Most of college football’s spring games were about as enjoyable as a Britney Spears concert, but some significant developments were on display across the country this spring.
USC and Michigan apparently found starting quarterbacks. Texas hopes it found a big-play receiver. Notre Dame can only hope it found its running game again.
Here’s a look at a dozen of the biggest spring developments in college football:
1. Aaron Corp named USC’s starting quarterback
Corp, a sophomore from Villa Park, Calif., was named the Trojans’ starting quarterback before their spring game because of his consistency.
He didn’t throw an interception during USC’s first 13 spring practices and had a better grasp of the offense than Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain and freshman Matt Barkley.
But perhaps the bigger surprise was that Barkley beat out Mustain for the backup job. USC coach Pete Carroll expects Barkley to keep the heat on Corp throughout the summer and during preseason camp. Barkley graduated one semester early from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and enrolled at USC in January.
“He’s extraordinarily gifted in terms of understanding the game and the position of playing quarterback,” Carroll told reporters in Los Angeles. “He’d have to be. He’s done things unlike Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez, guys who’ve been extremely effective in the program. He’s done things unlike those guys in that he’s been able to pick things up and been incorporated into the full flow of practice from the first day he was out here.”
2. Rodriguez finds quarterback at Michigan
The Wolverines finished 3-9 in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season in 2008, the worst record in school history. If Michigan is to improve in Rodriguez’s second season, it will have to find a capable quarterback.
Freshman Tate Forcier, one of seven freshmen who enrolled in January, gave Michigan fans hope during the spring. He threw four touchdowns and ran for another score during the spring game. Forcier took most of the snaps with the first-team offense after incumbent Nick Sheridan broke his lower leg in practice on March 24.
Highly regarded freshman Denard Robinson will join the battle in the summer, but Forcier is the quarterback to beat heading into preseason camp.
3. Notre Dame finds a running game
The Fighting Irish ran for 247 yards on 59 carries during the Blue-Gold spring game, which at least showed fans that coach Charlie Weis is committed to improving his team’s running game. But Notre Dame’s 4.19-yard average in the intrasquad scrimmage also showed the team has a long way to go in improving its ground game, which ranked 100th nationally with 109.69 yards per game in 2008.
Sophomore Armando Allen showed the speed that made him one of the country’s top recruits, running 12 times for 70 yards in the spring game. Sophomore Robert Hughes is bigger and stronger and ran 21 times for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
Notre Dame’s running ability ultimately will be decided by its offensive line, which looked better under new line coach Frank Verducci. With four starters back, and left tackle Paul Duncan returning from an injury-plagued ’08 season, the Irish should be better up front.
4. Brown takes charge at West Virginia
Fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown has the unenviable task of replacing Pat White, who broke 19 West Virginia and Big East records and won more bowl games than any other quarterback in NCAA history.
Brown didn’t show any anxiety during spring practice, though, leading coach Bill Stewart to declare, “This is Jarrett Brown’s team.”
Brown is much taller than White, and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen hopes to take advantage of his arm strength with more vertical passing. Against a watered-down Mountaineers defense, Brown completed his first 15 passes in the spring game and finished 21-for-28 for 273 yards with four touchdowns.
5. Tebow goes under center
Injuries hampered defending national champion Florida’s spring practices, but the biggest news involved senior quarterback Tim Tebow moving under center. Tebow has been the perfect fit for coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, but nearly all his work has come out of the shotgun.
NFL coaches apparently are concerned about Tebow’s lack of experience playing under center, so Meyer plans to use the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner in a more conventional offense this coming season. Meyer also plans to play sophomore quarterback John Brantley much more this season, as the Gators prepare for life without Tebow.
6. Brandon solidifies Oklahoma’s offensive line
The Sooners had to rebuild their offensive line after losing four starters, including left tackle Phil Loadholt and left guard Duke Robinson. Senior Trent Williams, who returned to school instead of entering the NFL draft, moved from right tackle to the left side, where he’ll protect quarterback Sam Bradford’s blind side.
But the biggest surprise was junior Cory Brandon, who emerged as the starting right tackle. Oklahoma fans expected LSU transfer Jarvis Jones to win the starting job, but Brandon impressed coaches with his strength and consistency.
