Spring practice is always an unusual time in college football. It’s a time of turnover and a time to get healthy. Rosters are nowhere close to being at their fullest. In that vein, however, it’s an opportunity for players to make a name for themselves.
These are the names you will need to know over the next couple of months.
Some are replacing big-time players who have departed. Others are starting over at a new program for a fresh start. Even others have already gone through a year or two and are trying to be the guy on offense or defense. From freshmen to veterans, here are the players who could -- should -- stand out during spring practice.
10) Bryce Love, RB, Stanford: You can’t be a Christian without a little Love. (Sorry. I’m sorry.) Love thrived in Stanford’s Sun Bowl win over North Carolina with 119 yards while Christian McCaffrey sat to prepare for the NFL Combine. Love showed tremendous burst and big-play ability. He’s not the same caliber of athlete McCaffrey was, but Love can keep the Cardinal’s offense explosive in the ground game. That’s what counts. In Stanford’s ever-growing line of exceptional running backs, Love could be the next one.
9) Wide receivers, Ohio State: Like... any of ‘em. The Buckeyes need a playmaker to emerge at wide receiver. Curtis Samuel isn’t around anymore, even he wasn’t the true wideout Ohio State’s offense needed to go over the top. Right now, there aren’t any household names at that position. Can one emerge during spring? Parris Campbell has made an early -- I mean early -- name for himself. Someone else needs to stand out.
8) Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan: The No. 1 recruit in the country in 2016 had a productive first year, playing in all 13 games and notching 27 tackles. With so many veteran players departing the program -- on both sides of the ball, but especially defense -- Gary will be one of the rising names to know for a Wolverines team that will finally be more Jim Harbaugh than Brady Hoke. Expect Gary’s production to increase, possibly dramatically.
7) Max Browne, QB, PItt: Remember him? You know, the guy who briefly started before Sam Darnold at USC. Pitt has become a haven for transfer quarterbacks in recent years and there have been some success stories with Nathan Peterman and Tom Savage. Will Browne be the next one? He waited a long time for little playing time with the Trojans, but the former 5-star might simply need a fresh start somewhere else.
6) Rick Leonard, OL, Florida State: I know, I know. Cam Akers and whatnot. But the Seminoles have been downright dreadful at pass protection for most of the last two years. Now the group must proceed without left tackle Roderick Johnson. Leonard is the early favorite to succeed Johnson after playing right tackle in 2016. He had his ups and downs, but the former defensive end finally caught on as the season progressed. Quarterback Deondre Francois is a tough dude, but there are only so many crushing hits he can take. Florida State must shore up its pass protection for good.
5) Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame: The Irish have a lot of questions to answer after going 4-8 last year. Quarterback doesn’t figure to be one of them. Wimbush is the early and overwhelming favorite to succeed DeShone Kizer. But just as important as Wimbush will be, so too will be his connection to coach Brian Kelly. Sports Illustrated ran a lengthy profile of Kelly diving into how the coach is changing his day-to-day operation. He’s less involved with the offense and getting to know his players more. Kelly has always been a, shall we say, in-your-face coach when it comes to his quarterbacks. The developing relationship between Wimbush and Kelly will be something to follow all year.
4) Iman Marshall, CB, USC: Adoree’ Jackson received so much attention that it was easy to ignore Marshall on the other half of the field. However, Marshall might end up being the better true cornerback prospect for the NFL. He’s bigger than Jackson at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, and was second on the team behind Jackson in interceptions and passes broken up. He had a huge game in a win over Colorado and took a big step forward in his overall play. He’ll be the No. 1 corner this season for the Trojans.
3) Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma: The Sooners lose Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, which means they lose production (two 1,000-yard rushers and about 76 percent of last season’s rushing total) and talent, as the two are bound for NFL Sundays. Anderson’s college career has been ravaged by injuries, but the coaching staff has raved about him for two years now. Oklahoma’s offense has been nearly unstoppable when the running game is clicking and Anderson could finally be a major piece in that effort.
2) Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: The SEC has rightly taken its lumps for churning out poor quarterback play. However, there are some emerging stars with Jacob Eason (Georgia), Jalen Hurts (Alabama) and Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State). Another name to watch is Stidham as he enters his first spring at Auburn. He’ll be a big name during practice as Sean White recovers from shoulder injury. Stidham was a touted recruit who began his career at Baylor, but could thrive in coach Gus Malzahn’s offense as the proverbial “missing piece.”
1) Hunter Johnson, QB, Clemson: All signs point to Johnson, Kelly Bryant or Zerrick Cooper being the most likely to succeed Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Bryant enters spring as the No. 1 guy as he’s been in the program the longest, but Johnson was a coveted five-star recruit who enrolled early. How quickly he adjusts to the offense will be the most intriguing storyline in the most-watched position battle. And the longer the quarterback competition drags on, the more I stand by my personal philosophy: play the young guy. Not to make any foolhardy comparisons, but that worked out well for the last guy to start for the Tigers...