It’s the time of the year known as Spring Ball. Some teams have already started, and one is likely wrapping up their time. Teams are allowed 15 total practices during this time. Of that total, eight can have contact or live tackling, and three can constitute as scrimmages. Spring practices are an important time to assess which players have improved thus far and which players are ready to be penciled in for more significant roles come the fall. It’s also a time to experiment with different schemes, lineups, or positions. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a time to begin to answer some questions that carry over from last season or are being discussed this off-season. This post will aim to identify one of the biggest questions each team faces this spring.
For every team but Air Force, practices are more important this year because those other teams did not make it through more than a handful of spring practices, if any, in 2020.
For those who are curious, here is last year’s post.
How will they reload on offense?
How times have changed. Entering last season, the thought was the Falcons would be great on offense, but their defense would be the question. The AFA defense was one of the best in the nation in 2020, despite returning no starters and being extremely young. This spring, they are losing the core of their playmakers in the backfield as well as their top offensive linemen. Developing the next wave of players to make their option attack work will be the primary spring focus.
How do they right the ship?
Boise State went undefeated in the conference for the regular season and made their fourth straight conference championship game last season. However, nearly everyone would agree they did not look like their usual selves. This spring, with concerns about depth at the skill positions, and some areas of growth on defense, the new coaching staff has their work cut out for them. The overarching question and goal is to figure out how to get back to the type of team that is regularly ranked and competing for NY6 bowls.
Can they develop the next wave of players?
The Rams have pretty much lost the core of their previous teams to attrition in one way or another. Now that this has happened, Steve Addazio can commit to rebuilding the program, continuing to bring in his type of players, and now prioritizing playing them. The first step is developing the ones who are here into the team’s cornerstones, and the process must begin this spring. Raising up players is the best way for Colorado State to rise in the standings.
Can they put everything together with this wave of players?
The Bulldogs have a bit of an opposite issue compared to the team above them. Here, it’s not so much about developing the core as it is developing just enough talent around them to get back into the upper echelon of the conference. There are quality players on both sides of the ball, and they showed flashes of that last season. The focus during practices this spring should be unlocking the rest of the team’s potential and tweaking their schemes to put their star players in the best spots to succeed.
Can they fully transition to their new scheme without sacrificing wins?
The Rainbow Warriors were a team in flux in 2020, and they managed that admirably. With that being said, more change is to come. The roster is mostly a run-and-shoot team playing in a pro-style offense. A good deal of the team were Rolo recruits, and the rest of the roster is predominantly from the transfer portal. It’s a bit of a patchwork, and Coach Graham and his staff are tasked with guiding that transition while still being competitive on the field. Figuring out how to do that seems like the best way to spend the spring.
Can they become more balanced on offense?
Nevada had one of the most explosive offenses in the country last season, and the Strong to Doubs connection was an electric duo. Unfortunately, when teams shut down the big plays, they shut down the Wolf Pack offense. The aim for the team this spring should be to bring balance to the offense by developing reliable backup plans when the deep passing game isn’t working. Short-yardage passes in the air-raid, and more use of the running game may be the keys to getting Nevada to their goal of a Mountain West championship game birth.
What does the next step look like, and will they take it?
New Mexico met the 2020 goal of being competitive throughout the season and winning a few games at the end of the year. Now, they need to figure out how to take their next step in their quest to be among the best in the Mountain West. This spring, they can firmly establish themselves as a running team, decide on starting one of their numerous quarterbacks on the roster, and a defense that can increase turnovers and decrease points allowed. Year One can be deemed a success for the Lobos, but making Year Two successful as well will require a lot of work to be done this spring.
San Diego State
Can they develop a quarterback?
This should most likely be the Aztec’s most pressing question until further notice. They have the defense, the special teams, and the running game to compete against pretty much anyone. However, without a passing game, their offense stalls more often than not. SDSU addressed the passing portion of the offense in their recruiting class, both in the high school realm and the transfer portal. Upping their quarterback play is the most critical aspect in determining if the Aztecs are contenders or pretenders in 2021.
San Jose State
How will they sustain their success?
The Spartans are the reigning kings of the conference, and the focus for this spring is how to defend their crown. SJSU is going through the pains of success this off-season; coaches have been stolen away, and some key players have moved on to NFL aspirations. Plus, the rest of the conference will be gunning for them with renewed efforts going forward. Learning how to sustain their newfound success should be the point of emphasis during spring practices.
What will improve in year two?
Not much went right for the Rebels in 2020, but fortunately, that is now in the rear-view mirror. 2021 is a new opportunity, but to get there, they need to focus on improving. Stability at quarterback will go a long way, as will familiarity with the schemes and young players knowing what it takes to compete at this level. In reality, UNLV has a lot of questions that need to be answered before September, but they all boil down to finding a way to improve in each and every facet of the program.
How do they stop the spiraling and jump-start the new culture?
Not much went right for the Aggies last year, and needless to say, there is a lot to work on in preparation for the 2021 season. Thankfully, there is a new coach in the fold and a chance to start over again. This spring, Utah State’s goal should be to make last year rock bottom and begin the climb this year. Figuring out how to get players recruited by three different coaches all unified under the same new culture to avoid things going from bad to worse is step one for Utah State.
Will the changes on offense amount to anything?
The Cowboys made a few staff changes this offseason following departures. With a new offensive coordinator and a new o-line coach in tow, all eyes will be looking at the offensive side of the ball for any changes. Wyoming is and should be a run-first team, but developing a legitimate passing attack to keep defenses honest has held them back the past few seasons. If the coaching changes don’t lead to changes on the field, then there probably won’t be many changes in the win column.
Your turn: What other questions do you have for these teams? Comment below.