Commentary

Spring produces campus optimism

Originally Published: May 3, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Time to pause in putting together that new "Big Ten 2012" jigsaw puzzle (it's not much fun; no one can tell you how many pieces there are) and appreciate all the non-news of spring practice, which concluded Saturday.

It's been a spring for jigsaw puzzles and any other pastime that you fancy. There hasn't been much news in college football. There's the non-news of expansion. And we're delighted to report there's the non-news of no major spring injuries.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Chris Williams/Icon SMIUSC's Matt Barkley emerged from spring practice in better shape.

If anything, the top players emerged from spring practice in better shape than they ended 2009. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, told by new coach Lane Kiffin that he looked chubby, lost 10 pounds.

Not bad, but once again, USC has been outdone by Oregon. The Pac-10 champs lost 220 pounds at quarterback.

Jeremiah Masoli's suspension strips the Ducks of the player and leader who made the magic happen for Oregon's offense last season. Masoli, who participated in a frat house burglary and then -- gee, how can I make this worse? -- lied about it to coach Chip Kelly, would have been a Heisman Trophy contender next fall. Instead, he's a contender for the Ducks' scout team.

The loss of Masoli knocked Oregon from No. 4 to No. 10 in Mark Schlabach's updated Top 25. Masoli's suspension doesn't eliminate the Ducks from a successful defense of their league title. Fifth-year senior Nate Costa has won the job before (2008, before blowing up his knee two weeks before the season began). He also started last season's 24-10 win at UCLA because of an injury to Masoli.

Even without Masoli, the Pac-10 will still have the best collection of quarterbacks of any FBS conference. Senior Jake Locker of Washington and redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck of Stanford are the two top NFL quarterback prospects. Between them, the return of Kiffin to USC, the Rodgers brothers at Oregon State and the installation of a pistol offense at UCLA, the Pac-10 will start August as the most interesting conference in the land.

Coaches tend to be protective of their best players in the spring. Yet Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram won spring game MVP (nine carries, 90 yards) at Alabama. Afterward, he described the defending national champions as "young and hungry." That's why the Crimson Tide remain No. 1.

Elsewhere in the SEC, Tennessee and Georgia competed to see which team could run off more players. Dawgs coach Mark Richt booted quarterback Zach Mettenberger off the team. Last year's backup, Logan Gray, is thinking about leaving. That means redshirt freshman Aaron Murray may have the most experience on the team, which is to say, none.

In the Big Ten, Penn State finished spring ball with no more answers at quarterback than when it began. Ohio State, however, seems to have one answer -- "yes" -- that it can't repeat enough. The question: Has Terrelle Pryor matured into the star quarterback everyone predicted him to be?

No. 2 Boise State signed coach Chris Petersen to a contract extension that will pay him $1.8 million a year. If you look at salary per fan, Petersen is very well paid. Bronco Stadium seats about 34,000, about one-third of Bryant-Denny Stadium, yet Petersen makes nearly half of Saban's $4.1 million.

No. 5 Virginia Tech of the ACC made next to no progress in trying to determine how to keep four tailbacks happy with one football. Once Darren Evans arrived in the spring with a knee healthy enough to sustain contact, Ryan Williams bruised a knee and didn't play in the spring game. The Hokies must find a quarterback and some defensive depth, but there's no question that they will make defenses stop the run.

Nebraska remains in the top 10 on the strength of its defense, which is a bit of disappointing news from an offense that barely cracked the top 100 in the nation last fall. The hope remains that quarterback Zac Lee will someday become a go-to guy. At least the Huskers found $2.6 million this spring. That's how much Outland Trophy winner Ndamukong Suh pledged to his alma mater the week of the NFL draft.

In the Big East, new Cincinnati coach Butch Jones looks as if he will make an easy transition from Central Michigan. Quarterback Zach Collaros, the best backup quarterback in the nation last year, appeared primed to take over for Tony Pike. Bearcats fans should remain optimistic that Cincinnati will win its third consecutive Big East championship.

Spring practice may not produce stars. It doesn't always produce answers. But the one thing it produces on every campus and in every fan's heart is optimism. No news this spring? That's very good news.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at ivan.maisel@espn.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com