NCF Nation: 2013 Big East spring preview capsules

Memphis

Spring Start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Jacob Karam returns as the starter after throwing for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. But coach Justin Fuente says Karam will be pushed during the spring and has to win the starting job all over again.
  2. Bump up the physicality: Fuente has said repeatedly that he wants to see his team be more physical, especially now that it is joining the Big East. The spring is the perfect chance to improve in this area. "We will play some of the same teams we played last year, but they will be the bigger, more physical teams we played last year," he said. "We have to understand that we have a lot of ground to make up. That is not ground that is made up easily."
  3. Competition at defensive back: The Tigers lose two starters from their defensive backfield -- Cannon Smith and Robert Steeples -- and Fuente is excited about the competition at this position going into the spring.
Rutgers

Spring Start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback: Even though coach Kyle Flood says Gary Nova is his starter, you can bet there is going to be competition at this position going into the spring, especially with a new offensive coordinator in Ron Prince. That doesn't mean there will be changes, but certainly Prince is going to want to take a look at all the players he has available to evaluate what they can or cannot do.
  2. Defensive leaders: Rutgers lost its top defensive playmakers and needs to find guys who can step in for Scott Vallone, Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan, to name four. Plus, there is a new coordinator in Dave Cohen, so there might be some adjustment period.
  3. Huggins stepping up: The time is now for the highly heralded local recruit to live up to the expectations that came with him when he arrived on campus. Jawan Jamison is gone off to the NFL, so all eyes have turned to Huggins to see if he has what it takes to be the next 1,000-yard rusher.
SMU

Spring Start: March 25

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Replacing Zach Line: The Mustangs have to replace their top runner over the past several seasons in Line, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Leading the charge this spring are junior college All-American Traylon Shead and reserve back Rishaad Wimbley, who switched from defense a few seasons ago.
  2. New defensive starters: The Mustangs lost the bulk of their playmakers on defense in Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Finding guys to step up without them is a huge priority. Watch for Zach Wood at defensive end in place of Hunt; and Kevin Pope and Robert Seals at linebacker.
  3. More consistency at QB: June Jones' offense runs best when the quarterback is at his best. Garrett Gilbert returns as the starter, but he is going to need to find much more consistency this spring and into the fall. Two numbers that have to be improved: accuracy (53 percent in 2012) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-15 in 2012).
USF

Spring Start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New coaches, new style: Coach Willie Taggart has promised to ratchet up the intensity and transform his team into more of a smash-mouth group. That process begins in the spring, when he has his first opportunity to really show his players what he expects out of them. You can bet he expects a lot more physicality from his offensive and defensive lines to start.
  2. Quarterback competition: Who will emerge as the starter? Will we even know after the spring? Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld, the top two candidates, have plenty of work to do as they fight to win the starting job. But this competition could very well go into the fall, when freshman Mike White arrives on campus.
  3. Defensive back improvement: This was the worst group the Bulls had a year ago and the one in most need of immediate improvement. USF registered two interceptions in 2012, tied with Auburn for the fewest among all 120 schools in the nation. And they both came in the same game -- against UConn on Nov. 3.
Temple

Spring Start: March 22

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. New staff: Matt Rhule certainly has a familiarity with Temple, having served as an assistant there under both Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But anytime a new coach comes in, there is change, so the spring gives him his first chance to really start implementing his style and what he wants to get accomplished.
  2. Quarterbacks: You can bet this competition is going to be open this spring, with Chris Coyer, Juice Granger and Kevin Newsome all returning. Coyer and Granger both started a year ago; Newsome transferred in from Penn State a few years ago. How this shakes out is one major story to watch.
  3. Running backs: Montel Harris and Matt Brown are gone, taking with them 1,426 yards rushing and 16 of the team's 21 rushing touchdowns. Jamie Gilmore got more carries as the season went on when Brown was hurt; Kenny Harper also is back and certainly will be relied upon even more.
UCF KNIGHTS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Bortles' progress: Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he figures to be one of the better signal-callers in a Big East that has few consistent returning standouts outside of Teddy Bridgewater.
  2. Replacing Ishmael and McDuffie: UCF loses arguably its two best players in Kemal Ishmael -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year and team MVP, notching 124 total tackles and three interceptions -- and Quincy McDuffie, who was the C-USA special-teams player of the year and offensive team MVP.
  3. Beginning the transition: You voted UCF as the newcomer most likely to succeed in the Big East in 2013, and the Knights do seem to be the most ready of the C-USA newcomers. They won 10 games last season, play arguably the toughest nonconference schedule annually of the newcomers, and will have the most natural rival in USF.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 6 (open practice), spring ends April 13

What to watch:
  1. The Tommy Tuberville era kicks off: Tuberville's stint at Cincinnati got off to an unceremonious start publicly, but Cincinnati got a proven coach who has had plenty of offensive success. The school has usually been a step up the ladder for coaches -- the past three of whom left after three successful seasons each -- but the Bearcats have gone in another direction this time.
  2. The ground game: Cincinnati faced the same question last year upon losing Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead. George Winn ended up outproducing Pead. Who will replace Winn this year? Ralph David Abernathy IV is the most proven returner, but he does not fit the mold of an every-down back. Regardless, with all five offensive line starters back, the transition figures to be relatively smooth, if not as productive.
  3. Defensive line production: Cincinnati got used to playing without Walter Stewart, but it also loses Dan Giordano, who had five sacks in 2012. Although its 31 sacks as a team were good for second in the Big East, the production was down from the previous season.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Offense under T.J. Weist: The numbers were ugly -- 110th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring -- resulting in George DeLeone being stripped of his duties. (He's still the offensive line coach.) Weist comes over from Cincinnati, where he coached receivers the past three years.
  2. Defense under Hank Hughes: Conversely, UConn must now replace defensive coordinator Don Brown, who lifted the Huskies to 10th nationally in total defense last season. Hughes enters his 13th season on staff but is tasked with replacing a number of standouts at each position -- Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, to name a few.
  3. Whitmer's growth: Chandler Whitmer returns after passing for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 picks in 2012. He had little help up front, and there is more depth at the position this year with Scott McCummings and incoming recruits Richard Lagow and Tim Boyle, both three-star prospects.
HOUSTON COUGARS

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback competition: David Piland is the returning starter, having thrown for 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012, but he will be challenged by juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn.
  2. Defense under David Gibbs: The Cougars' defense really has nowhere to go but up after a 2012 season that saw it finish 115th nationally, 107th in scoring, 92nd in rushing and 115th in passing -- numbers that resulted in the ouster of Jamie Bryant. Gibbs most recently worked with the NFL's Houston Texans.
  3. Building depth: The Cougars bring back 43 players from 2012, 14 of whom were starters. Throw in a 26-man recruiting class -- five of whom are currently enrolled -- and Houston can begin to build depth needed to sustain its level of play in a new, better conference.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Spring start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Backfield options: Senorise Perry, last year's starter, will not be in full-contact practice after tearing his ACL late last season. His backup, Jeremy Wright, is not enrolled in classes. Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff are the next three guys on the depth chart, although Brown is the only one to have proved much thus far.
  2. Teddy Heisman continuing arc: Bridgewater went from conference-known to nationally known in 2012, and his strong finish against Rutgers and Florida will only amplify the hype heading into this season. If Bridgewater's improvement resembles anything like that of this past season, those Heisman whispers will become much louder.
  3. Clint Hurtt's shadow: Simply put, this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. AD Tom Jurich stands behind the defensive line coach, whom the NCAA says provided false or misleading information during its investigation of Miami, and the situation figures to linger until this never-ending Hurricanes case is complete.

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