Looking for answers in spring games
Some teams with very high expectations heading into the 2013 season highlight the second big weekend of spring games.
Three of last season's biggest surprises -- Louisville, Ohio State and Texas A&M -- will play their spring games. Meanwhile, Florida State, Oklahoma and USC hope to begin to sort out their heated quarterback battles.
Here's a guide to what to look for in some of Saturday's key spring games:
Arizona State Sun Devils[+] EnlargeIcon Sports MediaWill Sutton gives Arizona State a signature player on defense.
The Sun Devils had one of the country's most disruptive defensive lines in coach Todd Graham's first season, ranking No. 1 nationally with nine tackles for loss and No. 2 with four sacks per game. The unit received an unexpected boost when Will Sutton returned for his senior season after finishing with 13 sacks in 2012.
But as good as Arizona State was at pressuring the quarterback in 2012, it ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing 182.8 yards per game. New defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, who spent the past 14 seasons at Oklahoma, is charged with making the Sun Devils more physical up front. Sun Devils fans will get their first look at the revamped defense in Saturday's Maroon and Gold spring game at Sun Devil Stadium.
Clemson Tigers (ESPN3 at 4 p.m. ET)
Clemson played offense at breakneck speed last season, averaging 81.7 plays per game, which was seventh most among FBS teams. The Tigers ran more than 100 plays in two games, including their 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But offensive coordinator Chad Morris still wasn't satisfied. He wants his offense to play even faster this coming season, so he simplified the way he calls plays, replacing words with simple numbers.
Morris hopes the change adds as many as eight to 10 plays per game. The Tigers bring back quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but they'll have to replace tailback Andre Ellington and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Clemson fans will get an up-close look at the faster pace in Saturday's spring game at Memorial Stadium.
Florida State Seminoles (ESPN3 at 2 p.m. ET)
All eyes will be on FSU's quarterback battle in Saturday's spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Three players -- Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston -- are battling for EJ Manuel's vacated starting spot. Trickett, the son of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, is by far the most experienced contender. Winston was the most heralded player coming out of high school, and Coker looks a lot like FSU quarterbacks of the past.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher isn't going to name a starter during the spring, so the battle figures to extend deep into preseason camp. The Seminoles also have to replace three starters on the defensive line, but there's plenty of talent coming back in tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister and ends Mario Edwards Jr., Giorgio Newberry and Chris Casher, among others.
For complete Saturday coverage of FSU's spring game go to NoleNation.
[+] EnlargeChris Graythen/Getty ImagesA Louisville priority will be protecting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
If the Cardinals are going to contend for a BCS national championship this coming season, they'll have to keep Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater upright. Much of Louisville's spring has centered on rebuilding the offensive line. The Cardinals bring back three starters up front, but they have to replace center Mario Benavides, a Rimington Award finalist, and left tackle Alex Kupper, who protected Bridgewater's blind side.
Guard Kamran Joyer moved over to center, and Abraham "Nacho" Garcia, a 6-foot-8, 345-pound sophomore, is the favorite to start at left tackle. Converted quarterback Dominique Brown is also back after missing last season with a knee injury. He's currently the No. 1 tailback with Senorise Perry recovering from a torn ACL in his knee.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke hoped to finally have enough depth to stage a full-fledged spring game as he enters his third season at Michigan. But then backup quarterback Russell Bellomy tore an ACL in his knee two weeks ago, leaving junior Devin Gardner as the only scholarship quarterback on campus. Gardner will wear an orange jersey during Saturday's spring game at the Big House, meaning he's off-limits to defenders.
Walk-on Brian Cleary is the current backup and the only other quarterback available until incoming freshman Shane Morris arrives this summer. Michigan fans will still notice big changes on offense. The Wolverines are going back to a more traditional pro-style offense after running a spread scheme with former starter Denard Robinson.
For complete Saturday coverage of Michigan's spring game go to WolverineNation.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State fans will be eager to see how much quarterback Braxton Miller has improved as a passer, after the Heisman Trophy contender spent time in the offseason working with quarterback guru George Whitfield. But OSU's defensive front seven will be under the microscope, after the Buckeyes lost all but linebacker Ryan Shazier from their starting defensive line and linebacker corps.
All-Big Ten defensive linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins have departed, but coach Urban Meyer has recruited very well on the defensive side. Highly regarded defensive linemen like Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington have been the stars during spring practice, and sophomore linebackers Josh Perry and David Perkins also are trying to grab starting jobs.
For complete Saturday coverage of Ohio State's spring game go to BuckeyeNation.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops has made it clear he won't name a starting quarterback this spring, so Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson will continue battling for the job this summer and during fall camp. But one of them might be able to take the lead with a strong performance in Saturday's spring game.
Bell was considered the leader to replace departed four-year starter Landry Jones entering spring practice because of his experience as a backup. But Knight and Thompson have also been impressive running offensive coordinator Josh Heupel's new scheme, which puts more emphasis on quarterbacks making plays with their legs. Thompson, the son of former OU quarterback Charles Thompson, has been the biggest surprise during spring practice.
For complete Saturday coverage of OU's spring game go to SoonerNation.
South Carolina Gamecocks (ESPN3 at 1 p.m. ET)
Gamecocks fans won't get to see All-American Jadeveon Clowney, who is expected to miss Saturday's spring game at Williams-Brice Stadium because of neck and back pain and a slight concussion. South Carolina coaches are considering shutting down Clowney for the rest of the spring, but the injuries aren't considered serious. At least Gamecocks fans know what Clowney can do on the field. The tailbacks figure to get the most attention, with former star Marcus Lattimore departing for the NFL.
Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds are battling for the starting tailback job. Quarterback Dylan Thompson will get most of the snaps with the first-team offense because starter Connor Shaw is recovering from offseason foot surgery. USC fans will get their first glimpse of freshman Connor Mitch, who is considered the team's quarterback of the future.
Texas A&M Aggies (ESPN at 3 p.m. ET)
Texas A&M fans probably can't wait to see reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel again, but the most important developments in Saturday's spring game at Kyle Field might come on the other side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder must replace six starters, including All-American Damontre Moore, who had 12.5 sacks last season. The linebacker corps is being revamped, and Donnie Baggs, Brett Wade, juco transfer Tommy Sanders and Reggie Chevis will try to make good first impressions. On the back end of the defense, converted cornerback Floyd Raven has been a big surprise at free safety during the spring.
For complete Saturday coverage of A&M's spring game go to GigEmNation.
There have been plenty of changes at USC, where the Trojans will have a new starting quarterback and defensive scheme this coming season. Max Wittek, Cody Kessler and early enrollee Max Browne are battling for Matt Barkley's old job as USC's starting quarterback.
Kessler, a sophomore, has been the most consistent quarterback during the spring, but Lane Kiffin isn't expected to name a starter until preseason camp. Justin Davis, another early enrollee, has emerged as the potential No. 1 tailback after running for 116 yards on 17 carries in a scrimmage last week. The Trojans also will unveil their new 3-4 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
For complete Saturday coverage of USC's spring game go to WeAreSC.
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