NCF Nation: Jourdan Brooks
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
But there were also players who missed all or part of the spring because of injuries, suspension, academics or whatever. And several of them are key parts to their team. Here's a look at some players who need to come through this fall after being absent for at least part of spring ball.
Cincinnati: Linebacker Andre Revels was held out of most of the spring after minor offseason knee surgery. The senior is one of the few experienced players on the Bearcats' defense and will be counted on this fall. Young defensive back Dominique Battle was expected to compete for a starting cornerback job this spring but was sidelined at times with an ankle injury.
Connecticut: The Huskies were remarkably injury- and issue-free this spring. They'll hope that continues this fall.
Louisville: The Cardinals are a different team offensively when receiver Scott Long is healthy. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season with injuries and sat out the spring following ACL surgery. He should be good to go in the summer.
Pittsburgh: Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was suspended for the final part of spring drills for violating team rules. Pitt needs him to have his act together and be on the field.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had a lot of important players miss time this spring with various injuries, including safety Joe Lefeged, leading returning rusher Kordell Young, running back Jourdan Brooks and several of their young receivers.
South Florida: Seemingly every offensive linemen the Bulls missed time with an injury or another problem this spring. Obviously, Jake Sims (finger), Zach Herman (concussion), Sampson Genus (knee) and Jeremiah Warren (academics) all will be needed in the fall for South Florida to contend.
Syracuse: First-team all-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones tore his pectoral muscle before the spring and was unavailable. The timetable for his return isn't clear, but Syracuse would have a hard time without him.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could use Jock Sanders back in the lineup. The speedy receiver/running back was suspended for the spring after a DUI arrest. He will try to return to the team once he completes his court case.
With spring practice rapidly approaching, players are about to take their battle positions in the Big East.
Several starting jobs will be up for grabs around the league. Some of the highest-profile skirmishes will include the Rutgers quarterback competition, the fights to succeed LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop at Pitt and the 10 new starting spots on Cincinnati's defense.
Here are five other key position battles to keep an eye on this spring, presented in no particular order:
• Connecticut quarterback: This is a duel that began last season, when both Zach Frazer and Cody Endres split time filling in for the injured Tyler Lorenzen. With Lorenzen graduated, one of them has to claim the job outright. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including size, playing experience and strengths and weaknesses. Both will be operating on somewhat of a clean slate this spring with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Expect this battle to continue into fall camp.
• Louisville quarterback: The Cardinals signed junior college quarterback Adam Froman, who is on campus and will be ready for spring drills. They didn't sign him so he could ride the bench. But head coach Steve Kragthorpe insists there will be an open competition to succeed Hunter Cantwell, and there's no one on the roster with much of a résumé. Junior Tyler Wolfe has looked impressive at times in practice but needs to pick up the finer points of the position. NC State transfer Justin Burke and sophomore Zack Stoudt will also try to impress this spring.
• Rutgers running back: The Scarlet Knights could have used a revolving door in their backfield last season. At different times, Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek and Mason Robinson all had moments as the featured back. Young led the way with 550 yards in just seven games but has had trouble staying healthy. With Rutgers breaking in a new starting quarterback this season, the running game might have to carry a bigger load this year, and someone needs to put his mark on this position.
• South Florida running back: The Rutgers tailback position was a model of consistency compared to the Bulls' backfield in 2008. Mike Ford, Moise Plancher, Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Richard Kelly all split time there thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and a spread-the-ball philosophy by former offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. All but Williams are back this spring to resume their competition, and a new playcaller could change the way South Florida uses its backs. Quarterback Matt Grothe desperately needs someone dependable behind him so he doesn't have to carry so much of the offense on his shoulders.
• West Virginia receiver: The Mountaineers want to feature more of a true downfield passing attack this season, which means they will need to identify some go-to receivers. Several candidates will vie for that role this spring, even with slot receiver Jock Sanders currently suspended. Alric Arnett showed flashes of great promise in 2008 and caught two scores in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; he just needs to be more consistent. Wes Lyons can be a major factor with his 6-foot-8 frame. Bradley Starks is an athletic guy who's made the adjustment from quarterback. And hotshot freshman Logan Heastie is already enrolled and ready for the spring. The competition to become the No. 1 wideout should be fun to watch.
