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Spring primer: Auburn and Florida State got back to work this week

NCAA Football: BCS National Championship-Florida State vs Auburn
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Jan 6, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) scrambles against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half of the 2014 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

The rest of the teams that started spring football this week, including national champion Florida State and runner-up Auburn.


Mississippi State
Start date: March 18
End date: April 12

What to watch: There’s a lot to like about Mississippi State heading into the spring. The Bulldogs return 17 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad, including quarterback Dak Prescott, who passed for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns when he was healthy last season. If he can manage to stay healthy in 2014, the Bulldogs could have a chance to be one of the most improved squads in the SEC West, especially with the entire receiving corps returning.


Northern Illinois
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: The main task this spring will be finding a replacement for Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch. Lynch was the all-everything quarterback for the Huskies and now coach Rod Carey will have to hope Drew Hare, Anthony Maddie or Matt McIntosh can step in and fill that void. Carey said he’s in no hurry to name a starter and that all three will get equal reps to start spring ball.


Arkansas
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: One of the biggest disappoints for Arkansas last season was quarterback play. Brandon Allen is the incumbent heading into the spring, but he completed just 49.6 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Overall, the passing offense ranked 114th nationally. Allen will have to fight to keep is spot against his brother Austin, senior AJ Derby, redshirt freshman Damon Mitchell and true freshman early enrollee Rafe Peavey.


Auburn
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: While Coach Gus Malzahn mentioned several places where Auburn could get better, one of his biggest points of emphasis this spring was maintaining Auburn’s edge. Auburn rebounded from a 3-9 campaign to play in the national championship last year. But repeating that feat will be no easy feat, especially with the new College Football Playoff in place.


Syracuse
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: Keeping coach Scott Shafer away from the Atlanta-area when it's snowing shouldn't be an issue, so the focus shifts to the defensive line. Jay Bromley is gone, so establishing and finding depth in the middle is going to be key. Plus, MLB Marquis Spruill is gone too, so the Orange will have a new starter at middle linebacker. With returning starters at QB and WR, the offense should be in decent shape. If Syracuse can solidify its defense over the spring, dreams of a third-straight bowl game will be pretty realistic.


Texas
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: If USC's Max Wittek had made a transfer decision, Texas could have a leading candidate to start at quarterback. However, Wittek still hasn't announced where he's going to go, so Texas needs to prepare as if he won't be in the mix. That means it's between David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes right now. Ash is familiar to college football fans after starting for Texas for the majority of 2012. However he missed significant time because of lingering symptoms from a concussion in 2013.

But that may not be coach Charlie Strong's biggest worry. A defense that featured Jackson Jeffcoat and Chris Whaley last year won't have them in 2014, and reinforcements are necessary in the defensive secondary as well.


Texas State
Start date: March 18
End date: April 12

What to watch: Coach Dennis Franchione wants to go uptempo spread with the offense in 2014. The change is with good reason. Texas State was 113th in the country in passing yards in 2013 and averaged less than 155 yards per game. Tyler Jones was the Bobcats' leading passer as a freshman last season, so he'll be asked to assume a greater role throwing the football. But don't look for TSU to abandon the running game. RBs Robert Lowe and Chris Nutall, the team's two leading rushers, return in 2014.


Utah
Start date: March 18
End date: April 19

What to watch: The Utes have a new offensive coordinator and (an indirect) quarterback competition it didn't think it would have. Dave Christensen, formerly the coach of Wyoming and offensive coordinator at Missouri is now Utah's OC. QBTravis Wilson, whose career was in doubt in November after the discovery of a neurological condition following a concussion, has been cleared to practice and is participating this spring. QB Kendal Thompson, who transferred from Oklahoma following 2013, is sitting out the spring but will be available in August. If Wilson plays well with Thompson watching, Utah will have an even bigger decision to make in August.


Florida
Start date: March 19
End date: April 12

What to watch: All eyes will be on the offense this spring as it attempts to improve on its 316.7 yards per game (113th nationally) and 18.8 points per game (112th nationally). Gone is former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and in comes Kurt Roper, who did wonders with Duke’s offense last season. Look for the running game to be a big emphasis not only this spring, but also in the fall.


Florida State
Start date: March 19
End date: April 12

What to watch: There aren’t many things plaguing the national champions this spring, but Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston would sure like to find some new go-to receivers. Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are gone, leaving Rashad Greene as the only remaining member of the “trio.” There’s lots of talent on the roster, just not a lot of experience.


Middle Tennessee
Start date: March 22
End date: April 12

What to watch: Middle Tennessee will be searching for a quarterback to replace three-year starter Logan Killgore and the potential replacements do not have a lot of experience among them. Redshirt sophomore Austin Grammer, redshirt freshman AJ Erdely, and freshman Brent Stockstill are all in the mix, but only Grammer has game experience with 46 passes in 10 games.

Nick Bromberg contributed to this post

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter

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