It's Take Two Tuesday as we debate the Big 12 landscape this spring.

Today, Max Olson and Brandon Chatmon debate the most surprising development of the spring in the Big 12.

Max Olson: The rise of Baylor's Seth Russell

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezExpectations are set to high when it comes to being the No. 1 QB at Baylor, and those goals are no different for Seth Russell.

I've heard it enough times this spring that it no longer sounds all that farfetched. People in Waco keep saying it: Russell is going to be better than Bryce Petty.

And they declare this with conviction, as if it's been some sort of well-kept secret for years. But, you know, this is coach Art Briles we're talking about. "Next man up" at the quarterback position hasn't been a problem at Baylor in a long time.

And it wasn't this spring, either. Russell was the Bears' clear No. 1 guy from the start. Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham competed, but neither were going to take his job. Russell has the full faith of his Baylor teammates, who consistently and proudly praise his character, arm talent and rare athleticism.

I talked to a handful of them at the start of the spring, and their level of confidence in Russell was striking. Maybe the Bears have just become conditioned to assuming excellence from QB No. 1. And maybe the expectations for Russell -- that he'll be a more efficient passer and blow everyone away with his running ability -- aren't entirely fair.

But it sure doesn't sound like that's the case. One of the few people who isn't letting the hype get out of hand is Briles, whose praise has been relatively measured during spring practice. The standard is so high and Russell has to be so good to ensure zero dropoff.

Nick Florence threw for more yards than Robert Griffin III. Petty won two conference titles. The only way Russell can really one-up all those guys is by winning it all, right?

We'll find out if Russell is the real deal this fall, when he finally gets his chance against the Big 12's heavyweights. But there's no question he's won the spring at Baylor and has a lot of folks believing the Bears' best football is still to come.

Brandon Chatmon: Unanswered questions at linebacker for TCU

Russell's stranglehold on the starting quarterback job in Waco has been a definite surprise. Yet, TCU's attempts to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett top my list of surprises in the Big 12.

Those were the two biggest questions surrounding the two Big 12 title favorites heading into the spring, and Russell appears to have answered one question while the other question remains unanswered in Fort Worth.

Replacing TCU's linebacker duo is critical to its Big 12 title and College Football Playoff hopes.

The Horned Frogs looking at the possibility of using safeties to help fill the void just adds to the intrigue. Coach Gary Patterson plans to get his best 11 defenders on the field, no matter what it takes, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that a player with safety skills can often be a better bet to play linebacker against the spread offenses in the Big 12.

Linebackers Sammy Douglas and Paul Whitmill opened the spring atop the depth chart as Dawson and Mallett's replacements. Douglas and Whitmill each have talent and Patterson's program has other talented options at linebacker and safety, but TCU is looking at a long battle to match the 236 combined tackles from Dawson and Mallett a year ago.

Patterson's track record of building top defenses should create confidence the Horned Frogs will find a way, but it remains a tough task to replace the playmaking duo that was the cornerstone of the Horned Frogs' defense in 2014.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Les Miles shares your anxiousness, Tigers fans. He wants to know who LSU's starting quarterback is right now, too.

The same two candidates, junior Anthony Jennings and sophomore Brandon Harris, are competing for the second consecutive spring, but 10 practices and two scrimmages haven't produced clarity. Asked Monday whether the starting job is still up for grabs, Miles replied, "Very much." LSU practices twice this week before spring break, then twice more before the April 18 spring game.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Harris
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsA starter has yet to emerge for LSU from the quarterback battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris -- the same candidates from last spring.

"I would like to have already made the decision because that would mean I’ve got Brett Favre or Tim Tebow or somebody like that," Miles told ESPN.com, "but it takes some time for those guys to grow up. We’re going to allow that to happen.

"I'm not necessarily pleased with the progress thus far, but I do recognize that there’s some real progress being made."

The wait can be frustrating, but it also might be necessary. LSU has to get the quarterback piece right after finishing 114th in passing average (162.9 ypg), 109th in QBR (35.4) and 119th in completion percentage (50) last season, when Jennings started all but one game.

"The worst thing that could happen to us is one guy winning the job over a guy who's playing average," LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Tuesday morning. "Who knows what that means? All we've got to do is look to last year.

"My thought to our QBs this spring is, 'Get as good as you can get and put us in a position where we don't know who the best player is because everybody is playing so well.'"

What Cameron can conclude confidently is that LSU's quarterback story, while including the same central characters, will have a different ending (he adds that freshman Justin McMillan has performed well this spring). The quarterbacks "got over a hurdle" in Saturday's scrimmage by combining for six touchdown passes, many through extremely tight windows.

It was the best scrimmage showing since former Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger fired five consecutive touchdowns in a 2012 workout.

"They are ascending at a rapid level," Cameron said. "I'm watching both of these guys and I know all the things they should have learned, and I'm confident that both guys are moving beyond some of the struggles they've had."