Which battles are you most looking forward to watching this spring?
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have had four different tailbacks take starring roles this season. Last week, redshirt freshman Joe Martinek ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns at South Florida. The week before, Kordell Young had 143 yards against Syracuse. Earlier this season, Jourdan Brooks and Mason Robinson each had big games, but their roles have diminished of late. Coach Greg Schiano said he determines who will be the featured back each week based on the opponent. "We have to look and see what do we think we're going to try to do most in the run game, and then who fits that description best and try to rep it that way during the week," he said. "It's hard to get more than two backs ready for a game. There's always a third guy that is ready and a fourth guy that's ready, but they don't get many repetitions. I can't tell you right now who that guy will be."
Cincinnati: Should the Bearcats be concerned about kicker Jake Rogers? He lost his job early in the season after missing a few extra points, and coach Brian Kelly wondered about his confidence. But then Rogers came back and tied a school record with 13 straight converted field-goal attempts. Since then, however, Rogers has missed four straight kicks, including all three tries at Louisville. The conditions were poor at wet and windy Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, and Kelly said that had more to do with Rogers' problems than anything. "It's the development of a kicker," Kelly said. "Earlier in the year, he struggled mentally. This time, it was technique. He has a natural draw on his kicks, but they didn't draw because of the wet balls. He hit all of them well, but he missed all of them to right. Then he overcompensated. I'm sure he'll be able to correct it for this weekend."
West Virginia: The Mountaineers could be without starting center Mike Dent for a second straight game this week at Louisville. A mainstay in the lineup the past two seasons, Dent missed the Cincinnati game with a neck injury. Now he has swelling in the neck, and team officials aren't sure what the problem is. Dent could play this weekend, but coach Bill Stewart is fearful of further damage to his neck. Sophomore Eric Jobe got the start versus Cincinnati and likely will be the snapper on Saturday. "Eric Jobe is good.," Stewart said. "He's just not Mike Dent. Mike Dent isn't good, he's great. We had two pro scouts watching tape on him. He's got a chance to play at the next level.''
Pittsburgh: Fourth down doesn't necessarily mean it's time to punt for Pittsburgh. The Panthers have shown an inclination to go for it on fourth down this year, and usually with success. They have converted 13 of their 17 fourth-down attempts, a 76.5 percent rate that ranks sixth-best in the nation. An outstanding running game and a strong offensive line gives coach Dave Wannstedt confidence in going for the gamble. "I think that every time we get in a fourth-down situation our players want to go for it," he said. "That's a normal reaction. They're like the fans and the media. I think you have to look at the defense and what we feel we can execute and then try and make up a sound decision as to what your chances are of making it. You don't want to do something just to do it. We have been outstanding though."
Syracuse: Quarterback Cam Dantley has struggled in his past few games and was pulled for Andrew Robinson in the Connecticut loss. Dantley was just 3-of-12 for 19 yards against Rutgers and 4-of-16 for 38 yards with an interception against UConn. Robinson hasn't been much better in relief, going a combined 4-of-14 for 29 yards and throwing two picks in those same two games. Cody Catalina even got a couple of looks under center versus the Huskies. Coach Greg Robinson isn't saying yet who will be the starter this week at Notre Dame.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Syracuse: The Orange could get a boost in their backfield if Delone Carter is able to play Saturday at South Florida. Carter has missed three games with a hamstring pull but is expected to be ready this week. He could offer a counterpunch to Curtis Brinkley, who's had four 100-yard rushing days already this season. Wide receiver Dan Sheeran (broken leg) and linebacker Chad Battles (foot) are both out until at least Nov. 1, while linebacker Ryan Gillum (foot) is probably done for the season.
