Commentary

Position battles dominate Big East's spring practices

Updated: February 29, 2008, 4:38 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

West Virginia -- coaching drama aside -- appears ready to pick up where it left off, with a talented offense. But will Connecticut still look like the conference co-champ this spring? Syracuse could certainly use a makeover, and Louisville's defense got one.

There was just one head coaching change in the league, but the departure of several successful players should heighten a few position battles this spring. Here's a look at what to watch for this spring in the Big East:

Cincinnati Bearcats

Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 26
What to watch
• Without quarterback Ben Mauk, the competition will be between returning former two-year starter Dustin Grutza or transfer Demetrius Jones, who started last year's season opener for Notre Dame.

• The Bearcats also have to replace a pair of senior defensive ends in Angelo Craig and Anthony Hoke, along with all-conference safety Haruki Nakamura.

• The running backs job will be contested this spring, as Cincinnati graduated a trio who split time last season.

Big East Power Rankings

With playmaking QB Pat White still at the helm, West Virginia enters spring practice on top of the Big East power rankings., writes Heather Dinich. Story

Connecticut Huskies

Spring practice starts: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Coach Randy Edsall has said the entire group of wide receivers needs to be more productive, and he'll be looking for somebody to stand out there this spring.

• How Scott Lutrus, who moved to middle linebacker from the outside, progresses at his new spot will be worth watching.

• Quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, a former junior college transfer, will be in his second season as a starter. Whether he can orchestrate a more balanced offense will help determine whether the Huskies can continue last year's success.

Louisville Cardinals

Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 18
What to watch
• An entirely new defensive staff will try to transform one of last season's worst defenses in the country. Former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English will take over.

• Louisville hired former Western Michigan D-coordinator Bill Miller to coach the linebackers after former Duke coach Ted Roof bolted to Minnesota before the spring even began. All three of the Cardinals' starters are gone. James Bryant, a transfer from Miami, sat out last year but could be the guy in the middle. Chris Campa, a junior college transfer, also will have an opportunity.

• Coach Steve Kragthorpe will coach the receivers, and he also must find players to replace both starting tight ends. But he has no one with any game experience to choose from.

Spring Forward

New coaching staffs are making plans. New offensive and defensive schemes are on the chalkboard. Position battles are about to heat up. The games won't count again until August, but the preparation for the 2008 season is about to kickoff. Here's a quick look at what you need to know about spring practice.

ACC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big 12
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big East
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big Ten
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Pac-10
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

SEC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Non-BCS
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Pittsburgh Panthers

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• As a true freshman last season, quarterback Pat Bostick earned the starting job out of necessity after Bill Stull fractured his thumb in the season opener, but Stull will be back this spring to push him. Junior college transfer Greg Cross, who joined the team in January, will also compete for the job, along with Kevan Smith, who started two games last season after Stull got hurt, but lost the job to Bostick.

• Both offensive tackle positions are wide open, and it will be tough to replace Jeff Otah and Mike McGlynn, both NFL prospects.

• Former defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who directed the Panthers to the top overall defense in the Big East and the No. 5 ranking nationally, left after eight seasons to join the staff at Auburn. Can former SMU coach Phil Bennett maintain that success?

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Spring practice starts: March 11
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Losing tailback Ray Rice will be the most noticeable difference on the roster, but there is still depth at the position. Mason Robinson played behind Rice as a true freshman last season, and sophomore Jourdan Brooks impressed the staff at the bowl practice. Junior Kordell Young is another option, although he tore his ACL in the third game last season and might not be ready to go until the fall.

• The offensive line lost three seniors, including two bookend tackles. The coaches are moving highly touted sophomore Anthony Davis from right guard to left tackle, but right tackle is wide open.

• Two new assistants were added to the staff in special teams coordinator Chris Rippon and Ed Pinkham, whose title on defense hasn't been determined yet.

Syracuse Orange

Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Position battles at offensive line, tight end and safety will be the most contested.

• After allowing almost 35 points per game last season, the defense needs an overhaul. Greg Robinson hired Dan Conley to coach the linebackers and promoted Derrick Jackson to co-defensive coordinator with Robinson.

• Syracuse averaged just 2 yards per rush last season and five rushing touchdowns all season. Can any of the returning backs -- namely Curtis Brinkley -- rush for more than 400 yards?

USF Bulls

Spring practice starts: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• The Bulls will miss defensive line guru Dan McCarney, who left this month to join Florida's coaching staff. Defensive end George Selvie should help smooth the transition for McCarney's replacement.

• USF will also have to replace cornerbacks Mike Jenkins (three interceptions, 12 pass breakups) and Trae Williams (six interceptions, 11 pass breakups), which won't be easy.

• The evolution of junior quarterback Matt Grothe should help the team build on last year's legitimate success.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Spring practice starts: March 14
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Shifty quarterback Pat White is back, but how well will Noel Devine slide in for Steve Slaton, who decided to forgo his senior season in favor of the NFL Draft?

• The most obvious story line this spring is how the team moves forward with its new coaching staff and whether it can leave the Rich Rodriguez saga behind.

• The Mountaineers have to replace seven starters on defense, including Johnny Dingle, who also opted for the NFL Draft. The staff is hoping junior college transfer Tevita Finau will provide at least one immediate answer.

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.