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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Two-Deep Notes: U.S.C., U.F., Utah and U.C.F.

With spring comes rain, baseball, grass and depth charts. Each of the latter trio is welcome, with none more so than the parade of two-deeps cascading onto university Web sites over the last two weeks. Another four schools offered up a preliminary depth chart over the last two days: Utah, U.C.F., Florida and South Carolina. With these depth charts, and with a few others, comes spring. An important note, however: All depth charts are to be taken lightly, and then taken outside and lit aflame, because they’re worthless. Less than worthless, perhaps — for many teams, the names and numbers listed alongside the vast majority of positions are space-fillers, more or less.

Sometimes, however, a spring two-deep sends a message. Take South Carolina, for instance, which has Marcus Lattimore listed atop the depth chart at running back. That’s despite the fact that Lattimore won’t participate in any contact drills during the spring; in fact, Lattimore might be held out of non-contact drills, if his knee doesn’t prove up to the task.

The Gamecocks enter the spring with question marks at receiver. The team lost Alshon Jeffery to the N.F.L. Draft, as expected, but will also be without sophomore Bruce Ellington, who this week reconfirmed his commitment to South Carolina’s basketball team. That’s a two-pronged blow: Ellington was also valuable part of Carolina’s return game.

The Gamecocks will rely on Ace Sanders to lead by example. In its spring depth chart, South Carolina listed Sanders, junior DeAngelo Smith and senior D.L. Moore as the three starters at receiver. Along the offensive line, the depth chart indicates that sophomore Mike Matulis will remain at right tackle rather than replace Rokevious Watkins on the blind side.

One thing that stands out with Florida’s depth chart is how… unsurprising it is. On defense, at least. Offensively, the Gators may have more than one position battle determined during the spring. At quarterback, Florida listed sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel as co-starters. That’s one of the key position battles taking place across the SEC over the next month.

Look for extra emphasis to be placed on the offensive line, which was a weekly concern for Florida last fall. The Gators may alternate several different lineups during the spring in search of a more consistent offensive front. Entering the spring, the starting five, from left to right: Patchan, Wilson, Harrison, Halapio and Green. This will change throughout the spring.

The defense is locked in. Leon Orr is penciled in as Jaye Howard’s replacement at tackle, as expected. Junior Darrin Kitchens is listed as the starter at strong side linebacker, but that should change when Lerentee McCray returns from injury. For now, it’s Kitchens, who played inside last fall, followed by sophomore Graham Stewart.

The best position battle may be occurring at cornerback, where Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy and Willie Bailey will battle for the right to start opposite of Cody Riggs while Marcus Roberson recovers from a neck injury. One interesting listing is safety Matt Elam listed as the starter at nickel back ahead of De’Ante Saunders, who held those duties in 2011.

Utah’s experience at the offensive and defensive skill positions might be the envy of the Pac-12 — though there’s no Matt Barkley in Salt Lake City, nor a Robert Woods or De’Anthony Thomas. But there is a John White IV: once again, the former JUCO transfer will be the heart and soul of Utah’s offensive attack.

Little has changed between the Sun Bowl and spring ball, judging by Utah’s two-deep. DeVonte Christopher, Reggie Dunn and Luke Matthews are the starting receivers; Matthews makes a slight position change, from F-back to receiver, in new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson’s more spread-based system. David Rolf and Jake Murphy run one-two at tight end.

The only change might be at quarterback, where Jordan Wynn has reclaimed his spot atop the depth chart after missing a significant portion of last season with a shoulder injury. But there’s no Jon Hays to be found: Wynn is the starter entering the spring, followed by true freshmen Travis Wilson and Chase Hansen. Hays, a former Nebraska-Omaha transfer, isn’t listed among the top three quarterbacks.

Utah has only one gap to fill in the secondary, one it should fill with relative ease. Conroy Black has exhausted his eligibility; Ryan Lacy claims his spot. Lacy shared time with Mo Lee at cornerback last fall, so he’s a natural replacement for Black. After suffering some growing pains last fall, sophomore Eric Rowe and junior Brian Blechen enter the spring as the starters at free and strong safety, respectively.

A sign of the times in Orlando: George O’Leary told reporters following Tuesday’s initial practice that all jobs are open to competition. Better yet — or worse yet, if you cover the team, like Iliana Limon of the Orlando Sentinel — O’Leary has followed up on his promise and not assigned a starting tag to any one player on the U.C.F. roster.

So how does a reporter like Limon judge which players might be considered starters on the first day of spring ball? By watching closely, taking notes and keeping a roster handy. According to Limon, most of the returning starters from last season remained part of the first team during the Knights’ first practice.

This included sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles, who should claim the starting role outright now that Jeff Godfrey is no longer part of the program. In reality, while O’Leary touts the open nature of the depth chart, there are only four position battles worth watching: right tackle, cornerback, defensive end and middle linebacker.

Junior Jordan McCray, a five-game starter at right guard in 2011, will get the first shot at replacing Nick Pieschel at right tackle. By Limon’s count, former JUCO transfer Toby Jackson is the odds-on favorite to replace Darius Nall at defensive end. Terrance Plummer showed promise as a freshman, so it’s logical that he’d step in for Josh Linam at middle linebacker.

And cornerback? Three-time all-Conference USA pick Josh Robinson will be nearly impossible for U.C.F. to replace. Brandon Alexander was another freshman who impressed on defense a year ago, but can the sophomore replicate Robinson’s game-changing ability? Well, it’s spring: it’s the time for such questions.

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  1. Peace says:

    Nice to see you stepping up the offseason content Paul. Whole site pretty much died for a few months this time last year. Good read.

    Paul: Few months is an exaggeration. But I did take off a week last February and a week last March.

  2. Lee says:

    Omarius Hines at RB for UF is a potentially huge deal. He is a physical freak and has been under utilized his entire career. We have always wondered what he could do if they moved him to RB.

    Now we will find out.

    Gillislee, Brown, and Hines(behind a more experienced line) should put up much better numbers than Rainey last year.

  3. bayzing says:

    “though there’s no Matt Barkley in Provo, nor a Robert Woods or De’Anthony Thomas”

    Fortunately there’s no John White IV in Provo either… or Jordan Wynn of Kyle Whittingham or any of the Utes for that matter.

    Salt Lake City may be only 40 minutes north of Provo… but it’s a world of difference culturally… and in terms of the caliber of football.

    Paul: Well, there was a John White IV in Provo for one day last September. But a mistake, yes. Fixing above. Thanks.

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