NCF Nation: 2010 spring position battles

Here’s a breakdown of some of the issues facing each SEC East team heading into the spring:


Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Meyer’s involvement – Florida coach Urban Meyer says he will be refreshed enough to be back in time for the start of spring practice. That means his leave of absence will have lasted all of a month. It will be interesting to see how involved he is, because Meyer has always been such a hands-on coach in the past. In particular, does he back away from his role as special teams coordinator? Since Meyer arrived at Florida in 2005, the Gators have had some of the best special teams in the country. And with so many new faces on offense next season, special teams and/or field position will be more important than ever. The Gators will lose something if Meyer’s not running the show in the kicking game.
  • Brantley takes the reins – The Tim Tebow era is over, and now it’s John Brantley’s turn to put his stamp on Florida’s offense. This will be the second spring that he’s gotten a lot of the work with the first-team offense. He was extremely impressive last spring when Tebow was taking it easy with his shoulder. Obviously, Brantley is a different kind of quarterback than Tebow. He’s a pure passer who’s going to beat teams with his arm and not his legs. That’s not to say he’s a statue in the pocket, but he’s also not going to be bulling over safeties on third-and-2. As much as anything, Brantley needs to establish himself as one of the leaders this spring. With Maurkice Pouncey, Riley Cooper and Tebow all gone, new leaders have to emerge on offense.
  • Finding more playmakers – An even more important story this spring than Brantley taking over is who’s going to have his back on offense. In other words, who can he count on to make plays? Redshirt freshman Andre Debose is certainly a guy the Gators are counting on at receiver after undergoing hamstring surgery last year. Running back Emmanuel Moody will get a chance to be the workhorse on the ground, and Chris Rainey is moving to the slot position, meaning he’ll line up some at running back and some at receiver. Replacing Aaron Hernandez at tight end isn’t going to be easy. Freshman Gerald Christian enrolled early, and he will push redshirt freshmen Jordan Reed and Desmond Parks.

Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition – With 10 starters coming back on offense, the quarterback race will be where all the drama is this spring at Georgia. Nobody has any meaningful experience to speak of. Junior Logan Gray played in spots last season. He’s a terrific athlete and may be better suited to play another position at some point, but he’s not giving up on quarterback. The two redshirt freshmen, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, both have their strengths. Murray is the more versatile of the two, while Mettenberger is a bigger pocket passer who can really throw it. We’ll see if anybody separates himself this spring or if the competition goes into preseason practice. Because of his versatility, Murray is probably the favorite. Mettenberger might still be a year away.
  • Implementation of the 3-4 – New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham takes over a Georgia defense that gave up big plays and points in bunches the last two seasons. The Bulldogs will shift from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 this spring, meaning some defensive ends will be moving to outside linebacker. The Bulldogs lost three senior defensive tackles, so somebody needs to step forward at nose tackle. DeAngelo Tyson may be the guy there. Justin Houston, who had 7.5 sacks last season, looks like a good fit at outside linebacker after playing end a year ago. Cornelius Washington is another guy who could blossom in the 3-4 as a pass-rusher. He has great speed and was always a bit thin at defensive end.
  • Replenishing the secondary – The Bulldogs lost three starters in the secondary, including both safeties. The decision by Reshad Jones to turn pro early really hurt their depth. This is a big spring for sophomore cornerback Branden Smith, who made more of an impact last season on offense. The top candidates at safety are Baccari Rambo and Jakar Hamilton, a junior college transfer who enrolled early and will go through spring practice. Down the road, top 2010 signee Alec Ogletree will be a factor somewhere, either at safety or linebacker. After finishing 10th in the SEC in pass defense last season and allowing a league-high 25 touchdown passes, the Bulldogs have to improve across the board when it comes to defending the pass.

