NCF Nation: Chris Brooks
Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: Ballard came into the season expecting big things and left the season-opener making quite the first impression. Ballard carried the ball just 10 times against Memphis, but had a career-high 166 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Thursday's 59-14 win. One run went for 66 yards while another went for 46. Ballard showed off speed and power, running through, around and past as many defenders as he could. Thursday was Ballard's 13th career game. He now has five where he’s scored at least three touchdowns.
Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Florida's best player, regardless of position, showed why he could be the Gators' most valuable player in Saturday's 41-3 win over Florida Atlantic. The shifty speedster had an impact in the running game, passing game and on special teams. He also had a touchdown in each phase as well. He carried the ball 11 times for 79 yards and touchdown, caught a team-high six passes for 67 yards and a score and returned a blocked punt 22 yards for a score to give himself the touchdown trifecta.
Chris Brooks, K, Auburn: Kickers are usually only praised when they put points on the board, but this one made the play of the day in the SEC. With the Tigers trailing Utah State 38-35, barely two minutes remaining and Auburn set to kick off, Brooks delivered a perfect onside kick. First, he faked right before bouncing the ball high and to his left. The ball traveled about 12 yards before Emory Blake came down with it with no Aggies around him. It was a kick that basically won the game for the Tigers, who traveled 56 yards on the ensuing drive to avoid the upset and win 42-38.
Les Miles, LSU coach: Miles has had to deal with more off-the-field distractions than he'd care to talk about leading up to the highly-anticipated game with No. 3 Oregon. But all he did was coach a heck of a game and celebrate as his Tigers dismantled Oregon 40-27 inside Cowboys Stadium. His starting quarterback was suspended for his role in a bar fight, his best playmaking receiver was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, and his best offensive lineman in Josh Dworaczyk was out with an injury. LSU mustered just 273 yards of total offense, but forced four turnovers, scoring on one in the blowout victory. Hats off to The Hat.
Antonio Allen, LB/S, South Carolina: Lining up at the hybrid linebacker/safety spot known as the "Spur," Allen recorded 16 total tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles and broke up two passes in South Carolina's comeback 56-37 win over East Carolina. One of his fumble recoveries led to a crucial early touchdown when the Gamecocks scored five plays after Allen fell on a loose ball during a kickoff. His forced fumble on the second play of the second half helped set the Gamecocks get their third touchdown of the night to bring the game within three points at 24-21. Allen jarred the ball loose from ECU's Lance Lewis when he caught a pass and lunged forward.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
All questions aren't settled during the course of spring practice as teams still have much work to upgrade their weaknesses heading into the season.
Obviously, some will receive a boost from incoming freshmen who will arrive later. But here's how each team's biggest liability shakes out heading into the summer.
Baylor: The Bears are desperately looking for help at offensive tackle after losing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith and Dan Gay as their starters. Former Canadian firefighter Danny Watkins has established himself at Smith's old position protecting Robert Griffin's blind side. And on the right side, junior Chris Griesenbeck and redshirt freshmen Cameron Kaufhold are competing for the starting job with Tyler Junior College's Phillip Blake and Blinn College's Marquis Franklin set the arrive later this summer.
Colorado: Wide receiver has been a question mark for the Buffaloes throughout Dan Hawkins' coaching tenure. The Buffaloes return four scholarship wide receivers and had a chance to work out several new players with Scotty McKnight injured during the spring. Josh Smith and Markques Simas are the top playmakers coming out of the spring. Non-scholarship players like Jason Espinoza and Ryan Maxwell emerged, but the Buffaloes definitely need a big upgrade at the position from their arriving freshman class.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will be facing a big hole at left tackle, where two-year starter Doug Dedrick departs. It could be filled by Matt Hulbert, who started two games last season when Dedrick was hurt. Or it could be massive 354-pound junior Hayworth Hicks or freshman Brayden Burris at the position. Whoever emerges will face a huge challenge in filling Dedrick's experience as he protects the blind side of the Iowa State quarterbacks.
Kansas: Coach Mark Mangino will be facing a few huge rebuilding job at linebacker, where the Jayhawks lose key contributors Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt from last season. Mangino is talking about using a two-linebacker set as his base defense with fifth-year senior Jake Schermer and senior Arist Wright getting the starting jobs leaving spring practice. Sophomore Steven Johnson and converted running back Angus Quigley were competing for playing time during the spring and another boost is expected when junior linebacker Justin Springer, who is recovering from a torn ACL last season, returns in the fall.
Kansas State: Carson Coffman appeared to have claimed the starting job at quarterback -- at least for a few weeks -- after a strong effort during the latter stages of spring practice. But Coffman's late binge has to be tempered considering he is playing against the weak Kansas State secondary. So it's fair to say there are some lingering questions at the position. Coffman apparently has beaten back the challenge of challengers Collin Klein, Joseph Kassanavoid, Trey Scott and Milton McPeek. But the arrival of South Florida transfer Grant Gregory and heralded junior-college transfer Daniel Thomas will mean more competition in the summer.
