Oregon's Lavasier Tuinei (80) runs away from linebacker Blake Thompson, left, after a first half reception during the spring football game Saturday, April 30, 2011, in Eugene, Ore.
Post-spring Top 10
Which teams looked great this spring? Which ones reloaded, rebuilt and looked surprisingly sharp? Which ones struggled a bit and need more practice time? Certain to change in a big way late this summer when we come out with the 2011 Top 120 -- based on how good all the teams are going into the season -- but for now, here are the 10 best teams after spring ball. -- COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS
10. South Carolina
Yes, Stephen Garcia will be back leading the offense before the season starts, if not sooner. That doesn’t mean he won’t be on double secret probation again, but from all indications, including the latest depth chart, he’s the starter. If not, Connor Shaw is a terrific talent who’d do just fine with Alshon Jeffery, the best NFL receiving prospect in college football, to work with. RB Marcus Lattimore (pictured) is good enough to start at the next level right now, but will the line finally be good enough to consistently pave the way? The defense might need to find some key replacements up front, but it doesn’t hurt to have sure-thing pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney ready to rock. The kicking game is going to need some work, and that might be the difference from between being good and getting back to the SEC title game.
Lose one great quarterback, find another. Missouri has become a factory for ultra-productive signal callers, and James Franklin appears to be the next in line if it’s not Gabbert’s brother, Tyler, getting the nod. The rest of the team should be terrific with experience and depth all across the board. Several great pass rushers appear ready to pick up the slack left by recent first-round draft pick Aldon Smith. The rest of the defense is in place to be even more aggressive and productive than last season if superstar JUCO transfer defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has his paperwork in order. Grant Ressel might be the best kicker in America, tight end Michael Egnew (pictured) should’ve won the Mackey Award in 2010 and T.J. Moe is a pure No. 1 target for Franklin or Gabbert to work with.
8. Texas A&M
The Aggies might have lost Von Miller to the Denver Broncos, but everyone else of note is back including RB Cyrus Gray, who’ll be among the top NFL prospects going into next offseason, and a loaded receiving corps led by Jeff Fuller (pictured), who’d get more appreciation if he didn’t play in the Big 12 against Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and OU's Ryan Broyles. Now it’s time for the golden boy, QB Ryan Tannehill, to show that last year wasn’t a mirage – and he has a tremendous team around him. Throw in the nine starters coming back on defense, and the expectations are sky-high – and that’s sort of the problem. The Aggies haven’t exactly thrived over the years when they’re supposed to be good, and remember, they were struggling last year before the great second-half run.
There’s no truth to the rumor that Ryan Mallett is on line two and he’s looking to change his decision to leave early. The Hogs are loaded at running back and receiver, and Tyler Wilson is a more than adequate replacement at QB for the New England Patriots backup. The defense gets eight starters back and should be the best yet in the Bobby Petrino (pictured) era. Throw in good special teams and Arkansas is loaded with the talent and the schedule to be in the national title chase.
6. Oklahoma State
So is the offense going to suffer with star coordinator Dana Holgorsen now at West Virginia? The answer after spring ball seems to be a resounding no. The attack won’t just be QB Brandon Weeden to WR Justin Blackmon, but the combination will hook up over 100 times and should combine for home run after home run, while there’s a chance star running back recruit Herschel Sims could be an upgrade over the ultra-productive Kendall Hunter. With all five starters returning on the line, the running game could be dominant at times, even if it’s going to be running-back-by-committee with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith in the mix. The defense is along for the ride, and all it’ll have to do is keep teams to under 30 points. That might be an issue early after losing three starters off the line.
5. Florida State
Boosted by a loaded recruiting class that might have been the best in the nation, the Seminoles have one of the best young talent bases to provide instant depth and an infusion of more athleticism to an already fast team. Will all the youth be ready to mix in with the good veterans to finally bring back the ACC title, and more, to Tallahassee? Yes, if QB E.J. Manuel (pictured) can be sharp after taking the team by the reins this offseason. Eight starters are back on each side of the ball led by a defensive front that finished third in the nation in sacks last year and should spend most of 2011 beating up quarterbacks. The secondary was ineffective at times, but it looks far stronger, helped by the return of several key starters.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, at least the Pac-10 crown, and now the Ducks will be the hunted in an improved Pac-12. Whatever. As spring ball showed, the high-octane offense, with seven starters returning, is going to be even faster, sharper, and more explosive with QB Darron Thomas experienced and ready to become more of a factor for the passing game, and LaMichael James (pictured) ready to be LaMichael James again. There are losses on defense, especially on the line, but the program is loaded with plenty of very athletic, very talented young prospects that’ll bring even more speed than last year. Three starters are gone on the offensive line, but there didn’t appear to be too many problems this offseason with the cohesion, and while playmaking target Jeff Maehl is done, everyone else of note returns.
Almost certain to be everyone’s No. 1 based on the talent and returning experience, the Sooners should be unstoppable on offense and more consistent defensively. QB Landry Jones will finally start to get his just due as a sound playmaker. He’s not going to be Sam Bradford, but ZJones will put up incredible numbers thanks to the return of Ryan Broyles (pictured) and a loaded receiving corps. Not needing to carry the passing game by himself, Broyles is flanked by several terrific young targets to allow Jones to spread around the passing wealth, while a deep, quick group of running backs can also catch. Travis Lewis leads a tremendous defense that brings back most of the key starters and should be a rock against the run, while punter/placekicker Tress Way will make the special teams a strength.
The offense is going to be better. The attack is being ultra-simplified and the quarterbacks aren’t going to be asked to bomb away, but they’ll be sharper under new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe. The offense might not have blown up this spring, but it was good enough to get by with a terrific defense to pick up the slack. The secondary should be the best in the nation, even with Patrick Peterson off to the Arizona Cardinals, and as always, the Tigers are loaded on the defensive front. There’s too much overall speed, talent, and experience not to be in the national title hunt from season's start.
The Crimson Tide's defense was supposed to be an issue last year with so much turnover and so many question marks. Outside of a collapse against Auburn, the unit was phenomenal, finishing fifth in the nation in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. Now it’s loaded with talent, and while there are a few concerns – star DT Kerry Murphy’s knee is a problem – but Dont’a Hightower and the front seven should be great, and Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and the secondary should be a brick wall. Oh yeah, the offense. You don’t get better by losing Julio Jones and Mark Ingram, but Greg McElroy is replaceable – yes, he is – and Phillip Sims (pictured) or A.J. McCarron will be a talent upgrade. Speedy Trent Richardson is a terrific back who’ll standout with even more time. All the offense will have to do is be average and score a few touchdowns – the defense won’t allow more than 14 points a game.