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Settling on a quarterback – All eyes will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Morgan Newton finished last season as the starter and struggled through the normal growing pains any true freshman goes through in the SEC. Newton wasn’t very consistent throwing the ball, but the Wildcats were also careful in what they asked him to do. Senior Mike Hartline opened last season as the starter, but went down with a knee injury. He clearly has the most experience. We’ll see how his knee holds up. The third guy in the Wildcats’ quarterback derby is redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. He tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder toward the end of his senior season in high school and wasn’t healthy enough to compete for the starting job last fall. He is now, though, and might be further along mentally at this stage of his career than any quarterback the Wildcats have had, according to first-year coach Joker Phillips.
  • Big shoes to fill on defense – Freshman linebacker Qua Huzzie will make his debut after injuring his shoulder in the preseason a year ago. He could be Micah Johnson’s replacement in the middle. Sophomores Ridge Wilson and Ronnie Sneed and redshirt freshman Will Johnson are three others who will get a lot of work at linebacker, especially with Sam Maxwell gone. Junior college safety Josh Gibbs is already in school and will get a shot right away in the secondary. Corey Peters was a force at tackle last season. But now that he’s gone, the Wildcats need Shane McCord and Mark Crawford to step up and be every-down players in the middle.
  • Rebuilding the offensive line – The Wildcats have to replace four starters on the offensive line. The only returning starter is junior guard Stuart Hines, who has All-SEC potential. The good news is that there are seven lettermen returning, so there is some experience. Junior Billy Joe Murphy will probably get first crack at left tackle. He started three games in 2008. Senior Brad Durham, who’s started seven games over the last two seasons, is the front-runner at right tackle. Sophomore Larry Warford played some last season as a true freshman and is a good bet to start at the other guard opposite Hines. The center position will be a battle between senior Marcus Davis and sophomore Matt Smith, although junior Jake Lanefski could move to center when he returns from a knee injury in August. Lanefski has starting experience as a guard.

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Sorting it out in the offensive line – For all the issues that have hounded Steve Spurrier since he took over at South Carolina in 2005, none have plagued him more than the Gamecocks’ inability to consistently get it done in the offensive line. Heading into next season, there’s enough talent in place for the Gamecocks to make a run in the East if they play better up front. Shawn Elliott, who comes over from Appalachian State, steps in as Spurrier’s third offensive line coach in the last three years. He inherits three returning starters, but nothing is set in stone. Some new faces to watch are tackle Rokevious Watkins and guard Nick Allison, both of whom redshirted last season. There’s a chance T.J. Johnson could move to center. However it shakes out, this is the telltale area for the Gamecocks in 2010.
  • Getting a clear plan on offense – This encompasses so many things, including finding some continuity in the offensive line and getting continued improvement from junior quarterback Stephen Garcia. But the other big component is establishing who the principal play-caller is going to be this fall and getting the chemistry down on the offensive staff. Spurrier has talked about getting better in the running game, but the Gamecocks have to commit to being a better running team, part of which means calling more running plays. Steve Spurrier Jr. has called the bulk of the plays the last two years. And while play-calling on game day can often times be overrated, the guy the South Carolina fans would like to see calling all of the plays is the Head Ball Coach.
  • Replacing Norwood and Geathers -- Between them, Eric Norwood and Clifton Geathers made their share of big plays for the Gamecocks last season, particularly Norwood. Shaq Wilson will likely move from middle linebacker to Norwood’s weak side spot. Wilson can blitz like a safety, and South Carolina will put in some special blitz packages for him. Reggie Bowens and Tony Straughter are two other guys to watch at that spot. At Geathers’ end position, redshirt freshman Chaz Sutton and sophomore Devin Taylor both have a ton of potential. And with Cliff Matthews on the other side, the Gamecocks have a chance to be really good on the defensive line if Sutton and Taylor come through.

