Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring football definitely happened

I've done a whole lot of blogging over the past month -- and by "a whole lot" I obviously mean "zero" -- but yes, spring football happened. If you've ever watched a spring practice (or even a spring game), you know that it's pretty boring, but since it's all we've got until fall, we might as well glean what we can.

Standard spring disclaimer: Guys who look too good to be true (based on past performance) usually are, but redshirt freshmen and former top recruits who start to put it all together are worth taking seriously. Also consider context: Position "battles," especially at QB, aren't really battles unless both guys are truly getting an equal opportunity to win the starting job. You know a motivational ploy when you see one.

With that out of the way, what have we learned?

* Michigan has options at QB. I refused to believe the spring reports that Denard Robinson had become a legitimate threat to start for Michigan this year. Robinson might be the fastest man alive, but he wasn't really a quarterback last year. He was a running back who would take direct snaps and occasionally throw it to the other team. The idea that he had taken a quantum leap to the point where he was even with Tate Forcier? Incomprehensible.

Yeah ... then I watched the spring game. I don't know what happened the past four months, but the guy looked like a different player. He was running the zone read with confidence, dropping back out of the I-formation, throwing lasers, looking like a REAL quarterback. He ended up 9-for-12 for 175 yards and three touchdowns, and he made people look ridiculous whenever he felt like taking off (although we already knew he could do that).

Is he the starter in the fall? I'm not sure. Forcier has actually demonstrated competency against good defenses in games, which is a little different from playing against your own backups in a pointless scrimmage. Realistically, with Robinson's passing skills still fairly primitive, I have to believe both guys will take a decent number of snaps. But I won't be surprised if Robinson gets a shot as the de facto starter -- if he's 75% of the passer Forcier is, he'll be unstoppable -- and I never thought I'd be saying that.

* Georgia is losing quarterbacks like whoa. Georgia's three-way spring QB battle -- between Aaron Murray, Logan Gray and Zach Mettenberger -- was won by Murray, a redshirt freshman and former top-50 recruit. No surprise there, although Mettenberger was pretty highly rated as well and Gray is an athletic guy who has actually played a little bit.

But Mettenberger (who was already suspended for the season opener after an alcohol arrest) has since been kicked off the team for the always-specific "violation of team rules," and Gray is now supposedly "weighing his options" (read: probably transferring), meaning Georgia might be down to one legitimate option by the time September rolls around. Murray's obviously a pretty good option, but if he gets hurt ... yikes.

* Penn State's quarterbacks will probably be terrible (at least for a while). Joe Paterno's still alive, right? OK, cool ... anyway, if Penn State's spring game was any indication, Evan Royster will probably get about 480 carries this year.

Kevin Newsome, a dual-threat sophomore who was one of the top QB recruits in the country last year, was 5-for-12 passing and ran for a grand total of 12 yards. Walk-on Matt McGloin, his primary competition, was 10-for-23 with two interceptions. True freshman Paul Jones performed respectably, going 5-for-8 for 67 yards and two TDs, but he was also the clear No. 3 guy coming into the game. Robert Bolden, a top-100 recruit this past year, would be a legitimate option if he had enrolled for the spring, but there's no way he's showing up in August and winning the starting job -- especially for a team whose second game is in Tuscaloosa against the defending national champs.

There's enough talent that somebody will step up eventually, but the offense might be ugly (or just super run-heavy) for a while.

* Bill Snyder still loves him some blowouts. Remember Bill Snyder? Remember how he built Kansas State into a power by destroying I-AA teams and then going about .500 in the Big 12? This seemed like a plausible strategy for getting a terrible team like Kansas State into bowl games on a consistent basis, but it's entirely possible that Snyder just enjoys destroying bad teams -- even if that bad team consists of his own players:
Bill Snyder still has a few more months before he has to pick a starting quarterback for next season. On Saturday, though, Carson Coffman did everything he could to speed the process along as he passed for 440 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Purple team to a 79-0 victory over the White in the annual spring game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Snyder went with the bizarre strategy of putting his starting offense AND defense on the same team and pitting them against the backups, and 79-0 (and 737 total yards) was the result.

What does that mean? Well, it means Kansas State will probably have a pretty good offense, which isn't a surprise. Coffman, who's now a senior, was a pretty big recruit back in the day, and Daniel Thomas will probably be one of the better running backs in the country. It also means Kansas State has no depth whatsoever. I don't care how good your starters are; there's no reason the backup defense should give up close to 80 points while your backup offense can't muster a freakin' field goal.

* John Brantley will probably be OK as Tim Tebow's replacement. Florida hasn't run anything other than The Tebow Offense since Urban Meyer's first year, so things will definitely be different this season. But any concerns were probably eased a little bit by this:
Brantley completed 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns Saturday - the kind of performance many expected from the highly touted quarterback who waited three years behind Tebow for a shot to start.

Facing Florida's first-team defense and wearing a red, non-contact jersey, Brantley showed the kind of awareness and confidence of a seasoned starter. He even did it with four linemen sitting out for precautionary reasons.
Either Florida's first-team defense is fucking terrible -- which seems EXTREMELY doubtful -- or Brantley (a redshirt junior who was the national Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006) is a pretty good QB. The latter seems more likely.

