NCF Nation: Braylon Broughton

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As is the case with all of them, it was difficult to whittle the list down to five. I chose these players based on interviews with coaches and spring performances. Coach Gary Patterson praised defensive end Braylon Broughton for his improvement this spring as he steps in for Wayne Daniels. Devon Wylie returns for his senior season and could be a go-to player for new quarterback Derek Carr at Fresno State.

Kyle Padron has had two good seasons and is poised to have an excellent one for SMU, so long as his offensive line comes together and gives him time to throw. Jake Heaps is the full-time starter at BYU and has a new offensive coordinator in Brandon Doman. His maturation and leadership in the spring encouraged not only his coaches but his teammates. He could be poised to have a 3,000-yard season much in the way of his predecessors.

My vote on this one would go to Boise State receiver Geraldo Hiwat. We have to remember he has only been playing football since high school after coming to the United States from the Netherlands. He has tremendous upside. At 6-foot-4, has the ability to be a big-play receiver with his speed and a possession receiver with his size. Much is expected of him this season.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Air Force Falcons

Spring practice starts: Feb. 18

Spring game: March 17

What to watch:
  • Air Force is in a comfy position because it has all of its passing, rushing and scoring back from 2009. The biggest key to next season will be the play of quarterback Tim Jefferson. He didn’t get to go through spring football last year, so this should help the Falcons even more for 2010.
  • While all of the offensive skill positions return, the offensive line is depleted. All five starters are gone and while there are competent backups ready, they’ll need to use the spring to get on the same page and continue to open holes for the Falcons' triple option.
  • The defense returns six starters, but they’ll be learning under a new full-time defensive coordinator in Matt Wallerstedt. Wallerstedt was the co-defensive coordinator last year, but it will be interesting to see what twists he adds to one of the NCAA’s best defenses in 2009.
BYU Cougars

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • The top position battle for the Cougars this season will be at quarterback. Riley Nelson has the edge since he was Max Hall’s backup last year, but returning missionary James Lark and early enrollee Jake Heaps will be in the mix, too. The Cougars will add one more quarterback competitor in the fall.
  • Tight end is another interesting competition since both Dennis Pitta and Andrew George are gone. Devin Mahina, Richard Wilson and Mike Muehlmann all will be competing for that starting spot.
  • The Cougars lost their entire starting defensive line and four of the six on the depth chart. The other two players on the two-deep played and there are some returning missionaries that could step in and help right away.
Colorado State Rams

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback seems to be the popular question for the Colorado State in the spring. This year, there’s much anticipation over early enrollee Pete Thomas. Thomas will challenge senior Jon Eastman, junior T.J. Borcky, and redshirt freshman Nico Ranieri. Borcky will also play wide receiver.
  • A year ago, the offensive line was a position of strength for the Rams, this year they’re trying to replace four starters and the only returner, tackle Paul Madsen, didn’t even start the entire seasons. Guard Jake Gdowski and tackle Mark Starr figure to be in the mix along with several redshirt freshmen and sophomores.
  • The defense should be a strength for the Rams this year. They lose just two starters and return 24 lettermen, including linebacker Ricky Brewer, who was an all-conference performer in 2008 but was suspended all of 2009.
New Mexico Lobos

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With Donovan Porterie still waiting to hear about a sixth year, there will be a quarterback competition this spring. Sophomore B.R. Holbrook is the favorite against juniors Tate Smith and Brad Gruner, but the spring winner will have to fend off top recruits Tarean Austin and Stump Godfrey in the fall.
  • Running back Terence Brown, who was the penciled in starter last season before tearing his ACL in the spring, will once again be the favorite to win the top rushing spot for the Lobos. While two freshmen and a sophomore manned the position last year, the Lobos ranked 110th in rushing.
  • In making the running game better, the Lobos have to get better on the offensive line. They lose three starters, including center Erik Cook. There are a few young players waiting in the wings, and the Lobos added three more in this recruiting class.
San Diego State Aztecs

