Spring football is in full swing, with arguably the biggest day of games coming this Saturday. Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas are just a few of the marquee programs with spring games this weekend. Below are five things worth watching in Saturday’s games.
1. QB Battles
If there is one theme for Saturday’s spring games it is QB battles. All of the teams listed above are either replacing a starting QB or in the midst of a QB competition. Alabama’s Jake Coker and David Cornwell (among others) are competing in Tuscaloosa, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are dueling in Baton Rouge and Malik Zaire and Everett Golson give Brian Kelly options in South Bend. Auburn and Texas also have question marks at quarterback (though Jeremy Johnson appears to have the upper hand for the Tigers). Most of those QB battles will not be settled in the spring games, but it’s worth watching who gets the snaps and how they perform.
Oh yeah, we didn’t even mention the QB competition that is captivating the country: Ohio State’s three-headed monster of J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones. Because of injuries to the others, only Jones will be competing in Ohio State’s spring game, but it is still worth watching how he performs after his successful end of the 2014 season.
2. Alabama’s offensive replacements
Alabama has to replace its 2014 starting quarterback, running back and top three receivers, including 2014 SEC Offensive Player of the Year Amari Cooper. If any team has the tools to replace these players it is Alabama, who has signed the nation’s top recruiting class for four-straight years.
At running back, Derrick Henry figures to get the bulk of the carries next season after splitting time in the backfield with T.J. Yeldon the last two season. Henry actually led Alabama in rushing last year despite receiving 22 fewer carries than Yeldon. Kenyan Drake will be the other feature back, but his health after breaking his leg last season will be something to watch in the spring game.
Replacing Amari Cooper, who had 84 more receptions than any other Crimson Tide player last year, will not be easy. Chris Black is the most experienced receiver, but the Tide will need others to emerge in spring practice to fill the holes left by Cooper, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White.
3. LSU’s and Auburn’s defenses under new coordinators
In the last two seasons, Auburn’s defense ranked eleventh in the SEC in yards per play and allowed the most completions of 20 yards or longer (98) of any SEC defense. Enter Will Muschamp. While at Florida, the Gators never ranked lower than fifth in the SEC in yards per play allowed, and they led the conference in that category last year. Muschamp and the Gators will be happy to see Carl Lawson back on the field, but it’s worth watching his mobility after ACL surgery.
Elsewhere in the SEC West, LSU will be replacing longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis who left for the same role at Texas A&M. LSU is known for having one of the most ferocious defenses in the SEC, but will the Tigers be able to sustain that success under coordinator Kevin Steele?
4. Can Texas take the next step on offense?
Last season, Texas ranked ninth in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency and had its least-efficient offensive output in at least the last 10 seasons. Quarterback play was the main culprit, but an overall lack of skill position players hurt the Longhorns. The roster only gets thinner with last year’s leading rusher (Malcolm Brown) and top two wide receivers (John Harris and Jaxon Shipley) gone. Texas will return just 30.4 percent of last season’s receiving yards and 21.4 percent of last season’s receiving touchdowns.
After last season’s offensive showing, Charlie Strong announced that he is switching to more of a spread attack. It’s worth watching which of the quarterbacks fit that system and if the faster pace benefits Texas’ ground game.
5. Coaches debuting with new teams
The teams noted above are just a few of the teams holding spring games Saturday. Other top programs are in action, and many of them feature programs with a new head coach. Longtime Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will be making his FBS head coaching debut with Pittsburgh. Watch to see how Pittsburgh’s defense improves under one of the best defensive minds in the business.
Oregon State will look to get a boost in its running attack under new head coach Gary Andersen, who led the most efficient rushing offense (6.8 yards per rush) over the last two seasons at Wisconsin. Elsewhere, Houston (Tom Herman, former Ohio State OC), Colorado State (Mike Bobo, former Georgia OC), SMU (Chad Morris, former Clemson OC) and Tulsa (Philip Montgomery, former Baylor OC) will be in action with new head coaches.