But that doesn't mean the offense will be built entirely around Brantley, who's not exactly Pat White when it comes to athleticism. Freshman Trey Burton and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed (who might be a tight end but might not be) will compete for time in Florida's version of the Wildcat, which should probably just be called the Tebow. Expect at least one of those guys to see regular snaps. Urban Meyer might be THE AWESOMEST COACH EVER, but he's never run an offense that didn't include a running QB as an integral aspect (remember Tebow as a freshman?). I don't see that changing this year.

* Arizona State still has no offense whatsoever. ASU fans pinning their hopes on improved QB play or a newfound running game will probably be disappointed. I heard some generally positive reports from spring practice, but the on-field results ....
Brock Osweiler completed 17 of 33 passes for 151 yards with an interception and touchdown, the lone TD recorded by the offense. Steven Threet threw three picks, completing 9 of 27 for 117 yards.

The running game? James Morrison turned in the best work, rushing six times for 26 yards. Jamal Miles needed 12 carries to net 28 yards. That was about it. Cameron Marshall gained 5 yards on seven carries.
... yuck. There might be long-term hope for Osweiler and Threet, both of whom are ginormous and have extremely strong arms. But how much can you expect from two guys with minimal experience (both have about half a season's worth of playing time) on a team that lost both its starting receivers (Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams) and has no running game? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Oh, and on an offensive line that's been an ongoing debacle for the past three years, starting guard Jon Hargis tore up his knee in practice and will miss the season. Good news all around! I've been saying this since last season: Barring Jake Plummer regaining his NCAA eligibility, the Devils' complete lack of an offense will keep them out of a bowl game and will probably cost Dennis Erickson his job.

* Dayne Crist has magical healing powers (duh, his name is Crist). When he tore his ACL six months ago, the assumption was that Dayne Crist would miss Notre Dame's spring practice and therefore be in a battle for the starting job with the incoming freshmen. But lo and behold, Crist took the field for the spring game last weekend and didn't seem like a guy struggling to recover. He went 20-for-31 for 172 yards with a TD and two picks, which isn't dominant but is playing, which is a big positive for Brian Kelly.

Another positive: A running game actually exists. Redshirt freshman Cierre Wood, who seems like the perfect speed back for Kelly's wide-open offense, ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Jonas Gray also had a long TD run and generally impressed, and don't forget about incumbent starter Armando Allen. There are options, and all of them are talented enough to be a threat when Crist isn't airing it out.

Does that mean the offense will be more balanced than what we saw at Cincinnati? No. Kelly loves to throw -- downfield, specifically -- and with one of the best receivers in the country (Michael Floyd), one of the top tight ends in the country (Kyle Rudolph), a couple talented outside receivers (Duval Kamara and Shaquelle Evans) and stud freshman Tai-ler Jones making a name for himself this spring, it's not like he'll be lacking for weapons in the passing game. ND's offense will probably be very good. The defense? Ehhhh ....

By the way, Nate Montana was the star of the spring game, meaning Beano Cook will project him to win three Heismans, but we're talking about a walk-on who went to community college last year and completed 35% of his passes. It's unlikely that he'll see the field in any meaningful capacity.

* Spring in Eugene was fairly uneventful. There's no possible way any school had a crazier spring than Oregon. Shall we recap?

1. Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for the season after being arrested and charged with stealing from a frat house.
2. Starting running back LaMichael James was suspended for the season opener (against New Mexico) after being sentenced to 10 days in jail for harassment.
3. Linebacker Kiko Alonso was kicked off the team after receiving a DUI citation.
4. Receiver Jamere Holland, who went apeshit on Facebook after hearing about Alonso's punishment, was dismissed for his very public violation of team rules.
5. Kicker Rob Beard pleaded guilty to harassment for pushing a woman to the ground after a party. Beard was then beaten unconscious by the woman's friends, two of whom ended up pleading guilty to assault.
6. Coach-turned-athletic director Mike Bellotti resigned after all the aforementioned controversy to take a job as an ESPN analyst. He was given a $2.3 million severance check on his way out the door, which prompted an investigation by the state attorney general and resulted in the embarrassing announcement that Bellotti had never actually signed a contract, so there was no official payment arrangement for his services.

Wow. Most of that stuff is pretty minor in terms of on-field impact, but there's no way to sugarcoat Masoli's suspension. He would have been a legitimate Heisman contender on the returning Pac-10 champion; he won't be easy to replace.

The candidates: Redshirt senior Nate Costa, the projected 2008 starter who has since gone through about 8,000 knee surgeries, and uber-athlete Darron Thomas, who looks kind of like Dennis Dixon and played like him in his only meaningful game (nearly bringing Oregon back from 24 down against Boise State two years ago while throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns).

What did we learn this spring? Not much. The two have apparently been neck-and-neck throughout practice, splitting time with the first team. The Ducks' final scrimmage -- also known as the spring game -- will be held May 1, but all indications are that there won't be a final decision until fall. There could always be a rotation, but I have to believe Chip Kelly will try to settle on someone (my money's on Thomas) as the full-time guy. He knows this team has the surrounding talent to win its second straight conference title.

* Other stuff happened. Big Ten expansion-palooza! 2011 mock drafts! I'll get to all that stuff in separate posts, because this one was purely dedicated to football (albeit fake-ish spring football). I also should clarify that I care about more than just quarterbacks, but hey, that's the glamour position. Other interesting position battles that were inadvertently skipped here will be discussed in the near future (Michigan, Florida State, Miami and others all have interesting things going on at running back, for example). Sadly, there's plenty of time before September.

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