Cameron has seen improved footwork and more confident decision-making from Jennings, who completed 50 percent or less of his attempts in all but two SEC games and eclipsed 60 percent completions just once. Perhaps most important, Jennings is driving his throws better, a must in a league in which few secondaries play off-man or zone coverage. Jennings appeared to have the edge in Saturday's scrimmage, passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

"He has responded well," Miles said.

Harris is "a little bit more explosive" than Jennings, Miles acknowledged, but the sophomore has had to sync up his footwork with his strong arm. According to Cameron, there's a bad habit among bionic-armed quarterbacks: throwing the ball later than they should simply because they can against high school defenses.

"You're not going to get away with that in this conference consistently," Cameron said. "He's never had to be a rhythm passer. This sounds crazy, but for the first time in his life, he's having to learn how to anticipate. That's why a lot of guys with big arms fail. They never learn how to anticipate.

"Brandon's anticipation has improved dramatically."

LSU will shape its offense around running back Leonard Fournette and the rushing game, but its focus this spring has been volume passing. Cameron wants his quarterbacks making easier throws while maintaining a downfield focus because of LSU's receiver speed.

Given the coaches' confidence in the rest of the team -- Miles thinks the linebackers and defensive backs could be the best of his tenure; Fournette has earned excellent reviews; there's speed and length at receiver; tight end could be a strength -- LSU could be a quarterback away from being a CFP-caliber team.

"You saw two years ago we did something that's never been done in the history of the SEC with Zach," Cameron said. "We have similar running backs, similar receivers, our tight ends are even better. So are we going to surpass what that group did two years ago? I don't know.

"This group has unlimited potential when it comes to running and throwing the football."

That's why patience in deciding the starter is so vital.

"You want to stack bricks, keep stacking performances," Cameron said. "What does that mean? Each performance you keep getting better. This week will be very telling. If one guy levels off and one of these guys keeps stacking performances, [the starter] will be obvious to everybody."

Teams are still working their way through spring practice, so a lot can change. But ACC bloggers Andrea Adelson and David Hale decided to take the gloves off to debate whether North Carolina’s offense could emerge as the league’s best in 2015.

Andrea says no way: We can agree on one thing, David -- North Carolina has a wealth of offensive talent. But we could say the same every single year. The Tar Heels draw us in with what they could do. Then they show us what they can’t do -- harness that potential into a consistent winner.

I can do you two better on offense in 2015: Clemson and Georgia Tech. Both return better quarterbacks, so they get the edge even though the Tar Heels return more starters. Why? The Tigers and Jackets at least have a recent track record of success when the right quarterback is behind center.

Both teams have the right quarterback under center this season.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtIn limited action last season, Deshaun Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes and had a 188.6 pass efficiency rating.

First, let’s make the case for Clemson. A healthy Deshaun Watson is the best player in the ACC. In eight games last year (and just five starts) Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes, had a 188.6 pass efficiency rating and added 200 yards rushing on 63 carries. That ranks him first in school history in passing efficiency, first in yards per passing attempt (10.7), first in total offensive yards per play (8.3) and second in completion percentage.

As a true freshman.

Clemson has more than just Watson, though. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have the potential to finish as 1,000-yard receivers -- they nearly did a year ago with two different quarterbacks throwing the ball to them. The Tigers also have tremendous depth at running back with every major contributor returning, plus the emergence of C.J. Fuller this spring.

Let’s compare offensive production the last three seasons at both Clemson and North Carolina. The Tigers have averaged 476.2 yards of offense; North Carolina has averaged 447. Clemson averaged over 500 yards in 2012 and 2013 with the right quarterback leading the offense (Tajh Boyd). North Carolina has not hit that mark under Larry Fedora. So a healthy Watson means Clemson should be on course to get back into the 500 yard range.

Clemson > North Carolina.

SportsNation

Who will have the ACCs best offense in 2015?

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Now, let’s make the case for Georgia Tech. The Jackets led the ACC in offense last year and return Justin Thomas plus four starting offensive linemen -- the most important cogs in making the triple-option offense work. Yes, a go-to receiver and starting A and B backs must be found, but Thomas was the most important player in the offense a year ago.

His total offense average per play was 7.4 yards, better than North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams. Georgia Tech set nine school offensive records, and was the only offense in the nation that was efficient on 60 percent or more of its offensive plays.

Clemson and Georgia Tech are just two candidates. Miami returns just as much talent on offense, so the Canes could be poised for a big year on offense. So could NC State, which demolished North Carolina in their finale a year ago.

The talent is there for North Carolina. But we have seen way too often how that storyline ends.

David says the Heels will take the next step: In a debate of UNC or the field, I’m well aware I have the distinct disadvantage here, but I’m willing to roll the dice on the Tar Heels for a number of very good reasons.

We’ve already dug through the numbers that suggest the Tar Heels, even with just a relatively minor step forward, are in prime position to post the league’s most prolific offense.

But let’s step away from the projections and look at the talent UNC has to work with.

