Roundtable: Most Interesting Spring Storyline For Each Power Five Conference

    We discuss college football's most interesting spring storylines for each Power Five conference in this roundtable.

    March 7, 2017

    What’s the most interesting or intriguing storyline in college football for each Power Five conference this spring? The Campus Insiders team discusses in this roundtable.

    Brian Stultz

    ACC: Louisville’s offensive line

    The Cardinals’ offensive front was as effective as a swinging gate this past season, leaving Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson running for his life. Despite Jackson’s scrambling abilities, he was sacked 3.62 times per game, which ranked No. 126 out of 128 in college football. Mike Summers has been brought in from Florida to help fix the major hole that was the line. The protection has to be better or Louisville risks the health of its most important player.

    Big Ten: Can Lovie Smith make a difference?

    Scratch out Lovie Smith’s first season in Champaign as Illinois’ head coach as not his fault. Nick Saban couldn’t have won more than four or five games with that group. Now, in his second season, Smith will have the systems he wants in place, and the Illini should take a step toward respectability in a Big Ten West that isn’t exactly loaded with powerhouse teams.

    Big 12: Kliff Kingsbury as a head coach

    While Kliff Kingsbury has grabbed all kinds of headlines for many different reasons at Texas Tech, one of those hasn’t been his ability to produce wins for the Red Raiders. His record stands at just 24-26 through four seasons and he hasn’t finished higher than a tie for fifth in conference. After a season where the Red Raiders were dead last in total defense (554.3 yards per game) and 3-6 in the Big 12, Kingsbury has banned anyone from wearing the double T logo in football facilities. We’ll see if the minds games make a difference.

    Pac-12: Where does Washington go from here?

    It was a season that Huskies fans had been waiting for since the early 90s, with Chris Petersen’s rejuvenation project producing a trip to the College Football Playoff. Now, they must maintain that status as the alpha dog in the Pac-12. That will be difficult, with USC bringing back so much talent, and the loss of key players such as John Ross and Budda Baker. Let’s see if the Huskies were just a flash in the pan.

    SEC: LSU’s offense

    It is yet another year where the question for the Bayou Bengals will be whether or not their offense can produce enough points to win games. That hasn’t been the case recently, but here comes Matt Canada from Pitt to open up an offense that has been more conservative than Rick Perry in recent years. First, Canada will have to find a quarterback that he is comfortable with and that can spread the field. Will that be returning starter Danny Etling, or will early enrollee Lowell Narcisse show that he is capable? Either way, running back Derrius Guice, no matter how good he is, can’t do it all.

    Robert Judin

    ACC: Clemson’s quarterback situation

    Now that Deshaun Watson is headed to the NFL, Dabo Swinney has to figure out who the new face of the offense will be. Many probably want to see Hunter Johnson get the nod because he was the highly-touted recruit with a big arm. I think the Tigers will ultimately end up giving Johnson the job but not at the beginning. It should end up being Kelly Bryant to start the season, but if things aren’t going smoothly, expect Johnson to get a shot.

    Big 12: West Virginia offense

    Jake Spavital, a coach I’m very high on, is now in Morgantown, and he’ll be calling the plays for the Mountaineers moving forward. Spav was able to work wonders last year with Cal, and I can’t wait to see what he does with West Virginia. The Mountaineers are expecting Will Grier to be ready for the 2017 season and that could prove scary for the rest of the Big 12. Grier has all the physical talent in the world, and if he has Spav showing him the way, the West Virginia offense will be dangerous.

    Big Ten: Replenishment of Michigan’s defense

    The Wolverines are losing a lot of talent on defense, and they desperately need some guys to step up. Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton, Jabrill Peppers, Ben Gedeon, Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill and Channing Stribling are all headed to the NFL. That means Michigan is going to have to rely on some younger guys to make the most of their reps and emerge as big-time playmakers. I’m looking at you, Rashan Gary.

    Pac-12: USC offense

    USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin told Campus Insiders that Sam Darnold is preparing as though the 2016 season never happened. “We’re gonna coach him like he just got here on campus,” Martin said. That’s an interesting approach to take considering how well Darnold performed last year. JuJu Smith-Schuster is gone, so Deontay Burnett is going to have to embrace the role as Darnold’s No. 1 target. Ronald Jones II will also get the bulk of the carries for the Trojans at running back. It will be interesting to see if USC can pick up where it left off with that Rose Bowl win and continue its climb back to college football’s upper echelon.

    SEC: Jalen Hurts’ evolution

    I was not a fan of the shots people were taking at Jalen Hurts during the national championship game against Clemson. I thought he played as well as a true freshman could have played in the moment, also taking into consideration the jumbled mess that was the Lane Kiffin-Steve Sarkisian debacle. But this is sort of an unheralded situation for the Crimson Tide. Nick Saban isn’t used to having a true freshman quarterback with Hurts’ physical abilities. He’s used to having dink-and-dunk guys who do just enough to win the game. You know, run, run, run, 60-yard touchdown off a play-action pass. That’s been the Alabama way for awhile. But Hurts legitimately has a Heisman Trophy ceiling, and I want to see how he improves this spring.

    Dave Miller

    ACC: Can Florida State find suitable starting options across the offensive line?

    Quarterback Deondre Francois was battered throughout the 2016 season, and the Seminoles head into spring having to replace left tackle Rod Johnson. Further, Jimbo Fisher announced at the start of spring ball that starting offensive linemen Alec Eberle and Landon Dickerson will miss the spring due to injuries and that guard Wilson Bell will transfer. If the ‘Noles can’t keep Francois upright in 2017, they will once again lose out to Clemson in the Atlantic division.

