Although James Franklin has gotten off to a tremendous start as Penn State's new head coach, there are still some issues he needs to sort out.
For the most part, the Nittany Lions are in good shape. They return an uber-talented quarterback, are loaded with offensive weapons to accommodate him and have some experience on defense as well.
Nevertheless, there's still a fair share of question marks floating around. From offensive line depth to special teams concerns, Franklin will utilize the 2014 spring game as a way to assess some of the dilemmas that need solving.
Here are five unanswered questions heading into Penn State's spring game.
Auburn receivers coach Dameyune Craig quickly built a reputation as a top-notch talent-acquisition specialist, having helped reel in players such as quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State.
So when Craig says a player is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, it’s worth taking note.
That’s precisely what Craig said of D’haquille Williams—rated by 247Sports as the No. 1 junior college transfer in the nation.
Williams quickly became a crown jewel in Auburn’s 2014 signing class, immediately eliciting comparisons to the impact Cordarrelle Patterson had in his one year at Tennessee.
With Williams in the fray, AL.com’s Brandon Marcello reported that Craig has expressed this year’s Auburn receiving corps could potentially be the best in the nation.
For defenses that couldn’t slow down Gus Malzahn’s attack in the first year, the idea of tremendous improvement in Year 2 should be terrifying.
Receiver Sammie Coates, who emerged as Auburn’s go-to target in 2013, returns after finishing with 902 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Now Coates has a running mate who could supplant him as the most dangerous threat in the offense.
It took no time for Williams to draw praise from teammates.
“D’haquille is probably going to be a great player for us this year,” safety Jermaine Whitehead said to AL.com after the second day of spring practice. “He reminds me a lot of Sammie. He can get vertical fast. He also likes to put his foot in the ground and make plays across the field.”
Williams won’t be the only reason for Auburn’s improved passing game.
Because of his breakout season in 2013, it’s easy to forget that quarterback Nick Marshall is now halfway through his first spring practice under Malzahn.
Marshall didn’t enroll at Auburn until summer 2013, meaning he didn’t practice with the program until August.
He quickly claimed the starting position.
However, Tigers coaches quickly realized the need to play to the team’s strengths.
Marshall didn’t have enough reps in Malzahn’s offense to develop fully as a passer, and the Tigers young receivers needed more time to mature.
The result was a reliance on tailback Tre Mason and the run game—including Marshall’s ability to tuck the ball and make defenses pay for focusing too much attention on Mason.
Now Marshall has time to jell with a more seasoned crew, headlined by another big-impact junior college transfer in Williams.
Marshall and Malzahn both like what they’ve seen so far.
Despite enormous expectations surrounding Williams, he is apparently focusing on the little things that make all the difference to Malzahn.
“I just have to adjust to the fast-paced offense,” Williams said to Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com after his second practice. “We ran no-huddle in junior college, but it wasn’t this fast.”
Malzahn declared to AL.com that he wants to press down harder on the gas in Year 2 than he did during his initial season as head coach at Auburn, which yielded an SEC Championship.
Having a talent who lives up to the considerable hype Craig placed on Williams would put Malzahn’s offense on the same level as Oregon’s or Baylor’s.
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Charlie Strong has doled out his fair share of praise to his Texas Longhorns. Others have not been so fortunate, and they need to get things turned out this spring.
With the significant changes Strong has mandated both on and off the field, the presence of a learning curve is inevitable. As long as the vast majority of the team continues to embrace the new culture, the rest of the group will fall in line.
But if these four Longhorns want to capitalize on the opportunity at hand, they need to make that happen sooner rather than later.
With Urban Meyer at the helm, Ohio State has secured the Big Ten's top recruiting class for three consecutive years. Waves of talent have flooded Columbus, Ohio, and after signing back-to-back classes that ranked No. 2 nationally, the Buckeyes are loaded for another title run in 2014.
Surprisingly, though, that young talent hasn't made a strong impact on the field. Despite Meyer's eagerness to get his young players in the fold, Ohio State has kept a lot of its freshmen on the sideline.