First off, there’s no argument here that Watson can be a star or that Thomas is the perfect fit for Tech’s scheme. But Watson has also endured three relatively significant injuries in less than a year, and there are no guarantees he can hold up over a full season. He's also going to be working with a new coordinator rather than the architect of those great Clemson offenses of the past few years. And while Thomas runs the option offense with precision, Tech is also losing its top two receivers, five of its top six running backs and an All-American on the O-line. That’s a lot to replace.

[+] EnlargeQuick Lane Bowl
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina's Marquise Williams had nearly 4,000 combined passing and rushing yards last season.

Then turn your attention to North Carolina. Marquise Williams hasn’t gotten the recognition, but by virtually any metric, he’s one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the league, posting stats that rivaled Heisman candidates last year. Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins, Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard give the Heels arguably the deepest receiving corps in the ACC, each with a skill set that adds a different dynamic to the group. The ground game needs some work, admittedly, but T.J. Logan improved as the year went along, Elijah Hood should be healthier in 2015, and Marquise Williams’ legs add a level of versatility to the offense that make up for any shortcomings among the tailbacks.

And then there’s this: Offensive battles are won in the trenches, and UNC returns its entire two deep on the line. That’s not something Georgia Tech or Clemson or any other ACC team can say.

The Heels averaged 430 yards of offense a game last season while running at a pace that no Power 5 team in the country has matched in decades. Fedora now has both talent and experience to work with -- something he’s never had before -- which bodes well for a group that was already really good to blossom into one of the country’s best.

Of course, can we also take a minute to note that we've gone through this whole debate without mentioning Florida State? I won't be surprised if Jimbo Fisher makes us both end up looking silly.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a positive moment overshadowed by a negative one.

[+] EnlargeKenyan Drake
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsOnce Alabama's Kenyan Drake returns to the field full healthy, he'll likely be used at both running back and receiver.

Shortly after Alabama coach Nick Saban addressed the dismissal of defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor, running back Kenyan Drake met with the media. It was the first time Drake had spoken publicly since the injury that robbed him of the final nine games of his junior season. It should have been a chance to gladly tell of his ongoing comeback from a broken leg, but when Drake came into the media room on Monday, he was stoic, somber even.

It was especially painful because, as he said, he was friends with both Taylor and Geno Smith, who was arrested for his second DUI over the weekend.

"But at the end of the day you can't condone the behaviors they exhibited," he said. "We came together as a team and realized that at the end of the day you have to be leaders on and off the field and accountable for your actions."

Eventually the attention will turn back to the field, of course. Taylor is gone and Smith is working his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff. And on offense, Drake's return is a bright spot for the Crimson Tide.

In four full games last season, he accounted for 271 all-purpose yards. His six total touchdowns through Oct. 1 tied for second in the conference.

Being patient since his gruesome injury against Ole Miss has been the hardest part, though. Drake said that even now that he's not 100 percent, but he is happy with the way his leg has responded in practice. The first time he made a cut, he said he didn't even think about it.

"It seemed that once I put on those pads and helmet, I was back to normal," he explained. "Sometimes I'm reminded of it. As with anything you have to work through it."

A normal Kenyan Drake is an explosive weapon for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who continues to experiment with the speedy senior at both running back and wide receiver, something Drake said he is fond of. With Amari Cooper off to the NFL, he could be one of a handful of players to provide his missing down-field threat.

Having both Drake and projected starting tailback Derrick Henry on the field at the same time could mean headaches for opposing defenses. Because where Drake is lightning in a bottle, Henry is all gas and no brakes, a 240-pound wrecking ball who finished 10 rushing yards shy of 1,000 last season.

"We look forward to whatever Coach Kiffin has up his sleeve," Drake said.

"Me in the backfield and him at receiver, you really wouldn't know what's coming or who's getting the ball," Henry told reporters earlier this spring. "Kenyan has great hands, and I try to do a little bit out of the backfield, too. But I just think that's great to have us both out there trying to make a play for the team."

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jim McElwain’s quest to revitalize Florida’s now-slumping program begins and ends with repairing a middling offense.

No offensive position is immune to renovation in Gainesville, and a lot of what happens going forward will depend on who can step up and create some excitement with the ball. Florida hasn’t had enough of that over the last five years, but McElwain and his staff believe they might have found at least one answer to this lingering problem in pint-sized form.

That answer is 5-foot-9, 181-pound wide receiver Brandon Powell, who moved from running back when McElwain and Florida’s new staff arrived a few months ago. After a freshman season that brought flashes but never enough consistent attention, Powell is out to really make a name for himself as he attempts to restore some respect to Florida’s receiving corps.

“The whole spring [the new coaches] were trying to figure out who their playmakers were, and I guess I was making plays so they started to put me in the rotation a lot more and I started picking things up a lot more,” said Powell, who registered 217 total yards of offense last season at both running back and receiver.

