August 20, 2018
Sports

Updating post-spring position battles for top 25 teams

Even the top 25 teams have issues that didn't get solved during spring practice. Here's a look at the top position battles still to be decided.

News flash: Nick Saban still hasn't named his starting quarterback. Not that it was going to happen in the spring anyway, but? Tua Tagovailoa's injury and? Jalen Hurts' shaky performance in the spring game meant no movement in the race to name a starter. — Alex Scarborough

Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain?are off to the NFL, leaving plenty of opportunities for young players to step up and start at receiver. Tee Higgins had one of the most impressive springs in that group, and emerged as the potential deep threat the Tigers sorely lacked in their offense last season. Higgins played as a true freshman and his potential was apparent. After a big spring, he becomes a player to watch.. –? Andrea Adelson

Although coach Urban Meyer didn't declare a definitive leader in the quarterback competition after the spring, it seems clear that Dwayne Haskins is the man to beat. Joe Burrow's decision to leave the program as a graduate transfer removes Haskins' main competition to start in 2018. Haskins still must contend with Tate Martell, whose unique skill set probably will be used in some way this fall, but he has the inside track to replace four-year starter J.T. Barrett.? –? Adam Rittenberg

The Bulldogs' receivers were underwhelming to begin with last season, and then? Javon Wims, who led the team in receptions, graduated. The focus will be on returnees Riley Ridley, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman, but it should be on depth. Coach Kirby Smart pointed to the development of Tyler Simmons, Jayson Stanley and Ahkil Crumpton this spring, calling the position a "bright spot." — Scarborough

With All-Big 12 performer Erick Wren gone, center has emerged as the most hotly contested position battle on an OU offense that appears to be loaded again, even without QB? Baker Mayfield. One-time starter Jonathan Alvarez, who redshirted last year, has re-emerged as a contender at center following a strong spring. But highly touted redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey continues to push for the starting role. –? Jake Trotter

The Huskies entered spring with questions opposite standout cornerback Byron Murphy. Injuries, like Jordan Miller missing all of spring and Austin Joyner missing half of it, hampered the Huskies a bit, but it allowed athletic freak Keith Taylor to clamp down a starting spot exiting spring. He has all the measurables and the natural talent to be a star, but he'll have to keep that momentum up this fall with the return of Miller and Joyner. –? Edward Aschoff

The Badgers don't have many holes, but they lost both starting corners (Nick Nelson and Derrick Tindal) from 2017. Dontye Carriere-Williams, who worked as the No. 3 cornerback last fall and made five starts, will almost certainly occupy one top spot. Sophomore Madison Cone made a good push this spring for the other spot, but sophomore Caesar Williams and freshman Faion Hicks also are in the mix. — Rittenberg

The Hurricanes have to replace the entire starting left side of their offensive line, with KC McDermott and Trevor Darling gone. But that remains a work in progress after a spring in which the line struggled to play consistently. Miami shifted players around all spring and ended up with Tyree St. Louis at left tackle and Jahair Jones at left guard to close practice. But expect more mixing and matching for the right combination when fall camp starts. — Adelson

The Spartans return all but three starters, so the spring understandably lacked major drama. But MSU must find a new starting center, and fortunately it has another Allen brother. Sophomore Matt Allen seems ready to follow older brothers Jack and Brian into the spotlight. Although Allen lacks game experience, he earned strong reviews this spring but will continue to compete with junior Tyler Higby and sophomore Jordan Reid. — Rittenberg

Veteran Ben Bredeson?probably has one guard spot locked up for a group that needs to solidify this season. Touted sophomore Cesar Ruiz, Michael Onwenu and Stephen Spanellis are all candidates for the other interior spots. Spanellis and Onwenu will probably be battling into August for one of the other guard spots. Grant Newsome could also make the competition at tackle interesting this summer if he is healthy enough to return from a gruesome leg injury that occurred in 2016. –? Dan Murphy

With the rest of its potent offense basically set, West Virginia is still looking for a first-team center, as starting incumbent junior Matt Jones is battling to hold off sophomore Jacob Buccigrossi. Either way, the Mountaineers are banking that with three other starters returning up front, their offensive line will be much improved in 2018.? –? Trotter

Though quarterback understandably generated attention — Brandon Wimbush re-asserted himself as the starter, by the way — the safety spot caused more angst among coaches entering the spring. The Irish emerged with two likely starters in Alohi Gilman, a Navy transfer, and Jalen Elliott. Nick Coleman should be part of the rotation, and Houston Griffith, an early enrollee whom the coaches moved from cornerback, is a name to watch along with incoming freshman Derrik Allen.? — ?Rittenberg

