Mike Farrell's 10 biggest questions of spring football
With spring football underway for some college programs and soon to begin for others, Mike Farrell looks at the 10 biggest questions nationally heading into this crucial time of development.
1. WHO REPLACES DESHAUN WATSON AT CLEMSON?
Losing your superstar quarterback is never easy and replacing him puts a lot of pressure on the next guy so whomever replaces DeShaun Watson will obviously have big shoes to fill. Kelly Bryant has some talent and he knows the offense, Zerrick Cooper has excellent upside and athletic skills, and early enrollee Hunter Johnson is a five-star who could be the next great one. But none of them are ready to do what Watson did the last couple of seasons. This spring will be huge for the development of all three.
2. WILL JALEN HURTS TAKE THE NEXT STEP?
Alabama enters next season as the favorite in the SEC and the likely favorite to win the national title. Nothing new there, right? But a lot depends on the development of Jalen Hurts as a passer. Former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll is now the offensive coordinator at Alabama, so can he can take the quarterback to the next level? This spring will be critical for those steps to begin.
3. HOW MUCH CAN SAM DARNOLD IMPROVE?
When Sam Darnold took over for Max Browne, USC was a different team, and now Darnold is one of the hottest topics in college football. Darnold’s ability under pressure is akin to Watson's, and we could be looking at the quarterback that leads the Trojans back to the national title. He was amazing last year, but he has room to get even better and this spring will be big.
4. CAN A SCHEME CHANGE HELP THE OKLAHOMA DEFENSE?
The Baker Mayfield arrest is a big deal and area of concern to fans, but the defense has more questions to answer heading into the spring than anyone else. Going back to a 4-3 scheme will call for some role changes and perhaps some youth stepping in early. So, can the Sooners become the best defense in the Big 12 as they were when they made the playoffs in the 2015 season? The pass rush will be key to helping a secondary that was exposed often last year and while Oklahoma will be in multiple sets, the Brent Venables days with the 4-3 should get a good test ride this spring.
5. WILL LSU DEVELOP A QUARTERBACK?
Talent needs to be replaced on defense, but the big question is if new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can develop a quarterback. He did a great job with Nathan Peterman at Pitt; can he do the same with Danny Etling or someone else at LSU? This will clearly be the key to success or failure in the Ed Orgeron era.
6. CAN DEONDRE FRANCOIS GET SOME HELP?
Dalvin Cook is gone at FSU, and we all saw how often Deondre Francois was running for his life last season, so how will he do without the elite running back? The offensive line is expected to improve, but there are new receivers and the attention won’t be on Cook anymore. Francois has talent and the roster has a ton of potential, but this spring is big to start to put it all together. As the defense improves, and it surely will especially with Derwin James back, watch to see the development of the offense this spring.
7. CAN PENN STATE REPLACE PASS RUSHERS?
The offensive pieces are in place but there are losses on defense, especially along the defensive line so some players will need to step up. Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels are both gone but Shareef Miller showed a lot of promise last season. Can someone such as big-time recruit Shane Simmons from the 2016 class step in and help off the edge? We will find out this spring.
8. WHO WILL REPLACE THE LEADERS AT MICHIGAN
Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt, Jourdan Lewis, Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, De’Veon Smith, Erik Magnuson, Ben Braden – the list goes on and on when it comes to not only lost talent in Ann Arbor but also lost leadership. Michigan will be young but with excellent recruiting, it could be equally talented. This spring will allow us to get a sneak peek.
9. HOW WILL THE OFFENSE CHANGE AT TEXAS?
Last season we saw a whole lot of D’Onta Foreman carrying the offense for Texas, but with Tom Herman in charge changes are expected. But what will they be and how will the current personnel, minus Foreman, of course, adapt?
10. WILL THE OHIO STATE OFFENSE FIND A PLAYMAKER?
Curtis Samuel is gone and needs to be replaced. The offensive line is strong and the running game should be very solid, but can someone emerge as a big-time target for J.T. Barrett in the passing game this spring? The leading returning receiver is tight end Marcus Baugh with 24 catches. Can Austin Mack or Binjimen Victor step up as younger guys? Because the upperclassmen don’t look that promising.