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Spring practice storylines to watch

Ten burning questions as teams begin early prep for the 2013 season. Dave Miller

Print This February 25, 2013, 05:30 AM EST

LSU’s new OC: Tigers head coach Les Miles tabbed Cam Cameron as the new offensive coordinator of the Bayou Bengals, as former OC Greg Studrawa will move back to offensive line coach and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe will assume an administrative role. This is good news for quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who should get to take some shots down the field in this offense. Both Miles and Cameron love the power run game, but the new OC loves to go aerial as well. And Mettenberger will have almost his entire receiving corps back except for Russell Shepard. A player who threw for over 200 yards in four of his final five games of 2012 could be primed for a breakout year.

George Atkinson IIIUS PRESSWIRERB George Atkinson III scored five TDs on the ground in a reserve role last year.

The ND ground game: Notre Dame loses Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, and those are big losses considering head coach Brian Kelly made the rushing attack the focus of the offense. But the coaching staff is high on George Atkinson III, who has the speed to be a major factor. But will he be physical enough in between the tackles? Cam McDaniel also will fight for carries along with USC transfer Amir Carlisle, who was lost for the season last year when he broke his ankle. This trio will be the focus this spring until freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston arrive in the summer months.

A rebound year for Thomas?: Virginia Tech dual-threat quarterback Logan Thomas entered the 2012 season as a likely first-round selection in the opinion of many draft experts. In fact, some analysts considered him the best QB in the draft this year if he decided to come out. For whatever reason — reshuffled offensive line, new corps of receivers, inexperienced backs or just mental lapses by Thomas himself — the signal-caller struggled mightily. Now, with Scot Loeffler in Blacksburg as the Hokies’ new offensive coordinator, can Thomas reclaim his once-high draft stock during his senior season? Minimizing his mistakes and living up to his immense potential will be the No. 1 challenge for Thomas starting this spring.

Andersen’s first offense at Wisconsin: It will be interesting to see how new Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen’s offense will look in his first spring in Madison. The Badgers don’t have a player with the dual-threat capabilities of Chuckie Keeton, who was phenomenal for Andersen at Utah State, although one dual-threat is on his way to Wisconsin soon enough. But for now, Andersen has options under center with three players returning who started last year: Danny O'Brien, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips. Andersen also inherits Bart Houston, who was a highly regarded recruit in the Class of 2012, and Jon Budmayr, who was supposed to take over for Russell Wilson but has dealt with multiple arm issues. No matter who is at QB, expect the ground game to remain a focus with James White and Melvin Gordon in the backfield.

The new Big East: The league will begin (actually, continue) its extreme transformation this summer when it officially welcomes Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU while saying goodbye to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. We know that Louisville is the class of the league, as the Cardinals could be a preseason Top 10 team with Teddy Bridgewater under center. But who is the second-best team in the league? Willie Taggart and South Florida? Kyle Flood and Rutgers? Perhaps one of the new members? UCF returns 3,000-yard passer Blake Bortles, running back Storm Johnson and a solid defensive line, while Houston returns 14 starters. Memphis is led by young head coach Justin Fuente, but the Tigers just don’t have the depth. And SMU loses many of its best players. The best bet for most intriguing newcomer seems to be UCF.

Other storylines to watch:

Will highly touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline win the starting quarterback job at Cal under new head coach Sonny Dykes?

Can Arizona improve defensively entering its second year playing in the 3-3-5 scheme?

With EJ Manuel moving onto the NFL, can Clint Trickett hold off intriguing sophomore Jacob Coker and redshirt freshman Jameis Winston for the starting job under center at Florida State?

Mark Helfrich steps in for Chip Kelly as head coach at Oregon. But those weren’t the only coaching changes in Eugene. Scott Frost steps in as offensive coordinator, while Ron Aiken and Matt Lubick arrived as the new defensive line coach and wide receivers coach, respectively.

Can new coordinator Ted Roof continue the momentum that the Georgia Tech defense built late in the 2012 season? The Yellow Jackets return eight starters to the unit.

Miami (FL) struggled mightily on defense last fall, ranking No. 112 nationally in rushing defense, No. 102 in passing defense and No. 82 scoring defense. The Hurricanes can’t compete for a Coastal division crown without improvement on that side of the ball.

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