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Meeting of the Minds: What are the biggest spring questions?

Nick Saban
With spring ball open now open for business nationwide, virtually every team in the country has some sort of issue to address. At LSU, it’s handing the quarterbacking keys to Zach Mettenberger. At Alabama, it’s figuring out who is ready to step up on defense. And at Arkansas, it’s addressing if the Razorbacks have anyone on defense at all. Lane Kiffin needs to build depth, Bob Stoops needs to figure out if he has a replacement for Ryan Broyles and Urban Meyer needs to figure out what he has period.

Which brings us to today’s question: What is the biggest question that needs to be addressed this spring that could impact who wins the 2012 BCS Title?

Go!

Regie Eller: There are so many questions I have heading into this spring, and considering, for the most part, one lapse could cost you your shot, I have a few:

  1. What impact will Mike Stoops make on the Sooner defense, and how early? Oklahoma returns quite a few starters and a secondary I like a lot on paper; but overall, the defense as a whole underperformed in 2011.
  2. Playing off my Oklahoma question, how will Brent Venables–the former Oklahoma defensive coordinator–do, and also how quickly, at Clemson? Clemson is a team that will have the offensive weapons, with the major question being its offensive line. Defense, again, will tell the ultimate story of which direction Clemson’s season goes. Orange Bowl anyone?

Other questions I have: Who is the next Dez Bryant/Justin Blackmon in Stillwater? How can Baylor replace RG3?

Allen Kenney: Quarterback is always going to get the majority of the attention, so it’s no shock that everyone is talking about the transition behind center at LSU. Honestly, I think the bigger issue down in Baton Rouge is replacing Rueben Randle.

Given all of the big names at receiver last season, Randle really flew under the radar. LSU’s ground-and-pound offense didn’t do him any favors, either. The NFL guys are starting to recognize how big a weapon Randle could be, though, as he’s shooting up the draft boards.

Zach Mettenberger could be the next Jamarcus Russell (the college version). We already know LSU already has a great running game. None of that will matter if Les Miles can’t find any weapons in the passing game to stretch the field and keep defenses honest.

Aaron Torres: Given that I did the LSU spring primer, I think Allen couldn’t be more correct in his assessment of the situation at LSU. The fact is that all eyes will be on Mettenberger, but no matter how good he or the running game is, he’ll need some help on the outside for the Tigers to reach their full potential. In a lot of ways, he enters this year a lot like A.J. McCarron did last year: Tons of talent on the defense and in the run game, but no clear No. 1 receiver to help take the load off his shoulders.

At the end of the day, though, it all does still fall on his shoulders, and because of it, I still put the spotlight on Mettenberger.

In the spring primer, I said something to the effect that Mettenberger “has the most unique pressure in college football.” He doesn’t have to be great every night for his team to have success (like say a Matt Barkley or Landry Jones does), but along with Barkley, he’s the only quarterback in the country who enters the season with the expectation to win every game he starts. An 11-1 record could very well end up as a disappointment, and 10-2 would be an unmitigated disaster. And the thing is, if it does happen, no one will blame Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry or Russell Sheppard. They’ll blame Mettenberger.

So my vote goes to Mettenberger.

They say that the quarterback gets too much credit when the team wins and not enough when it loses. We will see that in live action every Saturday in Baton Rouge this fall.

Mark BarronMichael Felder: Honestly, guys, when I look around the nation, I see holes at so many levels for the group of seven or eight teams that should have a shot to win a title. At LSU, Aaron and Allen hit on the wide receiver and quarterback problem. Southern Cal is going to be fighting depth issues all year. Wisconsin needs to find a quarterback.

You get my drift.

But for me the biggest question mark – and I’m admitting my bias – is Alabama finding a replacement for Mark Barron. The guy was a fixture in that secondary for three seasons, helped clean up a lot of garbage and made big plays when the Tide needed them. Losing Kirkpatrick and Hightower and Upshaw hurts, but Barron is the guy who will be tough to replace. He played air traffic controller in the back end while being active against the run, and I’m not sure if you have been paying attention to the Tide, but Nick Saban is not exactly having an easy time bringing in safety talent that actually materializes. Landon Collins is just a kid, and we’ll see what he can do when he gets to school. But ultimately who steps in to try and fill Barron’s shoes will tell the tale of where this Tide defense goes as a whole in 2012.

Regie Eller: Great points, Mike. I will be very intrigued to see the entire unit materialize with Barron gone, but also Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. Maybe there is a hope from Saban that Robert Lester can be adequate enough at safety while he figures out and mixes playing time with Clinton-Dix, Sunseri, Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry. Also, I really like the JUCO transfer Travell Dixon at corner, but as you can tell, there are lots of unknowns.

I ponder, too, if Doug Nussmeier’s offense will differ any from Jim McElwain, who obviously was constrained from what he wanted to do.

Allen Kenney: While we’re on the subject, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Texas’ quarterback situation.

QB wasn’t Texas’ only problem the last couple years, but it was by far and away the biggest. The Longhorns roster is overflowing with talent, which makes getting some solid play under center even more important.

Despite the talk that there’s some kind of quarterback derby going on in Austin this spring, David Ash has that job locked up. Ash has some nice tools, but he didn’t show much last season that would make anyone think he’s destined for stardom. In fact, he seems more like the “least bad” option for the ‘Horns.

Texas made some big strides in 2011 towards getting back to the ranks of the national elite. Making the leap this year will require Ash to raise his game significantly.

Ty Hildenbrandt: If Brian Kelly hands the quarterbacking keys to Tommy Rees, would he drop them? Just wondering…

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