The Nittany Lions have to replace a ton of experience through the middle of their defense this season. They started this spring by sliding some upperclassmen in from the edges. Junior Cam Brown looks to be a front-runner at middle linebacker after two seasons on the outside. Five-star prospect Micah Parsons?could play at least some role with that position group as well after an impressive first semester of practice. Others will still have a shot to make defensive coordinator Brent Pry consider tweaking his lineup during fall camp. –? Murphy

This spring was supposed to be about K.J. Costello, Davis Mills and Keller Chryst competing for the starting quarterback spot, but injuries to Costello and Mills caused them to miss spring, and Chryst transferred to Tennessee. That left the Cardinal with only one quarterback — walk-on Jack Richardson. The funny thing is that by the end of spring, Richardson had impressed his coaches so much that he earned a scholarship. Costello and Mills are still the favorites to land the job this fall, but Richardson's play has certainly made this a three-man race again. –? Aschoff

The Hokies have some work to do in the secondary, and it's tough to get a sense for where they stand because so many players missed spring. Adonis Alexander and Caleb Farley should challenge for open cornerback jobs, along with junior college transfer Jeremy Webb. Virginia Tech also is looking for the right fit for Devon Hunter, who spent the spring working at nickel. –? Adelson

There's no sugar-coating it: The Bulldogs had no difference-makers at receiver last season with no one ranking in the top 20 in receptions in the SEC. If Joe Moorhead's first season in Starkville is going to be a success, that has to change. Getting Malik Dear back from injury, along with the return of Jesse Jackson and Keith Mixon, helps. Adding Stephen Guidry should help, but the former No. 1-rated junior college receiver was banged up late in the spring and missed the spring game. — Scarborough

The most important position battle this spring was at quarterback, and the Trojans will enter the summer not knowing who their starter will be. Matt Fink and Jack Sears had rocky starts to the spring — thanks to a handful of early turnovers — but finished on a pretty good note, as both looked more confident and comfortable in the pocket during the last few practices. This will carry over into the fall — and probably the regular season — with standout reclassified freshman J.T. Daniels, who was at just about every spring practice, enrolling in June. –? Aschoff

The Knights have a three-way competition for both open cornerback spots, including one that belonged to NFL draft pick? Mike Hughes. Nevelle Clarke, Brandon Moore and Aaron Robinson are all in the mix to start. Hughes also returned punts and kicks, so those jobs are open now, too.? Adrian Killins Jr.?returned kickoffs as a freshman and averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff, including one return for a touchdown.? –? Adelson

Since 2009, all Gus Malzahn has done is produce 1,000-yard rushers. So who is the next? Kerryon Johnson or Kamryn Pettway or Tre Mason? After the spring, it's hard to say. Devan Barrett has moved to receiver and former Baylor transfer Kam Martin was a scratch for the spring game. Two young guys who showed flashes this spring were redshirt freshman JaTarvious Whitlow and early enrollee Asa Martin. — Scarborough

Having graduated almost its entire offensive line from last year's team, one of TCU's primary focuses in the spring was revamping the unit up front. Veteran bookend Lucas Niang and highly touted junior-college tackle Anthony McKinney figure to nab two spots. But the rest of the line remains in flux going into the fall . — Trotter

With 10 defensive starters back, the only notable position battle defensively is at outside linebacker, a spot vacated by first-round pick? Leighton Vander Esch. Riley Whimpey and Blake Whitlock will now have to fend off Tony Lashley, who announced this month he would be joining the Broncos as a graduate transfer from Idaho. Lashley was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection last season. –? Trotter

As Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele continue to battle for the starting QB job, coach Tom Herman seems in no hurry to name a starter. Both split games last season. If neither separates from the other in August, it's not unthinkable that Texas could begin the season with a similar setup. –? Trotter

Jimbo Fisher didn't seem in a rush to find his quarterback this spring and nothing we saw from the spring game would give a significant edge to either Kellen Mond or Nick Starkel. "We're not ready to name a starter at all," Fisher said. Starkel might have the edge considering the way last season ended with him throwing for 499 yards and four touchdowns in the Belk Bowl. — Scarborough

Jake Bentley, Deebo Samuel and the rest of the passing game should be fine, but what about the running backs? There are three good options in A.J. Turner, Rico Dowdle and? Ty'Son Williams, but no feature back. Could Williams, who coaches believe could be the most talented of the bunch, step into that mold? The former four-star prospect had a touchdown and led all rushers with 63 yards on four carries in the spring game. — Scarborough

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