College football storylines to watch in spring practice

Harbaugh shrugs off critics of Michigan's spring practice (0:49)

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh says he doesn't know why there have been so many critics of the Wolverines practicing at the IMG Academy in Florida and the idea of potential recruiting advantages. (0:49)

It has been 51 days since Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game presented by AT&T.

While the 2016 season won't kick off for another six months, at least spring practice is finally underway.

FBS schools across the country, including Auburn, Michigan, Stanford and Texas A&M, have already started spring drills, and dozens of others will start in the next couple of weeks.

Here's a look at what to watch as spring practice begins:

Top quarterback battles

1. Notre Dame: Will Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly choose junior Malik Zaire, who looked fantastic until breaking his ankle against Virginia? Or sophomore DeShone Kizer, who saved Notre Dame's season by throwing for 2,884 yards with 31 total touchdowns in Zaire's absence?

2. Texas: With coach Charlie Strong's job perhaps hanging in the balance, new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will choose between incumbent Jerrod Heard, senior Tyrone Swoopes, redshirt freshman Kai Locksley and early enrollee Shane Buechele.

3. Alabama: The defending national champions will have a new starting quarterback for the third season in a row. Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and David Cornwell will battle to replace departed starter Jake Coker.

4. Florida State: Incumbent Sean Maguire might have done enough last season to keep the job, but he'll miss spring practice while recovering from ankle surgery. Will highly regarded Deondre Francois, sophomore J.J. Cosentino or early enrollee Malik Henry do enough to unseat him?

5. Stanford: Homegrown sophomore Keller Chryst, the favorite to replace Kevin Hogan, might be pushed this spring by Ryan Burns. Cardinal coach David Shaw isn't expected to make a decision until preseason camp, after highly touted freshman K.J. Costello joins the competition.

Familiar faces in unfamiliar places

1. Mark Richt, Miami After 15 seasons at Georgia, where he guided the Bulldogs to a 145-51 record and two SEC championships, Richt returns to coach his alma mater. He's the Hurricanes' third coach since 2010.

2. Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia After leading BYU to 11 straight bowl games, Mendenhall was a surprising choice to replace fired Virginia coach Mike London. He inherits a Cavaliers team that hasn't won more than five games in a season since 2011.

3. Will Muschamp, South Carolina After only one season as Auburn's defensive coordinator, Muschamp gets his second chance as an SEC head coach. Will his team's offense be better the second time around?

4. Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech After turning Memphis around, Fuente has the unenviable task of replacing legendary Hokies coach Frank Beamer, who won 238 games as coach of his alma mater.

5. Kirby Smart, Georgia After spending eight seasons as Alabama's defensive coordinator, Smart replaces Richt as coach of his alma mater. The 40-year-old Smart has never been a head coach.

Transfers to watch

1. John O'Korn, Houston to Michigan: The former Houston starter was the AAC freshman of the year in 2013 after throwing for 3,117 yards and 28 touchdowns. He was benched as a sophomore and transferred to Michigan, where he's battling Shane Morris for the starting job this spring.

2. Luke Del Rio, Oregon State to Florida: Del Rio, the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, is hoping his third FBS stop is the right one. He's the favorite to start for the Gators this coming season after Will Grier transferred and Treon Harris moved to receiver.

A photo posted by AggieFBLife (@aggiefblife) on

3. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma to Texas A&M: The onetime Sooners starter will try to revive his career with the Aggies, who are looking for a starter after Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred. Knight, 22, will battle Jake Hubenak for the job this spring.

4. Dakota Prukop, Montana State to Oregon: The Ducks are banking on an FCS transfer to lead their offense for the second season in a row. Prukop, who passed for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for 797 yards and 11 rushing TDs at Montana State in 2015, is already enrolled at Oregon.

5. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M to TCU: Hill, who was an early Heisman Trophy candidate with the Aggies in 2014, transferred to TCU last summer and ran the scout team. He's the favorite to replace record-setting quarterback Trevone Boykin in the Horned Frogs' spread offense.

Workout warriors

1. Pitt running back James Conner joined his teammates for an offseason workout -- in between chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma.

2. Tennessee defensive lineman Jonathan "King" Kongbo squatted 600 pounds.

3. Nick Chubb gave UGA fans a reason for hope

4. Clemson's players tried tug of war.

5. Leave it to Washington State's Mike Leach to try something unorthodox.

Comeback trail

1. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor: Russell put up eye-popping numbers until injuring his neck in the seventh game of 2015. He's participating in spring practice, but won't participate in contact drills. Sophomore Jarrett Stidham also won't be hit as he recovers from ankle surgery.

