Taylor Martinez & Rex Burkhead
College football essentially has two preseasons: spring practice and August camp. Both can be huge indicators of what we'll see on the field come the fall. Position battles rage. Injuries occur. Incoming freshmen burst onto the scene. It's an important time to be paying attention, especially if you're a savvy college fantasy football owner.
Here are some key college fantasy football questions to ponder when the Big Ten schools kick off spring practice.
* Replacing Mikel LeShoure won't be easy. Jason Ford would seem to be the guy that'll get the first crack at the gig, but don't count out Troy Pollard either.
* Will WR Demarlo Belcher remain fantasy relevant in 2011? His veteran quarterback, Ben Chappell, is gone. So is fellow WR Tandon Doss, who garnered much of opposing defenses attention last fall, thus allowing Belcher to enjoy one-on-one coverage.
* When will the bleeding stop for the Hawkeyes? It's been nothing but bad news out of Iowa City since the regular season ended. A trio of running backs are now gone for the wrong reasons: Jewel Hampton decided to leave the team, Brandon Wegher transferred to Oklahoma, and Adam Robinson was shown the door after a string of off-the-field stupidity. Stud WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was caught in a drug bust and dismissed from the team. QB Ricky Stanzi graduated. And then there was the whole mess with 13 players being hospitalized with a muscle disorder following grueling offseason workouts. More transfers could be on the way. Yikes. Let's hope promising young running back Marcus Coker can survive the offseason without getting hit by a bus.
* How will new head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges utilize Denard Robinson? We're expecting them to implant a power running game with a strong West Coast flavor. Will this hamper D-Rob's rushing opportunities? Borges hinted that Shoelace should still rack up "1,000-1,200" rushing yards, but he does not expect him to approach last year's 1,702 yard performance.
* Hoke won at Ball State when he had a stud feature back (MiQuale Lewis). He enjoyed success at San Diego State when Ronnie Hillman exploded out of the backfield. Who will be his main man in Ann Arbor? Sophomore-to-be Stephen Hopkins is a bigger back (227 pounds) who could get a look. Vincent Smith, who led the Wolverine RBs in rushing yards last year (601), returns for his junior season. But he's only 5'6 and 180 pounds—not an ideal fit. Incoming freshman Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes could also find themselves in the mix. Rawls in particular is intriguing due to his size and strength.
* Can new head coach Jerry Kill refine the talented, but raw, Marqueis Gray at quarterback? He's a tremendous athlete who played wideout last year while veteran Adam Weber took the snaps from under center. Weber graduates, and it's Gray's show now.
* Can quarterback Taylor Martinez avoid offseason controversies, injuries, and drama? After a wonderful start to the 2010 season, he seems to unravel at the seams, both figuratively and literally.
* Is Rex Burkhead ready to shoulder the load in the running game? Roy Helu Jr. graduates and Rex will get his shot to show the Big Ten what he's got.
* Will Dan Persa be ready to roll come August? He suffered that unfortunate torn Achilles late in the year that will keep him out of spring ball. The hope is that he'll be okay this summer, but if he's not Evan Watkins is a nice Plan B. He showed some real promise in Dapper Dan's absence.
* Will Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, and Boom Herron's suspensions be reduced? Who will fill in for this key trio in their absence? Unspectacular veteran QB Joe Bauserman could get a shot at holding things together under center, unless the Sweatervest is feeling frisky and rolls with super incoming frosh Braxton Miller. Who are we kidding? This is Jim Tressel we're talking about here. It'll be Bauserman.
* Will quarterback Rob Bolden still be on the roster in August? He tried to transfer back in January but JoePa denied his request. He'll be competing with Matt McGloin and Paul Jones for the starting gig this spring, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he winds up revisiting his transfer threat again if he doesn't win the job outright.
* Is Silas Redd ready to become the next great Nittany Lion running back? Evan Royster and his 3,932 career rushing yards are off to the NFL. After Redd, the depth chart is very thin. Redd looked good at times in 2010, averaging a solid 5.7 yards per carry. Can he sustain that type of production in a feature back role?
* Can the Boilermakers make it through the spring without being devastated by a myriad of key injuries? What is the status of last year's injured trio of QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden, and WR Keith Smith?
* How will the carries be dispersed between Montee Ball and James White? The duo combined for 2,000 yards and 32 TDs last season. And that was with John Clay still in the mix! With Clay gone, both White and Ball will certainly be excellent fantasy options no matter who sees the bulk of the carries, but it sure would be nice to know who is No. 1 and No. 1A.
* Who'll win the quarterback battle in Madison? Scott Tolzien is gone. Next in line was supposed to be Curt Phillips, but he is coming off a major knee injury. If he's not ready to roll, Jon Budmayr is a strong prospect.
Todd DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com, the nation's premier resource for all things college fantasy football.