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Quarterback competition – If experience in the program counts for anything, then senior Nick Stephens will have a leg up this spring in Tennessee’s starting quarterback competition. But for the third straight year, the Vols will have a new guy calling the shots on offense. Derek Dooley takes over the Vols’ program, and Jim Chaney will be his offensive coordinator. Chaney was under-utilized on the previous staff. One of the things Chaney will be looking for from Stephens is increased accuracy. Freshman Tyler Bray will also get a chance to show what he can do this spring. A heralded prospect from California, Bray is already enrolled in school. His first order of business is bulking up and getting stronger. The Vols also brought in junior college newcomer Matt Simms, the younger brother of NFL quarterback Chris Simms.
  • Finding offensive linemen – The anchor of Tennessee’s offensive line is sophomore tackle Aaron Douglas, who was a Freshman All-American in 2009. The only problem is that last season was his first on the offensive line after playing tight end in high school, and he’s the so-called veteran of the unit. He’ll probably shift to left tackle this spring after playing on the right side last season. After Douglas, it’s a scramble. Freshman Ja’Wuan James, who enrolled early and will go through spring practice, will get every chance to win a job. It’s critical for the Vols that JerQuari Schofield and Dallas Thomas have big springs. Tennessee’s going to need both of them to play next season. The center position is a huge mystery. Victor Thomas moved over from defense and could be the answer.
  • Finding leaders on defense – The backbone of Tennessee’s defense is gone in the form of Eric Berry, Dan Williams and Rico McCoy. All three were defensive playmakers and leaders. As new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox takes over, he’ll be looking for both playmakers and leaders this spring. Senior defensive ends Chris Walker and Ben Martin fit the bill in both areas. Getting Nick Reveiz back at middle linebacker after he tore his ACL last season is also a big lick for the Vols, although he’ll be limited this spring. The secondary is wide open. Not only is Berry gone, but Dennis Rogan turned pro, too. Sophomore safety Janzen Jackson is the most talented guy back there. Taking care of business off the field may be his greatest challenge. This is also a big spring for sophomore safety Darren Myles Jr., who could be a breakout player for the Vols.

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Larry Smith has some competition – Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson hasn’t given up on Smith, not in the least bit. Most of the time last season, Smith simply didn’t have enough help around him to be successful. But what Johnson does want is for somebody to push Smith, which is the reason the Commodores brought in junior college quarterback Jordan Rodgers in January. Smith missed the final three games a year ago after tearing his hamstring and will have to play well to hold off Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The best scenario would be for one of those guys to win the job in the spring so that decision isn’t still hovering out there throughout the summer and into preseason practice.
  • Offensive line continuity – The Commodores have to replace the left side of their offensive line as well as center Bradley Vierling, who was a two-time captain. Left tackle Thomas Welch played in the Senior Bowl, so that tells you that Vanderbilt is losing some talent at that position. James Williams returns at right tackle after breaking his ankle in the second game a year ago and missing the rest of the season. Sophomore Ryan Seymour is the favorite to replace Welch at left tackle. This will be an important spring for him after moving over from defense last spring. Junior Kyle Fischer can play guard or tackle and is one of the most talented offensive linemen on the roster. Four younger guys to watch are redshirt freshmen Justin Cabbagestalk, Wesley Johnson and Mylon Brown along with sophomore Jabo Burrow.
  • Passing game – Johnson moved some duties around on his offensive coaching staff this offseason. Quarterbacks coach Jimmy Kiser will now be calling all of the offensive plays. His most pressing duty will be trying to establish some semblance of a passing game, which starts with identifying receivers. Anybody who shows the ability to make a play down the field this spring will get a chance come fall. The Commodores, who will continue to try and develop their no-huddle offense, have several promising young running backs and look set back there. It will be interesting to see how they incorporate redshirt freshman Wesley Tate into the offense. But overall, they desperately need to build some confidence and some momentum in the passing game this spring if they’re going to improve offensively in 2010.
Each team has plenty of questions to answer heading into spring practice, so let the competition begin. Here are five position battles worth watching in the ACC this spring:

1. Wake Forest quarterback -- Replacing Riley Skinner, the winningest quarterback in school history won’t be easy. The job is wide open, and the candidates include Ted Stachitas, Skylar Jones, Brendan Cross, walk-on Turner Faulk, and true freshman Tanner Price.

2. Virginia Tech defensive ends -- Experience is at a premium here after the early departure of Jason Worilds to the NFL. Chris Drager and Steven Friday are now the veterans of the group, but there are also several redshirt freshmen in the mix. The staff has high hopes for Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins, but could also make some position changes to fill the need.

3. Virginia’s quarterback -- The Cavaliers are also starting from scratch after the departure of Jameel Sewell, and Marc Verica is the most experienced of the bunch. There were four quarterbacks in this year’s recruiting class, but only Michael Strauss enrolled early. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny and Riko Smalls.

4. BC defensive line -- The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella, who was one of the top leaders. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but several newcomers should work their way into the mix.

