Spring practice storylines to watch
Texas was the first major FBS program to begin spring practice when the Longhorns opened camp last Thursday, and more programs will begin early preparations for the 2013 season over the next couple of weeks.
With spring ball taking center stage across the country, let's take a look at 10 burning questions surrounding some of the most intriguing major programs.
US PRESSWIREQB Taylor Kelly finished ninth in the nation in passer rating last season.
Arizona State hype: There is a lot of buzz surrounding the Sun Devils after Todd Graham led the program to eight wins in his first season in Tempe. The Devils enjoyed their first winning season since 2007 and their first bowl win since 2005. But ASU feasted on its weaker opponents in 2012 while suffering through a four-game skid midway through the year when the opponents were stellar — Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC all defeated the Sun Devils in that stretch. Still, there is a lot to be optimistic about if you’re an ASU fan, and it starts with the play of Taylor Kelly. The dual-threat QB finished ninth in the nation in passer rating last year as just a redshirt sophomore. He will only get better as he continues to master this offense. Meanwhile, ASU returns eight starters from a defense that tied for 17th nationally in yards per play allowed. And don’t forget that star defensive lineman Will Sutton surprised nearly everyone when he decided to come back for a final season and bypass the NFL Draft. Could ASU claim the Pac-12 South division and compete for its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1996?
Make or break for Kiffin: After entering last season as the preseason No. 1 team in America, USC severely underachieved. So head coach Lane Kiffin will be entering a crucial season hoping to avoid getting dismissed by athletic director Pat Haden. The Trojans will be shifting toward more of a 5-2 defensive scheme under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who will have to figure out new starters in the secondary. Keep an eye on early enrollee safety Su’a Cravens. Meanwhile, who will replace star quarterback Matt Barkley? Max Wittek started the final two games of last season but was inconsistent at best. Still, it will be difficult for either Cody Kessler or freshman spring enrollee Max Browne to win the job. The other major question is who will be USC’s new OC, and will Kiffin relinquish play-calling duties?
New-look Texas offense: There’s no question that Texas will not be able to reclaim its spot atop the Big 12 unless Manny Diaz’s defense reverts back to its 2010 and 2011 form. But another big question for the ‘Horns this spring is how their new up-tempo offense will come together over 15 practices. Head coach Mack Brown wants a lot less changing of personnel under new play-caller Major Applewhite in order to keep defenses off-balance with a no-huddle attack. Brown said he desires the offense to snap the football roughly 85 times per game this coming season after averaging just 68.5 snaps per game in 2012. Quarterback David Ash remains the key to the unit’s success, and he and Applewhite will try to build off of a strong fourth quarter in the Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State.
Year Two for TCU in the Big 12: Casey Pachall has returned to the team after receiving treatment for his substance abuse problem, but he will have competition at quarterback with Trevone Boykin remaining in the mix. But there’s no question that a healthy Pachall makes this offense stronger after he completed over 66 percent of his passes and threw just seven interceptions in 2011, his first season as the starter in Fort Worth. And with Waymon James and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green forming a solid combo in the backfield, the Horned Frogs will be strong on offense. Defensively, end Devonte Fields recorded 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a freshman, so it’s scary to think what his future holds after such a strong debut. He’ll be joined by cornerback Jason Verrett and seven other returning starters. Linebacker Kenny Cain and end Stansly Maponga are key losses, but Gary Patterson’s defense will still be one of the best units in the Big 12.
Georgia’s young defense: Mark Richt’s defense is losing a lot of top-tier talent to the NFL. Linebackers Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Cornelius Washington, defensive tackles John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones, safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, and cornerback Sanders Commings are all departing Athens — and that’s a boatload of talent lost from Todd Grantham’s 3-4 unit. In all, the ‘Dawgs lose 12 players on defense who started at least two games for them last season. There are still a lot of talented defenders on this roster, though, including defensive back Damian Swann and defensive ends Jordan Jenkins, Garrison Smith and Ray Drew. Jenkins could be a future All-American, but it will be a dogfight for Georgia to win the SEC East even with Aaron Murray returning and the running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
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