2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: The Bulldogs' star running back isn't expected to do much this spring as he continues to recover from a devastating left knee injury. New UGA coach Kirby Smart hasn't put a timetable on Chubb's return to full action.

3. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU: Hill, who suffered a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the 2015 opener against Nebraska, announced last month that he's returning to BYU for his senior season. He'll battle sophomore Tanner Mangum for the starting job in what should be a heated competition.

4. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson: Williams missed Clemson's dramatic run to the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T after injuring his neck by running into the goalpost on the opening drive of the season. He'll be one of quarterback Deshaun Watson's favorite targets this coming season.

5. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA: The Bruins' promising defensive tackle tore the ACL in his knee while celebrating a touchdown in the 2015 opener against Virginia. With Kenny Clark leaving for the NFL, UCLA needs a healthy Vanderdoes to anchor its defense.

Arriving early

1. Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia: Eason, who was ranked the No. 1 pocket passer in the country by ESPN Recruiting, will be given a shot to unseat incumbent Greyson Lambert this spring. The Bulldogs ranked 104th in FBS in passing with only 185.1 yards per game in 2014.

2. Daelin Hayes, LB, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are hoping Hayes can help them at either linebacker or on the defensive line as a freshman. He won't do any hitting in spring practice, however, after undergoing shoulder surgery last fall.

3. Kyle Davis, WR, Auburn: The Tigers are hoping former Florida State quarterback John Franklin III and Davis can boost their struggling passing game this coming season. With Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray departing, Davis might be given a lot of early opportunities.

4. Carlo Kemp, LB, Michigan: Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has raved about Kemp's ability to learn and adapt since arriving on campus. The nephew of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano might have a chance to work his way into Michigan's depleted linebacker corps.

5. Austin Mack, WR, Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost a plethora of playmakers, including Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall, and Mack's speed might give him a chance to get on the field very early.

Scenes from Michigan's spring break (or practice)

New coordinators (offense)

1. Noel Mazzone, Texas A&M: Mazzone, who tutored UCLA freshman Josh Rosen last season, will try to help Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin revive his team's struggling offense.

2. Sterlin Gilbert, Texas: Along with Strong, Texas' president and athletics director flew to Tulsa to persuade Gilbert to take the job. His career trajectory over the last six years: Temple (Texas) High School, Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green, Tulsa and now Texas.

3. Jim Chaney, Georgia: Smart plucked Chaney from Pittsburgh to run a pro-style offense similar to what Alabama utilizes. Chaney's first key decision will be choosing a starting quarterback.

4. Matt Lubick, Oregon: Ducks coach Mark Helfrich promoted Lubick to offensive coordinator after Scott Frost left to become Central Florida's new coach. Lubick worked the past three seasons as Oregon's receivers coach and passing-game coordinator, so there shouldn't be many changes.

5. Chip Lindsey, Arizona State: Four years ago, Lindsey was the head coach at Spain Park High School in Hoover, Alabama. Now, he's in charge of Arizona State's offense after former coordinator Mike Norvell left to become Memphis' new coach.

New coordinators (defense)

1. Don Brown, Michigan: After former Wolverines defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin left to become Maryland's new coach, Harbaugh worked quickly to hire Brown. His Boston College defense led the FBS by allowing only 4.07 yards per play in 2015.

2. Dave Aranda, Wisconsin: Embattled LSU coach Les Miles probably upgraded his defense by replacing former coordinator Kevin Steele with Aranda. Under Aranda, Wisconsin's defense led the FBS in scoring defense (13.7 points per game) and was No. 2 in total defense (268.5 yards).

3. Bob Shoop, Tennessee: Volunteers coach Butch Jones hopes Tennessee can take the next step in the SEC with Shoop coordinating the defense. He produced top-25 defenses at Vanderbilt and Penn State in each of the last five seasons.

4. Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama: After losing longtime coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia, Tide coach Nick Saban hired a familiar face. Pruitt spent six seasons on Saban's staff before leaving for Florida State and then Georgia.

5. Manny Diaz, Miami: Diaz's road back to major FBS football is complete. The former Texas coordinator did nice work at Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State before Mark Richt hired him as Miami's new coordinator. He'll switch the Hurricanes from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 alignment.

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