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May 20, 2007

BCS Crashers II: Quarterback questions

Who's the quarterback?

That has been the most popular question around the Notre Dame campus since four-year starter Brady Quinn took his last snap for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame fans won't get the answer anytime soon. Jimmy Clausen, Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones and Evan Sharpley continue to compete for the right to replace Quinn.

But the Irish aren't the only team with quarterback issues.

The second part of our spring practice wrapup of schools that don't belong to BCS conferences revealed that quite a few other teams also had quarterback battles.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Source: Jonathan Hutton of GoMiddle.com
What's the biggest question Middle Tennessee answered during spring practice? "Who the quarterback would be. That's going to be Joe Craddock. Clint Marks had been the starter for the last three years. It basically was between Craddock and Gene Delle Donne, a transfer from Duke. I don't think the coaches were very pleased with what Delle Donne brought to the table this spring. They basically named Craddock the starter. I think he made the better decisions that Coach (Rick Stockstill liked to see. Stockstill doesn't want somebody who's going to make a stupid mistake, but he likes the fact that Craddock isn't afraid to throw into traffic if he thinks he can get the ball there. (Stockstill) wants a quarterback who will take chances, but who will only take chances when he knows he's going to win. Delle Donne just didn't impress anybody, and that was from decision-making to overall accuracy."
What question must the team answer before the start of the season? "Wide receiver. They're going to rely on two freshmen (Wes Caldwell and Walter Dozier) coming in who didn't participate in spring practice. Wide receiver at Middle Tennessee has been a big question mark for the last couple of years. They haven't had a go-to guy since Kerry Wright (whose final season was 2004). Kerry Wright just lit up the Sun Belt. They haven't had a go-to receiver since him. That's by far the biggest question mark. They're going to rely on their running game again this year."
UNLV Rebels
Source: T.E. Parker of Rebel-Net.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about Nevada-Las Vegas' 2007 team during spring practice? "It was very difficult to gauge them because starting quarterback Rocky Hinds was out recovering from knee surgery, their starting tailback (David Peeples) was hurt and their second wideout (Casey Flair) was out. The quarterbacks they had really didn't throw the ball very well. The team speed on defense was surprising. It seems to be an upgrade from a season ago. They got to the ball a little more quickly from the defensive line and at linebacker. Another surprise was the play of mid-year transfer Frank Summers at running back. He showed he could handle the load running the ball if they open some holes for him."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "One thing is the health of Hinds. To me, it was proven that if Hinds isn't on the field whenever fall camp opens, this team is going to be in serious trouble. The backups have a long way to go to become successful Division I players. Also, UNLV lost its top two cornerbacks (Eric Wright and John Guice), so replacing them in the defensive backfield is certainly going to be an issue. You couldn't really see it in the spring because no one could get the ball to the wideouts anyway."
New Mexico State Aggies
Source: Gil Guzman of CrimsonIllustrated.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about New Mexico State's 2007 team during spring practice? "Coach (Hal) Mumme used the spring practice sessions as a way to allow incoming players and recruits to showcase their football talents. Coach Mumme sat the first-string offense throughout the spring practice session to avoid risking injuries to his key players. In an attempt to improve on the defensive side of the ball, Coach Mumme allowed his first-stringers to play on defense and focused on the linebacker position - the weakest link from last season."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "Who will be the backup quarterback to Chase Holbrook. Incoming recruit J.J. McDermott has a slight edge because of an injury to backup quarterback Alex Gibson, who will redshirt in 2007. Secondly, will the Aggies find a running back who can be a gamebreaker? Lastly, how much better will the defense be in 2007?"
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Source: Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com
What's the biggest question that Notre Dame answered during spring practice? Can the defense pick up Corwin Brown's scheme? Ask any player on the Irish defense about Brown's new defense and you'll see a smile. That didn't happen much last season when Notre Dame's defense was a national punch line. The simplified system isn't perfect, but the changing fronts have let the players attack more and react less. That might even help the secondary, which looked a lot faster this spring with the mental burden of endless adjustments removed.
What's the biggest question that remains unanswered? Who's the quarterback? If Charlie Weis knows, he's not saying. All four quarterbacks split equal reps during spring practice, and all Weis would say is that none of them played his way out of the competition. The quartet wasn't allowed to do much in the spring game, completing 11-of-24 passes for 77 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Weis will name his two finalists in late May with the smart money on Jimmy Clausen making the first cut.
San Diego State Aztecs
Source: Adam Munsterteiger AztecSportsReport.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about San Diego State's 2007 team at spring practice? "Going into the second year under Chuck Long, they were finally able to find the players to fit into his system. With this being year two in the system, the players felt more comfortable with what they were trying to do. They found a quarterback, and that was a big question going into spring practice because they had a couple of guys who had started games last year (Kevin Craft and Kevin O'Connell). Kevin O'Connell really separated himself through spring practice. Darren Mougey came in a couple of times at quarterback last season, but he was moved to wide receiver. They're going to use him more as an athlete this season."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "Both the offensive and defensive lines. They lost their No. 1 rush end in Antwan Applewhite, who entered the NFL Draft and didn't end up getting drafted. He's going to be tough to replace. He's the main guy who was able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback."