5. Miami tight ends/offensive line -- The Canes have to replace three starters up front, and tight end Jimmy Graham has graduated. Miami brought in four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season, is the only returning tight end with experience.
Spring practice is just around the corner, and that means it's time to start looking at two-deeps and position battles. While some players know what their roles will be in the fall, others will begin heated competitions for playing time during spring drills in hopes of impressing their coaches. Here are a few position battles worth watching this spring in the Big East:

  • Pittsburgh quarterback: Pitt may well be the preseason Big East favorite, but the Panthers have to figure out their quarterback situation first. Sophomore Tino Sunseri came close to winning the job in a heated three-way battle last year and settled in as Bill Stull's backup. Pat Bostick, however, has improved his mechanics and has won big games in the past. This should be a good competition that might not be settled until the fall.
  • Louisville quarterback: Three players -- Justin Burke, Adam Froman and Will Stein -- all started games under center for the Cardinals, and none of the trio distinguished himself as heads and shoulders above the rest. Whoever wins the job in the spring might not necessarily be the guy in the fall, as new coach Charlie Strong is bringing in some promising freshmen quarterbacks as well.
  • South Florida running back: Skip Holtz has suggested he'd like to have a real No. 1 tailback, something the Bulls haven't had in a long time. Mike Ford had a huge game against Northern Illinois in the International Bowl and may finally be ready to assume that go-to-guy role as a senior. Sophomore Lindsey Lamar will push for the job, as well as possibly Jamar Taylor and several newcomers.
  • Rutgers receiver and cornerback: Like last year, the Scarlet Knights go into the spring with one proven wideout (this time, Mohamed Sanu) and a bunch of question marks. It's time that someone from the group including Julian Hayes, Tim Wright, Keith Stroud and Marcus Cooper separate himself. At corner, Rutgers needs a replacement for Devin McCourty. Will a guy like Brandon Bing step forward, or will one of two redshirt freshmen -- Darrell Givens and Logan Ryan -- make a move in the spring?
  • Cincinnati's defensive front seven: With a new coaching staff and probably a change back to a 4-3 scheme, the Cincinnati players have basically been told they're back to square one this spring. Add to that fact that both defensive ends and two starting linebackers were seniors this past season, and there are a lot of jobs up for grabs. The constants appear to be defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, linebacker JK Schaffer and Walter Stewart, who could either play linebacker or on the line. After that, it's one big competition.
Positions will be won and lost all across the SEC this spring.

And in some cases, nothing will be settled until preseason practice resumes in August.

Here are five position battles to keep an eye on as spring practice in the SEC gets under way on Feb. 25 with LSU kicking it off. Two months later, Arkansas and Kentucky will both shut it down on April 24 with their spring games:

1. Georgia quarterback: Joe Cox won’t be around to blame anymore. He’s gone after one year on the job, meaning this spring will be one big scrap for the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback job. Junior Logan Gray is one of the most athletic players on the team and will probably get first dibs on proving that he’s the guy. Whether or not he throws the ball well enough to play winning football in the SEC remains to be seen, which means it will probably come down between redshirt freshmen Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. Both were on campus for spring practice a year ago and know the system. Mettenberger is a taller, pocket passer with a big arm, while Murray possesses the kind of versatility all coaches are looking for in a quarterback. The early indications are that Murray has that “it” factor and may be the one to beat.

2. Alabama cornerback: Not only is Alabama short one cornerback, but both starting cornerbacks from its national championship team are gone with Kareem Jackson leaving early for the NFL. Don’t feel too sorry for the Crimson Tide, because there’s a cache of talent waiting in the wings. Sophomore Dre Kirkpatrick has all sorts of potential after coming in last season as one of the top defensive back prospects in the country. He certainly isn’t lacking for confidence. Nick Saban also went out and signed two of the top cornerbacks prospects in the country this year in DeMarcus Milliner and John Fulton, and both players are already on campus and will go through spring practice. Don’t forget about LSU transfer Phelon Jones, either, and junior college newcomer DeQuan Menzie will arrive this summer.

3. Tennessee running back: Montario Hardesty was one of the most pleasant surprises in the league last season. He was a workhorse for the Vols after enduring injury concerns for much of his career. He led the SEC with 282 carries while rushing for 1,345 yards, which was 300 yards more than he’d gained in his first three seasons combined. The reality is that it may take a couple of players to replace his production. Sophomore Bryce Brown is a big, strong runner who showed flashes last season, but was probably overhyped coming out of high school when he was tabbed by some as the No. 1 prospect in the country. The guy to watch is junior Tauren Poole, who didn’t get much of a chance under the previous staff. He’s got to watch his fumbling. Redshirt freshman Toney Williams was extremely impressive last spring before tearing his ACL in summer workouts, while sophomore David Oku is a guy who can catch it and run it.

