Teams entering spring practice on the rise
Updated: February 10, 2009, 9:47 AM ETBy Bruce Feldman
It might seem a bit too analytical to assess which teams stock have surged the most since the final play of the 2008 season, but a lot has happened since the title game (departures to the NFL, coaching changes, signing day). So, here is my list of the 10 biggest risers from the past month: 1. Florida: How can a team that just won the national title rise much higher? Well, you're a big winner in this era when you come off a special season and have the biggest leaders on your offense (QB Tim Tebow) and defense (LB Brandon Spikes) bypass the NFL to stay around. Sure, the Gators did lose speedster Percy Harvin, but they just reeled in recruit Andre Debose, who is said to remind lots of folks of Harvin in terms of versatility and explosiveness. UF also gets imposing safety Dee Finley, a blue-chip recruit from 2008 who failed to qualify, eligible to juice up the secondary and special teams even more. The Gators lost offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, but added noted QB mentor Scot Loeffler and the tweaks he makes with Tebow should be interesting. Thanks to Lane Kiffin's recent rant, Urban Meyer even became a sympathetic figure to Alabama and Georgia fans. 2. Oklahoma State: Noted defensive coordinator Bill Young comes back to Oklahoma State and should boost a suspect Cowboys defense. Young has worked wonders at most of his coaching stops. Keeping gifted OT Russell Okung away from the NFL for one more year also is a noteworthy gain for the Cowboys. OSU added two physical JC transfer D-linemen in Horace Hubbard and Darius Hart a few weeks ago and having them compete in spring ball is a big plus. Snagging long-time LSU commit Dexter Pratt, a bruising tailback from Texas, who is already attending class at OSU, should provide a great added dimension of toughness to an already lethal ground attack as will 320-pound JC transfer Anthony Morgan, one of the country's top-rated offensive linemen. 3. Michigan: A program in dire need for some offensive sparks appears to have gotten a bunch of encouraging signs, starting with the early arrival of speedy QB Tate Forcier. The lithe Californian, who comes in at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, needs the added time in the Wolverines strength program and also benefits from the contact work he'll receive in spring ball. Rod Smith the Wolverines QB coach is already raving about what he's seen from Forcier: "I think he's got some of the best mechanics I've seen from a high school kid in a while,'' Smith told the Ann Arbor News. "He's humble, and he's just willing to work. The kid's been playing football and winning games ever since he's been little.'' Rich Rodriguez also landed QB Denard Robinson, an even faster triggerman with a powerful arm to add more spice to the QB battle. WR Ja'Von Stokes decommitted from Tennessee to come to Ann Arbor. Michigan fans should be thrilled big-play man Brandon Graham stayed for his senior season. Experienced D-coordinator Greg Robinson, who should be a good personality fit with the staff at Michigan, will have a host of early-enrollees to work with, including 310-pound DT Will Campbell. Better still, many of the seven O-linemen Michigan that redshirted in 2008, most notably OT Patrick Omameh and OG Ricky Barnum, are poised to challenge for starting jobs. 4. Oklahoma: Like Florida, the Sooners came out a big winner after all of the proverbial dust settled once the NFL's early-entry list was finalized. Keeping QB Sam Bradford around for at least one more year is key, especially with an O-line that has to be rebuilt. DT Gerald McCoy will anchor the defense and provide a great model for how to work for incoming freshman DT Jamarkus McFarland. TE Jermaine Gresham's return also is significant. Having four early-enrollees on defense is another reason for Bob Stoops to smile. Three of those guys are linebackers, led by Tom Wort, the nation's No. 3 rated ILB prospect. 