Commentary

Spring storylines to watch in 2011

Originally Published: February 28, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

It has been nearly two months since Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS national title game, but the end of the 2010 season seemed like ages ago for other programs across the country.

Traditional heavyweights like Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan and Texas can't wait to start the 2011 season after limping through uncharacteristic seasons in 2010.

Spring practice has started at a few schools across the country and many more will kick off this week and next.

Here's a look at 11 of the most important spring practice storylines for 2011:

Gene Chizik
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIGene Chizik and the Tigers will be looking for some offensive replacements this spring.

1. Auburn starts reloading

Few teams have as many important pieces to replace as Auburn. The Tigers have to replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, four senior starting offensive linemen and seven starters on defense.

Much of the focus this spring will be on the quarterback battle, as Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley begin competing for Newton's starting job. Incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier, who ran offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system in high school, joins the competition this summer.

2. TCU begins overhaul

TCU, which defeated Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 2 in the final rankings, also faces a major overhaul in its last season in the Mountain West Conference (it moves to the Big East in 2012). The Horned Frogs must replace quarterback Andy Dalton, four senior offensive linemen and six defensive starters.

Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson's biggest concern this spring might be the secondary, where four starters must be replaced on the country's No. 1 defense. TCU will have to reload without safeties coach Chad Glasgow, who left to become Texas Tech's defensive coordinator.

3. Spreading it around at West Virginia

West Virginia begins the Dana Holgorsen era, albeit 10 months before the Bill Stewart era officially comes to an end. Holgorsen, who was the architect of Oklahoma State's record-setting offense last season, was named Stewart's successor for 2012 and will begin to install his spread attack this spring.

If quarterback Geno Smith picks up Holgorsen's system, the Mountaineers might be favorites in the Big East this season. The Mountaineers also face heavy personnel losses on defense.

4. Muschamp era begins at Florida

New Florida coach Will Muschamp, who left Texas to replace retired Gators coach Urban Meyer, is changing UF's offense from a spread attack to a pro-style scheme. Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was hired as offensive coordinator and his biggest task might be restoring quarterback John Brantley's confidence. Brantley threw nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions and was sacked 22 times last season.

The Gators might move backup quarterbacks Jordan Reed and Trey Burton to new positions -- Reed might move to tight end; Burton might end up at cornerback or safety. If they move, Brantley would battle incoming freshman Jeff Driskel for the starting job. Florida also must rebuild its offensive line and find a capable running back.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMIThe Buckeyes need to find a QB to step in for Terrelle Pryor during the first five games of 2011.

5. Ohio State searches for stopgaps

The Buckeyes will enter the 2011 season as Big Ten favorites, but they must find a quarterback to start the first five games. Returning starter Terrelle Pryor is one of five OSU players who will be suspended for the first five games for selling memorabilia and awards.

Senior Joe Bauserman is probably the favorite to open the season as Ohio State's starting quarterback, but he'll have to hold off Taylor Graham and highly regarded freshman Braxton Miller. Tailback Dan "Boom" Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas are the other Buckeyes who face five-game suspensions.

6. Oregon gets defensive

Oregon returns most of the pieces from its record-setting offense, including quarterback Darron Thomas and tailback LaMichael James. But the Ducks' defense was a big reason they reached the BCS national title game last season, and coach Chip Kelly must rebuild that side of the ball this spring.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti must replace most of his front seven, including defensive end Kenny Rowe, tackles Brandon Bair and Zac Clark and linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger.

7. Wisconsin looks for beef

The Badgers return two-thirds of their three-headed monster at tailback, including leading rusher James White and Montee Ball. But much of Wisconsin's stellar offensive line is gone, including Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-America guard John Moffitt.

The Badgers also must replace quarterback Scott Tolzien. Joe Brennan, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips will battle for the job this spring.

8. LSU's quarterback battle

If LSU is going to unseat Auburn and Alabama in the rugged SEC West, the Tigers must get more out of their passing game. LSU ranked No. 107 nationally in pass offense in 2010, averaging only 155.6 yards per game.

Incumbent Jordan Jefferson completed only 56.5 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He'll have to hold off juco transfer Zach Mettenberger, a former Georgia player. Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe replaces offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.

9. Brady Hoke era begins

The Brady Hoke era begins at Michigan, after the former San Diego State coach was hired to replace the fired Rich Rodriguez. Hoke inherits a potent offense, with quarterback Denard Robinson coming back to lead a spread attack.

But Hoke must fix the Wolverines' myriad problems on defense. Michigan ranked 108th nationally in scoring defense (35.2 points per game); 110th in total defense (450.7 yards per game); 109th in turnover margin (minus-0.77); and 112th in pass defense (261.8 yards).

10. Boise State makes another run

Boise State will have an even bigger target on its back as it moves from the WAC to the Mountain West this coming season. The Broncos bring back quarterback Kellen Moore, a Heisman Trophy favorite, but they must replace leading receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left to become co-offensive coordinator at Texas.

Boise State also must find new starters at nickelback and safety, two of the most important positions in its defensive scheme.

11. Can Texas rebound?

Longhorns coach Mack Brown all but blew up his staff and started from scratch after last season's forgettable 5-7 record. Harsin and Major Applewhite were named co-offensive coordinators. Mississippi State's Manny Diaz was hired to replace Muschamp as defensive coordinator, and three other new assistants joined the staff.

Brown has closed every spring practice to media and fans for the first time. Texas has the talent to recover quickly, but it needs to find a more consistent running game, reliable receivers and better pass protection.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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