After seeing his team finish the 2013 campaign with consecutive postseason losses, Meyer admitted during a press conference in February that the Buckeyes should have played more of their freshmen. He also vowed to correct that mistake moving forward.
That bodes well for a number of true and redshirt freshman.
Opportunity abounds at Ohio State as the Buckeyes are replacing 10 new starters and a few key reserves this spring. Saturday's spring game will serve as a proving ground for a host of first-year players looking to make an impact.
That starts with the freshmen who redshirted last year.
Cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Eli Apple were both rated 4-star prospects coming out of high school. The Buckeyes could have used that kind of talent in the back end of their defense last year—when they ranked No. 110 out of 123 teams in pass defense—but both rode the pine all season.
This spring, they're breaking out as playmakers.
Meyer recently lamented not playing Conley, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors.
Gareon Conley should have played last year. That’s Gareon’s fault and our fault, and the position coach’s fault, if we’re going to sit here and blame, which I’m not doing. But we’re counting on these guys to go play.
This spring, when Ohio State works its nickel defense, Conley is the second cornerback opposite Doran Grant, according to Tony Gerdeman of The-Ozone.net.
Apple is surging as well. During Ohio State's scrimmage last Saturday, he snagged two interceptions and made a number of impact plays.
Strong spring-game showings will give them momentum before summer conditioning drills.
The same goes for other redshirt freshmen such as linebacker Darron Lee, defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, center Billy Price and quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Specifically, Lee—who has impressed the coaching staff with his intensity and energy this spring—has secured a spot in Ohio State's starting linebacker rotation. Barrett is battling with redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones to be Braxton Miller's backup.
One lasting impression this Saturday, whether it's a positive or negative one, will have a big impact on the pecking order this fall.
That's when a majority of Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class will join the team, but seven members of that heralded group enrolled early to take part in spring drills.
It didn't take long for some of Ohio State's true freshmen to start turning heads.
Curtis Samuel, a 4-star athlete who came out of high school as an all-purpose back, has thrived in his role as a pure running back. Samuel has showcased his "electric" speed in practice, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown run during last Saturday's scrimmage.
Four-star wide receiver Johnnie Dixon is another offensive weapon who is showing out. According to Eric Seger of The Lantern, senior wide receiver Devin Smith said that Dixon has "really turned some eyes."
But it's 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan—the crown jewel of Ohio State's 2014 class—that has the most to gain.
McMillan is currently working as Curtis Grant's backup at middle linebacker, but defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said that age won't be a factor if he can truly beat out the senior for the starting spot.
“I have a good chance to start, but it’s all going to be wasted if I don’t put in the work right now,” McMillan said. “I can’t be out on the field if I don’t really know what’s going on out there.”
By all accounts, McMillan has looked very good this spring. He, along with some other eager freshmen, will look to showcase that on Saturday.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Their names are yet unknown across the landscape of the SEC, where legends of players grow larger than the stadiums, and legacies are etched in rugged rivalries.
Few fans know the names of head coach Butch Jones' 2014 Tennessee Volunteers, but for the first time in years, you should probably learn them.
There is talent on Rocky Top again, and Saturday's Orange and White Game will be an on-stage dress rehearsal for numerous newcomers with the potential to become household names.
In a league normally unkind to youngsters, the Vols must play them everywhere. Several other little-used players already in the program will be thrust into key roles as well.
Fans at Neyland Stadium on Saturday—and intrigued observers wanting to witness UT's deep, top-10 recruiting class in action on their television sets—will need a roster handy. Depending on who trots out with the first team, the Vols could have as many as 18 new starters.
"It's where we're at in the program," Jones told The Associated Press (via USA Today). "We can't hide it. It is what it is. But I'm encouraged by their youthfulness, their eagerness and the talent that we have and the talent we have coming in."
This group of players is different than any UT has recruited in nearly a decade.
Phillip Fulmer got complacent his past few years in Knoxville, Tenn., and his recruiting suffered because of it.