5. UCLA: Losing defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker stings, but the Bruins should more than make up for that with a big influx of talent. Rick Neuheisel's staff did an amazing job recruiting this year. The Bruins landed three huge "need" recruits in linemen Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stan Hasiak and JC transfer Eddie Williams, a nasty guard. They all might start in 2009. Morrell Pressley, the rangy 6-5 hybrid WR-TE, who decommitted from USC and enrolled early, will help stretch defenses. So should blazer Randall Carroll, another guy who bolted from USC's class, and smooth Ricky Marvray. QB Richard Brehaut, who wowed the coaches with his intangibles, is expected to arrive in time for spring ball and will compete with Kevin Craft and Kevin Prince for the starting job. 6. Notre Dame: The Irish have lacked playmakers, especially on defense, for years. By all accounts they've added one in Hawaiian Manti Te'o, touted as the nation's most complete linebacker. That should help the defense, as will the arrival of DT Tyler Stockton. The arrival of former Iowa offensive line coach Frank Verducci is intriguing given how awful the Irish have been up front, although it should be mentioned that prior to coming to South Bend outgoing line coach John Latina also had a very good rep in the coaching world. Look for the Irish to continue to rise as offseason buzz grows as more analysts take note of the favorable 2009 schedule. (Stanford might be the second toughest game on ND's slate.) 7. Oregon: The Ducks just missed on (QB Tajh Boyd or DL Justin Thompson) and that DB Jarius Byrd left early for the NFL, which means Oregon has gaping holes on its defense to shore up. However, the Ducks, who seem to hit on a much higher percentage of JC talent than most, have landed what I hear is a very underrated recruiting class. WR Tyrece Gaines has the talent to emerge as a go-to guy for QB Jeremiah Masoli, while LB Bryson Littlejohn is one of four promising transfers already enrolled. DB Cliff Harris is an incoming freshman some think is talented enough to win a starting job shortly after he arrives in Eugene. 8. Tulsa: The powerful Golden Hurricane offense might not have to wait long to find its new pilot now that highly touted Shavodrick Beaver decommitted from Michigan and enrolled early at Tulsa. From talking to coaches who tried to recruit Bonner, they say he has the skills to be special and could have a spectacular career in C-USA. Tulsa did lose offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Auburn, but Herb Hand is an experienced coach who should keep this offense sizzling. Defensively, TU also landed one of the nation's top JC players in safety Arthur Render. 9. Ole Miss: The Rebels are building off a great finish to 2008 and did not lose OT John Jerry or DE Greg Hardy, who both toyed with the idea of leaving early for the NFL. Ole Miss does have some holes to fill on the O-line, but the Rebs landed one of the most sought-after OTs in huge Bobby Massie, keeping Houston Nutt's pipeline to Hargrave Military Academy going. If Massie can get eligible, that should really help. Nutt also signed hard-hitting DB Tig Barksdale, another prodigious talent from Hargrave. If Barksdale can stay on track, he should make a big impact on the Rebels' secondary. WR Pat Patterson isn't a speedster like outgoing Mike Wallace, but he should be a big weapon for Jevan Snead. 10. Arizona State: Like the Bruins, this is another Pac-10 program that endured a losing season and still brought in some big-name recruits who figure to make an impact early. The two key freshmen will be LB Vontaze Burfict and DT Corey Adams will make a difference on D. Everyone around the country wanted these guys. QB Brock Osweiler arrived early and has impressed the coaches with how quickly he has grasped the system. He has a serious shot at starting in 2009. Random Stuff • Mico McSwain, a dynamic talent who has been around so long he actually was recruited to Ole Miss by David Cutcliffe, has resurfaced at North Alabama for new coach Terry Bowden. I was curious to see if I recognized any of Bowden's new recruits and when I noticed McSwain's name, I almost fell off the couch. McSwain, who turns 25 in March, set the Rebels freshman rushing record with 612 yards before his career was derailed by a series of academic setbacks. He has soft hands, excellent speed and is tough, but focus had been a problem for him in his time in Oxford. I'm curious to see what happens at North Alabama. • It was a big weekend for Texas football as UT landed five commitments for 2010, Alan Trubow reports: "Texas snagged two big defensive tackles over the weekend at the school's first junior day of the year, as Denton Guyer High's Taylor Bible and Alief Taylor's DeAires Cotton were among five prospects to commit to the Longhorns. The two plugs for the middle of the defensive line addressed Texas' biggest need." To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.
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