May 23, 2011

While the race to replace Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton has garnered most of the headlines at Auburn, the success of the Tigers' new starting quarterback will largely depend on how the defending national champions fill another area of need.

Auburn must replace four offensive line starters, and at the center of that position battle -- literally and figuratively -- is freshman Reese Dismukes, who graduated from Spanish Fort (Ala.) High a semester early to participate in spring practice with the Tigers. Dismukes, one of the nation's top center prospects, shared time on the first team this spring with walk-on Blake Burgess, and the two are competing for the spot vacated by Ryan Pugh.

At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Dismukes already has the size for the position. By arriving to campus a few days after Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 for the BCS title, he improved his chances of getting on the field immediately.

Dismukes isn't the only early enrollee likely to make an impact this fall. According to a USA Today report, 134 BCS-conference players started classes a semester early this year. Most will settle into backup roles, and some will still redshirt, but a few will shine early and earn important responsibilities for major programs. In addition to Dismukes, here are the best bets to turn spring success into fall opportunities.

If things break right for the Buckeyes, Miller will start the first five games of 2011 and then not see the field again until 2012. But the freshman's play could have a big impact on the national championship chase.

Miller, who was 7-for-12 with one touchdown during Ohio State's spring game, made big strides in the four-way battle to start while Terrelle Pryor serves a five-game suspension for his role in the trophies-for-tattoos scandal that has engulfed the OSU program. If the dual-threat quarterback from Huber Heights, Ohio, gets the nod to take snaps while Pryor is out, he and the Buckeyes will face two major obstacles: Miami in the third game of the season and defending co-conference champion Michigan State in the Big Ten opener.

The Buckeyes are dreaming big this year, but the season could come down to how Miller plays early. If Pryor returns to a team carrying two losses, he won't be competing for a national title.

The Fighting Irish closed last season on the rise, then continued that momentum with a strong National Signing Day. Headlining Notre Dame's recruiting class was Lynch, who this spring showed he has the potential to be the type of playmaker who takes the program to the next level.

Lynch was unblockable at times during the Blue-Gold spring game, recording seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and repeatedly hurrying the quarterback. The 6-6, 260-pound defensive end from Cape Coral, Fla., appears to be the most ready of Notre Dame's three five-star defensive line recruits. Look for him to be most effective in passing situations.

After a 3-9 season, Kansas doesn't have much to look forward to this fall. But the explosive Miller has made waves in spring practice and could be a bright spot for the Jayhawks. He scored four touchdowns in an April 9 scrimmage and has shown electrifying moves in the open field.

The 5-10, 181-pounder will complement James Sims, a 6-0, 226-pound sophomore who led the team with 749 yards rushing last season. There are still plenty of questions to answer before Kansas can be considered a threat in the revamped Big 12, but adding Miller to a young backfield gives the Jayhawks reason to be positive.

The brother of former Longhorns corner Quentin Jammer, Diggs has the pedigree and the talent. After Texas lost standouts Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown to the NFL, Diggs also has a shot to start this fall.

Sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips started the spring game and may be on the field come Week 1. But look for Diggs, a 5-10, 192-pounder from Angleton, Texas, to steal time at nickelback and possibly move into the starting lineup during the season.

The four-star recruit from Miami once looked like a strong possibility to start for the Cardinals, but an unexpected obstacle got in his way: former walk-on Will Stein, a rising junior who excelled during spring practice.

Bridgewater, who switched his commitment from the hometown Hurricanes late in the recruiting process, impressed as well. With Missouri transfer Tyler Gabbertreportedly considering becoming a Cardinal, Louisville's quarterback situation is clearly still fluid. But even if Bridgewater doesn't earn the starting job, his athleticism and dual-threat ability will make him valuable to Louisville in different packages. He isn't the powerful runner Tim Tebow was, but he could still be used to give defenses another look.

Keith Price emerged from Washington's quarterback competition as the successor to star Jake Locker, and he'll want to make good use of Seferian-Jenkins, one of the nation's best tight end recruits.

The 6-6, 250-pound weapon from Gig Harbor, Wash., has helped change the Washington offense. Last season the Huskies' top tight end, Marlion Barnett, caught four passes. This year, Seferian-Jenkins and redshirt freshman Michael Hartvigson will be among the team's top threats, especially in the red zone. With an inexperienced quarterback, Seferian-Jenkins could also emerge as a safety blanket and target of last resort.

When Miami's depth chart came out before spring practice, the early enrollee appeared as a surprise starter at cornerback. That his performance in the offseason program was enough to merit a starting spot speaks to his work ethic. That Miami, under first-year coach Al Golden, slid someone who had only been on campus a couple of months into the initial starting lineup speaks to the considerable question marks at the position.

By the end of spring practice, Finnie had fallen behind senior JoJo Nicolas for the starting spot. But after losing Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill from the secondary, the Hurricanes have playing time available. Finnie, the local product from state champion Miami Central, should have the chance to make an immediate impact.

As the Utes enter the Pac-12, their biggest question mark is at running back. Langi, a four-star recruit, is part of a three-way battle for the starting position. But regardless of the outcome, it's going to be tough for Utah to keep him off the field.

New offensive coordinator Norm Chow has used multiple running backs in the past (think Reggie Bush and LenDale White at USC) and Langi's talent is too great to keep on the sidelines. The freshman from South Jordan, Utah, rushed for nearly 5,000 yards and 55 touchdowns in three seasons at Bingham High.

The Aggies return most of the offense that came to life after quarterback Ryan Tannehill took the reins midway through last season, but the linebacking unit took a major hit. Without Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Von Miller or leading tackler Michael Hodges, A&M will need defenders to step up if it hopes to continue trending upward.

Baggs, a 6-1, 204-pound inside linebacker from Clear Spring, Texas, fought for time in Hodges' old spot throughout the spring. Heading into fall, he's still competing with junior Kyle Mangan. But Baggs, a three-star recruit, has shown promise, and with spring ball under his belt he's well positioned to get on the field immediately.

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