LSU leads 20 college football teams most impacted by cancellation of spring practice in 2020
We will be forced to finally learn the true importance of spring practice this season
How important is spring practice? It's a question I've always wondered when it begins each year, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, we're all about to find out. Spring practices across the country have been canceled, taking away two weeks of preparation for the upcoming season that coaches find extremely valuable. That's two fewer weeks for coaches to get to know new players, see whether anyone has gained an edge in a position battle and install new plays (or perhaps even an entirely new playbook).
So which programs will be most affected by a lack of practice this spring? That's not necessarily the easiest question to answer because everyone will be affected in some way. Still, let's give it a shot. It was either this or go back to watching Twitch streams of people playing live FIFA matches online to get a sports fix, and that's not necessarily a path I'm sure I want to go down.
When it comes to figuring out which 20 teams are impacted the most, the first one was easy, and that's where I'll begin. The other 19 schools are simply listed in alphabetical order.
There's no exact science here, but generally, I was looking for programs going through coaching changes (including coordinators), replacing a lot of key players or with high expectations in 2020. I also considered teams looking to turn things around or continue on an upward trajectory. The kind of change that can be halted and altered due to not having spring practice.
This was the most obvious choice to top the list. LSU is coming off one of the greatest seasons in college football history, and the 2019 team has a legitimate claim to being the greatest college football team of all time. It's also a team that has to replace nearly everybody and everything! Ed Orgeron and Mike the Tiger might be the only two things associated with last year's team coming back, and that's assuming Coach O doesn't spend the rest of his life beating up viruses and saving the world. Joe Burrow is gone, as are a host of other top producers on offense and defense. According to Bill Connelly's returning production numbers at ESPN -- a valuable resource for this story -- the Tigers rank 127th nationally in returning production. Mix in Joe Brady leaving for the Carolina Panthers and Dave Aranda leaving for Baylor, and there are a lot of new faces in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. New faces who could have used spring practice to get acquainted with their new roles and colleagues.
Listen, Alabama is in a rut, or at least what qualifies as a rut during the Nick Saban tenure with the Tide. Alabama didn't make the College Football Playoff for the first time in its history in 2019 and has now gone two seasons without winning a national title. That ties the longest stretch it has gone without a title under Saban (read that again for a reminder of how good this program has been), which has happened twice. The first was 2007-08, which were Saban's first two seasons. The other was 2013-14 when Alabama went a meager 23-4. The Crimson Tide have gone 25-3 the last two seasons and aren't interested in a third-straight season without a national title. Saban and company must find a replacement for Tua Tagovailoa, however, and have a significant QB battle going on. One that lost a few weeks of practices to help settle it. Plus, while not at LSU levels, Alabama has a lot of other production to replace too, but that's something Alabama is used to dealing with every season.
It can't be overstated how good of a job Matt Rhule was doing at Baylor. He took over a program coming off a run of unprecedented success but also mired in a horrific scandal. He then quickly tore the whole thing down from the ground up, and after going 1-11 in his first season, improved to 7-6 in 2018 before going 11-3 last year and reaching the Big 12 Championship Game and Sugar Bowl. Now he's gone, and in his place is former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. So we have a program with a new coach looking to continue its upward trajectory with a lot to replace. The fact this is Aranda's first time as a head coach is also something one must consider.