[+] Enlarge Jim McElwain
AP Images/Phil SandlinFirst-year Florida coach Jim McElwain is hoping to spark Florida's offense by moving Brandon Powell from running back to receiver.

Powell, who is lining up in the slot, outside and even in the backfield, is no stranger to making changes for the greater good of the team. Primarily a running back at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High, Powell saw time at receiver and corner and returned kicks. Last season, Powell made somewhat of a transition to receiver late in the year.

Receiver film from McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s pasts at Alabama thrilled Powell, and Rashard Higgins' 1,700-yard breakout season at Colorado State last season had Powell anxious to play in a more wide-open, pass-friendly offense.

But even getting to this point was an ordeal for Powell.

Powell was committed to Miami for all of his senior high school season after a nose blow of a Tennessee commitment the previous summer. Powell was all set to enroll on a Wednesday in early January -- bags packed and ready for class -- but a Miami coach called to inform him the school had to push his signing/enrolling date back because of a paperwork issue that Powell said none of the other early enrollees had. Powell believes the snag occurred because the coaches were waiting to see where current Georgia running back Sony Michel was going to sign.

No longer feeling like a priority, Powell decommitted.

“I was like, I’m not going to Miami,” he said.

Powell considered reconnecting with Tennessee, but a random call from former Florida coach Will Muschamp changed everything. Almost immediately, Powell had an offer from Florida, a school he hadn’t visited or been in contact with since his sophomore year of high school, and within hours he was committed to the Gators. His previous relationship with former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper during his recruitment by Duke coupled with his father and coach’s insistence on taking an opportunity in the SEC in his home state swayed Powell.

Because Powell was an early enrollee, Florida had to rush to get his paperwork together and get it to him before the end of the day, which happened to be the final day for early entrants to enroll at Florida.

Less than 24 hours later, Powell was sitting in a UF classroom with only a few pairs of clothes and a toothbrush to carry to his new dorm.

Fast forward to now, and Powell’s gut reaction could pay off in a big way for the Gators.

“He’s a natural route runner and he’s got some initial in-and-out-of-break quickness,” McElwain said of Powell. “He gives you that ability to be your jet-sweep guy. You can get into empty, bring him back and still hand him the ball. You can create through motions and shifts and get him matched up on the inside.

“You can’t just say, ‘There he is. Let’s take him out of the game now.’ Brandon has done a great job of understanding that part of it.”

Powell’s emergence has come at a price, however. Last week, Powell re-aggravated a foot injury that has lingered since high school. Powell said he unknowingly played his entire senior season with a tiny fracture in his foot, thinking it was only soreness. Florida’s medical staff X-rayed his foot and found the fracture last year. Surgery was performed and screws were put in. Powell’s recent flare-up, though not thought to be serious, has sidelined him for the rest of spring, leaving him to take only frustrating mental notes until fall.

“It’s hard for me right to watch and learn what to do,” Powell said.

Any talk of Powell’s early work comes with adjectives like “smooth,” “fast” and “elusive.” His size doesn’t hinder him, he says. In fact, it’s an advantage in his eyes because his small figure and quick at-the-line speed have frustrated defensive backs unable to wrangle him early in his breaks.

Line him up in the slot and Powell is quick to smirk at the sight of a linebacker or safety lining up opposite him.

“I don’t think any of them can guard me,” Powell said with a smile.

The soft-spoken yet incredibly confident Powell has learned to be more physical, especially with his hands at the line of scrimmage. He’s gained four pounds but wants to pack on four more before the season. He has a new look, shredding his signature dreadlocks and changing his number to 4.

Despite an annoying injury, Powell is reinventing himself this spring. The hard-nosed jitterbug wants to be the spark in an offense looking for a pulse.

“The first two weeks of [spring] practice," he said, "I showed the coaches that once I catch the ball I can make something happen."

WACO, Texas -- On the fourth play of Baylor’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage, Corey Coleman skied over a pair of hapless defenders to snatch a pass out of the air. As they crashed to the ground, he landed firmly on his feet, then coasted 65 yards for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeBaylor Bears
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsCorey Coleman (left) and KD Cannon are primed for bigger and better results in 2015.

 A few plays later, wingman KD Cannon blew past the secondary across the middle of the field for a 54-yard scoring bomb.

From Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon to Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, Baylor has showcased several dynamic receiving duos during the Art Briles era, providing the budding powerhouse its claim to Wide Receiver U.

“We’re proud to carry on what they started,” Coleman said.

But as the only returning 1,000-yard receiving tandem in college football, Coleman and Cannon have a chance to do more than just carry on the tradition.

They have an opportunity to elevate it.

“I think their path is still out there to be written,” said offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who recruited both to Baylor. “But there is no doubt those guys are extremely gifted.”

