the NFL, Georgia would have been just fine. Brian Herrien averaged 5.8 yards per carry last season as a true freshman and looked the part of a guy who could carry the full load. The Dawgs also signed top-50 recruits DeAngelo Gibbs and D'Andre Swift and already had Elijah Holyfield on the roster as options to back up Herrien.
Instead, they'll have a corps of talented running backs that runs deeper than probably every school not named Alabama.
Chubb and Michel have combined for at least 1,880 rushing yards in each of the last three seasons, but they could easily eclipse 2,500 if they can get back to running like they did as freshmen. While sharing the backfield with Todd Gurley—how did that team not lead the nation in rushing?—Chubb and Michel both averaged better than 6.4 yards per carry in 2014; but neither one did better than 5.5 this past season.
12. LSU Tigers: Arden Key Will Be Back
What We've Learned: Despite taking a leave of absence that lasted nearly four months, Arden Key will be back with the Tigers.
LSU's defense was already riddled with holes from players either graduating or leaving early for the NFL. Each of last year's five leading tacklers is gone, as well as shutdown corner Tre'Davious White.
The one bright spot was the expected return of elite pass rusher Key, whose 11 sacks would make him the only returning Tiger who had more than one sack in 2016.
So, when he took a leave of absence for (still unspecified) personal reasons in mid-February and was gone for the entire spring, it was a troubling few months for LSU's fans. His eventual return to the roster in early June—accompanied with a note that he had undergone successful shoulder surgery—was a huge sigh of relief for the bayou.
Now that he's back, expectations are that he will immediately become the leader of this defense before potentially playing his way into a top-five draft pick next April. Outside of perhaps Florida State's Derwin James, Key will enter the season regarded as the best defensive player in the country.
11. Michigan Wolverines: Wilton Speight Might Have Had Surgery?
What We've Learned: Incumbent starting quarterback Wilton Speight reportedly had offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
Trying to get offseason information out of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh is notoriously akin to pulling teeth. The Wolverines don't post depth charts or injury reports and keep as much information in house as they possibly can, so as to avoid giving any potential advantage to a future opponent.
But QB guru Steve Clarkson inadvertently spilled some beans about his Michigan tutee.
"He's always been a pretty confident young man," Clarkson told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press in early June. "He's focusing on some of the things he needs to get better at. Obviously, he's had to recover from off-season surgery so we limited some of the stuff he did with us because he's not completely 100 percent."
Even after that cat was out of the bag, Speight was unwilling to divulge any information about the surgery. Two weeks after Clarkson's comment to Snyder, Speight told Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News, "I can't remember. ... That was way back in January, February, December."
So, maybe Speight had shoulder surgery, and maybe he's in danger of losing his job to either John O'Korn or Brandon Peters. Knowing Harbaugh, though, we won't have any idea until the first snap of that first game against Florida.
10. Oklahoma State Cowboys: Grad Transfer Adrian Baker Will Be Key
What We've Learned: In hopes of bolstering a weak secondary, Oklahoma State added Clemson graduate transfer Adrian Baker.
For all the talk about Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, Justice Hill and how great Oklahoma State's offense could be, this team's ceiling will be determined by whether it can actually stop others from scoring.
The Cowboys gave up at least 30 points in eight of 13 games last season, and that was before losing six defensive starters, including leading tacklers Jordan Sterns and Devante Averette.
This left their already lackluster secondary looking extremely thin. Beyond Ramon Richards and Tre Flowers, their best options entering the spring were Madre Harper, Darius Curry and A.J. Green, who had a combined 13 tackles and one pass defended in 2016.
Thus, bringing in Baker from Clemson was a much-needed move.
Baker missed the entire 2016 season due to a torn ACL suffered last spring, but at the time of the injury, he was a projected starting cornerback for a Tigers team seeking a second straight trip to the College Football Playoff. In limited action in 2015, he made a pair of interceptions, each of which occurred in the red zone and played a crucial part in maintaining Clemson's undefeated record.
Baker should immediately become Oklahoma State's CB1 and could be the difference that propels the Cowboys to a Big 12 title.
9. Auburn Tigers: There Will Be 2 Starting QBs on the Roster
What We've Learned: Even if he loses the starting job to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, Sean White has no plans of leaving Auburn this offseason.
In what is arguably the most intriguing QB battle of the 2017 offseason, it's still unclear whether Stidham or White will get the bulk of the snaps in Auburn's opener against Georgia Southern in less than two months.
Most seem to be operating under the assumption that the former 5-star recruit has already won the job away from the incumbent starter who spent the spring trying to show that he has fully recovered from a broken arm suffered in January. After all, Stidham looked like a stud in Auburn's A-Day game, throwing for 267 yards in six possessions while White watched from the sideline.
But hours after the game, White told reporters that he has no intention of transferring, regardless of how the QB battle shakes out, per Tom Green of AL.com.
An interesting closing note on that column by Green is that White plans to graduate in either December 2017 or May 2018. As such, it wouldn't make any sense for him to transfer now and sit out a year elsewhere while hoping for a starting job to open up in 2018 when he could just as easily "sit out" this season at Auburn before taking the grad transfer route to a job he knows he's more likely to win.
Of course, that's assuming he even loses this job in the first place. If we can believe what Gus Malzahn said all spring, this battle won't be decided until the fall when White is able to show what he can do again at 100 percent health.
8. Oklahoma Sooners: Lincoln Riley Is the New Head Coach
What We've Learned: After 18 seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops unexpectedly retired, leaving Lincoln Riley as the youngest head coach among the 130 FBS teams.
Out of the blue, Stoops announced his retirement in early June, sending shock waves through the college football world several months after we thought the 2017 coaching carousel had come to a close.
"I felt I just didn't want to miss the right opportunity to be able to step away and hand this baton off to Lincoln Riley and to help this all just keep going in a great direction," Stoops said in the subsequent news conference.
And now we wait to find out how things shake out for the Sooners.
Prior to Stoops' decision, they were the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12. And according to ESPN's FPI analytics, that's still the case. However, those number crunchers have somehow determined that the coaching change dropped Oklahoma's chances of winning the conference from 77.5 percent to 72.3, even though nothing changed on the roster.
If nothing else, we're now headed for an intriguing coaching matchup in Week 2 when Riley—four days after celebrating his 34th birthday—will lead the Sooners into Columbus to wage war against Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Should the Sooners win that game, it would provide one heck of a jump start to Riley's coaching legacy.
7. Washington Huskies: Return of Brayden Lenius Should Be Huge
What We've Learned: After redshirting the 2016 season, Brayden Lenius will be a big part of Washington's quest to replace John Ross.
Two years ago, Lenius was an important piece of Washington's passing attack, making 26 receptions for 307 yards and tying for the team lead with three touchdowns. He also cemented his spot in Huskies' highlight-reel lore with an impressive catch behind the back of a USC defender.
Even with Ross returning from an ACL injury that cost him the entire 2015 season, Lenius entered the 2016 offseason with a reasonable shot at becoming a full-time starter. At the least, he should have been No. 3 on Washington's WR depth chart prior to the knee injury that caused him to miss most of the spring and struggle into the fall.
By the time head coach Chris Pedersen suspended Lenius for the first three games of the 2016 season due to a violation of team rules, it was pretty clear he wouldn't have anything better than a minor role. So he opted for a redshirt to give his knee an entire year to heal, and he'll now have two more years to potentially thrive in this offense.
"I think he's one of those guys where spring's been good, was healthy for the spring," Pedersen said of Lenius in late April, per Christian Caple of the News Tribune. "Last spring he was not. And he was going through a rough patch. I think he made some progress this spring, which is good to see. Guy has some really good ability."
Ross tallied 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season before becoming a top-10 draft pick, so there's plenty of slack for Lenius to pick up if he's healthy and able to abide by the team rules.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions: Decommitments Becoming a Problem
What We've Learned: With Justin Fields and Micah Parsons both decommitting from Penn State's 2018 recruiting class, 2017 is starting to have a "now or never" feel for the Nittany Lions.
At one point, Penn State was on track to have possibly the best 2018 recruiting class in the country. Fresh off a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance, the Nittany Lions had three of the top 25 recruits in the country—DE Parsons, QB Fields and RB Ricky Slade—committed in next year's class. And with realistic 2017 College Football Playoff aspirations, things should have continued to trend in a positive direction.
However, Parsons decommitted in late April, and Fields followed suit in early June, leaving James Franklin and his staff in the unenviable position of needing to invest in recruiting guys for a second time.
And the Nittany Lions desperately need a big recruiting haul in 2018 in order to keep pace with Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East. They only signed one top-150 recruit in 2017, and they're likely going to lose at least nine starters to graduation or early NFL draft declaration after the upcoming season.
Maybe they'll get both Fields and Parsons back and all will be well, but 2017 has been a net loss thus far on the recruiting trail, considering they initially signed both of those studs in 2016.
In other news, Juwan Johnson was a spring darling for the Nittany Lions. The redshirt sophomore only had two receptions last season, but a lot of people seem to be convinced he's destined for a monster 2017 campaign as part of the the plan to replace the departed Chris Godwin.
5. Clemson Tigers: QB Competition Nowhere Near Finished
What We've Learned: Clemson's quest to replace Deshaun Watson will continue well into the fall, as nothing was resolved this spring.
Watson amassed more than 12,000 combined passing and rushing yards and 116 touchdowns over the past three seasons as Clemson's quarterback, but there is no telling what the Tigers are going to do now that he's gone.
By the end of the spring, most quarterback battles have a somewhat clear favorite. However, that's not the case here. Technically, Kelly Bryant entered the summer atop the depth chart, but that's really just because he has been with the program the longest. Freshmen Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper are just as likely to win the job in the fall.
Not one member of that group impressed in Clemson's spring game, though. According to Dan Hope of the Independent Mail, their lines for the scrimmage were as follows:
Bryant: 4-13, 43 yards, 1 INT
Johnson: 5-13, 48 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Cooper: 11-18, 81 yards, 1 INT
Rather, it was Tucker Israel who had the best performance, completing 13 of 19 attempts for 94 yards and a touchdown, leaving open the possibility that any of the four guys could win the job in September. And with games against Auburn and Louisville in the first three weeks of the season, the Tigers don't have much longer to figure this out.
