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February 24, 2006

Spring could provide some answers



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According to the calendar, spring is a month away. And if you believe that groundhog, winter will be around even longer than that. College football, however, works on a slightly different schedule.

For some schools, including defending national champion Texas, spring practice starts next week. Over the next two months, teams start laying the foundation for the 2006 season, implementing new systems and trying to find replacements for departed stars.

Here's some of what to look for from Coral Gables, Fla., to Berkeley, Calif.

Texas

Starts: Feb. 27.
Spring game: April 1.

Vince Young's departure leaves the Longhorns loaded but lacking a leader at the most important position. The competition begins with redshirt freshman Colt McCoy No. 1 on the depth chart over blue chip freshman Jevan Sneed, a mobile QB in the mold of Young who is already enrolled in school and will participate in spring drills. McCoy isn't a dangerous runner, but Mack Brown's team has enough playmakers. Decision-making will determine which quarterback emerges as the starter.

USC

Starts: March 21.
Spring game: April 14.

QB John David Booty is finally No. 1. The questions is: Can he keep the job? After spending the past three seasons waiting behind Matt Leinart, Booty better not get complacent or redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez could steal the job away. As for replacing Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and LenDale White at running back, the top candidates won't be on the field this spring. Desmond Reed is still recovering from a knee injury. Chauncey Washington is still trying to get his grades straight. And none of the three stud freshmen will arrive until August.

LSU

Starts: March 4.
Spring game: April 1.

JaMarcus Russell's injuries and Matt Flynn's impressive performance in the Peach Bowl against Miami have opened up the possibility of a quarterback controversy in Baton Rouge. Russell is still recovering from surgery on his right wrist and will be eased into spring practice while Flynn gets more reps. TB Alley Broussard, out last season with a knee injury, isn't expected to participate at all. The defensive line needs rebuilding.

West Virginia

Starts: March 20
Spring game: April 15.

Expectations are soaring in Morgantown. Coach Rich Rodriguez's most important job this spring might be keeping the Mountaineers levelheaded and working hard. It's a young team, led by talented QB Pat White, that won't have the luxury of flying under the radar this season. White needs to become a more effective passer.

Ohio State

Starts: March 30.
Spring game: April 22.

Touted as a possible preseason No. 1 for 2006, the Buckeyes have major rebuilding to do on defense. Coach Jim Tressel must find replacements for the entire back seven, including a group of linebackers that ranks among the best in school history. LB Marcus Freeman will be expected to step into one starting spot and blue-chip recruit Ross Homan is already on campus and will get a chance to contribute immediately.

Miami

Starts: Date TBA.
Spring game: Date TBA.

The focus will be on the assistant coaches. Larry Coker overhauled his staff following a 9-3 season that ended with an embarrassing 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl. Rich Olson, who worked for Dennis Erickson at Miami, is back as offensive coordinator, and former Army coach Todd Berry was hired as quarterbacks coach. Their task is to turn QB Kyle Wright into a star and restore the explosiveness to an offense that doesn't scare quality opponents anymore.

Georgia

Starts: March 4.
Spring game: April 8.

D.J. Shockley's one-year run as the starting quarterback in Athens was a huge hit. Vying to replace him will be Joe Tereshinski, who lost his only start last season when he filled in for an injured Shockley, sophomore Blake Barnes and Matthew Stafford, another one of those early enrollment freshmen. Bulldogs fans are already enamored with Stafford. Few programs have been able to reload as adeptly in recent years as Mark Richt's Bulldogs.

Oklahoma

Starts: March 20.
Spring game: April 8.

The Sooners showed signs at the end of last season's 8-4 campaign that a return to the national elite might come as soon as 2006. Coach Bob Stoops might be best served taking it easy on RB Adrian Peterson this spring, especially with the offensive line in flux. What OU needs most from spring ball, aside from the continued development of QB Rhett Bomar, is for players such as Peterson and LB Rufus Alexander to become the type of leaders that set the tone for championship teams.

California

Starts: March 20.
Spring game: April 22.

The quarterback derby will include three passers - Joe Ayoob, Steve Levy and Nate Longshore. But maybe more interesting will be seeing what influence new offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar has on head coach Jeff Tedford's offense. Dunbar was previously at Northwestern, where the Wildcats used the spread option to pile up points and yards.

Tennessee

Starts: March 2.
Spring game: April 8.

David Cutcliffe returns as offensive coordinator, a position he last held for the Volunteers during Tennessee's national title season of 1998. Tennessee's offense hasn't been the same since he left and it bottomed out last season, leading to former coordinator Randy Sanders' resignation. Cutcliffe tutored both Peyton and Eli Manning with great success. His next student is QB Erik Ainge, who regressed as a sophomore last season.

Penn State

Starts: March 25.
Spring game: April 22.

QB Anthony Morelli was a much-heralded recruit two years ago. So much so, that many were calling for him to start over Michael Robinson last season. Joe Paterno made the right call sticking with Robinson, but now Robinson is gone and it'll be Morelli's job to lose. WR Justin King, a star cornerback in high school, will go back to playing primarily defense as part of the revamped secondary.

Virginia Tech

Starts: March 22.
Spring game: April 15.

Marcus Vick's unexpected early departure means the Hokies are looking for a new QB. Sean Glennon is the front-runner. He's a dropback passer, nothing like the speedy Vick or elusive Bryan Randall. With TBs Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh out of eligibility and TB Branden Ore recovering from a shoulder injury, George Bell and the other Hokies' ball carriers will get a chance to make an impression in the spring.

Notre Dame

Starts: March 22.
Spring game: April 22.

Charlie Weis was a success in his first season, turning Brady Quinn into a star and giving the Fighting Irish a formidable offense. For an encore, Weis needs defensive coordinator Rick Minter to tighten up a porous secondary. CB Ambrose Wooden and the rest of the DBs will hone their skills against one of the best passing games in the country. That might be a good thing.

For more college football coverage, check out the college football home page.


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