(Note: Over the next week we'll be launching a new feature and an in-depth look at spring practice from each conference)
Well, there you have it. All but a handful of FBS football teams have wrapped up spring practice, with most culminating in a spring game/scrimmage. And like every year, I paid a great detail of attention to every quarterback battle, emerging freshman, and new offensive coordinator. Of course I also took note of every program that is committed to placing a greater emphasis on the run, a number that includes 110 out of the 120 squads for 2010. And though I'd like to believe that this time spent scouring the web for practice reports, spring game accounts, video clips, and interviews with senior players well-versed in cliche talk was well-spent, for the most part my wife was right: I shouldda come up to bed.
However this isn't to say that NOTHING positive came from paying such close attention to spring ball. I'm in a better mood knowing that only a few months sit between me and the start of the college football season. I know more than I should about early enrollee freshmen and redshirts. I have a good feel on many of the nation's pending quarterback battles, thus I'm in better position to cement my status as one of the nation's foremost (self-proclaimed mind you) experts in college fantasy football. So as we head into the beautiful month of May, I may not know much, but I have learned nine things from the 2010 version of spring ball, knowledge that I'm going to impart to you, our loyal readers.
The Nine Things
1. Some running backs are moving and shaking
Michael Smith, Utah State
Utah State running back Michael Smith is flying under the radar for now, but probably not for long. Smith ripped off 112 yards on just seven carries in the Aggies spring game while filling in for the injured Robert Turbin (torn ACL). If nothing else, the Aggies run game is consistent. Turbin averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season and surprisingly enough, Smith also averaged 6.3 yards per carry as Turbin's understudy. A sign of good things to come? We think so.
Mario Fannin, Auburn
Based on Auburn practice reports and comments from running backs coach Curtis Luper, it appears that Fannin had a spring second only to this guy. He's running strong, hanging onto the football and pretty much doing everything that we've expected this guy to do for the last couple of years. Ben Tate has moved on, but the fun Tiger offense remains.
Tauren Poole, Tennessee
A coaching change and having to compete for carries wasn't Bryce Brown's thing. But it seemed to be just the right thing for Poole. Poole emerged as solid sleeper pick this spring.
Dillon Baxter, USC
When the comparisons to Reggie Bush started floating around during recruiting season, I had a hard time seeing it. But Baxter, who's being used as a wildcat, has certainly been impressive. And if you missed the video we posted earlier, here it is again.
My colleague, Tyler Holmes, is convinced we're looking at the next great one. I'm not going to argue with him.
2. Not one athletic department can count, nor does it apparently want to learn.
How many were at your school's spring game? 50,000? 75,000? 250,000? Athletic Directors and Sports Information Directors treat attendance at a spring game like a lawyer treats a billable hour. Were you thinking about coming to the spring game, only to stay home and cut your lawn and toenails instead? Good enough for us. Count it.
I want these guys as my golfing partners. Did you get your putt within 10 feet of the cup? Pick it up baby.
I watched these games. I know how many seats exist in most college stadiums. And when a 70,000-seat stadium appears about 20 percent full, but estimates have attendance at 50 percent, then someone has to learn that the goal of estimating is to come kind of close to the actual total.
Michigan State, my alma mater, is among the offenders. You see, the Spartans set an all-time record for hoop game attendance (Kentucky back in 2003) and it began this played-out run on hockey games being staged outside back in 2001. So clearly size matters to the Green and White. I planned on going to the spring game on Saturday with my wife and daughter...if the weather wasn't crap. The weather was crap, so we vacuumed and did laundry, knowing full well that the game would be aired on Sunday. When you tailgate as much as I do, spring practice isn't necessary. But friends went, and I saw pictures.
Spartan "officials" estimated the game's attendance to be around 30,000. Clearly there is an insane percentage of Spartan Stadium seats located in the very lower portion of the lower bowl...between the 30 yard lines.
Spring games are great. Keep the kid clinics. Keep the autograph sessions. Get more youngsters on a college campus on a spring day. Raise money for a cause of local importance. And maybe, just maybe, use a turnstile if the number of people showing up to watch a practice is that important to you.
3. Some running backs should be avoided
All of our optimism and certainty regarding the fantasy prospects of Florida State's Jermaine Thomas heading into 2009 have been replaced with a real Debbie Downer feel. There are a bunch of backs likes Lonnie Pryor, Tavares Pressley, Ty Jones and Chris Thompson in Tallahassee, and each will present the chance to breakout on a weekly basis.