Even though Lane Kiffin's one full class was highly regarded, it was loaded with paper prospects—recruits lauded by services but not as heavily recruited by some of the nation's top programs for various red flags.
That was painfully evident in retrospect, as 17 of UT's 22 commitments from the 2009 class failed to complete their eligibility in orange.
Derek Dooley wasn't an awful recruiter, but he neglected high school prospects close to home and performed program-crippling numbers gaffes such as failing to sign a single offensive lineman in the 2012 class.
Not only did Jones' first full class go a long way in meeting UT's massive needs, but the Vols also signed depth at virtually every position that lacked it.
At most established programs across the country, spring is a time to mix-and-match players, make position changes and develop depth.
For Jones, this 15-practice session was about upgrading talent and finding starters. Fourteen newcomers arrived midterm as part of a gigantic 32-player recruiting class. At least 11 of them are expected to play immediately, and 10 of those are in the mix to start.
Players expected to be the future of the Vols will be on display for their first spring game, and that will be the vast majority of Jones' team.
Tennessee has rebuilt both sides of the ball from the ground up.
Offensively, running back Jalen Hurd, quarterback Riley Ferguson, receivers Josh Malone and Von Pearson, tight ends Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm, and offensive linemen Coleman Thomas and Dontavius Blair will see their first live action in front of an audience.
Defensive linemen Owen Williams and Dimarya Mixon, linebacker Jakob Johnson and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley also burst onto the college scene this spring, and they will try to show everybody why coaches are so excited.
Because of all the new players, Jones said it is "critical," per WDEF News, that fans pack the stadium for the spring game to give the youngsters a true preview of what's to come this fall.
A season ago, the Vols surprised the SEC with an upset of No. 11 South Carolina that sent shock waves across the league. But their highest high was followed with a dire dose of reality.
Alabama, Auburn and Missouri all exposed Tennessee for what it was: a team that may have been senior-laden but too far short on talent to compete consistently in the SEC.
When Vanderbilt knocked the Vols out of a bowl game, it soured a season that had once held hope.
That old guard has been razed. After all the "brick by brick" propaganda Jones has preached throughout his tenure, this spring game will be the first glimpse the college football world gets at the first fruits of his rebuilding efforts.
If the '14 recruiting class is truly the start of the turnaround as the prospects have preached, Saturday will be the first chance for everybody to see its origins.
Jones gave ESPN.com's Chris Low a little preview of what to expect:
We only have 13 seniors in the program. We'll be much more talented, but very youthful. It's kind of invigorating, though, because this football team has been willing and they've been eager. We've just got to teach them.
We're still not where we need to be to compete at a high level in this conference, but we have taken great steps in moving forward by increasing our team speed and overall athleticism, and the exciting thing is that there are 18 more newcomers arriving in June.
For all the new Vols, this Saturday is a chance to show everybody for the first time that they have the talent to put Tennessee football back on the map.
All recruiting information via 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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Jim Mora's bunch is currently in its second week of spring practice. This period offers the staff a good look at the current state of the football team.
For some of the players, this camp will provide an opportunity to impress. Younger players in particular will hope to gain valuable experience.
As for others, it could in essence be a reclamation project in terms of reestablishing value in the eyes of the coaches.
This slideshow will detail five members of the team needing to prove themselves during spring practices.
Nebraska football fans can be forgiven if they are a little overwhelmed at this Saturday’s spring game. Trying to keep an eye on both sides of the ball and get a handle on what Nebraska’s strengths and weaknesses in the upcoming season might be as a result is a daunting task.
So, as a public service, here are five players whom fans should be keeping an eye on during the course of the spring game.
Malik Jefferson is a 5-star linebacker from Texas who is one of the best overall players in the country. An incredible talent, Jefferson has the potential to win a lot of different awards in college.
His fantastic skill set has attracted the nation's best programs. Jefferson has offers from just about every major school in the country, and he could be ready to play immediately as a true freshman.
His talent warrants a closer look.All recruiting ratings and rankings are from 247Sports.Player evaluations are based on review of tape at Scout.com, Rivals and 247Sports.
