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Thursday, April 5, 2007
Spring look around the non-BCS schools

By Adam Rittenberg
Special to ESPN.com

Will Notre Dame's Anthony Vernaglia find success in the 3-4 defense? Who will direct Nevada's Pistol attack? Our non-BCS notebook addresses those questions and much more.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After struggling to see the field in his first two seasons, linebacker Anthony Vernaglia has been impressive in spring practice. Vernaglia moved from safety to linebacker in the spring of 2005 but played sparingly as a sophomore and made only one tackle in eight games last year. He nearly moved to wide receiver in the offseason, but Vernaglia has stayed at linebacker. He stayed because of Notre Dame's switch to the 3-4 defense under new coordinator Corwin Brown, who had recruited Vernaglia when he served as the secondary coach at Virginia. "I thought my time was running out," Vernaglia told The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette. "I'm glad Coach brought this new scheme with him. It gives me a chance to start over and make an impact on someone fresh."

Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan's quarterback competition doesn't figure to be a short-term affair. Four players are in the mix to replace Ryan Cubit, who threw for 2,138 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. The foursome went a combined 12-for-31 in Saturday's scrimmage, with sophomore Tim Hiller performing the best. Hiller, who missed last season with a knee injury after being named MAC freshman of the year in 2005, threw two touchdowns in the scrimmage. He is competing with redshirt freshman Drew Burdi, sophomore Caleb Clark and senior Thomas Peregrin. "It's probably the big issue here," coach Bill Cubit told the Kalamazoo Gazette. "I'm not discouraged. We've just got to keep working on the little things. If we could combine them, all the attributes of every one of them, I think we'd have a pretty good one."

Memphis Tigers
Memphis coach Tommy West lit into his offense following a lackluster performance in Friday's 83-play scrimmage at the Liberty Bowl. Though quarterback Martin Hankins directed several scoring drives, completing 8 of 11 passes for 120 yards, West didn't see much passion from the offensive unit. "That's the worst thing I can say about you, that you didn't bring it out here," he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We won two ballgames [last year], and we come out here like we're pretty good? Are you kidding me? We were terrible offensively. They need a good kick in the butt to get their tails going. I've been too nice to them."

Marshall Thundering Herd
Bernard Morris has been a two-year starter at quarterback, but this spring he's trying to hold onto the top spot. Morris split snaps last season with outgoing senior Jimmy Skinner, throwing eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He shined through in Saturday's practice, but the race is far from decided. Sophomore Wesley Beardain and redshirt freshman Brian Anderson are in the mix. "We're not where we need to be at that position right now," coach Mark Snyder told The Huntington Herald-Dispatch. "Bernard looked better [Saturday]. I thought he separated himself today from the other two guys, and I did not see that from the first two practices."

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Spring practice is about building depth, and that's exactly what Lousiana-Monroe accomplished at running back. With starter Calvin Dawson returning for his senior season, freshmen Frank Goodin and Tay Ogletree staged a spirited competition for the backup job this spring. Goodin rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the Maroon and Gold Spring Game on Saturday, while Ogletree had an 82-yard touchdown run. The competition likely will extend into the fall. "They both complement one another," coach Charlie Weatherbie told The (Monroe, La.) News Star. "Frank is one of those shifty kind of guys that gets up inside and makes people miss. Tay is one of those guys that is hit and bounce and find an edge to outrun people. Both can be used very well in our system."

Boise State Broncos
After proposing to his girlfriend on national television after Boise State's thrilling Fiesta Bowl win Jan. 1, Broncos running back Ian Johnson must now stiff-arm interest about his July 28 wedding. NCAA rules prohibit both Johnson and his fiance, Chrissy Popadics, from accepting free services or any "extra benefit" gifts. According to The Idaho Statesman, coaches can give Johnson gifts only if they would do so for any other players inviting them to their wedding. Popadics and her family can't take anything that Johnson can't accept. "I'm well-informed," Johnson told the newspaper. "Chrissy is well-informed. Her parents are well informed. So it's not one of those things that's going to be a problem."

Nevada Wolf Pack
Add the Wolf Pack to the list of teams looking for a new quarterback. With superstar Jeff Rowe gone, Nevada is looking for a successor. Talented rising sophomore Nick Graziano is competing with redshirt freshmen Colin Kaepernick and Tyler Lantrip this spring. Graziano, who played sparingly last year, is the favorite to take over, but coach Chris Ault is preparing for long competition. All three quarterbacks must master the Pistol offense that Rowe operated with ease. "I'm not interested in starters and second team," Ault told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We've got to teach them the offense. … They've got great arms, and they're very intelligent. They come from excellent programs. Now it's a matter of what they can learn."

Colorado State Rams
After rushing for only 918 yards last season, by far the lowest in coach Sonny Lubick's tenure, the Rams' run game is desperately seeking a spark. They got one in their first spring scrimmage Saturday. Junior Michael Myers was most impressive, breaking off two runs of 20 yards or more. Gartrell Johnson and John Mosure also played well. Junior Kyle Bell, who rushed for 1,288 yards in 2005, missed last season with a right knee injury and will be limited this spring. "This feels more like the Colorado State offense," quarterback Caleb Hanie told The Coloradoan. "We were smashing the ball up in there, just like we used to. When we do that, everything else we do works."

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.