For the college football fans who can't stand the nearly eight-month wait between seasons, spring football has become an increasingly refreshing oasis. In the online age, one can read daily practice recaps about one's favorite team from multiple media outlets. Heck, with the right cable package, one can watch spring games at LSU, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Oregon.
Most teams quite clearly remain a work in progress, but here are 10 developments and revelations that stood out around the country.
All those Lane Kiffin haters hoping the reviled former Tennessee coach would continue his trash-talking, rule-breaking ways at USC have been thus far disappointed. So, too, have those who figured the former Trojans offensive coordinator would attempt to present himself as Pete Carroll-lite. So far, the new boss has taken a near-opposite motivational approach from his mentor, who was all about being "fun" and "psyched." To put it bluntly, Kiffin has been a hard-ass, restricting practice access, issuing scathing critiques of his players ("Our running backs ... don't have a clue right now," he said early this spring), even stripping the No. 1 jerseys (once worn by Kiffin's prized recruit, star receiver Mike Williams) from cornerback T.J. Bryant and receiver De'Von Flournoy until they prove themselves worthy.
It remains to be seen whether Kiffin's various methods will produce a superior product to last year's four-loss team. While the Trojans still boast several standouts (quarterback Matt Barkley, who injured his hand in Saturday's spring game; receiver Ronald Johnson and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey), Kiffin hasn't been shy in his assessment that the Trojans' talent level has dropped from when he last worked at USC four years ago. "Our defense has a chance to be really good," Kiffin said. "I think our offense has a long, long, long ways to go, especially in the run game." One promising addition in the latter department: freshman early-enrollee Dillon Baxter, who broke off a jaw-dropping double-spin move on a 58-yard run in last weekend's spring game.
STAPLES: See where Trojans rank in post-spring Top 25
The first sign that perhaps Tate Forcierwasn't going to be Michigan's quarterback of the future, as so many of us had assumed following his hot start as a freshman, came when Rodriguez pulled a struggling Forcier for classmate Denard "Shoelace" Robinson in the fourth quarter of a 30-28 loss at Iowa last October. Forcier's downward spiral continued throughout the Wolverines' seven straight Big Ten losses, but his coach stuck with him, in part because Rodriguez didn't seem ready to trust the speedy Robinson to do much more than run the ball.
The competition between the two continued this spring, however, and Robinson showed off a considerably more balanced set of skills. He was the star of Michigan's spring game, throwing a 97-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree. In an earlier scrimmage, he went 15-of-20 for 82 yards while running 12 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Rodriguez has yet to name a leader, saying only that Robinson "probably had a few better practices than Tate has." (Forcier suffered a slight ankle sprain during the final week.) But with the embattled coach under pressure to make a splash ASAP, here's guessing Robinson will be the starter when the Wolverines host Connecticut on Sept. 3.
The 2010 draft was mostly a day of celebration for Oklahoma fans -- the Sooners produced four first-round picks, including three of the top four. But it also served as one last painful reminder of a nightmarish 2009 campaign that saw two of those standouts, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, go down with season-ending injuries and the Sooners lose five games for the first time in a decade. Last month's spring game, therefore, was an opportunity to focus on the future -- one that looks pretty darn bright.
Sure, Oklahoma has its share of returning veterans, including running back DeMarco Murray, defensive end Jeremy Beal and linebacker Travis Lewis, but some of the biggest revelations of the spring were the Sooners' youngsters. Rising sophomore quarterback Landry Jones picked up where he left off last season, when he threw for 418 yards in the Sun Bowl. Meanwhile, true freshman receiver Kenny Stills caught six passes for 84 yards; redshirt freshman fullback Marshall Musil ran for a game-high 92 yards; and rising sophomore defensive tackle JaMarcus McFarland proved a capable replacement for Gerald McCoy. Bob Stoops' team should improve in 2010 -- and return to national title contention by 2011.
Most teams would be overjoyed to return just one running back the caliber of Ryan Williams, who, as a redshirt freshman last season, ran for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns. But Williams will be far from the only Hokie toting the rock this fall. Junior Darren Evans, Tech's leading rusher in 2008 (1,265 yards), returned this spring from the ACL injury that cost him last season. And redshirt freshman Tony Gregory was so impressive during scrimmages that coaches might allow the speedy David Wilson -- who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a true freshman backup last season -- to redshirt this fall.
Frank Beamer's teams have long been known for their defense and special teams, but this could be the Hokies' most dynamic offense since the early 2000s. Much like then, when Tech had either a Michael Vick or Bryan Randall under center and star runners like Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones, Tech will have the luxury of both a playmaking senior quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) and a powerful backfield. The Hokies will need all that firepower right off the bat when they face Boise State on Labor Day night.
Joe Paterno tried to send a warning midway through spring practice when he said during a Big Ten coaches teleconference: "We have a very average offensive line." On the morning of the Nittany Lions' April 24 spring game, he conceded "we've got a long ways go" in determining a successor to departed quarterback Daryll Clark. Then the Lions took the field for the Blue and White game that afternoon and showed a nationally televised audience that for once, their coach is not exaggerating.
Neither sophomore Kevin Newsome (5-of-12, 50 yards) nor former walk-on Matt McGloin (10-of-23, 110 yards, two interceptions) did anything to distinguish themselves in the spring game. It didn't help that Penn State's revamped offensive line (All-Big Ten center Stefen Wisniewski has moved back to guard, one of several position shuffles) couldn't protect them. Of the quarterbacks, true freshman Paul Jones (5-of-8, 67 yards, two TDs) won the eyeball test hands down, and position coach Jay Paterno said the staff is open to playing him. But one can't help but think that his father would sooner stitch dragon flames on the Nittany Lions' jerseys than start a true freshman on the road at Alabama on Sept. 11.
