This week we're going to do a little reconnaissance.
Since the start of spring practice, Cyclone Nation readers have been kept well abreast of the entire spring football goings on at Iowa State. Our Bill Seals is the only member of the media in the world who has been to every single minute of Iowa State's spring football preparations.
Now it's time to get an update on how ISU's 2003 competition is shaping up with this summary of spring football practice that covers each of the 12 foes that await the Cyclones in the fall.
The Panthers are coming off their worst season (5-6) since 1988, and expect to have a rejuvenated running game this spring thanks to a heated competition at tailback. According to the Des Moines Register, scat-back Richard Carter is back this spring after sitting out last season with a broken ankle. He will compete with former Cedar Falls High School star Terrance Freeney, who is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from the North Dakota School of Science. UNI is also looking for a strong spring from quarterback Tom Petrie, who was the Gateway Conference Freshman of the Year in 2001 when the Panthers made it to the Division I-AA semifinals. UNI's spring game is April 26th.
The Bobcats began spring practice on April 2nd with just two starters on offense returning from a year ago because of injuries and graduation. Fred Ray and Ryan Hawk are competing for the starting quarterback position. Ray is a senior who started several games in the second half of 2002. Hawk is a transfer from instate and conference rival Miami of Ohio who sat out last year awaiting eligibility. He reportedly ran a 4.53/40 this spring, the fastest ever by an Ohio quarterback. There is also a wide-open competition at tailback among several players. The Bobcats must also replace standout Joe Sellers, who led their defense in tackles for three straight seasons. Ohio's spring game is April 26th.
The Hawkeyes began spring ball with a lot of momentum and optimism following last season's 11-2 campaign that included a Big Ten championship and numerous individual accolades for players and coaches. Unfortunately, the big news so far in Iowa City this spring has been bad news. Two potential starters on defense, Matt Roth and Chris Smith, have already ran afoul of the law after an offseason in 2002 that featured a myriad of legal problems. A major injury has also dealt the Hawkeyes a major setback. According towww.HawkTalkOnline.com, destined-for-stardom tailback Jermelle Lewis tore his ACL in a scrimmage on April 4th. It's highly doubtful he will play in 2003. Right now the Hawkeyes are working out with just two tailbacks (Fred Russell and Kevin Sherlock) since Marcus Schnoor is also hurt. Today, wide receiver Clinton Solomon is scheduled to undergo some tests on his knee as well. Senior Nathan Chandler is the heir apparent to Brad Banks at quarterback and seems to have a stranglehold on the job, if for no other reason than his edge in experience. Iowa's spring game is April 19th.
The Huskies return 45 lettermen and 14 starters from last season's 8-4 squad that was just 41 seconds away from playing in the Mid-American Conference title game. Northern Illinois' strength is a defense that ranked first in the MAC last season in rush defense, sacks, and scoring defense. Northern Illinois was also third nationally in interceptions with 21. Seven starters from that unit return this spring, included three all-league selections from a year ago. Offensively, the Huskies welcome back tailback Michael Turner, the leading returning rusher in Division I-A, and quarterback Josh Haldi, who finished 27th nationally in passing efficiency last season. Special teams are solid as well. The Huskies could be the most-loaded team returning in the MAC. Their spring game is April 17th.
The Sooners are in the throes of a Big 12 trend. It seems the majority of teams in the league are searching for a quarterback, and the race to replace Nate Hybl is wide-open. Jason White is still recovering from yet another torn ACL. He is practicing with the team but has been held out of contact scrimmaging thus far. That means the battle right now is between sophomore Brent Rawls, sophomore Paul Thompson, and redshirt freshman Noah Allen. Rawls was the most impressive of the three in a 106-play scrimmage on April 5th. He was the only one of the three to direct a scoring drive against Oklahoma's superb first-team defense, and was 10-of-20 passing for 159 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass. Another surprise could be in store at tailback. KeJuan Jones and Renaldo Works entered spring as the favorites to replace Quentin Griffin, but Donta Hicks turned some heads after blistering the Sooner defense for 182 yards on just 14 carries. Oklahoma's spring game is April 12th.
