Preseason college football practice news: Quarterback questions dominate Saturday

Tom Pennington

USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State open practice with controversy under center.

Fall practice sprung to life across the country Saturday, with quarterback controversies at Southern Cal, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State taking center stage. Elsewhere, Ole Miss lost a promising wideout for the rest of camp, Nebraska tried to find an answer on defense and Texas Tech advised that you stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.

USC

Southern Cal opened camp Saturday with a quarterback battle carrying over from spring practice. Sophomore Max Wittek, who missed much of spring camp with a knee injury, returned to action, joined by sophomore Cody Kessler and freshman Max Browne. Coach Lane Kiffin -- holding his press conference in a construction zone so that nobody could hear him -- shed no light on the quarterback race.

Running backs Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan sat out with knee injuries, opening the door for sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Ty Isaac. Madden, who sat out last season with a knee injury, split reps with classmate Javorious Allen and newcomers Isaac and Justin Davis. Redd is expected to return to action soon, and the Penn State transferee remains the likely starter.

Oklahoma

The Sooners are working through their own quarterback controversy, with junior Blake Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight entering fall camp with a shot at the starting job. Sophomore Kendal Thompson was also expected to be in contention, but he suffered a broken foot and will miss time following surgery Thursday. Bob Stoops bristled at criticism of the delay in naming a starter:

"This isn't anything new to us,'' Stoops said. "I know you don't want to hear it, but we've won eight Big 12 championships with six different quarterbacks.

"Not one or two, six. So, our method of doing it has been fairly successful, and we feel good about what these guys are doing. We'll keep bringing them along like we feel we need to.''

Stoops went on to tell reporters that he would name a starter "when we feel it's the right time."

Oklahoma State

Meanwhile, in Stillwater, the preseason Big XII favorites are sorting out yet another quarterback race. Senior Clint Chelf and sophomore J.W. Walsh are ostensibly competing for the starting job, though head coach Mike Gundy admits there's some gamesmanship in his decision to not yet name a starter:

"I would probably say it's a pretty good chance,'' Gundy said when asked if he would have already named a starter if his season opener was against Savannah State instead of an SEC opponent such as Mississippi State.

Gundy had no reason to be tight-lipped heading into last fall. The Cowboys rushed for a school-record nine touchdowns and had little trouble cruising to an 84-0 win over Savannah State to open the 2012 season.

The approach is much different a year later as Oklahoma State's coaches prepare to face Mississippi State in a game that Gundy knows will impact the national perception of his team.

Chelf, who is widely considered the frontrunner in the quarterback race, started the final five games of the 2012 season for the Cowboys. He was the MVP of Oklahoma State's Heart of Dallas Bowl win against Purdue.

Nebraska

With all-world superlatives being thrown at the Huskers' offense, the big question mark as Nebraska openend camp Saturday was whether the defense can hold up its end of the bargain. Bo Pelini and his staff are hinting at schematic changes, via Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World Herald:

Utilizing a spinner-style rush end who lines up wide of the tight end, kind of like a linebacker? More 3-4 sets? Dropping a safety down in the box? Incorporating cornerbacks in run support more often?

Those are some of the things Pelini mentioned during Big Ten media days. His players hinted at changes Friday.

Here's defensive end Jason Ankrah talking about his confidence-building spring: "We altered a couple plays. Gave me more freedom - well, (gave) all of us more freedom - to not really think on making plays. I took advantage of it. I had fun doing it. This is different, but I like it. It's more of how I really want to play."

This is hardly the first time that Pelini has suggested changes in Nebraska's defensive strategy in August camp, but after a season where the Huskers finished ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense, change might finally be in order.

