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What to watch across the nation

Dennis Dodd | March 15, 2009

You think there would be more respect for a defending national champion. But Florida has been taking some lately.

If you have to ask from where, you're either in a coma or a lacrosse fan.

Tennessee's Lane Kiffin began firing with both barrels from the time he took the podium at Tennessee. And you thought the spring practice was all about football? Spring is recruiting -- there is still five-star prospects on the board. Spring is about scandal. (Hello, Florida State.) Until further notice, spring is about smack talk, too.

Hey, it's better than watching cone drills.

There is plenty of football to go around. Spring is also about everything from the Heisman Triplets to a Notre Dame comeback (maybe). It's all here in the annual 25 Spring Things to Watch.

No. 15

Tennessee's Lane Kiffin began firing with both barrels from the time he took the podium at Tennessee. And you thought the spring practice was all about football? Spring is recruiting -- there is still five-star prospects on the board. Spring is about scandal. (Hello, Florida State.) Until further notice, spring is about smack talk, too.

Hey, it's better than watching cone drills.

There is plenty of football to go around. Spring is also about everything from the Heisman Triplets to a Notre Dame comeback (maybe). It's all here in the annual 25 Spring Things to Watch.

No. 15

Maybe it's divine intervention. Maybe not. Either way, Florida gets Tebow for one more season. (Getty Images)  
Maybe it's divine intervention. Maybe not. Either way, Florida gets Tebow for one more season. (Getty Images)  
Who knew how close Tim Tebow came to leaving early?

It turns out a favorable NCAA ruling allowed Tebow to keep raising money for an orphanage through his father's ministry. If not, Superman might have leapt a tall building all the way to the NFL.

In his heart, Tebow wanted to return to college but not exactly for football reasons. He thought it was the best way to spread his faith, which has been chronicled considerably.

Oh yeah, and the rest of the Gators

Can they repeat and make it four consecutive SEC national titles?

You're kidding, right?

Florida should go in as the preseason No. 1 without Percy Harvin. That ought to tell you something. If the injury bug doesn't bite in the spring, all 11 defensive starters should return. That includes All-American linebacker Brandon Spikes, who made the best decision of his life, maybe one that will make him an additional $10 million in next year's draft.

Remember how USC transfer Emmanuel Moody was going to break out last season? He couldn't get on the field with the emergence of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. If Moody does make a move, the Gators will be even more lethal. There are the Pouncey twins in the line. Another All-American, Brandon James, might be the country's best returner.

And Tebow.

If all that isn't enough, the Gators are spending the offseason getting stoked for one of the biggest Tennessee games in history because of ...

Team Caffeine

Making coffee available to the Tennessee staff is like dropping Mentos into a 2-liter of Diet Coke.

Stand back.

Like these guys need anything to get motivated. Led by Lane Kiffin, it seems you can't spell "F-you, turkey!" without UT. The new coach has shot his mouth off, apparently committed NCAA violations and had his staff go topless for prospects. If you don't believe any of that, you're going to end up pumping gas like everyone else in South Carolina.

In case you've forgotten, Kiffin's Krew can also recruit, which has the Vols faithful fired up enough to scream from Rocky Top. From the rebuilding standpoint, Kiffin gets it. You hire a good staff, round up the players and then go beat Florida.

All he has to do now is beat Florida.

The good: Defense wasn't the problem last season. All-American defensive back Eric Berry leads a unit that was tied for third in total defense.

The bad: The offense was tied for 110th in scoring, and there are significant questions at quarterback.

Just don't get in the way of the coaches bouncing around the offices. Judging by these Type A personalities, team speed takes on a whole new meaning.

How I Spent My Spring, by The Heisman Triplets

College football's Three Amigos aren't much different from you or me. That is, if you or me had two Heismans, a couple of national championships or were the most accurate passer in history. They finished 1-2-3 in the Heisman voting. They are 1-2-3 in leading returning passers for 2009.

Don't be surprised to see Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Tebow together again in New York. Meanwhile, there are lives to live this spring ...

 Tebow leaves soon for another mission trip to the Philippines. Last year, good-luck circumcisions kicked off a national championship run.

 Bradford is back after surgery on his left (non-throwing) hand. Bob Stoops has promised to cut off a limb of any Sooners defender who tackles him.

 McCoy will take another mission trip to Peru. Who wouldn't want to eat rice with the indigenous peoples in the Amazon jungle?

Enough already

We aren't the only ones officially sick and tired of the Bryce Brown saga. The nation's No. 1 recruit was due to announce his school choice Monday at an elaborate press conference at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. Jimmy Clausen thinks that's over the top.