|The good news is Trevor Lawrence is back, and Trevor Lawrence is the kind of player that can cover a lot of weaknesses for you. The bad news is that while Clemson's returning production ranks 96th overall on Connelly's list, it is 104th on defense. There's a ton of remarkable talent for the ACC champions to replace going into the season and a lot of competition for spots. Competition that won't be happening this spring. Also, for the first time in this championship era, Clemson will be without co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott as he left to take over South Florida. More good news is that Tony Elliott is back, so things should continue running smoothly. Still, when you're a team with the goal of winning a national title every year, losing practice time hurts.|
|... and Michigan State: I had initially planned to have these two separate from one another, but the reasons behind them being on this list are so similar -- and linked to one another -- that I thought I'd cheat a bit and put them together. Both teams have a ton to replace (Colorado is 115th in Connelly's rankings, Michigan State is 117th), and both teams have coaches who were hired late in the cycle. Think about it: If you're Mel Tucker or Karl Dorrell, you're already coming into the gig late. You're already behind. Then spring practice is taken away. Time you desperately needed to learn about the team you've just taken over. It's not inconceivable to think that two coaches who were hired in mid-February won't spend quality time with their players until July or August.|
|Mike Norvell and Florida State were able to get a couple of practices in before the world came to a screeching halt. So if Florida State turns things around quickly in 2020, let's all agree to credit those practices as being the difference-maker. Still, Norvell was hired to replace Willie Taggart for a reason. The Florida State program is a bit of a mess and was before Taggart was hired. It's not the kind of thing that is likely to be cleaned up quickly, though Norvell is dealing with a fan base -- and boosters and the other billion people who seem to have a say in the program -- that would like to get back to winning a lot quickly. Losing practice time slows the potential progress, though if there's any good news, it's that the Noles have a lot of returning production. The bad news is that most of the returning production helped get Taggart fired during his second season. |
|We all know what happened with LSU when it brought in Joe Brady to help revamp and modernize its offense. Georgia is trying something similar this year by bringing in Todd Monken to introduce the forward pass. Monken will be doing so with a graduate transfer QB from Wake Forest in Jamie Newman. The hope is that by injecting some new life into one of the most talented rosters in the country, Georgia will be able to get over that hump and win a national title. Well, it sure would have been nice to have a spring practice to get that process started.|
|The Cardinals went from 2-10 (0-8 ACC) during Bobby Petrino's last season to 8-5 (5-3 ACC) in Scott Satterfield's first. This was expected because, unlike Petrino, Satterfield was actually interested in doing his job at Louisville. That alone was worth a few wins, and when you add Satterfield's coaching acumen, you get even better results. So Louisville is one of those teams on an upward trajectory, which is good for the ACC and college football as a whole. Unfortunately, Satterfield is losing time to improve an experienced team and help them get to that next level. And, let's be clear, there are still a few levels to go between where Louisville is now and where it would be capable of competing with Clemson. |
|I mean, honestly, having watched more Miami football than anybody should in recent seasons, this is a program that could use all the practice it can get. It's a program that's been a bit of a rudderless ship as of late, and Manny Diaz has decided to make some big changes this offseason. He hired Rhett Lashlee to change the offense and added graduate transfer QB D'Eriq King from Houston to run it. The good news is Miami got in some spring practice before it had to call things off, but there's still a lot of changes to be made that couldn't be done in a week.|
|The expectations are always high at Michigan, and this year is no different. The Wolverines implemented a new offense last season, and after a slow start, began to find a groove over the second half of the season. A groove that was rudely interrupted by yet another loss to Ohio State (56-27) and a takedown by Alabama in the Citrus Bowl (35-16). The Wolverines enter 2020 hoping to take that next step and move forward in their new offense, but they've got to find a new QB and a whole lot more first as the Wolverines rank 125th in Connelly's rankings.|
|Minnesota is a mixed bag when it comes to returning production. It ranks 86th overall but 13th in returning offensive and 125th on defense. The problem is that while most of the key contributors on offense are back, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarocca is not. He's now at Penn State, and in his place is Mike Sanford. The Gophers have improved each season under P.J. Fleck, finishing last season with 11 wins and a big win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. But it's hard to keep rowing the boat when there's no water to put the boat in, and that's the position the Gophers find themselves in without spring practice. Also, I have a lot of concern for the assistants on Minnesota's staff, because, given Fleck's personality, I can only imagine the things he has them doing during this crisis. |