    Big 12: Can Oklahoma State’s defense make a big enough improvement?

    Mike Gundy will once again field a very productive offense in 2017, led by star quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver James Washington and tailback Justice Hill. But if the Cowboys have any chance to win the Big 12 and be a dark horse College Football Playoff contender, it’s the defense that is going to have to make big strides. The Pokes must be able to make enough critical stops to win at least 10 games for the fourth time in five seasons. Which younger defenders will make strides during these 15 practices?

    Big Ten: What impact will Kevin Wilson make on Ohio State’s offense? 

    The last time we saw Ohio State’s offense, it was going scoreless in a shutout loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is now in Columbus ready to right the ship after one of the worst postseason performances in school history, a 31-0 loss to the Tigers. It is up to Wilson to help J.T. Barrett and the passing attack dramatically improve after it seemingly took a step back in 2016. The offensive overhaul also included the hiring of quarterbacks coach Ryan Day, who is very well respected in the coaching circle.

    Pac-12: Can Josh Rosen return to full health?

    That’s the primary and critical question in Westwood. The status of his shoulder will be the pressing issue for the entire 2017 season as he looks to have a standout campaign under new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who will be Rosen’s third different OC in the last three years. It’s a make or break 2017 for Jim Mora, who decided to overhaul the offense in an effort to make Bruins football exciting again.

    SEC : Jarrett Stidham’s impact on the Auburn offense

    Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham is now on The Plains, and that’s scary news for opposing SEC defenses. Stidham threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns and started three games as a true freshman for Baylor in 2015 before electing to leave Waco. He is the perfect fit for Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s offense, which needs to get back to its high-yielding ways if the Tigers have any chance to compete with Alabama and have a shot at an SEC title.

    Jonathan Bass

    ACC: Who is under center?

    Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina – four of the conference’s top teams all lost their starting quarterbacks. That is a massive exodus for a league that had one of the better stables of quarterbacks in 2016.

    Big 12: How is Bill Snyder doing?

    Going through cancer treatment is no small deal even for the youngest and fittest of individuals. For a septuagenarian to undergo treatment, on top of keeping up with the rigorous day-to-day operations of guiding a football program, it must be grueling. Hopefully Snyder makes a full recovery. And how, if at all, will his diagnosis affect the Kansas State program?

    Big Ten: How long will it take Minnesota players to buy in?

    P.J. Fleck is an acquired, enthusiastic taste. Even his former Western Michigan players who grew to love him admitted that it took a bit to buy into notions of being elite and rowing boats. Will Minnesota players, coming off a really ugly end of the season (away from the field, that is) gravitate to Fleck, or will the energetic young coach have to win them over?

    Pac-12: How good is Blake Barnett?

    He wasn’t good enough to beat out Jalen Hurts in Tuscaloosa. Now in Tempe, he has a shot at redemption. Working in his factor is the reunion with former Alabama assistant, and now ASU offensive coordinator, Billy Napier. One difficult area: the pressure of knowing that if he doesn’t succeed all of his 5-star prep shine has worn off, and that Todd Graham’s job might rely on his shoulder.

    SEC: Will Hugh Freeze make it to the fall?

    Freeze has dug his heels in, and Ross Bjork seems comfortable hunkering down in the foxhole next to his head coach, but it feels like the worst has yet to hit Oxford – especially with the school’s recent denial of still having its Notice of Allegations. If there is more out there, and if reported at the proper time (see: a moment where it’ll dominate the news cycle) then Freeze’s job could be in serious jeopardy.

    Glenn McGraw

    ACC: Clemson’s quarterback situation

    Who’s going to be next in line to take over for the Tigers and keep the championship train rolling? Deshaun Watson is gone, and waiting behind him are several more-than-capable, albeit green, signal callers.

    I’m also really interested to see the next phase of Florida State football under Jimbo Fisher as a whole. The playmakers are there, but can the offensive line gel enough to set the stage for Deondre Francois and Co.? The O-line will have a big impact on whether or not FSU can get back to championship form this season.

    Big 12: The energy surrounding Tom Herman and Texas

    How has it changed with Herman, the biggest college football coaching hire in recent memory, now in charge? Thanks to Charlie Strong’s exceptional recruiting, the talent is in place to compete for a conference title immediately, but how will the players respond?

    Big Ten: Clayton Thorson’s development

    After a 3,182 yard, 22 touchdown (the Northwestern single-season record) campaign and an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection in 2016, how does the redshirt junior progress in his development? Thorson had some fantastic moments interspersed with some games he’d like to have back. Can he improve on his consistency? If so, watch out for the ‘Cats.

    SEC: Florida’s quarterback situation

    The Gators desperately need a signal caller who can, at the very least, manage a game and it’s going to have to come from one of the young guns – Feliepe Franks or Kyle Trask – but do either have what it takes to be the future at the position for the once-proud quarterback school? If not, Jim McElwain will face his biggest challenge to date at Florida considering there’s nowhere else to turn right now for a longterm solution. We’re going to find out really quickly.

    Pac-12: Oregon’s response to a rocky start under Willie Taggart

    Things didn’t quite start off on the right foot for Taggart as the Ducks’ new head coach, so how will things progress as spring practice kicks into gear? What’s the mood like in Eugene and can a solid spring move the Ducks beyond the negatives of Taggart’s early days in charge?

    Like with Texas, setting the right tone means everything.

    MORE: Post-National Signing Day Top 25 College Football Rankings


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