Oregon, Tennessee, LSU or Oregon will get a late -- and great -- signee.

A Chip off the old Bellotti

Slightly more than three months after he became coach-in-waiting, Chip Kelly became the coach-in-fact. His boss, Mike Bellotti, announced Friday that he is moving over to become athletic director July 1.

Not that this is a surprise. Kelly supposedly had a hand in two assistants leaving during the offseason. He already had proved himself as an effective recruiter.

A guy who made his bones as New Hampshire's offensive coordinator with the spread offense developed the nation's No. 2 rushing attack last season at Oregon. Should USC be concerned? The Ducks have top 10 quality talent guided by a first-year head coach in 2009.

Oklahoma's offensive line

It was either a motivational ploy or the truth.

It was probably a little of both when Stoops ripped his O-line a couple of weeks ago. The unit has to be rebuilt after it basically kept Bradford spotless during his Heisman Trophy season. It's not sexy to watch offensive line play, but you can bet Stoops is merely getting a motivational head start on the Red River Shootout.

"They, right now, are kind of the weak link of the team," Stoops said.

So weak that Oklahoma should win 10 again and contend for a national championship.

Tick, tick, tick ...

Time is running out for Charlie Weis. Will taking over as the play caller help him stay at Notre Dame? (Getty Images)  
Time is running out for Charlie Weis. Will taking over as the play caller help him stay at Notre Dame? (Getty Images)  
Charlie Weis has one season left to turn things around. You know it, I know it, he knows it.

Whether Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick decided to leave Weis in place when he couldn't land Brian Kelly/Bill Cowher/Les Miles/Jeff Jagodzinski/Chris Petersen/Mike Leach/Jim Grobe (pick one) is up for debate. The reality is Weis has 2009 left to turn things around in what has turned around to be a middling stay in South Bend.

Things are trending up. Weis reinstalled himself as the play caller, which is where he should be. Five-star linebacker Manti Te'o said yes in recruiting, likely becoming the first Mormon in the revered Catholic program and one of the few Hawaiians ever to make the trek to South Bend.

What Domers would like to see in the spring: More progress by quarterback Jimmy Clausen, receiver Michael Floyd becomes a go-to and continued improvement from the offensive line.

Bill Snyder 2.0

It seems that things have mellowed at Kansas State. The staff is meeting until 9 p.m. each work day. That's before spring practice.

What happened to Midnight Madness for the K-State staff? Maybe Bill Snyder has mellowed. The former coach who pulled off the Miracle in Manhattan (1989-2005) is back. The Ron Prince era ended when he was fired during the 2008 season, less than three months after receiving an extension from the administration.

Yes, that suggests K-State athletics have been in disarray. It also means there was only one way to go when Prince was fired. Snyder wanted back in, and Kansas State wanted him back in.

The first recruiting class was underwhelming, but Snyder is going to do it his way, which is to outwork everyone. The staff had better be ready. When football season arrives, Midnight Madness in the football offices will be a given.

And the winner is ...

The quarterback battle of the century (at least at USC) is going down in Troy.

Mark Sanchez is gone. That leaves a wide-open spring competition between Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain and Matt Barkley. Combined college experience: 152 passes, 148 of those by Mustain.

In a spring full of great quarterback battles, this one is the best. The winner might have access to a Heisman, national championship and the NFL. Hey, it has happened before.

"It might be Barkley," one former USC staffer speculated. "Pete likes to do things that haven't been done before. Winning with a true freshman at quarterback would be one those."

So what was wrong with Tony Franklin?

Gene (5-19) Chizik has hired well. That's a good start at Auburn, where the head coach always has to feel like a puppet on a string.

The most curious hire might be offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. His predecessor, Franklin, was let go and disparaged in the middle of the season for running a punchless spread offense. The hurry-up spread also happens to be Malzahn's specialty.

It's not like the professorial OC doesn't know what he's getting into. He jumped from high school to Arkansas under Houston Nutt. Awkward doesn't begin to describe that fractured relationship.

Now after a couple of monster years at Tulsa, Malzahm is stepping up in class again. If he can get anything out of quarterbacks Kodi Burns, Chris Todd, Barrett Trotter and/or Neil Caudle, Malzahn will have something that Franklin didn't.

A paycheck at the end of the season.

April 18

For those of you who need your fix of offseason football, this is your day.

More than one-third of the 120 Division I-A programs (41) will be playing spring football games, including the entire SEC West (Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State).

