In college football, spring comes early. Or at least spring practice comes early.
Practice has already started for many teams around the country and will ramp up just about everywhere else throughout March.
Spring story lines tend to revolve around quarterbacks, coaches and coordinators. Most quarterback competitions won't get settled until August. New coaches and coordinators will install their systems, but how much progress are they actually making? Who knows?
The intrasquad games and scrimmages that wrap up spring practice will give fans a glimpse of what they have to look forward to (or brace for) come September.
So while acknowledging that spring football often provides few definitive answers, a look at some of the most interesting story lines from around the nation.
You might have heard that national champion Ohio State has a lot of good quarterbacks. Well, most of them aren't going to be fully healthy for spring ball. Two-time Big Ten player of the year Braxton Miller is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Last year's All-Big Ten quarterback, J.T. Barrett, is still on the mend from a broken ankle. So Cardale Jones, who led the Buckeyes to the Big Ten and national championships in three starts, should get a lot of snaps. The bigger question for the Buckeyes will be who sticks around after spring. Miller has graduated and can transfer without restrictions.
Other intriguing quarterbacks battles:
- Notre Dame: Mistake-prone Everett Golson will try to win the starting job back from Malik Zaire. And if Golson doesn't, will he take the graduate transfer route?
- Florida State: There is no clear replacement for Jameis Winston. Last season's backup, Sean Maguire, is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience.
- Baylor: Stud freshman Jarrett Stidham will try to jump past next-in-line junior Seth Russell. Coach Art Briles has had a lot of success plugging in the experienced player.
- LSU: Highly touted Brandon Harris will get another shot to take the starting job away from uninspiring incumbent Anthony Jennings. Tigers fans might want to keep an eye on how things play out with Golson and Miller.
- Oklahoma: That Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama seems like a long time ago for Trevor Knight, who followed up his breakout postseason performance with a mediocre 2014. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield will provide competition, along with redshirt freshman Cody Thomas.
Michigan's first spring under Jim Harbaugh started in February. What should expectations be for the Wolverines? Well, when Harbaugh comes to town the team tends to get better quickly and the Wolverines, despite missing the postseason last season, do have some talent. Two things to watch: A) Can Harbaugh tap into whatever it was that made quarterback Shane Morris a highly touted recruit? B) How large will the crowd be at the Big House on April 4 for the spring game? The faithful in Ann Arbor, Michigan, have not been this excited for a season since before the failed Rich Rodriguez experiment.
There hasn't been quite the same buzz coming out of Gainesville, Florida, where Jim McElwain is putting his stamp on the Gators. The inability to put a productive offense on the field cost Will Muschamp his job at Florida. The spring game will give Gators fans a taste of what McElwain has up his sleeve and which quarterback - sophomore Treon Harris or freshman Will Grier - is the front-runner to run the show.
In Nebraska, Huskers fans seem to be embracing Mike Riley, who brings an experienced coaching staff and refreshingly friendly personality to Lincoln. Two major stars need to be replaced. Running back Imani Cross gets first crack at the tailback job vacated by Ameer Abdullah's departure. Defensive end Randy Gregory will be even more difficult to replace. Maybe redshirt freshman Stoltenberg can help fill the void.
Other new coaches to track:
- Wisconsin: Paul Chryst comes home to take over the Badgers.
- Pittsburgh: Fiery former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi brings the Michigan State formula to Pitt.
- Oregon State: Gary Andersen bailed from Wisconsin after just two seasons to replace Riley and give the Beavers a new look for the first time in a long time.
- American Athletic Conference West Division: The AAC West could be supercharged with three former offensive coordinators stepping into their first head coaching jobs: Chad Morris (formerly of Clemson) at SMU, Tom Herman (formerly of Ohio State) at Houston and Philip Montgomery (formerly of Baylor) at Tulsa.
FIXING THE D
With offenses flourishing, quality defensive coordinators were hot commodities this offseason.
The two hires that drew the most attention were in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn's Gus Malzahn brought in Muschamp, who, for all his problems at Florida, always had quality defenses.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin wanted Muschamp but ended up with a pretty good consolation prize in John Chavis, the former LSU and Tennessee defensive coordinator.
Points are rarely a problem for Sumlin and Malzahn's teams so fans of the Aggies and Tigers will be happy to see boring spring games dominated by their new-look defenses.
Other new defensive coordinators:
- UCLA: Bruins coach Jim Mora reached across the country to hire Tom Bradley to run his defense. Bradley, the longtime Penn State assistant, spent last season with West Virginia.
- Colorado: Former USF coach Jim Leavitt returns to the college game, given the task of fixing the worst defense in the Pac-12.
- Michigan State: Mark Dantonio stayed in-house to replace Narduzzi, promoting secondary coach Harlon Barnett and linebackers/special-teams coach Mike Tressel to co-defensive coordinators.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP