Posted: Wednesday March 9, 2005 4:45PM; Updated: Wednesday March 9, 2005 7:16PM
5) Is Willie Williams the next great Miami linebacker?
After suffering a preseason knee injury and redshirting his freshman season, the nation's most infamous former recruit is healthy and ready to show what the hype was about. Observers say Williams stood out during the 'Canes' Peach Bowl practices in December and may already be the best player on a loaded defense. Linebacker was a sore spot for Miami last season, and though all three starters (Tavares Gooden, Roger McIntosh and Jon Beason) return, Williams is expected to push for the starting spot at either middle or strongside. On the other side of the ball, Miami will spend much of the spring focusing on its offensive line, which struggled uncharacteristically last season (due in large part to injuries), particularly in the running game.
6) How will USC's new coaching staff mesh?
Former defensive line coach Ed Orgeron (left) may be missed more than Norm Chow.
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The defending national champs will have more new faces on the sideline than between the hash marks next fall. While the departure of offensive coordinator Norm Chow made headlines, his presence might not be missed as much as defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron had a fiery spirit and his unit -- arguably the best in the country the past two years -- suffered the heaviest hits on the squad with the graduation of All-America tackles Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody. Orgeron has been replaced by ex-Packers defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. Meanwhile, receivers coach Lane Kiffin and former QB coach Steve Sarkisian (who spent last season with the Raiders) will team up to replace Chow. Spring might not provide the best rehearsal with Leinart and Bush expected to sit out after undergoing shoulder surgeries.
7) Who is Joe Ayoob?
Ayoob is Cal coach Jeff Tedford's latest quarterback project, a junior college transfer (a la Aaron Rodgers) from nearby City College of San Francisco who will be given every opportunity to earn Rodgers' vacated starting job. Considering Tedford's last four staring quarterbacks dating back to his time at Oregon all became high first-round draft choices (assuming Rodgers continues the trend), Ayoob brings with him some heavy expectations. The junior, rated the No. 2 juco player in the country last season by SuperPrep, enrolled at Cal in January and will compete with redshirt freshman Nate Longshore. Meanwhile, Tedford must use the spring to find replacements for All-America RB J.J. Arrington (not too big a worry with the return of freshman sensation Marshawn Lynch), receivers Geoff McArthur and Jonathan Makonnen, tight end Garrett Cross and seven defensive starters from the school's best team in over half a century.
8) What changes will Florida State make on offense?
Contrary to widespread rumors of a massive staff shakeup after the season, Bobby Bowden's lone change was to bring in Marshall offensive coordinator Mark McHale as his new offensive line coach. He and his embattled son, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, needs to do something, though, to revamp a once-powerful offense that sunk to its lowest production levels in 23 years (24.7 points and 364.7 yards per game) and ranked dead-last nationally in third-down conversions (22 percent). Many believe enigmatic QB Chris Rix's departure alone will help, but replacement Wyatt Sexton didn't perform much better. Highly touted redshirt freshmen Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee will compete for the job with Sexton during spring, where they'll be helped by the presence of veteran running backs Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker but hurt by a dearth of experienced receivers and linemen.
9) Is Louisville QB Brian Brohm ready to become The Man?
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It's not often a team loses the nation's most efficient passer (Stefan LeFors) and feels like it's upgrading at the position. That's the case with the Cardinals, where hometown hero Brohm, the 2003 USA Today high school player of the year on offense, takes over the reins. He saw extensive action last season as a freshman, completing 67.3 percent of his passes and showing tremendous poise in leading a fourth-quarter scoring drive against Miami in the Orange Bowl, but the pressure will be even greater this season. Louisville moves to the Big East this fall, where either the Cardinals or Pittsburgh will be the preseason favorite, and the locals will look to Brohm to lead the school to its first BCS bowl berth (the Cardinals did play in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl prior to the advent of the BCS). He'll get all the first-team reps this spring as he attempts to find a go-to receiver in place of the departed J.R. Russell.
10) How will Tennessee's quarterback derby shake out?
Most spring quarterback competitions involve players with little or no experience. It's a different story in Knoxville, where last year's freshman standouts Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer return from season-ending injuries to duke it out with Cotton Bowl MVP Rick Clausen. Based on the way he finished last season, the senior Clausen will begin spring atop the depth chart, but most believe Ainge, who threw for 17 touchdowns in nine games last season, is still the Vols' quarterback of the future and could reclaim the job with a strong spring. The athletic Schaeffer remains in the mix as well but may need to show dramatic improvement as a passer to avoid falling behind both Ainge and Clausen.