Hail to the (hope to be) victors

Spring games can be boring, not to mention cold affairs at places like Michigan.

Not this year. First, a 6-3 game on April 11 won't get it. The recommendation is that quarterback Tate Forcier be allowed to play the whole game and throw for, say, 475 yards against the backups. Hey, it has worked in the past at places like Florida, where Tebow and Chris Leak have been allowed to air it out for entertainment value.

Michigan needs something, anything to perk up the fan base going into Year II of Rich Rod.

A safety net for T-Mobile

We know quarterback Tyrod Taylor will start for the Hokies. But who will back him up? (Getty Images)  
We know quarterback Tyrod Taylor will start for the Hokies. But who will back him up? (Getty Images)  
Yeah, yeah, there are flashes when Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor gets going, reminding us of a certain No. 7 doing time in a federal prison.

Just to be clear -- prison: bad. Channeling Tech-era Michael Vick: good. The main goal for the Hokies this spring is developing a backup for Taylor, who has finally has the quarterback job to himself. The problem is that while sharing time in his first two seasons, Taylor has been frequently injured. Ankles, mostly, which is bad for a dual-threat threat.

If Virginia Tech can win consecutive ACC titles while Taylor was finding himself, what can the Hokies do with perhaps Frank Beamer's best team since Vick's last season in 2000?

Spring is worth watching because the favorite to be the backup is redshirt sophomore Ju-Ju Clayton.

Ju-Ju?

Quizz

He beat USC. He helped turn the Pac-10 into a running league in 2008. What can Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers do for an encore as a sophomore?

Stay healthy, for one. The tiny, 5-foot-7, 190-pound back hurt his shoulder, most likely costing the Beavers a berth in the Rose bowl. The Pac-10's No. 2 rusher missed the Civil War against Oregon (loss) and the Sun Bowl against Pittsburgh (a narrow 3-0 victory).

If the Beavers are going to win at least nine for the fourth consecutive season, Quizz must stay on the field.

Miami rising?

There's a reason Miami stopped recruiting Bryce Brown.

Essentially, coach Randy Shannon can't lose in that category. Even without the Wichita tailback, the 'Canes are fairly loaded at running back. The tandem of Graig Cooper (888 yards in '08) and Javarris James are returning. Plus, Mike James, rivals.com's No. 18 tailback, is an early enrollee.

That backfield also includes quarterback Jacory Harris, who completed his first 17 passes in a recent scrimmage. That would indicate Harris is settling in after the transfer of Robert Marve.

McAbsent

Trojans running back Joe McKnight needs to live up to the hype and prove his worth. (Getty Images)  
Trojans running back Joe McKnight needs to live up to the hype and prove his worth. (Getty Images)  
He arrived early, enrolling in January 2007. The "next Reggie Bush" tag was tossed around without fear.

But heading into his third spring practice, Joe McKnight needs to step it up. USC's junior tailback will miss the spring because of dislocated toes suffered in the Rose Bowl.

He was supposed to be a program changer. McKnight's history of injuries and fumbles, combined with only flashes of brilliance on the field, have made him a borderline disappointment so far at Troy.

That screaming you hear is from a distant Mountain in the West ...

And it hurts my ears. Let's talk actual football.

Utah remains the Mountain West's best BCS buster sporting a nation-leading 14-game winning streak going into next season. You will soon become familiar with Corbin Louks, the quarterback taking over for Brian Johnson.

Ole Miss

The Rebels will be favored by some to win the SEC West in Houston Nutt's second season.

Nutt might be the most underrated coach in the country. He has more career wins than Rich Rodriguez, Tommy Tuberville and Nick Saban. Ole Miss closed out '08 winning its last five, including an embarrassment of Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

Seventeen starters return. Don't be surprised if the Rebels start '09 in the top 10.

Five coaching additions to watch

Jim Chaney, Tennessee offensive coordinator: Doesn't have much to work with this season but is one of the more respected offensive minds in the business. You now have the answer to the question: Who was Drew Brees' OC at Purdue?

Bill Young, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator: This veteran is in his third job in three years. In '07, the defense stood out in Kansas' Orange Bowl season. Last year, Miami finished seventh in pass defense under Young. If the Cowboys play just a little D, they could win the Big 12 South considering the offensive talent coming back.

William Swinney, Clemson head coach: You know him as Dabo. Swinney got the gig full time when he led the Tigers to a 4-3 finish after Tommy Bowden "resigned." The former 'Bama walk-on receiver is as humble as they come and just what Clemson needs to get that long-awaited ACC title.