7. Taylor revamps his throwing motion
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played well enough to lead Virginia Tech to an ACC championship and Orange Bowl victory last season, but he relied on his legs more than his arm. Taylor completed 57.2 percent of his passes in 2008, and the Hokies ranked 111th nationally in passing offense.
Taylor showed up at spring practice with a new throwing motion and better mechanics. The Richmond Times-Dispatch summed up his improvement with the headline, “Ding-dong! The hitch is dead?”
Taylor apparently changed his throwing motion himself after watching tapes of his high school games with his father during the offseason. After throwing for only 86.3 yards per game in 2008, Taylor must become a better passer if the Hokies are to emerge as a legitimate BCS national championship contender.
8. McElroy takes the lead at Alabama
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban didn’t name junior Greg McElroy his team’s starting quarterback during spring practice, but the job clearly is McElroy’s to lose heading into the summer.
McElroy, who sat the past three seasons behind departed starter John Parker Wilson, completed 16 of 30 passes for 189 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the A-Day spring game. Redshirt freshman Star Jackson completed only 4 of 13 passes for 52 yards, and walk-on Thomas Darrah was 8-for-22 for 113 yards.
McElroy played in six games last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 123 yards. He started only one season at Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, after playing behind former Missouri star Chase Daniel. McElroy threw for 4,687 yards with 56 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2005, leading Carroll High to a Class 5A state championship.
9. Two running backs to replace Beanie Wells?
Ohio State seems capable of replacing tailback Chris “Beanie” Wells’ production, especially because junior Brandon Saine has returned from a hamstring injury that cost him most of the 2008 season. Saine, who was Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2006, missed most of preseason camp last season after pulling his hamstring. He ran only 26 times for 65 yards.
Dan “Boom” Herron is listed as Ohio State’s first-team tailback heading into the summer. He ran 10 times for 43 yards in the spring game. But Saine had OSU fans on the edge of their seats during the game, running six times for 55 yards. A former state track champion in the 100 and 400 meters, Saine has breakaway speed to match quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s big-play abilities.
10. LSU finds two quarterbacks
The Tigers struggled mightily during their national title defense in 2008, finishing 8-5 and losing three of their last four regular-season games. Quarterback play was LSU’s biggest deficiency, as Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch were never able to take control of the offense.
But sophomore Jordan Jefferson continued to improve during spring practice after he threw for 142 yards and one touchdown during LSU’s 38-3 rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU’s coaches wanted Jefferson to stay in the pocket more and run less, and he completed eight of 10 passes for 97 yards in the spring game.
Freshman Russell Shepard is the quarterback who has LSU fans really excited about the coming season. He showed good arm strength after enrolling early, and he lined up at tailback and receiver to take advantage of his blazing speed. LSU coaches envision using Shepard the way Florida used Percy Harvin last season.
11. Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman in trouble again
Bowman was the Nittany Lions’ leading tackler in 2008 with 106 stops, earning him All-Big Ten honors. In April, Bowman admitted in court to smoking marijuana and received one year’s probation for violating a previous court order.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno suspended Bowman from playing in the Nittany Lions’ spring game. Paterno said Bowman also failed two team-administered drug tests, so the player probably will face some sort of suspension to start the 2009 season.
Bowman is expected to lead Penn State’s linebacker corps, along with Sean Lee, who is coming back from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of the 2008 season.
12. A deep threat emerges at Texas
Remember Malcolm Williams? He was the speedy Texas receiver who caught two long touchdown passes during the Longhorns’ 39-33 loss at Texas Tech on Nov. 1.
After Williams caught four passes for 182 yards against the Red Raiders, Texas fans hoped he would emerge as a much-needed deep threat for quarterback Colt McCoy. Instead, Williams essentially vanished over the last four games of the season. He caught only five passes after his breakout performance against Texas Tech and didn’t catch a single pass against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Only a sophomore, Williams spent extra time during the offseason working with a JUGS football machine to improve his pass-catching skills. He also spent more time with McCoy trying to develop chemistry with the Texas quarterback.
With slot receiver Quan Cosby gone, Williams will have to step up as a primary target, as will senior Jordan Shipley.