Louisville: With Richard Raglin out with an injured arm and Latarrius Thomas dealing with a lingering knee issue, the Cardinals turned to former walk-on Daniel Covington as a starting safety at Memphis. Covington, a junior who was put on scholarship this summer, recorded 12 tackles in the game and now ranks second on the team with 27 stops. Head coach Steve Kragthorpe also said he wants to find ways to keep true freshman outside linebacker Dexter Heyman on the field when the Cardinals go to their nickel and dime packages.
West Virginia: Alric Arnett looked like the next West Virginia star when the receiver caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Villanova. In the five games since, however, Arnett has just nine receptions for 77 yards and no scores. Head coach Bill Stewart said Arnett and senior Dorrell Jalloh (eight catches for 76 yards on the season) need to get involved more. On the plus side, 6-foot-8 receiver Wes Lyons has come on lately. He had four catches for 44 yards last week against Rutgers.
South Florida: The Bulls are sacrificing some depth at cornerback by switching junior-college transfer Theo Wilson to receiver. Wilson, who's recovering from a knee injury, played quarterback, running back and receiver at Pearl River Community College last season and had returned punts for South Florida earlier this season. "He's a big threat when he has the ball in his hands, and that's what we're looking for," passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Mike Canales said. Wilson's switch leaves the Bulls with only four experienced cornerbacks to rotate.
Rutgers: Kordell Young's up-and-down season is back on the uptick. The sophomore running back was pegged as the main replacement for Ray Rice this season and had 94 yards on 26 carries in the opener against Fresno State. But then he started experiencing knee soreness and at one point late last month was feared lost for the season. Young returned to action last weekend at Cincinnati and carried 22 times for 78 yards. He's now listed as the co-starter at tailback, along with redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks. Rutgers has started three different players at the position in six games.
Once again, this is coming in a day early because the Big East's best game is tonight and there's a light slate the rest of the weekend.
1. Pittsburgh's running game vs. the South Florida defensive front: For the Panthers to have any chance in this game, they need this matchup to go in their favor. South Florida is allowing fewer than 60 yards per game on the ground, but the Bulls haven't seen a team as committed to the run or with as talented a backfield as Pitt. LeSean McCoy was held to a season-low 55 yards last year by South Florida at Heinz Field (though he did score three times). If he doesn't do more than that, his team won't put up much of a threat.
2. Matt Grothe vs. Pittsburgh's defense: Pitt is averaging more than three sacks per game this season and ranks seventh in the country at taking the quarterback down. But if the Panthers pressure Grothe, they'd better wrap him up, because he is adept at making plays on the move. He proved that last year by ripping off an 80-yard touchdown run at Heinz Field. Grothe has been the best quarterback in the Big East so far this season and will pick apart the Pittsburgh secondary if given adequate time.
3. Special teams and tomfoolery in Tampa: One area where Pittsburgh seems to have a clear advantage is on special teams, as it boasts the Big East's most automatic kicker in Conor Lee. This might also be a place where the normally-conservative Dave Wannstedt could dial up some trick plays or fakes in order to give his team another edge. Wannstedt has shown a proclivity for going for it on fourth down the past two weeks, so maybe he's got more of a riverboat gambler side than anyone can see.
4. North Carolina's offensive line vs. UConn's defense: The Huskies' front four got pushed around by Louisville's line last week. Some of that can be pinned on injuries to three defensive tackles. The Tar Heels have a hulking O-line that weighs over 300 pounds per man. Connecticut needs to get better penetration and stop the running game (Louisville averaged 6.4 yard per carry last week).
5. Donald Brown: We'll keep putting him up here until somebody figures out how to slow down the nation's leading rusher. North Carolina is allowing 138.5 yards rushing this season, so Brown should find holes to dash through. He needs only 94 yards to reach 1,000 already for the season.
6. Zach Frazer and Cam Sexton: Both guys began last week's games as backups but came in to rally their teams to victory. UConn's Frazer made his first collegiate appearance after senior Tyler Lorenzen broke his foot and played well after a shaky first couple of series. Sexton relieved the ineffective Mike Paulus -- who was starting because of T.J. Yates' broken ankle -- and went 11-of-19 for 243 yards and two scores in a win over Miami. Sexton lost his job as the starter last year. Are these guys the answer? Or were they one-week wonders?
