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Spring primer, part II: Several teams try to start 2014 on a positive note after tough 2013

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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The rest of the spring capsules for practices that began during the first week of March:

Virginia
Start date: March 1
End date: April 12

What to watch: David Watford started all 12 games at quarterback for the Cavaliers last season, but the team managed a dismal 2-10 campaign. So, coach Mike London opened up the quarterbacking competition, and Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns will once again have a chance to compete for starter. This the same thing that happened last year with Watford coming away as the least terrible option of the three. But his erratic play, which included a 57.1 completion percentage and an ACC-high 15 interceptions, opened the door for another competition. Virginia needs to get a consistent starting quarterback or it could be looking for a new coaching staff in 2015.


West Virginia
Start date: March 2
End date: April 12

What to watch: A lot of the focus this spring will be on quarterbacks, which makes sense since that was one of the most undecided positions of the 2013 season. However, running back might be just as interesting and a starter might actually emerge by the end of the spring practices. Dreamius Smith, who rushed for 494 yards and five touchdowns last season, is atop the depth chart, but Wendell Smallwood, Pitt transfer Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie should all push Smith to try to bring the Mountaineers running game back to where it has been ion past seasons.


UNLV
Start date: March 3
End date: April 11

What to watch: Who's the quarterback? Caleb Herring is gone from UNLV's 7-6 squad last year but Nick Sherry has starting experience and he's the incoming favorite. Sherry started 12 games in 2012 as a redshirt freshman but lost out to Herring for the starting job in 2013. However, six players got snaps at quarterback in the first practice. The question on defense is on the defensive line, where the top three tackles from 2013 are gone.


Utah State
Start date: March 3
End date: April 12

What to watch: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back for 2014, but he's not practicing at all in the spring. After he went down with a serious knee injury in 2013, Utah State's offense looked extremely sluggish. Can Darrel Garretson carry over his strong finish to 2013 into the spring? If he does, the Aggies may not take a huge step back if Keeton is sidelined again. Perhaps more imperative is figuring out the offensive line. Five players who accumulated starting experience in 2013 graduated.


UTEP
Start date: March 3
End date: April 11

What to Watch: The Miners return three starters on the offensive line but they're all learning new positions in 2014. Running back Jeremiah Laufasa transferred to UTEP and could be eligible in the fall if the NCAA grants him a waiver. His brother Darrin started at fullback last season. UTEP coach Sean Kugler said the team is experimenting with more three-receiver sets in the spring and if it works well, look for the Miners to throw the ball more.


SMU
Start date: March 4
End date: April 5

What to Watch: Who will replace Garrett Gilbert at quarterback? There’s no clear answer right now, though Neal Burcham was the first quarterback to take snaps during SMU’s first practice. Whoever separates himself throughout March could be taking the first real snaps in August. In addition to replacing Gilbert, finding a competent rushing attack will be key. Prescott Line was SMU’s leading rusher as a redshirt freshman in 2013, but he ran for less than 4 yards per carry. Deion Sanders Jr. has a shoulder injury and won’t practice this spring.


South Carolina
Start date: March 4
End date: April 12

What to Watch: The Gamecocks will be looking to replenish the defensive line. Not only did SC lose Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL draft, but Kelcy Quarles left and Chaz Sutton is gone as well. South Carolina could also experiment with a 3-4 defense, which asks linemen to do different things than in the four-lineman sets that the team had run previously. Plus, it’s now Dylan Thompson’s time at quarterback, even if it’s just for 2014. Will Brendan Nosovitch or Connor Mitch win the No. 2 job and assume the role of starting quarterback of the future?


Washington
Start date: March 4
End date: April 19

What to watch: Things have not been easy for first-year coach Chris Petersen. In his limited time with the Huskies, he’s already suspended three players, including Cyler Miles, who was set to be his starting quarterback. Miles completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 418 and four touchdowns in mostly relief time last season, though he did start the blowout win against Oregon State. But Miles with suspended for a month, that leaves sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams to duke it out for the starting role this spring before K.J. Carta-Samuels gets to campus in the fall.