Miami

After another offseason spent waiting for the NCAA to issue a decision in the Nevin Shapiro investigation, Al Golden and the Hurricanes returned to the practice field Saturday. Golden addressed the NCAA action Friday before turning to the team's first practice:

With the NCAA mess all but over Golden looked as relaxed as he's been since arriving at Miami. His hair was in mid-season form as expected. Golden briefly addressed the ongoing soap opera: "We know... at some point ... an answer is coming... All we can do is try and not let it disrupt our third consecutive training camp...I'm a football coach right now, not a litigator..."

State of the U reports that every Hurricane passed conditioning tests Saturday. Wide receiver Malcolm Lewis, who suffered a horrendous injury against Georgia Tech last season, is back to 100 percent and is expected to contribute. Running back Eduardo Clements, returning from surgery for a herniated disc, also participated.

Michigan State

The Spartans held an uneventful first practice Saturday, followed by a conditioning test. The biggest story for a Spartan program desperate for running backs is the position change of 6'1, 220-lb. freshman Delton Williams, who is moving from linebacker into the offensive backfield. Head coach Mark Dantonio told reporters that the change could well be permanent:

"I think we have to find out if he's going to play running back - that's the most immediate need," Dantonio said. "From there, you make an evaluation on special teams, and then linebacker. He's a football player. We want to find out what he can do. When he runs around over there, he's got a twenty-number on (No. 22), he looks a little bit like Le'Veon (Bell) when he runs through there. Now, that's shorts. That's a big statement to make. I'm just saying physically, his physical size looks a little bit like that."

Dantonio has long relied on big, bruising running backs, and Williams -- who ran for nearly 700 yards and 13 touchdowns as a part-time running back in his final season of high school football -- fits the mold. He is expected to compete with Nick Hill for the starting job.

Ole Miss

Rebels receiver Vincent Sanders suffered a shoulder injury during practice Saturday. Ben Garrett of the Ole Miss Spirit is reporting that an x-ray found a fractured collarbone that could keep the redshirt sophomore out for 6-8 weeks:

Sanders started 12 games for the Rebels in 2012, catching 39 passes for 504 yards and four touchdowns. Red Cup Rebellion expects freshmen Laquon Treadwell or Quincy Adeboyejo to fill in during Sanders' absence.

Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury opened camp Friday night in the most Kliff Kingsbury way imaginable: With a karaoke DJ.

"For the first day we report, we show up and there's a DJ in the team room," said sophomore Michael Brewer, who is currently battling for the starting quarterback position against freshman Davis Webb. "We go in and people are getting randomly selected to do karaoke, mainly the freshmen. It was a good time. It was pretty funny."

"Some of us older guys, me and Will Smith helped them out on a few songs," senior running back-receiver Sadale Foster said.

According to junior wide receiver Bradley Marquez, Foster and Smith sang some TLC.

The Red Raiders held their first practice Saturday, again with a soundtrack:

Viva The Matadors expects Michael Brewer to retain the starting quarterback job, though there has been no announcement from the new coaching staff.

Georgia Tech

After a disappointing 2012, Paul Johnson is breaking in a new defensive coordinator: Ted Roof. The well-traveled Roof has served as coordinator at Penn State, Auburn, Minnesota, Duke...and Georgia Tech, under former coach George O'Leary. So far, Roof's simplified 4-3 system is a hit with players:

"It's a lot easier to comprehend,'' said senior cornerback Louis Young, one of eight defensive starters returning for the Yellow Jackets. "We're not thinking as much; we're just going out and playing. I'm excited to prove people wrong about the D'.''

---

"We're definitely more free,'' [Jeremiah] Attaochu said. "Coach Roof is a lot simpler. We know our talent. We played with USC (a 21-7 Georgia Tech win in the Sun Bowl) and we played with Florida State (a 21-15 loss in the ACC Championship Game) - teams that get four- and five-star recruits.

"There's no doubt we have talent; it's just about putting us into position to use it . . . that's why coach has me at defensive end, to rush the passer.''

Roof's Penn State defense finished second in the Big Ten in scoring defense last season. The Nittany Lions also led the conference in sacks and finished first nationally in red zone defense.

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