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February 15, 2007

Spring preview: Breaking down the top 25

• Spring practice schedules
• NFL Draft Early Entries
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The year-long marathon that constitutes the college football calendar offers no room for vacations.

National Signing Day occurred just a week ago, but already college programs across the country are gearing up for spring practice.

College football fans have just stopped debating which five-star prospects will sign where. Now they can debate who will have the early advantage in competitions for starting positions in the fall.

Who's going to be throwing passes for Notre Dame?

Who's going to be catching passes at Southern California?

Can Florida quarterback Tim Tebow throw as well as he runs?

Although those questions won't be answered until fall, spring practice at least can offer us some clues.

Rivals.com begins its exhaustive coverage of spring practice by breaking down each of the schools that finished last season among the top 25 teams in the final Associated Press poll.

We have selected the top returning player at each of those schools while also identifying a player on the verge and an impact newcomer.

Our "player on the verge" is someone who should deliver a breakthrough performance this fall even though he may have spent most of last season outside the starting lineup.

The impact newcomer is a true freshman, redshirt freshman or transfer student who should earn immediate playing time. In at least a few instances, our impact newcomer is someone who won't arrive on campus until after spring practice.

We also have provided the biggest question each team must answer as it prepares to kick off the 2007 season.

Spring practice starting date: March 21
Spring game: April 7
Top returner: WR Percy Harvin. The most valuable player of the SEC title game showed against Florida State and Arkansas what he can do when he's healthy. Expect him to replace Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. as the nation's most dangerous all-purpose player.
Player on the verge: QB Tim Tebow: We found out last year how well he can run. Now we'll find out how well he can pass.
Impact newcomer: S Major Wright: This hard-hitting defensive back from Fort Lauderdale could step right in as the heir apparent to Thorpe Award finalist Reggie Nelson. Then again, true freshman safety Jerimy Finch and redshirt freshman Bryan Thomas might have something to say about that.
The big question: Will Florida replace almost all of its defensive starters as seamlessly as Ohio State did it last year? Safety Tony Joiner is the only returning player who ranked among the Gators' top seven tacklers last season.
Spring practice starting date: March 29
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: LB James Laurinaitis: He picked off five passes and was named a Butkus Award finalist in his first year as a starter. What can he do for an encore?
Player on the verge: RB Chris Wells: Rivals.com's No. 3 prospect in the 2006 recruiting class offered glimpses of his potential last year while backing up Antonio Pittman. Wells now will be the focal point on offense now that Pittman, Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and nearly the entire receiving corps are all gone.
Impact newcomer: RB Brandon Saine: Chris Wells and Maurice Wells are the only returning scholarship running backs, so Saine and Daniel Herron could see immediate playing time as true freshmen. Saine is bigger and faster than Herron and probably has the better chance to play early.
The big question: Who's going to replace Smith? The three candidates - junior Todd Boeckman, sophomore Rob Schoenhoft and redshirt freshman Antonio Henton – have combined to throw just 11 career passes.
Spring practice starting date: Feb. 23
Spring game: March 24
Top returner: DT Glenn Dorsey: He made the surprising decision to return after earning All-America honors last season. If he repeats his 2006 success, Dorsey should be one of the first five players taken in next year's NFL Draft.
Player on the verge: WR Brandon LaFell: Although LaFell caught only five passes last year, he sure made them count. He averaged 28 yards per reception and scored two touchdowns, including a 58-yard score in the Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame. Now that Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis have departed, LaFell should have more chances to show off his big-play ability.
Impact newcomer: RB Richard Murphy: This redshirt freshman's explosiveness should help him find a role in a backfield that already includes Keiland Williams, Alley Broussard and Jacob Hester.
The big question: How much will the Tigers miss JaMarcus Russell? Matt Flynn starred in a 2005 Peach Bowl victory and Ryan Perrilloux is a former five-star prospect. However, neither candidate is nearly as proven as Russell.
Spring practice starting date: March 20
Spring game: April 7
Top returner: OT Sam Baker: This Rivals.com second-team All-American could have gone in the first round of the NFL Draft if he had chosen to leave school. His decision to return gives USC arguably the nation's top offensive lineman.
Player on the verge: S Josh Pinkard: After making 54 tackles as a sophomore two years ago, Pinkard appeared poised for stardom last fall until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the season opener. Pinkard now is ready to return, though he must battle 2006 starters Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison for playing time.