Missouri: The Tigers will be facing a challenge of replacing NFL first-round draft pick Evander "Ziggy" Hood at defensive tackle to play opposite nose tackle Jaron Baston. Redshirt sophomore Terrell Resonno appeared to have claimed the job out of the spring, with Dominique Hamilton, Chris Earnhardt and converted linebacker George White perhaps earning their way into the rotation.
Nebraska: After the graduation of top receivers Todd Peterson and Nate Swift from last season, the Cornhuskers need to fill both positions. Leading returning receiver Menelik Holt appears to have a hammerlock on one position, but Niles Paul lost a chance to take a big step forward after missing the spring after he was suspended for driving under the influence. Antonio Bell was the biggest surprise, but converted I-back Marcus Mendoza, Chris Brooks, Wes Cammack and Curenski Gilleylen all showed flashes during the spring.
Oklahoma: There was concern before spring practice, considering the Sooners were replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line with only Trent Williams back from last season's starters. And it got worse when Bob Stoops called out the young replacements because of their lack of diligence in their preseason conditioning. Williams emerged at left tackle with Brian Simmons and Stephen Good at guards, redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center and either LSU transfer Jarvis Jones or Cory Brandon at right tackle. The depth took a hit when center Jason Hannan left early in training camp and sophomore guard Alex Williams chose to leave after spring practice. The group struggled against the Sooners' talented defensive line, allowing Sam Bradford to be touch-sacked twice in three possessions in the spring game and produced only 27 rushing yards in 52 carries.
Oklahoma State: The loss of veteran center David Washington produced a huge hole in the center of the Cowboys' interior line. Andrew Lewis returns to his natural position, leaving Oklahoma State needing two new starters at guard. Noah Franklin and Jonathan Rush have staked claims to the starting positions with Anthony Morgan and Nick Martinez getting repetitions inside. This group needs to improve if it hopes to equal the standards of previous seasons, when the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing each of the last three seasons.
Texas: The tight end was rarely used for the Longhorns after Blaine Irby dislocated his kneecap last season against Rice. He still wasn't ready to go during the spring as Greg Smith, Ahmard Howard, Ian Harris and D.J. Grant all got work. None of them emerged. And with Irby's return remaining iffy, it means the Longhorns again could reduce the use of the tight end and utilize four-receiver sets when they want to move the ball. Don't look for the Longhorns to use the tight end much unless this production improves.
Texas A&M: The Ag
gies were wracked with injuries during the spring as projected starters Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews and Lucas Patterson were sidelined all spring as A&M was down to only nine healthy offensive linemen for some practices. It still doesn't excuse the lack of offensive production for A&M's starting unit, which produced only 9 yards rushing on 24 carries against Texas A&M's first-string defense. Coach Mike Sherman will be counting on immediate production from an impressive group of incoming freshman at fall practice, but it's fair to characterize the Aggies' offensive line as the team's biggest spring concern -- especially after allowing 39 sacks last season and ranking last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
Texas Tech: The loss of productive starters Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath left a gaping hole at safety for the Red Raiders. Junior Franklin Mitchem earned the free safety position leaving spring practice and redshirt freshman Cody Davis emerged at strong safety.Jared Flannel , Brett Dewhurst and converted linebacker Julius Howard also got some snaps at safety. It will still be a challenge to combat the explosive Big 12 defenses with such an inexperienced group at the position.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Happy Patriots' Day.
We don't normally have a morning marathon through Kenmore Square or a morning baseball game down here in South Texas like they do in Boston to remember the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Instead, one of the largest night parades in the country will be staged here tonight to help kick off Fiesta activities -- with a big NBA playoff game to boot that has a bunch of my neighbors worried about somebody named J.J. Barea.
But before all that, we've got delectable lunchtime links from all of those spring games that were played Saturday across the Big 12.
I'll crack a cascarone or two while compiling them to get me in the mood.
- The development of players like Sam Bradford, Todd Reesing and Josh Freeman help make the quarterback class of 2006 one of the best in history, Athlon Sports writer Braden Gall writes.
- New Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young embraces the high expectations that are booming for his retooled unit, the Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports.
- Missouri's defense appears to be ahead of the Tigers' offense after the first post-Chase Daniel spring game, Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune reports.
- A study by Tulsa World data editor Gavin Off indicates that Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy are the two highest-paid employees of any public college or university in the state of Oklahoma.
- After watching Nebraska's Red-White spring game, Tom Shatel expects that Cornhuskers will be able to challenge for the North Division title in 2009.
- Former Michigan receiver Toney Clemons raved to the Boulder Daily Camera's Kyle Ringo about his playing opportunities at Colorado.
- Baylor has picked up a commitment from tall, talented wide receiver Eddie Johnson of Midlothian (Texas) High School, John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. Johnson is the Bears' second commitment in the Class of 2010.
- Wide receiver Chris Brooks made the most of his opportunity to play with a big performance in Nebraska's Red-White game, Curt McKeever of the Lincoln Journal-Star reports.
- Robert Cessna of the Bryan Eagle was impressed with strong efforts by Jeff Fuller and Von Miller at Texas A&M's spring game, but wonders if their dominance came because of A&M's weaknesses at other positions.