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Rights of spring

Who stepped up and who stood out in spring practice

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 1:03PM; Updated: Wednesday April 25, 2007 10:14AM
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This much we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt: Americans love their spring football.

On a glorious weekend throughout the country, regular-season crowds filled some of the nation's biggest stadiums for their teams' respective spring games. At Ohio State, 75,301 spectators watched a rare, nail-biting Scarlet and Gray Game, with an 80-yard fumble-return touchdown sealing the deal. In a highly touching scene, many of the 71,000 at Penn State's Blue-White Game donned different colors -- maroon and orange -- in tribute to the shooting victims at Virginia Tech. At Notre Dame, a school-record 51,852 turned out to watch wunderkind Jimmy Clausen attempt seven passes.

And then there was the mother lode: Alabama. Crimson Tide fans managed to fill 92,138-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium to capacity for Nick Saban's first A-Day. No word on whether he was blown away or frightened beyond belief.

Whether these fans actually learned anything about their teams is another story. Coaches tend to keep things close to the vest in the spring when the public's around. Over the course of 15 practices, however, position battles are fought, new faces emerge and teams' identities begin to come clear. For this, my updated preseason Top 25, I recap each team's spring, including a "spring star" -- a previously obscure backup or talented youngster who figures to contribute heavily this fall following his breakout performance.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 --
USC Trojans (11-2 in 2006)
Key returnees: QB John David Booty, T Sam Baker, DE Lawrence Jackson, LBs Brian Cushing and Keith Rivers

Spring star: C Matt Spanos. Academically ineligible last season, Spanos emerged as the surprise replacement for departed All-America Ryan Kalil.

Spring recap: As expected, Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton established themselves as the new starting receivers. Former starting CB Josh Pinkard, injured all of last year, has moved back to safety and will rotate with returning starters Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison.
2 --
LSU Tigers (11-2)
Key returnees: QB Matt Flynn, RB Keiland Williams, WR Early Doucet, DT Glenn Dorsey, LB Ali Highsmith

Spring star: RB Richard Murphy. The slashing redshirt freshman ran for 85 yards on 11 carries in LSU's spring game and will be hard to keep off the field come fall.

Spring recap: The Tigers, loaded on defense, showed they should be fine on offense as well. Flynn, the 2005 Peach Bowl MVP, is more than ready to step in as the starter behind center, and Doucet will replace Dwayne Bowe as a go-to receiver. With Murphy, the backfield is suddenly very deep.
3 -- Key returnees: QB Tim Tebow, WRs Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin, DE Derrick Harvey, S Tony Joiner

Spring star: WR Louis Murphy. A non-factor his first two seasons, the junior caught eight passes for 129 yards in the spring game and is now considered a starter in the Gators' spread offense.

Spring recap: Tebow and his receivers clicked throughout spring, and Kestahn Moore emerged as the primary tailback. The defending champs go into fall with serious questions on defense, most notably cornerback, where youngsters Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis are still raw.
4 -- Key returnees: QB Pat White, RB Steve Slaton, FB Owen Schmitt, WR Darius Reynard, S Eric Wicks

Spring star: RB Noel Devine (high school senior). The Florida phenom finally signed with the Mountaineers on March 30, adding yet another speed demon to their backfield (if he qualifies).

Spring recap: With Slaton sidelined following wrist surgery, WVU focused on its passing game. Coach Rich Rodriguez expressed frustration with his young receiving corps but praised the performance of oft-maligned cornerbacks Antonio Lewis, Vaughn Rivers and Larry Williams.
5 -- Key returnees: QB Brian Brohm, WRs Harry Douglas and Mario Urrutia, C Eric Wood, LB Malik Jackson

Spring star: RB Sergio Spencer. Buried on the depth chart his first two years, the junior made a run for the starting tailback spot with his impressive scrimmage performances.

Spring recap: New coach Steve Kragthorpe installed about half his offense, with Brohm and Douglas clicking on quick passing routes. Junior DT Adrian Grady emerged as the replacement for star Amobi Akoye. Juco studs LB Willie Williams and CB Woodny Turenne arrive in the fall.
6 -- Key returnees: QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart, T Jake Long, WR Mario Manningham, LB Shawn Crable

Spring star: WR Greg Matthews. The rising sophomore, who made seven catches last season, earned rave reviews from coach Lloyd Carr, who said he has the makings of the next great Michigan receiver.

Spring recap: Injuries held out most of the Wolverines' main offensive contributors. Several new faces emerged on the defense, which must replace four departed All-Americas. Among those were juco transfer Austin Panter and freshmen Jonas Mouton and Obinna Ezeh, all at linebacker.
7 -- Key returnees: QB Sean Glennon, RB Branden Ore, LBs Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, CB Brandon Flowers

Spring star: RB Jahre Cheesman. The former cornerback, injured most of his freshman season, showed off some impressive moves. He could become a much-needed relief man for Ore.

Spring recap: Virginia Tech's spring game was canceled following last week's campus tragedy. Glennon and the offense, which struggled badly in 2006, made some encouraging big plays in the Hokies' two scrimmages. Last season's top-ranked defense returns eight proven starters.
8 -- Key returnees: QB Colt McCoy, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Limas Sweed, T Tony Hillis, DT Frank Okam

Spring star: CB Chykie Brown. The speedy redshirt freshman looked ready to see significant time both as a return man and in the Longhorns' depleted secondary.

Spring recap: With McCoy entrenched as the starter, Texas concentrated on developing a reliable backup QB. Freshmen Sherrod Harris and John Chiles both broke off long TD runs in the spring game. Veteran LB Drew Kelson moved to safety to help shore up a mediocre pass defense.
9 -- Key returnees: RB Allen Patrick, WRs Malcolm Kelly and Jaquin Iglesias, S Reggie Smith

Spring star: RB DeMarco Murray. The electrifying redshirt freshman was spectacular in three scrimmages, rushing 29 times for 327 yards (11.3 per carry), and will eventually supplant Patrick.

Spring recap: Redshirt freshman Sam Bradford appeared to separate himself from fellow contenders Joey Hazle and Keith Nichol in the QB race. OU is a veteran team, but several impressive youngsters emerged, including WR Adron Tennell, DB Dominique Franks and DT Gerald McCoy.
10 -- Key returnees: RB P.J. Hill, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessey, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Jack Ikegwuonu

Spring star: T Gabe Carimi. The redshirt freshman made enough strides to pull even with sophomore Jake Bscherer in the race to replace Outland winner Joe Thomas.

Spring recap: The offense, despite returning nine starters, largely struggled against the Badgers' loaded defense. Senior Tyler Donovan and K-State transfer Allen Evridge remain in a dead heat for the starting QB job. Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant stepped into the vacated safety spots.

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