Impact newcomer: RB Joe McKnight: This high school senior won't be on campus for spring practice, but he should cause quite a stir this fall. Rivals.com rated McKnight as the No. 2 overall player in the 2007 recruiting class. The Trojans proved last year they're not afraid to give plenty of carries to true freshmen. McKnight should continue that tradition.
The big question: Who's going to catch John David Booty's passes? Booty will enter the season as a Heisman Trophy contender, but he won't match the success of Matt Leinart or Carson Palmer unless some unproven receivers step up to fill the shoes of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Former five-star prospects Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner and former four-star prospect David Ausberry give the Trojans plenty of capable candidates.
Spring practice starting date: March 12
Spring game: April 13
Top returner: RB Ian Johnson: The only thing hurting Johnson in last year's Heisman Trophy discussion was a lack of name recognition. Scoring the winning two-point conversion in the Fiesta Bowl and proposing to his girlfriend on national television probably solved that problem.
Player on the verge: WR Jeremy Childs: The senior trio of Jerard Rabb, Drisan James and Legedu Naanee combined for 66 percent of Boise State's receiving yards last year. Their departures should create an opportunity for Childs, who showed plenty of promise last year while catching 14 passes as a redshirt freshman.
Impact newcomer: S Garcia Day: The only junior-college transfer in Boise State's most recent recruiting class already has enrolled at school and could earn immediate playing time.
The big question: Who's the new quarterback?: The departure of three-year starter Jared Zabransky leaves the Broncos searching for a successor. Bush Hamdan, Taylor Tharp, Nick Lomax and Mike Coughlin should compete for the job this spring. They'll be joined this summer by true freshman Kellen Moore, who set Washington state high school records for career completions and touchdown passes.
Spring practice starting date: March 31
Spring game: April 20
Top returner: QB Brian Brohm: His decision to stay in school rather than enter the NFL Draft should give Louisville fans reason to believe the Cardinals can earn a second consecutive BCS berth even without Bobby Petrino on the sideline.
Player on the verge: DT Adrian Grady: He collected 16 tackles as a part-time starter his sophomore year. Grady will have to deliver much greater numbers this fall as the Cardinals try to replace star defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, a probable first-round draft pick.
Impact newcomer: DB Woodny Turenne: Rivals.com rated this five-star cornerback as the top junior college prospect in the nation. Turenne could step right into the starting lineup to fill the void created by William Gay's departure.
The big question: Can the Cardinals overcome another coaching change? Louisville didn't miss a beat after Petrino replaced John L. Smith. The Cardinals can only hope the Petrino-to-Steve Kragthorpe transition works out equally well.
Spring practice starting date: March 13
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: RB P.J. Hill: The Rivals.com national freshman of the year rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of his first eight games last season. The return of Hill and Michigan's Mike Hart should spark plenty of debate over who's the better back.
Player on the verge: OT Jake Bscherer: This sophomore could have the unenviable task of replacing Rivals.com first-team All-American and future first-round draft pick Joe Thomas. Rivals.com rated Bscherer as the No. 4 offensive tackle in the 20006 recruiting class. The emergence of Bscherer and the arrival of true freshman Josh Oglesby – the top offensive tackle in the 2007 recruiting class – should give Wisconsin an outstanding offensive line for years to come.
Impact newcomer: QB Allan Evridge: This Kansas State transfer will compete with Tyler Donovan for the right to replace John Stocco as the Badgers' starting quarterback. Donovan may have a slight edge after starting two late-season games in place of an injured Stocco, but Evridge also will have a shot to win the job.
The big question: How good is this program?: Wisconsin went 11-1 last year without playing Ohio State in the regular season. The Badgers also missed out on an invitation to a BCS bowl. Is this an elite team? We may not know for sure until the Badgers face Ohio State and Michigan on back-to-back weeks in November.
Spring practice starting date: March 17
Spring game: April 14
Top returner: RB Mike Hart: We could have given the nod to Rivals.com first-team All-America offensive tackle Jake Long or star quarterback Chad Henne, but Hart gets the nod for his steadiness. Hart almost never fumbles and rushed for at least 91 yards in each of his regular-season games last year.
Player on the verge: OG Justin Boren: Rated as the No. 1 center in the 2006 recruiting class by Rivals.com, Boren earned playing time as a true freshman despite battling an ankle injury early in the season. He should win a starting job somewhere on the line – likely at guard – this fall.
Impact newcomer: OT Steve Schilling: This former five-star prospect was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 guard in the 2006 recruiting class. After sitting out a redshirt season last fall, Schilling should compete for the starting spot at right tackle.