Last year, Cannon arrived in Waco as perhaps the most ballyhooed receiver recruit ever to sign with the Bears, carrying offers from the likes of Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami. He quickly lived up to the recruiting hype. Following early-season injuries to Goodley and Coleman, Cannon seamlessly took over as the go-to receiver, and actually led the country in receiving through the first month of the season. When Goodley and Coleman returned, Cannon settled in as a deadly third wheel out of the slot. He gashed TCU for 124 yards and a touchdown. Then in the Cotton Bowl, he topped all receivers with 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“KD is extremely explosive,” Kendal Briles said. “He’s probably the fastest receiver we’ve ever had that catches the ball that well. That’s saying something, because we’ve had some guys that can fly.”

Though not quite as fast as Cannon, Coleman can also fly. He also has the versatility to overpower smaller cornerbacks downfield, as well.

Oklahoma learned that the hard way last year.

In the second quarter, Coleman maneuvered through the Sooner defense for back-to-back receptions of 18 and 33 yards, the second resulting in a touchdown over two defenders.

On the first series of the second half, Oklahoma countered by playing 10 yards off Coleman. But that led to a series of easy catches underneath for Coleman, which produced another touchdown and ignited the Baylor rout. Coleman ended the game with 15 receptions and 224 receiving yards, the most a Sooner defense had ever allowed to one player.

“The whole offense feeds off Corey, his mentality,” said Cannon, who will be rooming with Coleman this fall. “When he makes a play, it makes the rest of us feel like we’re going to win. He’s the tone-setter, that’s how he is.”

Despite playing in a league with All-Americans Kevin White and Tyler Lockett, Coleman was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year. Now with White and Lockett gone, he is the premier wideout in the league.

Coleman, however, wants to be more.

“Corey is one of the hardest workers on a daily basis that we’ve had to be that talented,” Kendal Briles said. “A lot of times guys extremely talented don’t want to work that hard. He knows what he wants, and he’s going to do everything he can to get it. He wants to be an NFL receiver, he wants to be an All-American, he wants to win championships, and he’s not afraid to tell you that.

“Corey is pretty special.”

So are Coleman and Cannon together, which is one major reason why Baylor figures to be a load again offensively despite graduating quarterback Bryce Petty.

“With two guys on the field like me and KD, it’s hard for [defenses] to cover both of us,” Coleman said. “So somebody is going to have a big game -- or we’re both going to have a big game.

"I'm just excited to see what this year brings for both of us."

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora never discusses injuries, but it was plain to see quarterback Marquise Williams played hurt last season.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell admitted as much in a recent conversation. So with Williams on the shelf this spring because of a hip injury, coaches have started to rethink just how much they'll use him in the run game.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMarquise Williams led North Carolina with 788 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns last season.

The honest answer is the Tar Heels feel they have to do a better job balancing his running and passing responsibilities. That does not mean Williams will never run the ball again; but it does mean North Carolina must get its running backs more involved and more effective -- especially beyond the line of scrimmage.

“We want to get those running backs opportunities,” Littrell said in a recent phone interview. “If we can get them touching the ball 35, 40 times a game, that’s what we want. We’ve got some depth at that position, so they can roll in and be fresh. This spring, we’ve been working on that and really have not done much with the quarterback run game.”

Williams took way more hits in 2014 because he started twice as many games. With the running backs and offensive line mostly ineffective, Williams had a career-high 193 carries and led the team with 788 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.

He was also sacked 26 times. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, Williams was knocked down on 89 of his pass attempts. While this translates into roughly the same percentage as 2013 (about 18 percent), he suffered more wear and tear because he played more.

Williams appeared off against Miami, though neither he nor Fedora would admit he was hurt. He took several brutal hits against Virginia; and he had to leave the regular-season finale against NC State with a leg injury. Those are just three games that stand out in a season with 13 starts.

“We’re just trying to take some of the shots off him,” Littrell said. “Obviously, where he’s very effective is he’s definitely a huge run threat so if that’s what’s being productive throughout the game, that’s what you’re going to call. You’re trying to call plays you think are going to work. But we’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball to those other guys.”

Indeed, the top two running backs in yards rushing -- T.J. Logan and Romar Morris, combined for 184 carries. Elijah Hood had 67 but he was hurt for nearly half the season. With a healthy Hood, Logan, Morris and several other backs returning, the pieces are in place to lessen the load on Williams’ shoulders.

“Taking that many shots throughout the season, it’s tough,” Littrell said. “Of all the people who can do it, it’s Marquise, a bigger type guy but it still takes its toll and hinders some development as a passer. He was banged up and a lot of that’s due to the quarterback run game.”

North Carolina also should be better on the offensive line, with more experienced (and stronger) players returning. Littrell said a big goal during spring was to make his entire offense more physical, from the offensive line to the backs to the receivers. Another point of emphasis to help out the run game has been on perimeter blocking, and getting his running backs to be more aggressive in hitting open holes.

“I don’t care if you’re 5-8 or 6-4, you’re going to be able to block on the perimeter, you’re going to put your face on people and you’re not going to shy away from it,” he said. “To me, it’s a mentality of getting the job done. That’s at every position we have. We have to be a more physical football team across the board if we want to be a top offense.”

