Spring football primer: Tulane and Duke end spring practices while several other teams begin

Dr. Saturday

It’s hard to believe that we’re less than two months removed from the BCS National Championship game and some spring football has already wrapped up.

Tulane was one of the first teams to start spring practice earlier this month and it ended its spring season on Wednesday.

The Green Wave isn’t the only team to try to get spring football out of the way early. Duke also started spring football on Feb. 7 and Air Force started on Feb. 19. But several teams started this week and some open today.

Every Friday through mid-to-early April, we’ll look at the teams that started spring football practice the week before and what to watch as the spring treks on.

Start date:
Feb 7
End date: Feb. 26

What to watch: Tulane needs to get healthy. Coach Curtis Johnson had to end spring practice two days early because injuries forced an already thin depth chart to get even thinner. But the spring did allow Johnson to evaluate redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Lee, who appears to be ready to help continue the Green Wave’s recent success.

Start date: Feb. 7
End date: March 1

What to watch: Duke is coming off its most successful season in school history and returns 17 starters from that team. The Blue Devils will end spring practice on Saturday and coach David Cutcliffe said he hopes the five months off will allow his team to heal from its nicks and bruises. One of the biggest priorities this spring was working with new offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, who is calling plays for an offense that averaged 32.8 points per game and 426.1 yards per game last season.

Air Force
Start date:

Feb. 19
End date: March 19

What to watch: Air Force is coming off a 2-10 season, the worst in the Academy’s 57-year history, so coach Troy Calhoun’s primary focus is getting his team stronger physically. Calhoun also is looking for a starting quarterback to emerge. The Falcons played four different quarterbacks last season, but only junior Karson Roberts and sophomore Nate Romine will be available for the bulk of the snaps this spring.

San Jose State
Start date:
Feb. 21
End date: March 22

What to watch: Like many teams this spring, San Jose State is looking for a new starting quarterback. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray will compete for the right to replace record-setting QB David Fales. Neither guy has really been involved in the starting quarterback competition since losing out to Fales in 2012, so this will be the first real opportunity for both players. Coach Ron Caragher said it is possible that the Spartans could come out of spring football with a declared starter.

Start date: Feb. 24
End date: March 29

What to watch: Troy missed the postseason for the third consecutive season. It finished 6-6 last year, but because of the Sun Belt’s limited bowl ties, it was left out. If the Trojans are going to make a run at the postseason in 2014, it’s going to need to replace its quarterbacking duo of Corey Robinson and Deon Anthony. The Trojans have four players competing for the top quarterback spot, including two junior college signees in Connor Bravard and Dontreal Pruitt.

Start date: Feb. 24
End date: April 12

What to watch: One of the things that makes Stanford so good is its commitment to smashmouth football. However, if it wants to continue that trend, it will have to replace four of the team’s five top blockers from a year ago. Already, Joshua Garnett has taken over for David Yankey at left guard and Kyle Murphy has replaced Cam Fleming at right tackle. Johnny Caspers will probably start at right guard to join All Pac-12 left tackle Andrus Peat. There is still a question of who will start at center, but look for Graham Shuler to eventually shore up that job. Solidifying the line is key, especially with star running back Tyler Gaffney gone and the Cardinal possibly looking to a committee to replace him.

Start date: Feb. 25
End date: April 5

What to watch: After having one of the worst offenses in the country last year, Michigan brought in offensive coordinate Doug Nussmeier from Alabama in an attempt to breathe life into Wolverines. The first and most obvious question is whether Nussmeier will move forward with quarterback Devin Gardner, who is still recovering from a broken left foot, or move on to Shane Morris, Wilton Speight or Russell Bellomy? There’s also the issue of the Wolverines' running game. It ranked 102nd in the country last year and will look to Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith to get it going again.

San Diego State
Start date: Feb. 26
End date: March 26

What to watch: It’s rare to cite kicking as one of the major concerns for a team in the spring, but for San Diego State, a team that did not convert a field goal after September, this is a huge concern. Overall, San Diego State made just eight of its 16 attempts and had four blocked. Seamus McMorrow is the starter, but he missed all four of his attempts last year. This spring, freshman walk-on John McGrory will be McMorrow’s main competition, but John Baron II and Donny Hageman will challenge for the spot in the fall.

South Florida
Start date: Feb. 26
End date: March 29

What to watch: South Florida ranked 121st nationally (of 123 schools) in total offense and scored just 11 offensive touchdowns last year, so this spring, the Bulls are going to try to speed things up and force more production in 2014. Coach Willie Taggart said his team has no plans to get away from its power running game or its play-action passing, but it will move at a much quicker pace. Sophomore Mike White remains the team’s starting quarterback, but Taggart has stressed that every position is up for grabs and Steven Bench, a dual-threat quarterback, could thrive in a faster-paced system.

Start date: Feb. 27
End date: April 5

What to watch: Gunner Kiel was the nation’s top quarterback recruit for the class of 2012, two years later, he’s the No. 1 quarterback at Cincinnati. Coach Tommy Tuberville said Kiel, who sat out last year after transferring from Notre Dame, is the top candidate to replace Brendon Kay, but that he still has to beat out his competition this spring. Kiel will have to compete with junior college transfer Jarred Evans, who is his primary competition this spring, and then fifth-year year quarterback Munchie Legaux, who is currently rehabbing a knee injury and hopes to return in the summer.

Appalachian State
Start date: Feb. 28
End date: April 4

What to watch: On July 1, 2014, Appalachian State will officially be a member of the Sun Belt Conference, but for football, preparation for its new league begins on Saturday. The Mountaineers finished 4-8 in the Southern Conference last year, but they did manage to end the season on a two-game winning streak. The Mountaineers will have to find a replacement for first-team all-Southern Conference receiver Tony Washington, who led the conference with 939 yards last season.

Start date: Feb. 28
End date: April 5

What to watch: Baylor enters the spring as the defending Big 12 champions for the first time in school history, but to keep that title, the Bears have a lot of important people to replace this spring. But one of the most important position groups – and one that is probably overlooked – is the secondary. The Bears lose All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks Demetri Goodson, K.J. Morton and Joe Williams. The Bears passing defense was one of the strong suits of the team, allowing just 214.9 yards per game, which was second in the Big 12 and grabbing six interceptions, which was first in the conference. The Bears do return free safety Terrell Burt, but he’ll miss spring drills because of shoulder surgery.

Texas A&M
Start date: Feb. 28
End date: April 5

What to watch: All eyes will be on the quarterbacking battle between Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen as they compete to replace Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, but that’s not the Aggies greatest concern this spring. It’s the defense. The Aggies defense was abysmal last year, allowing 475.8 yards and 32.2 points per game. The Aggies poor defense put extra pressure on the offense to continue score, but without Manziel’s magician-like moves and star receiver Mike Evans to sky over defenders, the defense is going to have to improve significantly and pull its weight if the Aggies want to be a true contender in the ever-tough SEC West.

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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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