Scot Loeffler, Florida quarterbacks coach: After the loss of Dan Mullen, Urban Meyer needed a name Tebow would sign off on. Loeffler coached some guy named Brady while at Michigan.

Danny Hope, Purdue head coach: The first of the coaches-in-waiting to actually take over, the Boilers' former offensive line coach has to resurrect a program that went to seed in the final years under Joe Tiller.

Five (or so) subtractions that will matter

Andy Ludwig leaving Kansas State after a month: This one hurt. Ludwig came from Utah, where he was offensive coordinator for the nation's only undefeated team. Maybe he got a whiff of Bill Snyder's hours and bailed for Cal, where things aren't quite so intense under Jeff Tedford.

Wally Burnham leaving South Florida for Iowa State: The veteran defensive coordinator spent nine happy years at South Florida and was given much of the credit for the magic 2007 season. The Bulls started 6-0 and rose to No. 2 in the country. Defensive end George Selvie became an All-American under Burnham.

It will be much tougher for Jim Leavitt going forward. It will tougher, and colder, for Wally in Ames.

Signing day at Tennessee: Kiffin snagged an LSU commit (Janzen Jackson), took a four-star safety away from LSU and Alabama (Darren Myles) and got receiver Nu'Keese Richardson from the Gators. You might have heard, he let Urban Meyer know about that one. Mike Locksley to New Mexico and Mike Schultz to Illinois: The domino effect hurt both Illinois and TCU. Locksley gave the Illini much of its identity under Ron Zook as the offensive coordinator and lead recruiter. He left for his first head coaching job in the high desert.

Schultz used many of Locksley's zone read principles at TCU. He will be asked to re-ignite Juice Williams in Champaign. Meanwhile, his loss will be felt in Fort Worth.

Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt to Washington: Not only did Sark bolt USC as offensive coordinator to take over the Huskies, he raided Pete Carroll's staff for loyal soldier Holt, the D-coordinator.

It has to get better, doesn't it?

Washington was the worst program in America last season. If you want to argue, we'll point to that big, fat goose egg. U-Dub was the only winless I-A program in the country.

Sarkisian has injected personality and quarterback credibility, but the Huskies still have miles to go. In his first season, though, Sark can't lose. Quarterback Jake Locker is healthy. The Huskies will win a game or three and begin the long, hard slog out of the Pac-10 basement.

Non-BCS report

 East Carolina could win Conference USA, giving coach Skip Holtz even more reasons (and opportunities) to leave than he did after last year's nine-win season.

 Boise State is this year's "it" non-BCS team to snag a BCS bowl. Beat Oregon on Sept. 5, win at Tulsa in October and the Broncos should coast to an undefeated season.

 BYU's season hinges on staying close to Oklahoma in the season opener at the new "Jerry Dome" in Dallas. A blowout loss will end the Cougars' BCS hopes before they begin.

 Who is Herb Hand and why is he salivating? Hand, a former West Virginia assistant, takes over for Gus Malzahn as Tulsa's offensive coordinator. Hand shared the job with Malzahn (now at Auburn) the past few seasons. Nothing will change, at least scheme-wise. Hand will be running one of the most lethal no-huddle spreads in the country.

Fastest rising conference

The ACC.

Since expansion, Tobacco Road has been known as college football's Shemp. But the cred is piling up.

Butch Davis has Carolina poised to win the conference. Virginia Tech never went away. Duke isn't Carrot Top anymore under David Cutcliffe. Paul Johnson immediately established at Georgia Tech beating Georgia in his first season. Clemson has life under Dabo Swinney. Wake Forest was won 28 games the past three seasons (and an ACC title) while producing a top 10 draft choice (linebacker Aaron Curry).

It's possible that Miami and Florida State are the two biggest question marks.

If this keeps up, the former stand-up comics of college football are going to be money, sweetheart.

Spring games

The idea has been tossed around informally lately: What about true spring games between opposing teams?

Forget the overhyped, controlled intrasquad scrimmages. Imagine the interest in an Alabama-Auburn scrimmage, or Florida-Tennessee. It would be impossible to overhype those suckers.

Sure, there would be no live kickoffs or punt returns. Sure, the quarterback would wear a green jersey. But all it would take was one knucklehead to ignore the no-tackle edict and, boom, you've got Tebow shredding an Achilles'. The concept would be scrapped quicker than a '65 Corvair.

Still, it's something to think about. Baseball has spring training. The NFL, NHL and NBA have their preseasons. We're a slow-down-for-a-car-wreck society. Who wouldn't want see a Heisman winner running for his life in March?

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