The big question: Will opponents learn how to run against the Wolverines? Michigan loses several top players – including All-America defensive tackle Alan Branch – from a defense that stopped the run better than any other team in the nation last year.
Spring practice starting date: Feb. 27
Spring game: March 17
Top returner: DE Quentin Groves: This Rivals.com third-team All-American provided huge performances in victories over Florida and Alabama. If he delivers efforts like those on a consistent basis, Groves could emerge as the nation's top pass rusher next fall.
Player on the verge: RB Brad Lester: The departure of Kenny Irons makes Lester the next person attempting to continue Auburn's tradition of quality running backs. Lester rushed for 510 yards and nine touchdowns while backing up Irons last season, but he could double that yardage total this year.
Impact newcomer: WR Tim Hawthorne: Somebody has to step in and replace Courtney Taylor, who led the Tigers with 54 catches for 704 yards last year. Hawthorne is a former four-star prospect who could contend for that open starting spot as a redshirt freshman.
The big question: Who will fill the holes on the line?: Left tackle King Dunlap is the only returning starter on an offensive line that must replace Rivals.com All-America guards Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth, center Joe Cope and right tackle Jonathan Palmer.
Spring practice starting date: March 5
Spring game: April 7
Top returner: QB Pat White: The more obvious selection would be Steve Slaton, who finished fourth in the nation in rushing last year and enters this season as a Heisman Trophy favorite. But we believe White's ability to hurt teams with his arm and legs makes him the more valuable player.
Player on the verge: FS Quinton Andrews: He capped an exceptional freshman season by collecting a team-high eight tackles and picking off a pass in a Gator Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. That performance indicates Andrews could become West Virginia's best playmaker in the secondary.
Impact newcomer: LB J.T. Thomas: This former three-star prospect made a name for himself in the preseason last year before getting redshirted. Thomas should earn a starting job this fall now that the Mountaineers must replace Kevin McLee and Jay Henry.
The big question: Will the holes remain as big?: West Virginia averaged 303 rushing yards per game in part because of an offensive line that opened up canyon-sized holes for Slaton and White. Will the Mountaineers continue to block as well now that Rivals.com first-team All-America center Dan Mozes and offensive line coach Rick Trickett have departed?
Spring practice starting date: March 5
Spring game: April 7
Top returner: WR Malcolm Kelly: This rising junior caught 62 passes for 993 yards and 10 touchdowns last year despite playing in a run-oriented offense and missing almost the entire Fiesta Bowl with a knee injury. He had 10 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Big 12 championship game.
Player on the verge: DT Gerald McCoy: Oklahoma had enough talent on its front four last year that it could afford to redshirt this former five-star prospect. This should be the year McCoy shows why Rivals.com rated him as the top defensive tackle in the 2006 recruiting class.
Impact newcomer: QB Sam Bradford: This redshirt freshman enters spring practice as the odds-on favorite to replace Paul Thompson as the Sooners' starting quarterback. This former three-star prospect must hold off challenges from junior Joey Halzle and 2007 recruit Keith Nichol, who is already on campus.
The big question: Who will take over on the front seven?: The competitions at quarterback and running back might get more attention, but the Sooners proved last season they can overcome uncertainty at those two positions. A potentially greater concern involves how Oklahoma will restock a defense that loses C.J. Ah You, Larry Birdine, Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer - among others.
Spring practice starting date: March 24
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: RB Ray Rice: Boise State's Ian Johnson is the only returning player who rushed for more yards per game last year than Rice, who gained 1,794 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
Player on the verge: WR Kenny Britt: Although he didn't start until midway through the season last year, Britt emerged as a big-play threat and collected 386 receiving yards in the Scarlet Knights' final four regular-season games. If Rutgers improves its passing attack, Britt could develop into a 1,000-yard receiver this fall.
Impact newcomer: OL Anthony Davis: Rutgers must replace two starters on its offensive line, which should allow this four-star prospect to earn a shot at immediate playing time.
The big question: How will they handle success?: Although the Scarlet Knights were coming off an Insight Bowl appearance last year, nobody expected them to head into mid-November contending for a national title. Rutgers can't sneak up on people anymore.
Spring practice starting date: Feb. 23
Spring game: March 31
Top returner: QB Colt McCoy: Defensive tackle Frank Okam and wide receiver Limas Sweed are better NFL prospects, but McCoy clearly is the Longhorns' most valuable player. Texas looked like a national title contender last season before McCoy got hurt. The Longhorns lost to Kansas State without McCoy and fell to Texas A&M when he played at less than full strength.