|There was a lot of excitement this offseason thanks to the hiring of Mike Leach, but things have ground to a halt. Not only are the Bulldogs bringing in a new coach in Leach, but he's introducing an entirely new offensive philosophy to the program. While it's simple in nature -- that's really the beauty of it -- it's still a new offense that the team has to learn. You know, the kind of thing that spring practice helps with. Furthermore, Mississippi State ranks 110th in returning production, so it's not only learning a new offense, it's a lot of players competing for new jobs in roles that aren't really defined yet. Oh, and if my years of covering this sport have taught me anything, it's that Ole Miss fans stopped to read this blurb while scrolling down to find my blurb on Ole Miss (and MSU fans were about to scroll down to see what I wrote, too). Well, there isn't one. You just missed the cut because while you have a new coach, his offensive philosophy isn't as drastic a change, and you have a lot of key players returning.|
|A new coach, a new QB, and a lot of other new parts. Missouri ranks 100th in Connelly's rankings, and it's looking to reverse last year's step backward. Quite frankly, Missouri's 6-6 mark last season was not a great indicator of the actual quality of the team. It played more like a 4-8 team. So there's a lot of work for Eli Drinkwitz to do, and now there's less time to do it. Things are complicated a bit further, considering that the Appalachian State program Drinkwitz inherited was in much better shape than the Mizzou one he's taking over. That was a well-oiled machine, while Mizzou needs an oil change. |
|When North Carolina brought Mack Brown back, it raised an eyebrow or two, including mine. It's hard to argue with the results, however, as the Tar Heels went from 2-9 to 7-6 in a hurry. This was in large part due to Brown landing a stud QB recruit in Sam Howell to help turn things around. Brown has continued to crush it on the recruiting trail, but that's just part of getting North Carolina to a point where it can be the dominant team in the ACC Coastal. Losing spring practice could slow down the progress this program was making.|
|At first glance, you might not think the lack of spring practice is a big deal for the Buckeyes. After all, Ryan Day is back, as is Heisman Trophy hopeful Justin Fields behind center. Plus, this is still the most talented team in the Big Ten by a long shot. All of which is true, but the Buckeyes have so much to replace on the defensive side of the ball. Not only is Chase Young gone, but so is the entire secondary as well as defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley. There's plenty of talent around to replace them, but this is valuable practice time for new starters to emerge and get comfortable playing with one another. When you're playing for a national title, the margin of error is slim, and in this day and age of passing offenses, the secondary is not an area where you want to show weakness. |
|Listen, losing Justin Herbert is a big factor for putting Oregon here. I might not be as high on his NFL future as many others, nor do I think he was a great college QB, but he was a very good player and an important part of the Ducks offense. Still, Mario Cristobal has done a terrific job recruiting, and there's plenty of talent on the way. Unfortunately, that talent loses a lot of time to compete for starting jobs, and get to learn new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's offense. Oregon's offensive unit ranks 124th in returning production, but it should continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the country. That never hurts. |
|Speaking of Joe Moorhead, Penn State will have a new offensive coordinator this year in for Ricky Rahne, who replaced Moorhead before leaving to take over at Old Dominion. The new OC is Kirk Ciarocca, who helped Minnesota beat Penn State last season and clearly impressed James Franklin in the process. Ciarocca inherits an offense that has a lot of returning production on offense but is a bit unsettled at QB. I don't believe Sean Clifford played at a level last season to guarantee himself a starting job in 2020, particularly when his release valve (K.J. Hamler) has moved on to the NFL. |
|Jeff Scott has left Clemson to help revitalize a South Florida program that has gone backward in recent seasons. Scott is inheriting one of the least explosive offenses in college football last season. The Bulls averaged 5.14 yards per play, which ranked 11th in the AAC (which is last if we don't count UConn, and we should never count UConn) and 109th nationally. There's a lot of work to be done in Tampa, and while it would be foolish to think Scott can turn things around in Year 1, losing spring practice could lead to a longer timeline than expected. Also, let's not forget this is Scott's first head coaching job at the college level. |
|The 2019 season ended badly for the Utes. They went from 11-1 and possibly reaching the College Football Playoff to 11-3, finishing the season with consecutive losses to Oregon and Texas by a combined score of 75-25. The good news is Kyle Whittingham is still around, and it's not like a coach who has been on the job for 15 seasons needs to get acquainted with his program. What is a problem is he might not recognize his players when he gets to see them again. Utah ranks dead last in Connelly's returning production rankings, including 105th on offense and dead last in defense. There's a minor rebuild required at Utah in 2020 and no spring practice to get it started. |
|In some ways, the change from Leach to Nick Rolovich shouldn't be that big of a deal. Both coaches have personalities, and both like to air it out on offense. The Air Raid and the run-and-shoot aren't the same, but they're at least cousins. Unfortunately for Rolovich, he's inheriting an offense that's looking to replace a lot more than just its QB. The Cougars rank 121st in returning production on offense. The silver lining is that they rank 22nd on defense. A defense that allowed 31.4 points per game last season. |
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