Remember a couple of years ago when the Big 12 had a different quarterback atop the Heisman race seemingly every week? This year's Pac-10 boasts a similarly loaded crop of signal-callers. Early 2011 draft projections list a pair of West Coast QBs, Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck (a third-year sophomore), as potential No. 1 picks. USC's Barkley, who could well assume that spot in 2012, had a torrid spring, completing 41-of-67 passes for 537 yards and eight touchdowns in three scrimmages. Arizona's Nick Foles, who had some big games as a sophomore (until he had to face Nebraska's D in the Holiday Bowl), gives coach Mike Stoops enough confidence to proclaim that the Wildcats should "score points in bunches." Cal's Kevin Riley, UCLA's Kevin Prince and Washington State's Jeff Tuel return as well.
But there's just as much intrigue about some of the new guys -- mainly Oregon's Darron Thomas and Nate Costa, who are fighting to replace the suspended Jeremiah Masoli. Both delivered big plays in Saturday's spring game. Oregon State sophomore Ryan Katz has been drawing rave reviews for his arm strength since the day he stepped on campus. And if nothing else, Arizona State sophomore Brock Osweiler (who appears to hold an edge over Michigan transfer Steven Threet) will be the biggest quarterback in the conference -- he's 6-8.
It's hard to believe only two football seasons have passed since Les Miles and the Tigers won a BCS championship, mostly because their past two editions have veered so far from their former identity. In short, LSU's offense has stunk, with its rushing game slipping from 11th nationally in 2007 (214.1 yards per game) all the way to 90th last season (122.8). Miles said, "We put a premium on running the football" this spring, and it showed in LSU's Purple and White game, with junior Stevan Ridley and explosive redshirt freshman Michael Ford combining for 243 yards on 32 carries.
With Florida and Alabama both replacing a slew of standouts from last season's division-winning squads, LSU has a chance to make a run back to the top of the SEC standings, but it could just as easily finish fourth in its own division. Arkansas, Auburn and even Mississippi State all figure to be improved as well. If LSU can run the ball and play defense as expected, it should be in the mix with Alabama, but quarterback Jordan Jefferson, now a junior, needs to improve as well. He'll have a new weapon to play with in sophomore Russell Shepard, who moved from quarterback to receiver this spring.
TCU may be the Mountain West's reigning darling, but it would be silly not to keep tabs on a program that's produced two undefeated seasons and BCS bowl wins over the past six years and which, in a "down" year last season, went 10-3 and beat Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. The star of that game, and the Utes' presumptive star of the future, was rising sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn. Coach Kyle Whittingham spent the spring searching for Wynn's next set of receiving targets and found a couple in freshmen Fatu Moala and Griffin McNabb. Highly touted juco defensive lineman James Aiono made a big impression as well.
Things are a little more uncertain at Utah's archrival, BYU, where all-time leading rusher Harvey Unga recently withdrew from school due to a violation of BYU's honor code (he will appeal to the dean of students to be reinstated) and a trio of untested quarterbacks are still vying to replace departed star Max Hall. True freshman Jake Heaps garnered the most buzz, but coach Bronco Mendenhall deemed it "too close to call" between Heaps and junior Riley Nelson. The Cougs should be solid regardless (they've won at least 10 games for four straight seasons), but if forced to pick the prime challenger to Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs, go with the Utes.
While fans, media and administrators have spent the past couple of months speculating about another potential raid on the Big East's membership, the league's coaches and players have gone about their usual business of putting together solid and chronically overlooked football teams. Another set of mass turnover in the head coaching ranks -- Cincinnati (Butch Jones), Louisville (Charlie Strong) and South Florida (Skip Holtz) all have new leaders -- has made it even more difficult than usual to handicap the field.
Once again, Pittsburgh appears the most talented on paper, with studs like receiver Jonathan Baldwin and defensive end Greg Romeus, but fans didn't get to see much of new quarterback Tino Sunseri's purported upside in a watered-down spring game. Very similarly, West Virginia returns a ton of experience but will be breaking in a young quarterback (Geno Smith). Connecticut and Rutgers remain perpetual dark horses. But it would be unwise to discount two-time defending champ Cincinnati. Quarterback Zach Collaros, a 75-percent passer in four starts last season, went a mere 18-of-20 for 218 yards in the Bearcats' spring game.
What began as a quarterback derby in Athens has devolved into a quarterback panic. Redshirt freshman Murray, ranked only behind USC's Barkley and Texas' Garrett Gilbert in Rivals.com's 2009 quarterback rankings, will take over the reins this fall just as Georgia fans always imagined. But the Tampa native didn't exactly wow observers this spring. In fact, classmate Zach Mettenberger finished spring on even footing, if not slightly ahead of Murray. But in a stunning development, coach Mark Richt dismissed Mettenberger from the program for an unspecified violation of team rules. (Mettenberger was arrested on alcohol charges on March 7 while on spring break, but was not dismissed until April 18.)
Making matters worse, the school confirmed this week that Murray's other one-time competitor, junior Logan Gray, is "weighing his options" -- i.e., considering a transfer -- which would indicate he's been told he has no shot of starting. If so, the Dawgs' sole remaining scholarship quarterback will be incoming freshman Hutson Mason. So the pressure is clearly on Murray to not only excel, but stay healthy. Georgia boasts a 2011 first-round receiver in A.J. Green, but needs someone to get him the ball.