March 20, 2009

 

By Adam Caparell
NCAA.com

Basketball takes center stage in March, and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on away from the hardwood.

Spring football is in full bloom across the country as teams get in their 15 practices before they take a break until August. Here are 65 storylines to follow on the gridiron when you’re consumed with your bracket. 

1. Goodbye, Mike Bellotti. The Ducks coach finally decided to step aside and transition into athletic director. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly takes over for Bellotti. The well-respected Kelly takes over a squad that believes it’s the team that will finally supplant USC as Pac-10 champs.

2. Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Vols. The new staff in Knoxville has made a big splash in the SEC, leaving a wake of bulletin board material for the Vols’ rivals. And they just picked up one of the top high school running backs in the nation, the controversial Bryce Brown.

3. The USC quarterback situation. Will it be Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp or highly-touted freshman Matt Barkley? Chances are coach Pete Carroll is more concerned about the defense that brings back only two starters.

4. Replacing Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno? Georgia coach Mark Richt feels confident Joe Cox can step in right away for Stafford, but the battle to land the starting tailback nod is underway in Athens. We should have a winner come summer. Plenty of other starting positions are up for grabs, as well.

5. Former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian takes over at Washington which went 0-12 last season. The quickest way to improve the Huskies? Increase team speed. Expect Washington to be well conditioned come fall.

6. Terrelle Pryor’s maturation. The sophomore showed glimpses last year, but he’s far from a finished product. There are also some big shoes to fill in the secondary for Ohio State.

7. A lot will be expected from Penn State in 2009, but Joe Paterno – all set for year No. 44 as the Nittany Lions head coach – has to rebuild his offensive line. And there are few places where running the ball matters more than the Big Ten.

8. Speaking of offensive line problems, Nick Saban has two big holes to plug on the front five now that Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell are gone from Alabama. Veterans will battle to take their places at left tackle and center, respectively.

9. What quarterback issues? Christian Ponder is the man under center for Florida State.

10. BYU could very well be in the hunt for a BCS berth next year, but already talk around the Cougars is centered on their season-opening game vs. Oklahoma at the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium.

11. Questions certainly remain for Michigan and second year head coach Rich Rodriguez, but last year’s defensive deficiencies will hopefully be remedied by new coordinator – and former Syracuse head coach – Greg Robinson.

12. Oklahoma is loaded and Bob Stoops doesn’t have too much to worry about with his Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Sam Bradford, returning for another season.

13. Expect more of the same from Virginia Tech. The Hokies don’t have to worry about any sort of quarterback competition with Tyrod Taylor firmly cemented under center. But with Taylor’s style of play, Frank Beamer is going to need to develop a backup he can rely on.

14. We haven’t heard much from Texas this off-season and for good reason. Not much is going on and that’s just the way Mack Brown would like it. And on top of that he doesn’t have much to worry about with Colt McCoy back for his last year. McCoy has reportedly been pinpoint accurate so far this spring. No surprise considering he completed 76.7 percent of his passes last year.

15. New LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis has simplified the Tigers defensive schemes, much to the delight of his starting linebackers. He just needs to find a few defensive linemen to replace the stars the Tigers lost.

16. Jeff Tedford has opened the competition at quarterback between Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney. Riley started nine games last year for Cal, but that’s not going to guarantee him anything. 

17. What’s Missouri going to do at quarterback? Chase Daniel leaves some big shoes to fill and for the moment it appears its Blaine Gabbert’s job to lose.

18. Houston Nutt guided Ole Miss to the Cotton Bowl in his first season in Oxford and received relatively little pub for doing so. The Rebels won’t fly under the radar this fall so the question remains how will Nutt and the coaching staff handle big expectations? 

19.  The South Carolina offense has not taken off like many thought it would after Steve Spurrier took over, but Spurrier hasn’t found the right quarterback yet. Stephen Garcia hopes to be that player and his teammates say he’s as dedicated to the position – and team – as ever.

20. Gene Chizik was a controversial hire at Auburn. But the former Iowa State head coach has brought in Guz Malzahn to run the Tigers offense. Maybe this is the year it finally clicks.

21. Frank Spaziani has been around Chesnut Hill long enough, doing a pretty good job of coaching the defense, and the 61-year old finally gets his chance to lead Boston College.

22. Utah is coming off a year for the ages, but never before have the Utes experienced an off-season that saw so much upheaval on the coaching staff. Two new coordinators take over.

23. How many people expected Georgia Tech to have a 9-4 season under first year head coach Paul Johnson? Almost none. They’re going to be good in Johnson’s second season, but can anybody replace DE Michael Johnson?

24. Oregon State flirted with a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth, but came up short in part because super freshman Jacquizz Rodgers had a bum shoulder. His health will be paramount to Oregon State’s success.

25. Fresno State will be practicing with heavy hearts after the Bulldogs recently lost former defensive coordinator Dan Brown to cancer. Just 50 years old, Brown leaves behind a big family, including son Eric, a redshirt junior linebacker for the Bulldogs. 

26. Duke won four games last season, just two less than previous Duke head coach Ted Roof had won in four years, and the Blue Devils’ second year coach David Cutcliffe is growing more optimistic about his team and its 12 returning starters. They just need to find a playmaker on defense to replace Michael Tauiliili.

27. Boise State may take the banner as this year’s BCS buster. But the Broncos have holes on defense at linebacker and on offense at wide out and running back where Ian Johnson will no longer be taking hand-offs.

28. All the talk concerning Notre Dame this year is that supposedly easy schedule, but the continued maturation of the offensive line will be among Charlie Weis’ biggest concerns.

29. Biggest hole for North Carolina this spring? Wide receiver. The Heels top three wide outs from last year are gone, including Hakeem Nicks.

30. The defense that carried TCU into the BCS discussion last fall will be without seven starters. DE Jerry Hughes better work extra hard because he’s going to see a lot of double teams come September.

31. Kansas has holes at linebacker and on the offensive line. Mark Mangino is concerned about his defense, but he’s fretting over the front five and its ability to protect Todd Reesing.

32. Dez Bryant had knee surgery following the Holiday Bowl and will be limited – to say the least – for spring practice, according to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal because he’s expected to be 100 percent when the season rolls around.

33. Cincinnati should not have to worry about coach Brian Kelly going anywhere. He’s reaffirmed his commitment to the program – off its first BCS bowl berth – with a contract extension running through 2013.

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