Player on the verge: LB Roddrick Muckelroy: He looked like a star in the making after starting the Longhorns' first three games last season and collecting 2.5 tackles for loss. He then ruptured a tendon in his right ring finger and missed the rest of the season. Muckelroy's fearless aproach to the game gives him plenty of big-play potential. He could emerge as the team's top linebacker if he stays healthy all year.
Impact newcomer: CB Chykie Brown: Texas must find two new starting cornerbacks now that Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown have finished their senior seasons. Deon Beasley likely will win one starting spot, but the other job is up for grabs. That opportunity could allow this former four-star prospect to crack the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.
The big question: What about the pass defense? The Longhorns struggled to defend the pass even with Ross and probable high draft pick Michael Griffin in their secondary. Now the Longhorns must replace both of those guys as well as former defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, now the head coach at Iowa State. That leaves secondary coach/co-defensive coordinator Duane Akina with quite a task on his hands in his first year calling defensive signals for the Longhorns.
Spring practice starting date: March 12
Spring game: April 14
Top returner: WR DeSean Jackson: When he wasn't returning four punts for touchdowns last season, Jackson was emerging as one of the Pac-10's top big-play receiving threats. He should emerge as the Pac-10's best receiver and a legitimate Biletnikoff Award candidate this fall.
Player on the verge: RB Justin Forsett: This guy isn't exactly an unknown quantity after rushing for 1,625 yards the last two seasons, but this marks Forsett's first season as a starter. Forsett rushed for 124 yards on just eight carries in a Holiday Bowl performance that indicates the Golden Bears' rushing attack may continue to thrive without Marshawn Lynch.
Impact newcomer: OL Matt Summers-Gavin: Offensive linemen typically don't make much of an impact as true freshmen, but this talented four-star prospect could be the exception.
The big question: Will the Bears stop spreading it out?: Mike Dunbar spent just one season as California's offensive coordinator before leaving to take the offensive coordinator position at Minnesota. Dunbar brought some aspects of the spread offense with him. Will the end of Dunbar's tenure mean the end of the spread at Cal?
Spring practice starting date: To be determined
Spring game: April 14
Top returner: RB Darren McFadden: The 2006 Heisman Trophy runner-up will enter the 2007 season as a favorite to win the prize. Will the Razorbacks find as many different ways to get him the ball now that former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has left for Tulsa?
Player on the verge: LB Freddie Fairchild: After starting nine games at linebacker as a freshman in 2005, Fairchild collected 12 tackles in two games last year before a knee injury shut him down for the rest of the season. Fairchild should be poised for a breakthrough season as he helps lead a linebacking corps that must replace Sam Olajubutu and Desmond Sims.
Impact newcomer: WR Marques Wade: This 6-foot-4 receiver might have made an impact last year if he hadn't gone down with turf toe during preseason workouts. Wade returns as a redshirt freshman and should help diversify a passing attack that relied almost solely on Marcus Monk last year.
The big question: Will the off-field soap opera carry into the season?: Arkansas has endured so much controversy and discord in the last couple of months that it's easy to forget this team won 10 games and captured the SEC Western Division title last year. You have to wonder whether all these unwanted headlines will lead to a lack of chemistry.
Spring practice starting date: March 19
Spring game: April 14
Top returner: LB Bryan Kehl: He collected 70 overall tackles and 8 1/2 tackles for loss last year to rank third on the team in both categories. This incoming senior should lead the team in tackles this fall while helping the Cougars compensate for the loss of Cameron Jensen.
Player on the verge: QB Max Hall: This Arizona State transfer is the favorite to replace John Beck as BYU's starting quarterback, though Hall first must hold off challenges from Cade Cooper, Brendan Gaskins and Sam Doman.
Impact newcomer: TE Devin Mahina: Rivals.com rated this four-star prospect as the nation's No. 11 tight end in the 2007 recruiting class. Mahina could step in immediately and fill the void created by Rivals.com third-team All-American Jonny Harline's departure.
The big question: Can the Cougars maintain the momentum?: There's plenty of talk around the West that BYU has regained its prominence after winning the Mountain West and drilling Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. However, the Cougars could take a step back this fall because they lost so much talent on both sides of the ball.
Spring practice starting date: March 21
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: TE John Carlson: Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Darius Walker have left after combining to catch 201 passes last fall. That puts pressure on Carlson to match his production from 2006, when he caught 47 passes for 634 yards. If he improves upon those numbers, Carlson should win the Mackey Award that goes to the nation's top tight end.
