Let’s open up this weekend’s notebook and see what’s happening on campuses across the country.
Spring practice notes
• Arizona State certainly underachieved in Dennis Erickson’s final season in Tempe. And no one exemplified that underachieving more than middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has been the topic of conversation among draftniks leading up to April’s NFL Draft because of character concerns. Who is in line to replace Burfict in Tempe this fall? New head coach Todd Graham currently has 6-3, 243-pounder Kipeli Koniseti taking first team reps at the Mike position in the early days of spring camp. However, Brandon Magee could ultimately end up at the spot if he fully recovers from last season's Achilles injury. Magee has always been looked upon by teammates as a great locker room presence. His return to health is huge, especially if the Sun Devils can keep him on the outside with Koniseti handling the job in the middle. ASU may have to lean on its defense in 2012 as the offense adapts to Graham’s version of the spread.
ICONMalcolm Mitchell will focus on learning the cornerback position this spring.
• With Georgia dealing with serious depth concerns in the secondary, Malcolm Mitchell will spend all of spring practice taking reps at cornerback, where he will use the team's 15 practices to get as comfortable as possible at the position. If he is able to handle the workload, Mitchell could start opposite Damian Swann in the season opener. Devin Bowman will also be in the mix. The Bulldogs also need someone to step in for Brandon Boykin at nickleback, so Mitchell's maturation as a top corner is critical. But head coach Mark Richt cautioned Bulldog fans not to get too comfortable with Mitchell exclusively in the defensive backfield. He told Seth Emerson of the Telegraph that he envisions Mitchell splitting duties between running routes and playing defense once spring ends. The longtime Bulldogs coach just believes it's vital to use the spring as an exclusive educational period for Mitchell to become comfortable on defense.
• If Oklahoma is to return to the BCS national championship game, as I projected in my very early 2012-13 bowl projections, new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will need to be able to get his talented unit to play consistently well each week. One of the areas of strength is along the team’s defensive line, where the Sooners are deep at every position, led by senior tackles Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. Stacy McGee was also a solid contributor as a junior last fall. But two freshmen are making their presence felt early in spring camp at the position, which is a scary thought for opposing Big 12 offenses. Jordan Wade and Jordan Phillips have wowed thus far in camp, so it will be interesting to see if they’re able to continue to impress and earn playing time in the fall and make a strong corps even stronger.
• Mississippi State opened spring drills this week, and head coach Dan Mullen confirmed that the offense will display more of a passing attack with Tyler Russell as the full-time starting quarterback. With dual-threat Chris Relf as the starter the past few seasons, Mullen employed a run-heavy attack. But with an experienced group of wide receivers and a QB who has proven that he can be effective in the passing game, the Bulldogs will open things up offensively while still operating out of the spread formation.
CONTINUE TO PAGE 2 FOR MORE NFP ON CAMPUS
The expanded partnership between the Big Ten and Pac-12 to schedule more marquee nonconference games is great for both leagues and college football as a whole. It was announced this week that Michigan State and Oregon would play at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 13, 2014, and square off again in East Lansing on Sept. 12, 2015. The series replaces MSU's home-and-home deal with West Virginia, which asked out of the contract because of the Mountaineers moving to the Big 12. It's great for the Spartans because it allows them to get increased national exposure playing on the West coast, and it also gives them an opportunity to get a likely strong nonconference win to gain points in the polls, which will still matter no matter how the new postseason format takes shape once the current BCS contract runs out.
ICONColt Lyerla is an intriguing piece of the Oregon offense.
Staying in Eugene, Ducks head coach Chip Kelly gets a lot of credit for putting together an impressive stable of running backs each year. And rightfully so. But Kelly has also done a nice job of bringing in quality depth at tight end as well. And with David Paulson graduating, that depth may very well come into play. Highly rated 2011 recruit Colt Lyerla is projected to start at tight end, and the most intriguing aspect of his game is his athleticism. He will be lined up in a variety of ways in this high-octane, up-tempo offensive attack. The only question is whether he can be a consistent presence week after week and do the little things that TE's have to do in the blocking game. But the Ducks also very well may look to underclassmen Curtis White and Christian French. Kelly has no problem playing youth, so it will be interesting to see if at least one of these two youngsters can push Lyerla for playing time.
Two weeks ago Penn State landed one of the best tight ends in the nation when Class of 2013 local product Adam Breneman gave his commitment to the program. The potential five-star prospect is expected to step in next year and compete for reps in Bill O'Brien's offense. The Nittany Lions have been searching for a quality tight end since Andrew Quarless graduated after the 2009 season. Will PSU get production from the position this fall? While Kevin Haplea and Brian Irvin are working for the right to start, keep an eye on Garry Gilliam, a redshirt junior who missed most of 2010 and 2011 with a left ACL injury. In this new offense, tight end is expected to play a large role. And keep in mind that O'Brien coached New England Patriots stud Rob Gronkowski the last few seasons. While Gronk's numbers were ridiculous, Gilliam could serve as a viable candidate to make plays in the passing game if he is healthy
We all love Mike Leach, except maybe a certain political candidate down in Texas. The new Washington State head coach is always a joy to listen to at press conferences, and his quirky personality is good for the sport. But the former Texas Tech head coach endorsed a 64-team college football playoff this week. And, well, that's just ridiculous. I personally don't want to see anything more than the four-team Plus One model that is likely on the horizon. While I'm in the minority with that opinion, anything more would be overkill and, of course, take away from the greatest regular season in all of sport.
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- Vontaze Burfict