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It's the Other Football Season

Colleges: Spring practice could help some teams answer serious questions before they break camp for summer.

April 21, 2002|TOM DIENHART | SPORTING NEWS

The calendar says spring, but the pressure of another season already is in the air around Boston College's Tom O'Brien. His daunting task is to find a replacement for running back William Green, who left college a year early after ranking second in the nation with 155.9 yards rushing per game.

O'Brien knows he doesn't have another Green on campus. But he does have three players who, among them, might be able to meet the standards of the Eagles' traditionally strong rushing attack. O'Brien is counting on junior Derrick Knight, junior Horace Dodd and sophomore Brandon Brokaw.

All three bring something different to the field. Knight is the fastest and most experienced. Dodd, a transfer from Penn State who is getting reacclimated to the position after playing defense his last year in State College, is a slasher. At 6-3, 240 pounds, Brokaw is the biggest of the trio. He has excellent vision and good north-south skills. For now, Knight is running No. 1, but expect Boston College to use all three this fall.

"We won't modify the offense," O'Brien says, "but we won't have a guy carry it 25 to 30 times a game like Green. You may see two players share the load and each carry 15 to 20 times a game."

The tailback competition at Boston College is one of several important position battles around the nation this spring--the best of which are taking place on the offensive side of the ball:

* Auburn quarterback. The Tigers have concluded spring drills but are no closer to determining their starter. Senior Daniel Cobb, who began his career at Georgia, and sophomore Jason Campbell will resume their battle in August. In the spring, inconsistency plagued both. Physically, there's little difference between them; both are strong-armed and athletic. Whoever starts won't be asked to do too much through the air because Auburn wants to pound foes.

* Illinois quarterback. Juniors Jon Beutjer and Dustin Ward are fighting to take over for record-setting Kurt Kittner. Beutjer, a transfer from Iowa who started four games for the Hawkeyes, is playing catch-up in learning the offense after sitting out last year. What he lacks in knowledge compared with Ward, the long and lean Beutjer makes up for in superior skills. Beutjer has a slight edge.

* LSU quarterback. If the Tigers want to repeat as SEC champs, they must find a replacement for Rohan Davey. Sophomores Matt Mauck and Marcus Randall, both good athletes, are tussling for the job. Expect Mauck to win the spot based on his experience. You also can expect LSU to be unable to attack downfield as it did with Davey because neither Mauck nor Randall throws particularly well.

* Maryland quarterback. The departed Shaun Hill wasn't physically gifted, but he limited mistakes and always put the Terrapins in position to succeed. Those will be the marching orders for his successor, who will come from the triumvirate of Chris Kelley, Scott McBrien and junior college transfer Orlando Evans. Kelley, a 6-2, 200-pound sophomore, is one of Maryland's most decorated recruits ever, but he has been beset by injuries. Nevertheless, the ultra-competitive Kelley is in the lead and figures to win the job.

* Michigan running back. The Wolverines weren't able to fill the void left by Anthony Thomas last year, so the search continues. Redshirt freshman Kelly Baraka, sophomores Tim Bracken and David Underwood and junior Chris Perry are in contention. The foursome offers a blend of speed and power. Baraka and Bracken have the wheels; Perry and Underwood are built to move the pile. B.J. Askew also returns, but he has been moved back to fullback after getting considerable time at tailback in 2001.

* Notre Dame quarterback. The Irish have only a few spring practices under their belt, so junior quarterbacks Carlyle Holiday, Jared Clark and Matt LoVecchio are just beginning to implement the intricacies of new Coach Tyrone Willingham's West Coast offense. One thing is certain: The quarterback who is best able to instantly analyze a defense and find the open receiver will have the best chance to start. Those close to the program say there's no front-runner at this point, which means a decision on a starter likely won't be made until late August.

* Ohio State running back. With Jonathan Wells gone, there are plenty of carries available in the Buckeyes' backfield. For now, it's a four-way race among sophomores Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall, redshirt freshman JaJa Riley and true freshman Maurice Clarett, who already is on campus after graduating early. Expect a committee effort in the fall.

* Tennessee running back. The choice among Jabari Davis, Cedric Houston and Derrick Tinsley might not be made until the fall, when it's possible coaches will develop some type of rotation. Another guy in the picture is fullback Troy Fleming, who has looked good working out of a one-back set in the spring. If a No. 1 guy had to be identified today, coaches would tab the bullish Davis, who has run with purpose all spring.

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