|Tuesday, May 13
Updated: July 31, 4:37 PM ET
Solid spring shows Sooners still the 1
By Ivan Maisel
Now that spring practice is over, here's a top 25 to carry us into the fall based on what we learned this spring.
Coach Bob Stoops is confident that his team can make a run for its second national championship in four seasons. After spring practice, he is confident in quarterback Jason White's gimpy knees. And Stoops is confident, always confident in his defense.
Brock Berlin wins the quarterback job, and Derrick Crudup raises a racial ruckus. The school has one foot out the Big East door. Remember when the controversy at Miami came from the players' off-field problems?
From a dream season back to reality, as wonderful as it will be. The Bucks had a certain something special last season, and, for all the starters returning, those certain somethings don't last more than a season.
The Tigers had an uneventful spring, exactly as coach Tommy Tuberville hoped. The defense and a deep running game should continue to give quarterback Jason Campbell time to grow.
This isn't so much a bet on senior quarterback John Navarre as it is on a team that returns nearly intact from last season. Michigan did everything at Ohio State last season but win the game. What we don't know is whether the Wolverines learned the right lessons from that heartbreaking loss.
The Trojans, in trying to rebuild their offensive and defensive backfields, found sophomore Matt Leinart to play quarterback, at least going into August. Don't dismiss senior Matt Cassel or junior Brandon Hance, recovering from shoulder surgery, just yet. Given the state of the rest of the league, the Pac-10 belongs to USC for the near future.
If junior Chance Mock makes the most of his opportunity at quarterback, the Longhorns will rock. If not, how quickly will redshirt freshman Vincent Young get a turn? And will the attempt to convert from finesse blocking to power football translate into a dependable running game?
There's no better group of young talent in the nation, and no one has gotten as much help from players as quickly as coach Al Groh did last season. Quarterback Matt Schaub, the ACC Player of the Year, and sophomore tailback Wali Lundy are a potent combination. The defense, led by sophomore linebacker Darryl Blackstock, is big and quick.
The quarterback battle between junior Bryan Randall and redshirt freshman Marcus Vick will move into August, and probably into September. Neither coach Frank Beamer nor quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers has been shy about platooning. And with tailback Kevin Jones ready to roll, it's not as if either quarterback will have to carry the offense.
Coach Bill Snyder built this program with a lot of help from junior-college players. He hopes to keep the Wildcats where they are by doing the same at cornerback, where Corey Reddick and Cedrick Williams, both 5-foot-9 Floridians who started two seasons at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, will help replace All-American corner Terence Newman.
That would be the Bulldogs' predicted finish at the end of the season, after they have served the early-season suspensions for selling their rings. Big question, can defensive end David Pollack thrive without Johnathan Sullivan taking up space inside?
The Terps return 15 starters, and that doesn't include Bruce Perry, the 2001 All-American tailback who carried only 72 times last season because of injury. Though the search to replace Butkus Award winner E.J. Henderson made progress this spring, the job battle won't end until incoming freshman Wesley Jefferson gets his turn in August.
If coach Dirk Koetter finds any semblance of a defense, the Sun Devils will provide the stiffest challenge to USC in the Pac-10. Arizona State allowed 28 points or more eight times last year. Koetter went with young players in a 4-2-5 scheme last season, and the experienced arms in the league picked on them. Those arms are gone. The young players are a year wiser and better, even without All-American defensive end Terrell Suggs.
The Panthers have a top quarterback in Rod Rutherford, a potential All-American in wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and a chip on their collective shoulder after the Big East membership fight of this spring. If the defense can replace significant losses up front, the Panthers will challenge Miami.
Coach Bobby Bowden kept embattled quarterback Chris Rix away from the media this spring. With the running backs Rix has behind him -- both Greg Jones, recovering from a knee injury, and redshirt freshman Lorenzo Booker gave reason to hope -- Rix will get help. Will he get time? The offensive line is inexperienced and thin.
Coach Chuck Amato didn't let senior quarterback Philip Rivers or senior wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery anywhere near contact during the spring. The 'Pack worked on finding replacements for all four starting defensive linemen and middle linebacker Dantonio Burnette, who combined for 32 of the team's 48 sacks last season.
The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in total offense, and finished second in total defense by .1 of a yard to Ohio State. Purdue lost to Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State by a combined nine points last fall. Nearly everyone but Bob Griese returns, and you have to believe that the close losses of last year taught lessons for this fall.
New co-defensive coordinator Phil Snow came in to help shore up a pass defense that allowed a 55.9 percent completion rate. Eight starters return, and they seemed to improve during the spring. The Huskies still need to find a running game to help quarterback Cody Pickett and All-American wide receiver Reggie Williams.
Injuries continue to plague the Vols during spring ball, although the good news is that most of the players affected got hurt last fall and are still rehabbing. The Vols are uncomfortably thin at quarterback behind Casey Clausen, and the spring search for wide receivers never stopped. There is a renewed esprit de corps among the Vols after the tumult of last season. If they pull together, they'll challenge Georgia in the SEC East.
The offensive line and the secondary must be rebuilt, but the coaches emerged from spring ball convinced that both units will be fine. If tailback Julius Jones gets back into school this summer, the running game will improve. Linebacker Mike Goolsby sat out spring ball to rest his collarbone, but aggravated it playing basketball. He may not play this fall. The schedule is tough, once again, but it always is at Notre Dame.
The Horned Frogs, as they so often have, will make their living on their defense under coach Gary Patterson. Right end Bo Schobel leads a defensive line that may be the best in the nation east of USC. Spring concerns focused on the offensive line and wide receiver. There will be time to make it work. After the opener at Tulane, the next four opponents combined to win nine games last season.
The Aggies went 6-6 last season, and they must do a lot of work on defense with a new scheme and inexperienced players. Dennis Franchione sounds more confident about 2004 than he does about 2003. However, his teams improved dramatically in his first season at Alabama and at TCU. Despite a nasty schedule, somehow, Fran will get the Aggies to improve that record.
With so many injuries that coach Kirk Ferentz cancelled the spring game, it was not a spring to remember. Tailback Jermelle Lewis tore an ACL, which left only Fred Russell as a tailback with any experience. Quarterback Nathan Chandler is in the lead to replace Heisman runner-up Brad Banks. The offensive line must be rebuilt. Three fifth-year seniors move in alongside the lone returning starter, tackle Robert Gallery.
The Badgers will be healthier than a year ago, especially with the return of 2001 All-America wide receiver Lee Evans, who expects to be ready to go in August after two knee surgeries last year. Quarterback Jim Sorgi, who has been in and out of the lineup for the last two seasons, owns the job now, and that should settle the team.
In the last two Novembers, the Cowboys have come out of nowhere to grab national attention by upsetting Oklahoma. Closing last season with six victories in seven games means that Les Miles' team won't be a surprise this year. The entire campus breathed easier when an MRI of All-Big 12 wide receiver Rashaun Woods' knee showed no major damage. The tendonitis should heal over the summer.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.