Perhaps no team in the league entered spring practice with more questions than the Red Raiders, who had to replace key elements of their coaching staff as well as their best players on offense and defense. There is no horse race to replace record-setting quarterback Kliff Kingsbury. B.J. Symons is clearly the heir apparent, and he threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Texas Tech's last scrimmage on April 5th. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, poor conditioning and inconsistent secondary play have been problems this spring. Texas Tech's spring game is April 19th.
The Longhorns wrapped up their spring practice with their annual Orange-White game on April 5th in front of 35,000 fans. Coach Mack Brown said this was their "best spring yet" after his first string offense scored on its first five possessions and his first team defense posted a shutout, which included three sacks and five tackles-for-loss. The big story in Austin this spring is just who will replace star-crossed former quarterback Chris Simms. Based on the spring game, junior Chance Mock looks to have the edge over redshirt freshman Vincent Young in a battle between the two former prep phenoms. Mock was 8-for-9 passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Another battle could be brewing at tailback. Sophomore Selvin Young finished with a game-high 84 yards rushing and is challenging junior Cedric Benson, who is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
The pressure is mounting in Lincoln, where Coach Frank Solich welcomes in a new offensive and defensive coordinator this spring following a rare non-winning season. In Nebraska's first scrimmage on April 5th, the leading receiver was Seth Rexilius, the leading rusher was Nanfwang Mutfwang, and the top passer was Garth Glissman. Has anybody ever heard of any of these guys? That's what I thought. Now, that's not to say those are names you're going to be hearing this fall, because they're not. However, it does underscore the point that after a 7-7 season at a school like Nebraska nobody's job is safe.
According to the Columbia Tribune, prized recruit Marcus Nash has been participating in non-contact spring drills but still has a ways to go before challenging Zack Abron for carries at running back. The Tigers returned to practice after a week off on April 3rd with a scrimmage. The kicking game continues to be a struggle for the Tigers, and word is the defense has improved dramatically so far this spring. In fact, at last Thursday's scrimmage the defense more than held its own and only allowed two touchdowns in over two hours of practice. Missouri's spring game is April 12th.
The Wildcats may have finally filled out their 2003 schedule, which includes its usual assortment of cream puffs. K-State opens against Troy State before facing I-AA foes McNeese State and Massachusetts. Marshall visits Manhattan on September 20th. I'm guessing the BCS computers will just love that slate <wink>! The Wildcats could add a 13th game if they are selected to host the Black Coaches Association Game on Aug. 23rd in Kansas City. In terms of personnel, K-State is loaded offensively so the focus this spring is on a defense that lost All-Americans Terence Newman and Terry Pierce, as well as standout Tank Reese. K-State didn't open spring practice until April 2nd and hasn't held a formal scrimmage yet. The Wildcats will hold their spring game on April 26th.
The Buffaloes had an 88-play scrimmage on April 5th, and as expected the defense dominated an offensive unit replete with inexperience along the offensive line as well as quarterback. End Gabe Nyenhuis was dominant, finishing with five tackles-for-loss and three sacks. Three youngsters – Joel Klatt, James Cox, and Erik Greenberg – are vying for the vacant quarterback position. Klatt may have the early edge after completing 13-of-17 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown during the scrimmage. Cox was sacked seven times. A name to keep an eye on for future reference is redshirt freshman cornerback Sammy Joseph, who according to Coach Gary Barnett is "having a spectacular spring." By the way, according to Barnett the Big 12 North Division title comes down to "us, Nebraska, Kansas State, and I think you have to throw Missouri in there." Wonder if he forgot anyone? Colorado's spring game is April 12th.
The offensive line lost three players to graduation and has been a focal point this spring. Defensively, after a scrimmage on April 3rd, Coach Mark Mangino told the Daily Kansan "we're not where we need to be just yet in that area." A lack of experience could be a reason why. For instance, according to the Lawrence Daily-Journal, Kansas' two starting safeties are converts from other positions. There is some good news on the injury front. Linebacker Banks Floodman, who tore an ACL against Iowa State last season, is back as is quarterback Bill Whittemore, who missed the final three games of 2002 with a torn MCL. Kansas will hold its spring game on April 12th.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in central Iowa from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday on 1460 KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)