Player on the verge: WR D.J. Hord: This former four-star prospect played sparingly in 2005 and missed the 2006 season with an injured Achilles tendon. Hord finally gets a chance to prove himself this year and should team up with David Grimes to catch some of those passes that were thrown to Samardzija and McKnight last year.
Impact newcomer: QB Jimmy Clausen: Sooner or later, you have to believe the nation's top prospect in the 2007 recruiting class has to take over as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The other top candidates for this spot are redshirt freshmen Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer.
The big question: What about the defense?: Notre Dame has given up at least 34 points in each of its six losses during the Charlie Weis era. Will the arrival of new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and the switch to 3-4 scheme help the Irish slow down elite offenses?
Spring practice starting date: March 20
Spring game: April 14
Top returner: QB Riley Skinner: All he did as a redshirt freshman was lead Wake Forest to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 35 years. Skinner's numbers might not jump out at you, but his leadership and poise helped the Demon Deacons continually win close games last year.
Player on the verge: RB Micah Andrews: Andrews has rushed for at least 142 yards in three separate games during his career, but he has never had an extended period as a featured back. Andrews' 2006 season ended in mid-September when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. If Andrews returns to full strength, you can add his name to the ACC's long list of outstanding running backs.
Impact newcomer: RB Josh Adams: This former three-star prospect gives the Deacons insurance if Andrews doesn't return to form. The redshirt freshman earned raves for his performance on the practice field last season.
The big question: How will the Deacons retool their defense?: Wake Forest won the ACC last year primarily because of an opportunistic defense loaded with upperclassmen. The Deacons now must fill the leadership void created by the departures of all-conference linebacker Jon Abbate and defensive back Josh Gattis.
Spring practice starting date: March 28
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: RB Branden Ore: Although he struggled with injuries for much of the season, Ore still rushed for 1,137 yards and delivered back-to-back 200-yard efforts in victories over Southern Mississippi and Clemson. If he stays healthy this fall, Ore could contend for All-America honors.
Player on the verge: DE Jason Adjepong: He recorded two quarterback hurries in the first two games of his college career last fall before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. The former four-star prospect's quick start as a freshman indicates he might have a bright future.
Impact newcomer: OT Aaron Brown: This former four-star prospect could move directly into the starting lineup at right tackle as a redshirt freshman. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 7 offensive tackle in the 2006 recruiting class.
The big question: Who's playing quarterback?: Sean Glennon's poor performance in a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Georgia may cause Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer to consider other candidates.
Spring practice starting date: March 24
Spring game: April 28
Top returner: QB Matt Ryan: Ryan unquestionably is the best quarterback in the Atlantic Coast Conference. If he steps up his play this fall, Ryan just might rank among the top quarterbacks in the nation.
Player on the verge: WR Brandon Robinson: Robinson caught 36 passes for 490 yards and one touchdown in a reserve role last season. Now that Tony Gonzalez has completed his senior season, Robinson should move into the starting lineup and get into the end zone more often this fall.
Impact newcomer: TE Jordon McMichael: This redshirt freshman and former four-star prospect could thrive under new offensive coordinator Steve Logan, who utilized a pass-oriented offense during his stint as East Carolina's head coach.
The big question: How quickly can the Eagles adjust?: Boston College has a lineup full of upperclassmen and a coaching staff full of newcomers. The Eagles' chances of challenging for an Atlantic Coast Conference title could depend on how fast the players can adjust to new coach Jeff Jagodzinski, a former Boston College offensive coordinator.
Spring practice starting date: April 2
Spring game: April 28
Top returner: RB Yvenson Bernard: His ability to run the ball and catch passes out of the backfield makes him one of the nation's most versatile and dangerous runners. He has rushed for 2,628 yards and has caught 80 passes over the last two seasons.
Player on the verge: DB Bryan Payton: He ranked fifth on the team with 50 tackles last year while playing mostly as a nickel back. Payton should contend for a starting job at safety this fall as the Beavers attempt to replace Sabby Piscitelli.
Impact newcomer: TE Gabe Miller: This redshirt freshman enters the 2007 season as one of the leading contenders to replace Joe Newton, who was one of the nation's top tight ends last season. Miller signed with Oregon State as a four-star prospect before missing the entire 2006 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