4. South Carolina weak side linebacker: It’s known more commonly around Columbia as Eric Norwood’s position, although the Gamecocks were able to move the three-time All-SEC selection around to different spots during his career. He provided so many big plays over the last couple of seasons that replacing him won’t be easy. One of the guys who will probably get the first shot is sophomore Reggie Bowens, who has great speed and has been trying to find the right position after coming to South Carolina as a safety. He was out the entire season two years ago with a shoulder injury and was plagued by knee problems last season. Junior Shaq Wilson had to move inside last season because of injuries in the middle, but also could end up moving back to the weak side. Tony Straughter and Quin Smith are two other guys to keep an eye on this spring.

5. Mississippi State running back: Few players in the league left bigger shoes to fill than Anthony Dixon when you consider how big a part of the Mississippi State offense he was last season. There’s no substitute for being able to turn around and hand the ball off to a bruising back the caliber of the 245-pound Dixon. With him gone, it’s going to be a free-for-all to see who emerges as the starter. Junior Robert Elliott has been one of those “potential” guys who may be due for a breakout season. He has great speed and acceleration, but just needs to do it on a consistent basis. Montrell Conner is a 215-pound speedster that redshirted last season. The Mississippi State staff is eager to see what he can do this spring, while junior college newcomer Vick Ballard is already enrolled and will go through spring practice. Ballard rushed for 1,728 yards and 22 touchdowns last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Pac-10 spring position battles

February, 12, 2010
Coaches will tell you there's competition everywhere, but we all know there's more competition at certain spots.

Here are top competitions in the conference this spring.

Arizona State, quarterback

Top candidates: junior Steven Threet, junior Samson Szakacsy, sophomore Brock Osweiler

This one is wide-open, particularly with a fresh set of eyes in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone now overseeing things. All three have some playing experience. No one has a lot. Or was particularly impressive when he played. Threet, a Michigan transfer, might be the frontrunner, based on early scuttlebutt, but that might just be folks leaning toward the unknown, new guy. Issue with Szakacsy is whether his arm strength will be consistent because he's struggled an elbow injury.

Oregon State, quarterback

Top candidates: sophomore Ryan Katz and junior Peter Lalich

How much of a competition will this really be? Katz has steadily improved and owns a clear advantage over the Virginia transfer before spring practices start. Both have good arms, though at least one Oregon State beat writer has taken to calling Katz "Nolan" Ryan Katz. Still, Lalich has playing experience -- albeit limited -- and he could make a move during the spring that could make things interesting in August.

California, quarterback

Top candidates: Senior Kevin Riley, sophomore Beau Sweeney, junior Brock Mansion

This is an interesting one. Riley has started 22 games, but he's been consistently inconsistent. Coach Jeff Tedford said the competition will be open this spring, just as it was last year when Riley triumphed over Mansion and Sweeney. This time, Sweeney, who eclipsed Mansion on the depth chart last fall, will be the top challenger. Is Riley really going to lose his job as a senior? Well, it happened just across town at Stanford last year, with fairly positive results.

Arizona, linebacker

Top candidates: junior Derek Earls, junior Paul Vassallo, senior C.J. Parish, sophomore R.J. Young, sophomore Jake Fischer

Coach Mike Stoops talked last fall about being thin at linebacker behind his three senior starters, so this wide-open -- and fairly urgent -- situation isn't a surprise. Earls and Vassallo are JC transfers who are already enrolled and were not brought in to watch from the sidelines. Parrish, Young and Fischer were listed on last year's depth chart but combined for just 16 tackles.

Stanford, running back

Top candidates: sophomore Stepfan Taylor, senior Jeremy Stewart, sophomore Tyler Gaffney.

Just so you know: quarterback Andrew Luck was Stanford's second-leading rusher last year behind Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. All three candidates have experience, though Stewart is coming back from a knee injury. An incoming freshman, such as Anthony Wilkerson, could join the fray in the fall.