Spring practice starts: Feb. 20

Spring game: March 20

What to watch:
  • The biggest issue facing San Diego State has got to be its running game and coach Brady Hoke has stockpiled running backs in an effort to solve the problem. Dwayne Garrett, Adam Muema and Deonte Williams will compete for backfield playing time with returning starter Brandon Sullivan, backup Davon Brown, and three other running backs who were signed in the 2009 class. as well as, Atiyyah Henderson, who is trying to get a sixth year of eligibility. Figuring out which of those players can balance this offense will be the spring focus.
  • The offensive line also will be an interesting competition to watch. Since Hoke didn’t recruit any offensive linemen in his first class and has to replace seniors at right tackle and left guard, the Aztecs brought in junior college linemen Juan Bolanos, Riley Gauld and Joe Unga to compete immediately.
  • The search for speed on the edges of the defense will begin this spring as defensive coordinator Rocky Long looks to get better at defensive end and at the Aztecs hybrid position. Perry Jackson is the only defensive end joining the Aztecs this spring and they return both of their starting ends from last season.
TCU Horned Frogs

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:
  • Replacing All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes will be a big task, but TCU has a history of finding diamonds in the rough. In fact, when Hughes replaced Chase Ortiz, no one knew who he was. D.J. Yendrey, who played defensive tackle last season, and Braylon Broughton, who was Hughes’ backup, will compete for the starting role.
  • The Horned Frogs will look for a replacement for Clint Gresham at deep snapper. Gresham was the team’s deep snapper for the past three seasons and in that time TCU never had a bad snap.
  • Aundre Dean, a running back transfer from UCLA will work at strong safety this spring. He worked out at strong safety some last season, but now the move will likely be permanent. It’s just as well. The Horned Frogs have a quite a few running backs lining up for playing time.
UNLV Rebels

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • UNLV’s offense will undergo a makeover with new coach Bobby Hauck at the helm. Instead of the spread style that the Rebels ran the past five season, they’ll switch to a more run-based, possession attack. The transition shouldn't take long to master, but finding the right players to run the scheme will be a chore.
  • One of the top goals this spring will be finding a more consistent power attack that goes along with Hauck’s offensive coaching philosophy. Channing Trotter was the Rebels top rusher with 479 yards and eight touchdowns, but the next two top rushers were the Rebels' quarterbacks. UNLV ranked 86th in the country in rushing with 126.83 yards per game.
  • The speed defense will also be a focus this spring as the Rebels struggled against the run (220.58 yards per game allowed) and ranked 106th in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss. Only two starters from the defensive line return and the depth is not experienced, so finding some players to fill those holes will be a major concern.
Utah Utes

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • One of the things to watch this spring is the development of junior college transfer John Cullen and how he fills in for departed senior Zane Beadles at left end. Cullen was brought in specifically to fill that hole and him jelling with the rest of the line will be important for quarterback Jordan Wynn this spring.
  • The defensive end position is up for grabs this spring with transfer James Aiono, Junior Tui’one, Christian Cox, Nai Fotu and Lei Talamaivao, who is moving from tackle to end. Talamaivao won the starting defensive tackle spot twice, but suffered a broken leg in each of those years.
  • Former backup quarterback Chad Manis is set to be the starting middle linebacker for the Utes. Manis spent some of last year still working at the quarterback position while making the transition to linebacker. The Utes lost all of their starting linebackers from 2009.
Wyoming Cowboys

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Wyoming will spend the spring transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense. The Cowboys, who allowed 393.31 yards per game and 27.31 points per game, will still be multiple, but will work out of the 4-3.
  • The Cowboys graduated both of their top defensive ends, so they moved Gabe Knapton and Josh Biezuns, two of their better defensive players, to defensive end. Knapton ranked second on the team in tackles and Biezuns was third on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.
  • With Knapton and Biezuns moving to the defensive line, the Cowboys will be entertaining some competition at linebacker this spring. Players such as Ghaali Muhammad and Ben Durbin, who both played in 2009, will have the opportunity to earn starting roles.
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.

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