7. Brandon Tate and Darius Butler: These two athletic, multi-skilled players could have a huge impact on the Connecticut-North Carolina outcome. The Tar Heels' Tate holds the NCAA record for career kickoff return yards and is a dangerous playmaker at receiver. Just ask Rutgers, for whom he burned for 138 yards and a score on just four catches. UConn's Butler is a lock-down corner who has also become one of the team's top options at receiver -- he caught a crucial TD pass last week at Louisville. And he also returns kicks.
8. The QB situation at Cincinnati: The Bearcats are down to the fourth string under center, and coach Brian Kelly will choose between redshirt freshmen Chazz Anderson or Zach Collaros for Friday's game at Marshall. Collaros will most likely start, but both could play some. It's a tricky situation, especially in a short week on the road, and Cincinnati may just have to try to survive with a limited game plan. If one of the youngsters plays very well, it will be a tribute to Kelly's coaching.
9. West Virginia's point total: The Mountaineers seem to be getting their offense pointed in the right direction. They accumulated 316 yards rushing at Colorado and 319 last week versus Marshall. Still, they scored a total of 41 points in both games, a number they used to put up regularly in fewer than four quarters. Can West Virginia finish off drives and convert key third downs against a Rutgers team that has been soft defensively against quality competition?
10. Rutgers' offense vs. the West Virginia defense: Quarterback Mike Teel had been awful so far this season before enjoying a better day against an FCS opponent (Morgan State) last weekend. Did he find his confidence, or was that just a byproduct of easy scheduling? Rutgers has had more success running the ball with Jourdan Brooks, and the return of receiver Kenny Britt from a one-game suspension means Teel should have plenty of weapons. They'll have to get something going against a West Virginia defense that has grown up the past two games, allowing no touchdowns in the past seven-plus quarters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have been strong in most areas on special teams, except for kickoff coverage. They're allowing more than 30 yards per return, ranking 115th out of 119 FBS teams. They gave up two long returns to Marshall last weekend. Head coach Bill Stewart, who oversees special teams, said he will concentrate on that area in practice. The loss of special teams headhunter Jim Lewis to a broken foot has hurt the unit.
Cincinnati: The decision on a starting quarterback this week may go all the way up until game time on Friday at Marshall, head coach Brian Kelly says. Kelly will choose between redshirt freshmen Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson to replace the injured Tony Pike. Kelly said the late decision isn't about being coy but about giving both quarterbacks more practice time in a short week. He said the offense will concentrate on specific plays for whichever quarterback wins out.
Rutgers: Redshirt freshman Jourdan Brooks appears to have cemented his status as the team's No. 1 running back. Brooks started the past two games, scoring five touchdowns combined against Navy and Morgan State. He had twice as many carries as Joe Martinek and three times as many as Mason Robinson in the Morgan State game. With Kordell Young possibly out for the year with a knee injury, Brooks may become the team's workhorse back.
Pittsburgh: Weakside linebacker Shane Murray finally played last week after a preseason knee injury, getting in on about 15 snaps versus Syracuse. Head coach Dave Wannstedt said he thinks Murray's role will increase this week against South Florida, though Austin Ransom has played well in his place. Wannstedt said more time from Murray would allow Ransom to be fresher in his special teams roles. Starting receiver Oderick Turner, last year's leading pass catcher, has struggled with drops and may lose playing time to Cedric McGee.
Connecticut: The Huskies' defensive front had to hang on against Louisville last week after losing tackles Alex Polito, Kendall Reyes and Rob Lunn to ankle injuries. All three are expected to be available Saturday against North Carolina. Quarterback Zach Frazer will make his first start, replacing the injured Tyler Lorenzen, and his strong arm could allow UConn to do more things in the downfield passing game. But head coach Randy Edsall said Frazer is also a good runner who can make plays with his feet like Lorenzen.