UCLA, running back

Top candidates: sophomore Johnathan Franklin, junior Derrick Coleman, sophomore Milton Knox, sophomore Damien Thigpen, senior Christian Ramirez

This is a logjam of talented players who have yet to break through -- note that senior fullback Chane Moline became the go-to guy by the end of the 2009 season. However the pecking order establishes itself this spring, expect the outstanding incoming freshmen class -- Malcolm Jones, Jordon James and, if he stays at running back, Anthony Barr -- to get a chance to break into the rotation.

Big 12 position battles to watch

February, 12, 2010
There will be plenty of turnover in the Big 12 this coming season.

Texas has to replace quarterback Colt McCoy and star receiver Jordan Shipley. Oklahoma loses 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn't play much at all last season, and Oklahoma State said goodbye to quarterback Zac Robinson and receiver Dez Bryant.

With spring practice right around the corner, here's a look at five position battles to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

1. Oklahoma State quarterback

Robinson leaves after breaking most of the school's passing records. He'll probably be replaced by 26-year-old junior Brandon Weeden, who was a second-round draft choice of the New York Yankees in the 2002 amateur baseball draft. Weeden played well at times last season, when he filled in while Robinson was hurt. If Weeden can grasp new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's spread offense quickly, he should hold off heralded incoming freshman Nathan Sorensen during fall camp.

2. Texas defensive line

The bad news for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: star defensive end Sergio Kindle and tackle Lamarr Houston departed for the NFL draft. The good news: ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, who combined for 15 sacks in 2009, are both coming back. Jones might be the leading candidate to replace Kindle, but he'll have to hold off Russell Carter and promising sophomore Alex Okafor. Replacing Houston's productivity might be more problematic. Sophomore Calvin Howell, who had four tackles and one sack in 2009, was the No. 2 tackle at season's end.

3. Oklahoma offensive line

The Sooners were banged up on the offensive line last season, which contributed to their unexpected slide to 8-5. Now, OU coach Bob Stoops has to replace left tackle Trent Williams, right guard Brian Simmons and center/tight end Brody Eldridge. Will the Sooners stick with their starting tackles against Stanford in the Sun Bowl? Converted tight end Eric Mensik and rising senior Cory Brandon started against the Cardinal. Junior Jarvis Jones, who split time between guard and tackle last season, is recovering from a broken heel and might not be ready for the start of spring practice. Junior Donald Stephenson, who was suspended all of last season, might be the wild card. Junior Stephen Good and senior Tavaris Jeffries have to get better in the interior line if OU is going to improve up front in 2010.

4. Kansas quarterback

Todd Reesing, who broke about every passing mark in the Kansas record book, is gone after starting the last three seasons. Sophomore Cale Pick might remind new coach Turner Gill of his playing days at Nebraska. Pick averaged 11.9 yards per rushing attempt in seven games last season, while throwing only five passes. Pick will have to hold off junior college transfer Quinn Mecham, who enrolled in classes in January. Mecham threw for 3,091 yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Snow College in Utah last season.

5. Nebraska defensive line

How do you replace one of the best defensive tackles in school history? That's the dilemma Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini will face when his team opens spring practice. All-American Ndumakong Suh is gone, along with senior defensive end Barry Turner. The good news for Nebraska is that it played several young players on the defensive line last season. Starting tackle Jared Crick had 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss and was a star in his own right. Sophomore Baker Steinkuhler and junior Terrence Moore will battle for the other tackle spot. Sophomore Cameron Meredith, who had five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in limited time last season, is the top candidate to replace Turner on the edge.
One of the great parts of the spring is watching the various position battles unfold and reading the quotes from the coaches criticizing the poor play of the competitors (talking to you, Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild).

There are a lot of teams with questions and below I look at some of the bigger ones as we head into spring practices.

1. BYU quarterback: Three players will be vying for the starting quarterback role left vacant by Max Hall this spring. Riley Nelson is the incumbent since he was the backup last year, but he’ll be challenged by true freshman Jake Heaps and James Lark, who is returning from his mission.

2. Louisiana Tech quarterback: Ross Jenkins has been the starting quarterback for the past season and a half and has done a decent job, but with a new head coach, new coordinator and new system, the starting quarterback role is going to go to the player who wings the ball around Texas Tech-style.

3. Central Michigan quarterback: With Dan LeFevour gone and a new head coach, Central Michigan is basically entering a new era. Ryan Radcliff and Derek Rifenbury will be the top two competitors for the starting position, but don’t count out Kyle Smith and A.J. Westendorp.