Spring practice is almost in the books for the Clemson Tigers. Next for Clemson fans is the annual spring game which takes place Saturday at 4 p.m.
The most exciting part of the spring game is the quarterback battle. However, that excitement was tempered a bit with Monday's news that freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a shoulder injury and will miss the spring game, reports Aaron Brenner of the Charleston Post and Courier.
Head coach Dabo Swinney was disappointed in the news, per Brenner:
This is a shame because he was having an outstanding spring. Fortunately, this is not a serious injury. I hate that he will miss the Spring Game; I know a lot of people were anxious to see him make his debut in Death Valley
Fortunately, this doesn't appear to be a serious injury and Watson will be OK for fall camp.
While the quarterback race has been close thus far in the spring, senior Cole Stoudt will have a chance to separate himself from sophomore Chad Kelly with a strong performance Saturday. Look for Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris to split the reps equally between the two.
While Watson is out for the remainder of the spring, don't count him out—yet.
Is Kelly a legitimate threat to win the job?
For most of the spring, we've heard about the excitement surrounding Watson and Stoudt's experience. But it almost seems like Kelly, the nephew of Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, is an afterthought.
Swinney and Morris both insist this competition is legitimate, and Kelly received both the first and most reps with the first-team offense during Clemson's first scrimmage last week. Does that forebode what the coaches are thinking? Or is it strictly for evaluation purposes as the coaches know what they have in Stoudt?
As it turns out, Stoudt took the most reps with the first-team offense during Monday's scrimmage.
Last week's scrimmage saw each quarterback make some good plays and some bad plays.
For Morris, while he would have liked one quarterback to take the reins early, he has been happy with the experience each player is gaining, according to David Hale of ESPN.com:
I was hoping someone would separate himself and make it clear cut that this was the guy. I thought you’d see some quick separation this spring. But it hasn’t happened, and that’s a good thing for us because they’re all three doing really well.
Kelly has a unique skill set. He has a strong arm, is accurate and is a very good athlete. Of the three contenders for the starting position, Kelly provides the best combination of those attributes. Don't be surprised if Kelly is under center when the Tigers head to Athens on Aug. 30.
Vic Beasley believes defense could be one of the nation's best
When senior defensive end Vic Beasley returned to school for his senior season, he did so thinking this team could be special. His return makes Clemson's defensive line one of the best in the ACC.
But Beasley has his sights set much higher.
"We can be the number one defense in the country," Beasley told the assembled media after practice last week, per David Hood of TigerNet.com. "I think our front seven is the best in the country."
Those are high expectations, but Beasley has reason to be excited.
Senior linebacker Stephone Anthony returns and looks to wrap up a solid career with a big senior season.
The defensive line has solid depth and the Tigers, led by Beasley, will be able to pressure any passer in the conference.
And expect linebacker Dorian O'Daniel, a highly regarded freshman last season, to take the field in 2014 and make an impact. O'Daniel has special talent and defensive coordinator Brent Venables can get creative when he is on the field.
If the secondary comes along, this defense could be special. Led by freshman Mackensie Alexander, the secondary will be young, but possesses loads of talent.
News and notes from the week
Watson isn't the only starter or high-profile player who will miss the spring game. Most notably, starting offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain will miss the contest.
In other injury news, former Clemson star Brandon Thomas tore his ACL last week during his preparation for the upcoming NFL draft, reports Adam Caplan of ESPN. Thomas was viewed as either a first- or second-round pick.
Swinney has no regrets about allowing hits on the quarterbacks in the scrimmages and feels it is the best way to get a quarterback ready for live game action, per Brenner:
We don't get preseason games. It's no different than the NFL, their quarterbacks are live when they have four preseason games. So the first time they're going to be live is when they go to Athens? I don't know when we can have a fair evaluation.
Saturday's scrimmage is more than just a battle between Stoudt and Kelly. Keep an eye on the freshman WRs and Clemson's running game. But don't expect a lot of answers as players look to position themselves for a bigger role come fall camp.
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