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Source: Donald Tiegiser of EagleTalk.net
What's the biggest thing you learned about Southern Mississippi's 2007 team during spring practice? "The big improvement has been the play of quarterback Jeremy Young. The running back position will be the strength of the offense with Damion Fletcher and Tory Harrison healthy."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "The corners are the nagging question. They have to address this issue before the start of the season. The next question is depth across the offensive and defensive lines. They are solid up front on both sides of the ball, but injuries could prove devastating."
TCU Horned Frogs
Source: Jeremy Clark of PurpleMenace.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about Texas Christian's 2007 team during spring practice? "Perhaps the biggest thing learned from the spring is that the defense is loaded with athletes at all positions, led by All-America defensive end Tommy Blake. It's no surprise, since nine starters return fro the nation's second-ranked unit in 2006. Offensively, there are still questions concerning the quarterback position and receivers. The most experienced area and perhaps the best-looking unit during the spring was the offensive line, which lost all-conference tackle Herb Taylor. Blake Schlueter leads the way in the middle, and he is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "The biggest concern is finding a starting quarterback. Sophomore Marcus Jackson and redshirt freshman Andy Dalton have set themselves apart from the competition, with each of them poised to make a run for the starting job. Jackson has the experience after backing up Jeff Ballard and leading the Frogs to a win over Baylor in the season opener last year. Dalton, who has yet to take a college snap, looked great in the spring and had the better performance in the spring game. This battle will go deep into the (preseason) and maybe into the start of the season when Baylor comes to town."
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Source: Chris Harmon of InsideTulsaSports.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about Tulsa's 2007 team during spring practice? "I think the biggest question was how the new offense was going to look. Gus Malzahn came over from Arkansas as the new offensive coordinator right after Rivals.com named him offensive coordinator of the year. Todd Graham, the head coach at Tulsa, has the same offensive philosophy as Malzahn the hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Everybody wanted to see what that would look like. Once they got out there and started putting the base package in and started learning a few plays, senior quarterback Paul Smith really took to the new offense. By the time they got to the spring game, he had really grasped the offense. He had a solid spring game. If they can find some wide receivers to step up they lost their top three pass catchers from last year Smith has a shot to be the all-time leading passer at Tulsa. This offense is going to give him that opportunity."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "At wide receiver, they've got to have some guys step up. Right now it looks like Dion Toliver and Nick Henderson two junior-college transfers. Those guys have been the leaders of the pack. In a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, they're going to need at least six good ones out there. I think that's going to be the biggest question. They'll run some running backs at inside receiver to help out with that a little bit. They have some quality backs they can slot out, and that should help."
Utah Utes
Source: Thomas Cella of UteZone.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about Utah's 2007 team at spring practice? "Two words: Brian Johnson. The junior quarterback is back for the Utes after a medical redshirt season last year. From the looks of things, he is better than ever. With 17 returning starters including 10 on offense the Utes should compete for the Mountain West championship this year. Out of conference, however, the Utes face a tough schedule. That includes road games with Oregon State and Louisville and a home game with UCLA. If the Utes can find a 1,000-yard rusher in JUCO back Matt Asiata, they will be this year's Boise State."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "The biggest question is who is going to replace All-America safety Eric Weddle on defense. Secondly, the question of whether the Utes can get a respectable running game to open up the spread offense remains unanswered, but fall camp should go a long way toward answering that."
Wyoming Cowboys
Source: Ian McMackin of GoWyoGo.com
What's the biggest thing you learned about Wyoming's 2007 team during spring practice? "They lost a lot of players up front, but I think Coach (Joe) Glenn feels they have players in place who can be pretty effective at those positions. They lost three seniors (Chase Johnson, Jason Karcher and Hunter Richards) on the offensive line. The two guys who are returning (Kyle Howard and Tim Bond) have only started one year. Glenn feels very confident (in the new starters). He says they're very excited, passionate-type players with athleticism. He feels they have more athleticism than the previous offensive lines at Wyoming, so the potential is there to be better down the road. Right now they don't have the experience."
What's the biggest question the team must answer before the start of the season? "The offensive line is definitely their biggest question mark. Outside of the offensive line, it's defensive line and safety. They lost (all-Mountain West safety) John Wendling, who was drafted and was a very good player. Those are the three big question marks. At the other positions quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, linebacker and corner there's a lot of experience and depth at those positions. The question marks are offensive line, defensive line and safety."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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