The big question: Who's playing quarterback?: Oregon State's veteran-laden lineup doesn't feature many holes, but the Beavers have plenty of uncertainty at quarterback. Sean Canfield and junior-college transfer Lyle Moevao are competing for the right to replace Matt Moore.
Spring practice starting date: March 2
Spring game: To be determined
Top returner: DE Tommy Blake: Blake compiled 16 1/2 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year and was a unanimous all-Mountain West selection. Blake and Chase Ortiz (11 tackles for loss and two sacks last year) should team up to give Texas Christian arguably the nation's best pair of defensive ends.
Player on the verge: TE Shae Reagan: Reagan backed up seniors Chad Andrus and Brent Hecht on the depth chart, but he ended up with 101 more receiving yards than the combined total of the two guys ahead of him. Reagan caught 14 passes for 300 yards last year and should have no problem exceeding those figures now that he's starting.
Impact newcomer: QB Andy Dalton: This redshirt freshman and former three-star prospect is competing with sophomore Marcus Jackson for the right to replace Jeff Ballard as the Horned Frogs' starting quarterback.
The big question: Can the Frogs do it again?: Two years ago, this traditional Mountain West power made a name for itself nationally with an early season upset of Oklahoma. The Frogs will get a chance to do it again this year when they visit Texas.
Spring practice starting date: March 5
Spring game: April 7
Top returner: CB Paul Oliver: He closed the regular season by holding Biletnikoff Award winner Calvin Johnson to two catches for 13 yards in a victory over Georgia Tech. That performance should earn Oliver serious preseason All-America consideration as he heads into his senior year.
Player on the verge: CB Bryan Evans: Although a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee bothered him early in the season, Evans still broke up six passes as a redshirt freshman. The Oliver-Evans combination could make things difficult for opposing quarterbacks this fall.
Impact newcomer: RB Knowshon Moreno: This redshirt freshman could benefit from Danny Ware's decision to enter the NFL draft. Moreno, a former four-star prospect, is a likely candidate to share carries with returning starter Kregg Lumpkin.
The big question: Can Matthew Stafford pick up where he left off?: After struggling for much of his freshman season, Stafford ended the year by directing the Bulldogs to consecutive victories over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Georgia's hopes of contending for a Southeastern Conference title rest on whether Stafford can show why Rivals.com made him the No. 1 quarterback in the 2006 recruiting class.
Spring practice starting date: March 31
Spring game: April 21
Top returner: LB Dan Connor: Connor earned Rivals.com third-team All-America honors last year and was a finalist for the Bednarik Award that goes to the nation's top defensive player. The Nittany Lions will need even more production from him now that 2005 Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny is heading to the NFL.
Player on the verge: RB Austin Scott: After rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns in an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State two seasons ago, Scott hurt his knee last spring and missed the entire 2006 season. Scott is returning to action this year and could emerge as the Nittany Lions' main running back now that Tony Hunt has departed.
Impact newcomer: DE Aaron Maybin: The Nittany Lions are looking for a new starter at defensive end now that Jim Shaw has finished his senior year. Maybin will have a tough time cracking the starting lineup, but this redshirt freshman and former four-star prospect should work his way into the Lions' rotation of pass rushers.
The big question: Will Anthony Morelli take the next step?: Morelli's disappointing junior season ended with an encouraging performance in an Outback Bowl victory over Tennessee. Penn State's hopes of contending for a Big Ten title depend on whether this former five-star quarterback prospect finally lives up to expectations.
Spring practice starting date: Feb. 22
Spring game: March 31
Top returner: QB Erik Ainge: He may have shown more year-to-year improvement than any other quarterback in the nation last season. If Ainge keeps up that rapid rate of progress, Tennessee just might have a shot at earning a BCS berth.
Player on the verge: CB Roshaun Fellows: This former freshman All-America selection missed the entire 2006 season with a torn pectoral muscle. Fellows' return should boost a Tennessee secondary that loses three of last year's starters.
Impact newcomer: DB Nevin McKenzie: This junior-college transfer just signed with the Vols last week and won't be able to participate in spring practice, but he still could move right into the starting lineup. The Vols need a safety to start alongside Rivals.com second-team All-American Jonathan Hefney.
The big question: Who will catch Ainge's passes? Robert Meachem's decision to enter the NFL Draft means the Vols must replace their three best receivers from last season - Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith. Coach Phillip Fulmer will be counting on some young players to step in and help fill the void immediately.

MORE SPRING PRACTICE: Rivals.com spring practice calendar



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