January 24, 2010

What team faces most interesting spring?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. This weekend, we will have two roundtables - one Saturday and one today. Here is today's question:

With 2009 now in the rear-view mirror, what spring football story line are you going to follow most closely?

I'll be very interested in the offensive rebuilding projects going on with the defending Big 12 division winners - Nebraska and Texas. The Huskers are on the verge of returning to national prominence. Improving the offense, particularly quarterback play, appears to be key to their regaining status among the nation's elite. Zac Lee had surgery on the flexor tendon on his (right) throwing arm, so his availability for the spring is uncertain. But if he can participate, he will be in a competition with Cody Greene, Kody Spano and redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez. If one shows significant improvement and the ability to boost the offense, the Huskers could be national championship contenders. It also will be interesting to see if Texas can make progress in developing an effective running game, which would seem vital with inexperienced Garrett Gilbert taking over for Colt McCoy at quarterback and All-America wide receiver Jordan Shipley gone.


I will be watching Notre Dame. As Brian Kelly takes over, questions pepper the program. Can Kelly build a strong defense? He never had a consistently rugged unit at Cincinnati. Kelly also will need to develop a quarterback with Jimmy Clausen off to the NFL a year early. This spring, Kelly will work with true freshman Tommy Rees, who enrolled early, and two walk-ons while sophomore Dayne Crist recovers from ACL surgery. Things are going to be interesting for the Fighting Irish's fourth coach since 1997. The world is watching, that's all.


Let's face it: Not much interesting happens during spring practice. Oh, there are minor developments, encouraging signs, bad omens, but most everything from spring can be turned upside down by August. That's why the only major story line that could have a major effect on the season is in Gainesville, Fla. In December, Urban Meyer's resignation turned into a leave of absence. Nearly a month after the original announcement, he said Saturday that he'll be the coach for spring practice. We still don't know what Meyer's specific issue is (and that's his private business as long as he wants it to be). Will he change his mind again? Now it seems to be a given Meyer will be back for the season opener. But in reality, that's not certain. Meyer's situation is still the biggest mystery in college sports.


Alabama's chances for a repeat national title depend on how well coaches can rebuild the defense, which lost eight starters. I'll be keeping a close eye on what goes on in Tuscaloosa. The talent is on hand, but there's a reason those guys were backups this past season: They weren't as good as the guys who left. (Ask Oklahoma coaches about how easy it was to replace four starting offensive linemen this season, even if the replacements were highly touted guys.) Tide coach Nick Saban and his staff have done a great job in recruiting the past three years, and a lot of defenders from those recruiting classes will be afforded chances to step up this season. It all starts this spring.


Even before the drama of the past couple of weeks, Tennessee figured to be a program to watch this spring because of its uncertain quarterback situation. The Vols don't have any proven quarterbacks to replace Jonathan Crompton, and two newcomers likely to compete for the job will be on campus for spring practice. The newcomers are El Camino (Calif.) Community College transfer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray, a four-star prospect from Kingsburg, Calif. Returning quarterback Nick Stephens also will be competing for the job and hoping a new coaching staff can give him a fresh start. That this also will be Derek Dooley's first spring as Vols coach should make things even more interesting.



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