That will then translate into a healthier -- and better -- Williams.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional Tournament is typically one of the best 7-on-7 events in the country each year. With elite talent on almost every team in attendance, this year was no different. With all the talent on hand there were several trends that stood out. Here’s a closer look at the top five trends from the weekend event.
NEW ORLEANS -- Many of the best players from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas were at the New Orleans Opening regional camp and several trending topics emerged from the event. But the biggest is that it looks like Alabama and LSU are set to do battle again for the top 2016 prospects in Louisiana and bordering states.

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NEW ORLEANS -- March has been kind to 2017 running back Cordarrian Richardson of Memphis Trezevant. The sophomore is quickly becoming a household name on the national recruiting trail.

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Cal begins its second spring session on Wednesday, with its spring game set for April 18. Rising senior wide receiver Bryce Treggs took a few minutes out of his spring break (he stayed home and worked out) to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his quarterback, his future and his place in a deep and talented wide receiver stable. Last year he was tied for second on the team with 52 catches for 634 yards and six touchdowns.

A lot of guys coming back who can catch the ball. Where do you see yourself fitting into that rotation?

Bryce Treggs: I definitely see myself as a guy that’s going to stand out, to break out this year. This will be my fourth year starting and I’m definitely looking to have a big year. And hopefully be one of those top guys who can do whatever it takes to help my team win.

[+] EnlargeBryce Treggs
AP Photo/Dean HareBryce Treggs caught 52 passes for 583 yards and six touchdowns last season as a junior.

What motivated you to come back for your senior year?

BT: I’m a big academic guy. I graduate in the fall. Everything times out perfectly because I can come back to school, finish my last season, graduate and then go to train wherever and not have to worry about coming back and getting my degree (in legal studies).

You guys were so close to getting to a bowl game but lost your last three. Any hangover from how the year ended?

BT: Not really. It was more a hunger. We wanted to get back on the field because we were hungry to get better and make sure that we can get to a bowl game this year. I wouldn’t say there was a hangover at all.

What’s the pulse of the team heading into the second spring session?

BT: It’s very optimistic. All the guys are really excited. The offense is clicking well. That’s all that we can control right now, so ... all we’re going to worry about is getting better and being the best offense we can be.

From a personal standpoint, what are some of your goals, numbers or otherwise?

BT: I’m just trying to be the best receiver I can be, regardless of what my role is on the team, whether that’s a big role or a small role. It probably won’t be a small role. I feel like I’m going to have to be a deep threat for our team. We have different guys that do a lot of things really well. Stephen Anderson is a big possession and third-down guy. He always finds his way to the sticks. Kenny Lawler is a go-long guy. I feel like I can be a guy that stretches the field and goes deep for us.

What are you looking for out of quarterback Jared Goff in his third year as a starter?

BT: I just want to see him grow as much as he did from Year 1 to Year 2, because last year I think he made great strides. I don’t want him to level out. I want him to keep getting better. I want to see that same jump that he made last year.

I just got a mailbag question about Jared and why he doesn’t get more national attention. Any thoughts?

BT: We haven’t won enough games. You look around the country, name one notable quarterback that has a losing record and you probably won’t find many. That’s what it comes down to. We haven’t won enough games.

Finish this sentence for me. In 2015, Cal football will be …?

BT: Cal football will be back.

LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.

[+] EnlargeAdorre Jackson
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsA multisport athlete, Adoree' Jackson has made a name for himself at USC in only one year's time.

That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.

"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."

Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.

"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.

With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.

The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.

"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."

His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.

"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."

In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.

"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.

"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."

Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.

When Freshman All-American Adoree' Jackson is not playing football, he is flying for @usc_track_field. #FightOn

A photo posted by USC Trojans (@usc_athletics) on

The game plan was vanilla. The wind was blowing and the temperature, by south Florida standards, biting. The scrimmage was held in a 20,000-seat stadium normally occupied by a team from the North American Soccer League.

Given the settings, Brad Kaaya could have joined his offensive teammates and idly coasted through the Miami spring game. Yet the sophomore quarterback -- and it’s worth reminding he hasn’t even been on campus a full year -- was intent on rallying the Hurricanes in the second half. It didn’t matter that it was only the annual intrasquad scrimmage, the final and often most-fruitless spring practice. The spring game was providing an opportunity for Miami to rebound and finish strong.

When presented with similar obstructions late last season, Miami folded. A resurgent season quickly turned forgettable when the Hurricanes ended 2014 on a four-game losing streak. The last three losses came against teams that failed to finish the regular season with a winning record.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Getty Images/Stacy RevereBrad Kaaya, shown before the Duck Commander Independence Bowl last Dec. 27, showed his leadership during Miami's spring scrimmage.

Miami opens 2015 with two puff pastries, but the next six games are against teams -- Clemson and Florida State among them -- expected to compete for division titles.

