Spring ball ends with a new Top 25
Maisel: Post-spring Top 25
Coaches are getting smarter about spring practice. That's the only logical explanation for the lack of major injuries suffered over the last two months. Oldtimers may complain about quarterbacks prancing around the backfield in pacifying colors, and about the disappearance of the traditional spring game, but I can't remember a spring when so many teams emerged intact.
All of which means there aren't a lot of changes in this Top 25. It will remain intact until our season preview begins in August. Fortunately, the season begins in fewer than four months.
The Tigers emerged from spring ball healthy, and senior quarterback Marcus Randall proved that his grasp of the offense is sufficient enough to keep offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from turning to JaMarcus Russell, the immensely talented but inexperienced freshman. The holes at wide receiver will be filled in part by tailback Joseph Addai and cornerback Corey Webster.
The arrest and suspension of right tackle Winston Justice, the man who protects the blind side of lefty quarterback Matt Leinart, leaves the Trojans with only two offensive linemen who have ever started a game. While USC still appears to be better than every team on its schedule, the lack of an experienced offensive line narrows the team's margin of error.
The Bulldogs lost starting weak-side linebacker Tony Taylor (knee) for the season, but junior Derrick White, who started three games last fall, and sophomore Danny Verdun Wheeler, who started two, should be able to compensate. That's indicative of the Dawgs' defensive depth. The two biggest questions remain the health of the offensive line, and finding a replacement for kicker Billy Bennett, who set an NCAA record last season for field goals attempted (38) and made (31). Without him, the offense will have to finish more drives with touchdowns.
A relatively uneventful spring -- quarterback Jason White did not practice much, but coach Bob Stoops said that White's injured toe has healed. And if it hasn't, backup Paul Thompson had a very good spring. Linebacker Lance Mitchell, who missed the second half of last season because of a knee injury, made seven tackles in the spring game. That's remarkable progress, and a good sign for the fall.
The Wolverines fooled around with switching to a 3-4 scheme, and that was before tackle Jeremy Van Alstyne was lost for the season with a knee injury. The depth at linebacker and in the secondary gives defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann the luxury to make situational changes. Guard David Baas took a lot of snaps at center, and may end up there in the fall. At quarterback, Matt Gutierrez had a good spring and remains a step ahead of the field.
The more aggressive defensive scheme installed by new coaches Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey looks promising. But any defense that features linebacker Derrick Johnson looks promising. The combination of Vince Young at quarterback and Cedric Benson at tailback remain the best running-passing combo in any backfield, with the exception of Missouri quarterback Brad Smith lining up in an empty formation.
Can the 'Canes recover from losing six first-round draft choices? Hard to say -- no team has ever had six first-round draft choices. No quarterback emerged from the spring as the out-and-out leader, and as the old saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks (or, in this case, three), you don't have any. The 'Canes remain this high based on talent and schedule, since Florida State and Virginia Tech both go to the Orange Bowl and Miami doesn't play Maryland.
8. Florida State
Do you believe in Chris Rix or don't you? The fifth-year quarterback is spending this spring trying out for the track team as a sprinter. You might think he would be watching some video, but we digress.
The Terrapins believe they found a quarterback in sophomore Joel Statham, which might make him the first Joel to be an outstanding quarterback in the history of the game. The defense looked very good in the spring. Corner Reuben Haigler tweaked a groin muscle but is expected to recover by the fall.
Utes quarterback Alex Smith had a good spring, better than his numbers in the spring game (17-of-42, two picks). Wide receiver Thomas Huff raised some eyebrows, but overall the defense looked better than the offense. That's never a bad sign.
Any schedule that opens up Wake Forest-Georgia Tech-at Texas A&M-at Florida State-at Virginia, and later includes a streak of Maryland-North Carolina State-at Miami, is not a bowl friendly one.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at email@example.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel's Mailbag.
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