Speaking of optimism and clarity, things sure looked different in Iowa City at this time last year. Shonn Greene was heading to the New York Jets, but young Jewel Hampton was ready to take over the lead role. And then Hampton suffered a summer knee injury that ended his 2009 before it began. He didn't see any contact this spring, so nothing is certain for 2010. The true bummer for Big Ten fantasy owners looking to Kinnick Stadium for assistance is that none of the top four backs (Hampton, Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, hell even Paki O'Meara) saw action in the spring game. The Iowa running game looks like one of 2010's forbidden fruits. It's oh so enticing...but one to avoid.
4. Things will be fine at both Cincinnati and Notre Dame
Anytime there's a coaching change at a top fantasy locale there is a bit of concern. Spring ball at both Cincy and Notre Dame has assuaged any fears. Each program appears in more than capable hands. Butch Jones has said and done all the right things in his short time in the Queen City; but Jones not only has the right words, he has the talent to back up his high expectations.
A supposed open competition at quarterback in Cincinnati became a rubber stamping as Zach Collaros seized the job that most assumed he already owned. Talented runner Isaiah Pead suffered a late-spring injury that proved to be just a scare, and in wide receivers Armon Binns, D.J. Woods and Vidal Hazelton there are major threats on every single snap. Even tight end Ben Guidugli has the look of a fantasy factor.
Meanwhile in South Bend coach Brian Kelly is ranting and raving like me after a night spent carousing in Kilkenny. This quarterback isn't good enough! The offense isn't good enough! We're not playing fast enough! And for a program that lacked that certain something during the previous regime, this is exactly what is needed. And while quarterback Dayne Crist is unproven, Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd are not. Sure this offensive line only returns two starters, but I've learned to not doubt Brian Kelly in a new spot, nor the cupboard he leaves for his replacement at the previous campus.
5. There was an eerie silence in Coral Gables...and this is very good
With Urban Meyer providing still more drama, Tim Tebow and Bobby Bowden moving on, and Jimbo Fisher talking a whole lot about the 2010 season, Cane coach Randy Shannon was able to fly under the radar.
This Miami offense, like the rest of the team, is deep, talented and hungry. Sure the offense will take on one of the nation's toughest slates (based on 2009 defensive numbers of opponents) but Jacory Harris will be a year wiser, the running back corps is strong, and there may not be a better group of receivers in the country.
This spring was the calm before the hurricane hits.
6. Cameron Newton will start (and play well) at quarterback for Auburn
Newton had a whole bunch of suitors following a brief stint at Blinn College, and when he decided upon Auburn it what assumed that he'd step right into the starting job. Spring ball did nothing to change our mind, despite the fact that they choose not to name a starter. Newton brings the ideal skill set to Gus Malzahn's offense, one that will return eight starters from a season ago.
7. Matt Barkley will be ready to roll
Andrew Luck is the hot name among sophomore quarterbacks, but it's Barkley that should be of more interest to fantasy owners. The Trojan true sophomore had a relatively low-key spring while USC worked primarily on the ground attack, but this shouldn't cause much concern. For all that we mock Lane Kiffin, the man has been a key cog in some pretty prolific passing attacks. He was able to get 2800 passing yards and 28 touchdowns out of Jonathan Crompton last season, and this was against a SEC slate of defenses.
Meanwhile Luck, the redshirt sophomore talent in Palo Alto, has become one of Mel Kiper's golden boys for the 2010 season, and potentially the 2011 NFL Draft. Whether or not you believe the draft guru with the fabulous hair knows what the hell he's talking about, Luck is still not one worthy of a high draft selection. He was unbelievably efficient (13 touchdown passes against only four picks) while displaying a great deal of mobility, running for 354 yards and two scores. But this is an offense that will be more than willing to ground it out behind a running back by-committee attack. Don't get too caught up in Toby Gerhart's departure; Jim Harbaugh will not stop pounding the rock.
8. I love Diondre Borel
Great talent, kickass spring and wide open offense. This senior should be among the first quarterbacks off the board.
9. Jake Heaps is ready to go
Bronco Mendenhall can talk all he wants about a quarterback battle. It'll be a major, major surprise if the BYU offense doesn't belong to the talented freshman this fall.
Spring ball has concluded. Now comes the really fun part. We'll analyze everything we've seen, read and heard and finalize our player projections, rankings and previews for the upcoming season. The season tickets have been purchased, road trips are being contemplated, and we'll soon have visions of the perfect tailgate, BCS bowl for our alma mater and, of course, that ever-elusive college fantasy football title.