“During an actual game when the season comes around, there’s always adversity in each game,” Kaaya said in a telephone conversation Sunday. “We need to be able to respond to adversity, even if it’s not September. It’s a real situation that happens in football every year. And it’s important for me as a leader.”

The offense heeded Kaaya’s message as he paced the sideline, talking to his line and receivers in hopes of motivating them.

“I did like the fact our guys responded,” offensive coordinator James Coley said.

The first-team offense kept playing in the second half and the group finally put together a few worthwhile drives.

Overall, there were positive and negative takeaways from the game for the Miami staff, but the biggest lessons coach Al Golden learned about his team came from the totality of the 15 spring sessions.

The Miami defense has come under fire the last few seasons, and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has received most of the heat. Though the Canes’ numbers improved dramatically in 2014, as they finished No. 14 in total defense and ranked highly in yards per play and explosive plays allowed, D’Onofrio admits there were too many peaks and valleys over the course of 13 games.

D’Onofrio has stressed consistency to his players this spring, and he believed the defense’s strong performance in the spring game is proof the Hurricanes are listening. It was a final touch on an enthusiastic spring from the unit.

“The body of work [in 2014] was much improved … but we’re talking about winning games on a game-in and game-out basis. We can’t have those blips where we go out and don’t play together and don’t play good enough to win,” D’Onofrio said. “We have the ability and have shown it, but I think they want to be the same group week in and week out.

“There was really good leadership [Saturday] and just wanting to finish the spring off strong.”

Offensively, Miami is built around Kaaya, who started every game as a freshman despite not joining the team until August. This was Kaaya’s first spring practice, and among his priorities were to become a better leader and gain a more intimate understanding of the Canes’ offense.

Kaaya lost top targets Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford, but Coley expressed confidence in receivers Braxton Berrios, Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis. While the receivers battled drops Saturday that directly led to Kaaya interceptions, James Coley saw progress in the passing game throughout the spring, especially on third downs. The third-down offense improved in the second half of last season, but the Canes still managed to finish only 95th in efficiency.

“Third down, we played really well during the spring. The quarterback was accurate and the receivers got open and the O-line blocked really well,” James Coley said. “We can go 15 plays on a scoring drive if we need to or go four plays.”

While the end of spring is the time to gauge progress, ultimately Miami is not being judged on how well it performs in scrimmages. The Canes have yet to represent the ACC Coastal Division in a conference title game and finished 2014 in a fashion that again left a history-rich university open to the jokes that accompany a dispirited program.

Asked if Miami has fixed the issues that caused last season’s collapse, Coley was emphatic.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I really feel the kids are hungry to go out and show the fans that the way we finished isn’t a part of this team. It died with last year’s team.”

Steve Spurrier is taking the long view of last season.

It was disappointing to finish 7-6, of course, but as the 69-year-old coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks told ESPN.com last week, it’s all a matter of perspective.

“Our year could have been worse,” he said. “We had a winning season and won a bowl game. That’s not a terrible year at all. In fact, I call it a decent year. It had only happened three times in school history prior to 10 years ago.”

[+] EnlargeJon Hoke
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesJon Hoke, who spent the past six seasons as the Chicago Bears' defensive backs coach, will try to improve South Carolina's defense this season.

At the same time, Spurrier isn’t aiming for decent. He’s not content to finish fifth in the SEC East again.

Without necessarily beating himself up over last season, he has been willing to make changes. The message, Spurrier said, is that the team needs to invest more: “Team speed, effort, all those kinds of things weren’t as good as they needed to be.”

For his part, Spurrier brought in longtime NFL assistant Jon Hoke, the older brother of former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, as his co-coordinator on defense. Hoke will share that title with Lorenzo Ward, who was the lone defensive coordinator from 2012-14.

Since there can be only one person who calls the plays, Spurrier said it will be Hoke, who hopes to turn around a unit that finished in the bottom three of the SEC in yards per game, rushing yards per game, and third-down and fourth-down conversion percentage in 2014. The Gamecocks had the fewest sacks (14) by an SEC squad since 2011.

“Lorenzo Ward has done an excellent job here,” Spurrier said. “We just had one of the worst defenses in school history last year and we had to do something different.”

In Hoke, Spurrier is looking for more than just a fresh set of eyes.

“We hope to have better effort,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes you have to change. It’s not necessarily the guy before’s fault. Auburn got rid of their coordinator, SMU got rid of theirs. We just sort of shifted ours over, and I really think Lorenzo Ward is looking forward to the new challenge.”

Spurrier added that he hopes the defense tackles better, is more fundamentally sound and disguises better with Ward and Hoke tag-teaming practice.

“We hope we look like a good defense,” Spurrier said with a chuckle. “We all know what good defenses look like and we all know what sorry defense looks like.”

In the end, though, last season’s defensive drop is something the Gamecocks should have seen coming, he said, noting how the season before they rode a top defense that featured first-team All-SEC defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles to an 11-2 record.