4. Colorado State running back: The Rams know they have a competent running game, but picking the player to spearhead that running game will be a challenge. Both John Mosure and Leonard Mason return as seniors, but the Rams also have Lou Greenwood, Raymond Carter (a transfer from UCLA), power back Chris Nwoke (a redshirt freshman in 2010), and true freshman Tony Drake, who was one of the top all-purpose backs in the country.

5. TCU defensive end: Jerry Hughes is gone and Braylon Broughton is next in line on the depth chart, but don’t rule out any of the other athletes on the roster. The Horned Frogs signed a lot of running backs and they won’t all stay at that position. Remember, Hughes was a running back before turning into an All-America defensive end.

6. Utah running back: It looked like Eddie Wide was going to be the premier back, but with Matt Asiata applying for a sixth season things could get dicey in the backfield. Add Sausan Shakerin to the mix and the Utes have a trio of guys who could start in the backfield for many teams. Which one will start for the Utes, though, is up for competition.

7. San Diego State running back: The running game has been downright awful for the Aztecs the past few years, so coach Brady Hoke has brought in a stable of running backs to find the right one. SDSU could be auditioning as many as nine running backs this year in an effort to find one who will get the Aztec running game out of the cellar.

8. North Texas receivers: The Mean Green struggled last year, but return their top six receivers and add Oklahoma transfer Tyler Stradford, who was the offensive scout team player of the year last year while sitting out, and junior college transfer Christopher Bynes. But finding the go-to receiver will be a chore this spring and into fall camp.

9. East Carolina running back: Giavanni Ruffin returns, but the rest of the running back depth is a little sketchy to replace 1,000-yard rusher Dominique Lindsay. Senior Norman Whitley, senior Jonathan Williams and junior Brandon Jackson are the other running backs on the rosters, but both Whitley and Williams have had trouble with suspensions and Jackson was inconsistent last year.

10. Southern Miss O-line: The Golden Eagles must replace four offensive linemen from last year’s squad, which is no easy task. Guys who will be competing for spots include senior R.J. Brown, redshirt freshman Ed Preston, senior Trevor Newsom and junior Ben Schoenberger as well as early enrollees Jamar Holmes and Jason Weaver and four other freshmen signed in this year’s class.
College football coaches love competition, and spring practice serves as a proving ground for it. Starting jobs are usually not awarded until the summer, but players can separate themselves during spring ball. We'll know a lot more about several Big Ten teams following the 15 practices this spring.

Here are five position battles to watch when the teams return to the field:

1. Penn State quarterback: Record-setting signal caller Daryll Clark departs after two years as the starter, and Penn State's ability to find a capable replacement will determine the course for its season. Sophomore Kevin Newsome backed up Clark last season and enters the spring as a slight frontrunner, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones will challenge him. Heralded quarterback recruit Robert Bolden joins the mix this summer.

2. Iowa running back: Can a team ever have too many running backs? Iowa will let us know this year. Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher stepped up big time in 2009, but they'll have to hold off Jewel Hampton, who returns from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. Don't forget Hampton had been pegged as Shonn Greene's successor before his injury. Jeff Brinson also returns from an ankle injury, and several others also will compete for carries.

3. Purdue quarterback: Robert Marve hasn't played a meaningful down since November 2008, but the Miami transfer hopes to succeed Joey Elliott as Purdue's top quarterback. Marve tore his ACL last summer and could be a bit rusty on the practice field, but he certainly boasts the talent to lead Purdue. He will compete with Caleb TerBush, who backed up Elliott last year but appeared in only one game, completing 4 of 10 pass attempts for 22 yards.

4. Illinois quarterback: The Illini have a new offensive coordinator and several new faces at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Juice Williams. Paul Petrino wants to be very multiple with his scheme, but he needs to see who emerges between Jacob Charest, Nathan Scheelhaase, Eddie McGee and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer. Charest started two games in place of Williams late last season, while McGee has extensive field time but played wide receiver for part of 2009.

5. Michigan defense: You can't list only one position with the Wolverines defense, and all the individual competitions will be critical. Aside from a handful of likely starters -- defensive back Troy Woolfolk, defensive tackles Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen -- the competition will be open. Michigan needs consistent contributors who can work in Greg Robinson's scheme, and the coaches won't be afraid to look to young players.