by Trevor Whenham - 04/15/2006
College football fans have to wait seemingly forever between the last bowl game of the year and the first game of the next season. Thankfully, spring practice breaks up the monotony a bit. Most of the major programs have already played their spring scrimmage and the last few will be done by this weekend. Here's a look at some news filtering out from the spring practice of four of the major programs:
USC - I would never bet against Pete Carroll. Not after what he has managed to do since taking over the USC program. You would be hard pressed to make a case that there is a better coach in college football than him. The Trojans will need every ounce of his coaching skill after the terrible luck that has hit them this spring. You knew it was going to be rough to begin with when the QB and the backfield are all destined for the first round of the NFL Draft.
You just wouldn't have guessed it would be this rough. Leinart's likely replacement, John David Booty, needed back surgery for a bulging disc. Mark Sanchez is talented and can step in, but no one expected him to have to this soon. Likely starting tailback Hershel Dennis blew out his knee, and the rest of the backfield is either injured or academically ineligible. It got so bad that the leading rusher in the spring game was Ryan Powdrell, and he's normally a linebacker. As always, the Trojans have an embarrassment of riches arriving on campus in the fall, but those rookies will have to step up or it could be a long year.
Oklahoma - Bob Stoops desperately needs Adrian Peterson to look like Adrian Peterson again. Peterson was never quite right last year and the Sooners had a very forgettable and regrettable year. It's hard to tell if this year will be better. All reports out of Norman indicate that Peterson looked great during the spring, but he wasn't allowed to make contact, so the play was whistled dead whenever he was touched. Still, it was reason for Sooners fans to be optimistic. If Peterson is healthy and Rhett Bomar learns to settle down and relax more he did in 2005, this year could be much improved.
Florida - Every news report I read out of Gainesville has Urban Meyer gushing about how well Chris Leak is playing this spring. Frankly, it's about time. Leak is a freakishly athletic player, but he has yet to play like more than an average talent with brilliant flashes. It seems to take a while for guys to figure out Meyer's system, so this should be the year. If the momentum carries into the season, Florida fans will be unbearable as they start to predict a two-sport title sweep. They won't win a title, however, if they don't have a better offensive line than the swiss cheese they served up last year. On that front this hasn't been a good spring. Leak can scramble very well, but he would certainly rather do it to gain yards than to evade unblocked defenders. Hopefully Meyer can find a way to fix that between now and the fall.
Notre Dame - Charlie Weis is, luckily, a physically strong man. If he weren't he could be crushed under the weight of expectations this year after an incredible rookie campaign. Spring has been relatively solid and uneventful in the land of golden domes. The biggest story to watch comes from the one player who wasn't at most of spring practices. Jeff Samardzija went from virtually invisible his first two seasons to virtually unstoppable last year. Mel Kiper is already calling him the top receiver in the 2007 draft. He's also a pitcher on the Notre Dame baseball team with a 96 mph fastball. Baseball scouts are drooling over the 6-foot-5 lefty, calling him a potential first rounder in that sport as well. That means a lot of attention. He missed most of the spring practice because of baseball, and had to make time for photo shoots and interviews galore, too. Add that to the flood of attention Brady Quinn will get as the early Heisman favorite and the scrutiny the team is under will be incredibly intense. How those two players hold up under that pressure will determine how the season goes.