“We had a false sense we were going to continue to play pretty good defense,” Spurrier said. “In preseason, we had one defensive player make third-team all-conference, our safety Brison Williams. And then we were picked to win the division by the same media guys. I said, ‘Man, they’re picking us to win, but they don’t think we have many good ball players.’”

While it's tough to predict how many Gamecocks will dot this season's preseason all-conference teams, it's safe to say expectations will be lower with a bunch of new faces on defense, a new quarterback and a new starting tailback.

But change, when you go from ninth in the AP preseason poll to unranked by the end of the 2014 season, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"We've been coming off an 11-2 record three years in a row and now we're coming off 7-6," Spurrier said. "So maybe complacency set in last year, I don't know. But there is a little sense that, 'We need to get better, fellas.'"

10 spring developments: Big 12

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30
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Colleague Mark Schlabach offered up a nice breakdown on Monday of some key things we have already learned from spring practices around the country. Here is a closer look at some Big 12 spring storylines and developments worth watching going forward:

1. Sooners rally after scandal: Oklahoma's football team took a 16-day break from spring practice after the school was rocked by the release of a video featuring racist chants from a now-defunct campus fraternity. Bob Stoops and his players participated in demonstrations, spoke out frequently against the racism and worked hard to rally both their team and their community in the wake of the scandal. The Sooners returned to practice on Tuesday in black uniforms, seemingly more unified than ever.

[+] EnlargeSeth Russell
Tony Gutierrez/Associated PressSeth Russell seems to have taken control of Baylor's quarterback competition.

2. Seth Russell proving himself: Although Baylor coach Art Briles hasn’t showered Seth Russell with praise after his scrimmage performances, the quarterback has clearly sent a message this spring to anyone questioning whether he’s ready to lead the Bears. He threw for 345 yards and four TDs in the Bears' Friday Night Lights scrimmage, and from day one of spring practice, there has been very little talk of a true quarterback controversy in Waco.

3. TCU’s battles still unresolved: Coach Gary Patterson is paying close attention to a handful of vacancies in his starting lineup and hasn’t named any clear-cut starters just yet. Although cornerback Torrance Mosley recently earned some praise in the big-time battle to replace Kevin White, that race is undecided. Same goes for the five-man battle at linebacker and the four-man competition for the No. 2 quarterback job. The battles will continue until Patterson gets the answers he needs.

4. Beaty bringing his own style: New Kansas coach David Beaty says the first day of practice was the most fun he’s had since taking the gig, and you can tell he’s getting creative to make an impression. He’s highlighting Kansas' Players of the Day on his Twitter account and pushing the Jayhawks to places they have never gone in terms of tempo with 94 plays in 44 minutes on their first day of spring ball.

5. Texas Tech quarterback battle won’t end soon: Coach Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t seen enough to name Patrick Mahomes or Davis Webb his guy at quarterback. After Tech’s scrimmage in Midland, Texas, on Saturday, he told reporters the competition could continue into the fall. With Webb still limited in contact situations and Mahomes working to balance his time between football and baseball, it’s probably no surprise that no decision is imminent.

6. Swoopes has early lead at Texas: That is an awfully premature take because the Longhorns haven’t even been practicing for a full week, but Tyrone Swoopes worked with the No. 1 offense to start off the spring as he splits reps with Jerrod Heard. In the only practice open to reporters, Swoopes displayed superior passing ability, but both ran the ball much more than usual in the up-tempo attack. Players say Swoopes is their incumbent starter for now, and we’ll see whether that changes much in April.

7. ISU loves its WRs: Iowa State's dream offensive scenario -- getting Allen Lazard, D'Vario Montgomery and Quenton Bundrage all on the field together -- is starting to come to fruition this spring now that Bundrage is back from his season-ending injury. Paul Rhoads and his staff have high hopes for the trio and their ability to make this offense far more explosive, and they expect Lazard to become one of the league's premier wideouts.

8. Walsh stays; Garman goes: Oklahoma State’s three-quarterback situation resolved itself right away this spring when Daxx Garman elected to transfer and J.W. Walsh decided to return and compete for whatever playing time he can get. Walsh is finally healthy again and says he will keep prepping as if he’s the starter, but he’s done an admirable job of taking young starter Mason Rudolph under his wing in the meantime.

9. Mountaineers focused on margins: Dana Holgorsen says he’s putting more emphasis at the start of spring practices on one area that must improve: turnover margin. West Virginia ranked 120th in FBS in that category last season (minus-15) and is devoting more time to ball security, strips and takeaways. "If we can get better at that," Holgorsen says, "that’ll win us some more games." He’s not wrong.

10. Watch out for McGowan: As devoted Big 12 blog readers know, we’ve long been fascinated by Baylor’s mountain-sized lineman LaQuan McGowan. If you missed Jake Trotter’s feature on the 400-pounder, his background and his move to tight end this spring, be sure to check it out. If Briles allows McGowan get the ball in his gigantic hands more often, we’ll all be in for a fun season.

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