4. USC Trojans: An Unexpected Possible Change at Kicker
What We've Learned: USC kicker Matt Boermeester was suspended from the team in early February and appears to no longer be enrolled at the university.
USC had a lot of heroes in the 2017 Rose Bowl. Sam Darnold threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns. Deontay Burnett and JuJu Smith-Schuster were on the receiving end of a ton of those passes. And Leon McQuay III made the fourth-quarter interception that set up the game-winning score.
But it was kicker Boermeester who had the final moment in the spotlight. After missing a pair of long field-goal attempts in the first half, he drained a 46-yarder as time expired to break the tie and give USC the win.
Little did we know that might be his last appearance in a Trojans jersey.
Boermeester was suspended amid investigation of a "code of conduct issue" on February 7. He was dropped from the spring roster a month later. And according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News, Boermeester is not enrolled in summer classes, which "makes it increasingly unlikely Boermeester returns."
Barring another surprising turn of events in which Boermeester is welcomed back to the roster, the kicking duties will fall on to the leg of redshirt freshman Michael Brown, who did boot a 50-yard field goal in USC's spring game.
He was recruited for his strong leg, but only time will tell if he has the same type of clutch gene that Boermeester displayed in the Rose Bowl.
3. Florida State Seminoles: Offensive Line Still a Major Concern
What We've Learned: A rash of injuries kept the Seminoles from establishing who will try to protect the QB in 2017.
Deondre Francois seemed to spend most of the 2016 season either running for his life or trying to peel himself off the turf after the latest crushing blow from a defensive lineman. Thus, fixing up the offensive line to keep that from happening for another 13-15 games was Florida State's No. 1 goal heading into the offseason.
So far, the Seminoles haven't been healthy enough to accomplish much in that department.
They lost two starters to the NFL and spent the spring with two others (Alec Eberle and Landon Dickerson) sidelined by injury. In theory, that could have been good news, as it gives the backups and replacements a chance to get some work in.
Unfortunately, by the end of the spring, Andrew Boselli, David Robbins, Ethan Frith, Josh Ball and Derrick Kelly were all dealing with minor injuries of their own, unable to use the opportunity to lock down a starting job. There might have been two offensive linemen on FSU's projected two deep who survived the spring without at least rolling an ankle or tweaking a hamstring.
Based on the combination of veteran experience and young potential, offensive line should be a strength for this team. But these big men need to get and stay healthy if they're going to do enough blocking to allow Francois, Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers to become stars.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes: Reloading in the Secondary
What We've Learned: Despite losing three defensive backs as first-round draft picks, Ohio State's secondary looks to be in great shape.
Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker combined for 15 interceptions last season—better than nearly 100 entire teams. Losing all three of those studs in one offseason would signal a rebuilding effort for most teams, but not Ohio State.
Rather, the Buckeyes are reloading.
Internally, they already had strong options for replacing each of the aforementioned guys. Jordan Fuller, Wayne Davis and Denzel Ward were former 4-star recruits who are ready to take on bigger roles. Damon Arnette and Erick Smith also have breakout potential, while Damon Webb is positioned to become the star of the secondary.
But Urban Meyer found some great external options, as well, signing JUCO star Kendall Sheffield and two of the top five incoming freshman cornerbacks, Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade. All three of those newcomers could be playmakers, as Sheffield and Okudah figure to slot in as the No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks after a strong showing in the spring.
All of a sudden, Ohio State somehow has more defensive backs than it can reasonably use. The Buckeyes don't have anywhere near the same star power in their secondary that they had last year, but this is a deep unit that should remain one of the best in the country.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide: Jerry Jeudy Might Be Alabama's Next Freshman Stud
What We've Learned: Following a strong spring, true freshman Jerry Jeudy should make an immediate impact for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama isn't exactly deficient at any spot on the roster, but one position where the Crimson Tide have plenty of room for development is at wide receiver. Ardarius Stewart, O.J. Howard and Gehrig Dieter combined for 114 receptions for 1,673 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, each ranking top four on the team in all three categories before departing.
Calvin Ridley is going to be the star of Alabama's passing game, but after that, anything's possible. Though Robert Foster and Cam Sims are currently the most likely candidates to start alongside Ridley, that duo has a combined total of just 48 catches over the last three seasons.
Capping off a strong first spring with the program, Jeudy had five receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the process of becoming the A-Day MVP.
"We need some young players like Jerry Jeudy to continue to grow and develop," head coach Nick Saban said after the game, per Marq Burnett of SEC Country. "He made significant progress throughout the spring, and I think it culminated into a pretty productive day for him today."
Devonta Smith and Henry Ruggs might be the better wideouts in the long run, but neither of those true freshmen was on campus during the spring. As a result, Jeudy should enter the fall as the top candidate for targets among freshmen, and he might just play his way into a starting gig.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.