Texas Tech
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12

What to watch: It’s hard to knock a total offense that ranked eighth in the country and a scoring offense that averaged more than 35 points per game, but the Red Raiders could stand to become just a little more balanced. The running game ranked 111th nationally with just 118.2 yards per game last season, but all five of the Red Raiders top backs return this year and the coaching staff is hoping that consistency and familiarity will produce strong results on the field this spring.


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Colorado
Start date: March 7
End date: April 12

What to watch: Colorado football hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, but last year the Buffs showed glimpses of getting better even if the 4-8 record didn’t necessarily reflect it. What Colorado needs to work on this spring is consistency. Figuring out what worked in those four wins – Colorado State, Central Arkansas, Charleston Southern and Cal – and trying to bring them out in every game. That mostly starts on offense where the Buffaloes were 86th nationally with 25.4 points per game. Quarterback Sefo Liufau, who became the starter in the middle of last season, should benefit from having a whole offseason as the team’s primary signal caller, but he’ll have to find a new go-to receiver with Paul Richardson gone.


Wisconsin
Start date: March 5
End date: April 12

What to watch: Quarterback Joel Stave might have thrown for the second-most touchdown passes in Wisconsin history last season (22), but his starting job is far from safe. Stave, who will be limited in spring drills because of a shoulder injury, will have to compete against five other contenders. His biggest threat will probably be from dual-threat Tanner McEvoy, who played some receiver and safety last year after being nixed from the quarterbacking competition early a year ago. Also, watch for former four-star recruit Bart Houston, who has a year of practice under his belt following 2012 shoulder surgery. Stave will begin the spring as the starter, but coach Gary Andersen has stressed that it’s his position to lose.


LSU
Start date: March 7
End date: April 5

What to Watch: The Tigers are going to be looking for big contributors at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. No big deal, right? Anthony Jennings started the Outback Bowl in place of the injured Zach Mettenberger at quarterback, and he’ll have the reins for spring practice. Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee will have a chance to claim the No. 1 tailback job – at least before Leonard Fournette arrives on campus this summer. And at wide receiver, no receiver has more than 10 career catches. Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie will be counted on to help replace Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.


Tennessee
Start date: March 7
End date: April 12

What to watch: Three quarterbacks started for the Vols last season and all three are back this spring, which should make for a very interesting quarterbacking competition. Junior Justin Worley, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman, and true freshman Joshua Dobbs all had varied results in their outings last season, which is why the competition has opened up again. Obviously, none of the three was good enough to nail down the starting position outright, but it’s probably fair to say Worley has the best chance of the three to be the starter. He did lead the Vols to a win over South Carolina and a near upset of Georgia. And had it not been for a thumb injury, he probably would have finished the year as the starter. But watch out for Dobbs, who showed flashes of potential, but was definitely too green to be starting. Perhaps that experience will give him confidence to seize the starting role in the spring.


Indiana
Start date: March 8
End date: April 12

What to watch: For Indiana this spring, it’s all about the defense. The Hoosiers had no problem scoring – they were one of only three teams in the country to average 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing (Florida State and Baylor) – but the defense often put the offense in a position where it had to continuously score to win games. The defense, which ranked 120th nationally in total defense allowing 527.9 yards per game and 114th in scoring defense with 38.8 points per game, returns nine players from last year’s team and will switch to a 4-3 scheme this spring.


Oklahoma
Start date: March 8
End date: April 12

What to Watch: Was Trevor Knight’s performance in the Sugar Bowl a harbinger of things to come? For the first time, at least publicly anyway, Knight won’t be in a perceived position battle with Blake Bell as Bell has moved to TE. But who is his backup going to be? It’ll probably be a battle between Justice Hansen and Cody Thomas, who is also playing baseball. With the Sooners’ top two RBs gone, Keith Ford and Alex Ross are the first in line to take the carries that Brennan Clay and Roy Finch got in 2013.

Nick Bromberg contributed to this report

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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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