Three Questions Entering Spring Football Season
NCAA rules dictate that spring practices may consist of 15 regular practices, including the generally overhyped spring game, and that all 15 practices must be completed within a 34 day period. More specific rules can be found here. This is my take on the three teams to pay attention to as college football squads start their spring practice period in the coming months, generally ranging from late February through April.
The following teams are a mix of recent and possible future national title contenders, all that hope to take advantage of spring ball to jumpstart productive momentum moving into fall practices in August.
Oregon: 2014 Record = 13-2; NCAA College Football Playoff Runner-Up
The Question: Can the Ducks contend after the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota?
While the Ducks will return 15 starters from last season, the biggest question surrounding the team this spring will be whether or not the staff can find a suitable replacement for the team's most dynamic player, Marcus Mariota, who will forgo his redshirt senior season to enter the NFL Draft. The first man to get a shot will most likely be Jeff Lockie, a redshirt junior signal caller who has seen little meaningful action in his time at Oregon. Lockie got thrust onto the national stage during the National Championship game when Mariota was knocked out of the game for several plays, his only pass of the night falling incomplete. Lockie has the edge for sure in the spring, and his comfort level with the offense should give him a leg up on any possible competition.
Oregon's offense usually thrives behind an ultra talented quarterback, however, making the early enrollment of 4 star dual-threat quarterback Travis Waller an important development to watch this spring. Waller is a 6'2'', 189 pound quarterback from Anaheim, California, and may have enough talent to push for early playing time. The key thing to watch will be to see how Waller adapts to the speed of the college game. Oregon's offense prides itself on its efficiency, therefore how fast Waller can pick up the playbook will be a big determinant in seeing if he gets a shot to compete for the starting job in the summer, or if he is destined for a redshirt season. The quarterback competition and outcome will have a direct effect on Oregon's chances of returning to the playoffs next season.
Florida State: 2014 Record = 13-1; Lost Rose Bowl in first round to Oregon
The Question: Will Florida State and Jimbo Fisher maintain their recent success with the departure of Jameis Winston?
AP Photo/Richard Shiro
Jimbo Fisher's head coaching record before Jameis Winston: 31-10; his record with Winston: 27-1. While Florida State's first three season's under Fisher were by no means a failure, and served as a kind of rebuilding and re-branding period for the university, it is still yet to be seen if their recent success can be attributed to great coaching, or to having the potential number one draft pick under center. Florida State continues to bring in monster recruiting classes, but will only return four offensive starters from the 2014 season. Florida State was banged up at a few positions this year, testing their depth and providing young players with quality game experience. However, quarterback play was a large part of their recent success and much like for Oregon, finding a suitable replacement is essential.
Sean Maguire will be a redshirt junior and brings the most game experience to spring practice. Maguire most notably started and played the whole game against Clemson this season during Winston's one game ban for his off-field issues. Maguire threw for 304 yards and one touchdown in the overtime win, proving that he could be a suitable replacement for 2015. The talent surrounding Maguire should be enough to place Florida State as the favorite to repeat in the ACC, although enough questions should linger following spring ball that I look to see experts predicting Florida State to come back to the pack a little in a fairly tight ACC.
Will another surpise team mix things up in the SEC this year?
Last season Ole Miss and Mississippi State were two early season surprises that both contended for the SEC title for a long stretch of the season. While both of these teams should remain relevant, is it possible a different, long forgotten team will rise to give fits to the recent dominance of Alabama in the conference? I believe it is.
Arkansas, coached by Bret Bielema, became a pesky team out of the SEC West this past fall. While they went just 7-6 and finished with only two conference wins, six of those losses were to teams ranked at the time, including a seven point loss to at the time number one Mississippi State, and another seven point loss to a ranked Missouri team. Arkansas capped the season with an impressive 31-7 victory in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl against Texas. Bielema's offense returns NINE starters on offense and loses only THREE players from their two deep depth chart (according to Ourlads.com). If Arkansas can maintain a defense that finished last season ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense, continue to run the ball as a top-30 team, and improve upon their 102nd ranked passing attack, they could be poised to make things interesting again this season in the SEC, and rise as another challenger to Nick Saban and Alabama. Spring ball will be critical for Bret Beilema to get his team to believe they are ready to compete for a conference title and bring back some excitment to a fanbase with little to celebrate over the past few seasons.
These are just three teams I plan on watching this spring. All three have the talent to compete at a high level, but must find some answers over their 15 days of practice.