It’s the only stable spring football approach, especially as hype begins to build around players putting on one hell of an offseason show. Anything more, and you’ve set yourself up for disappointment.
We see it each year: a player—typically young with a lofty recruiting ranking and very little (if any) game experience—shines in his team’s spring football game.
With the highlight reel accumulating plays and gaudy scrimmage numbers jumping off the page—and yes, some people care about these—the hype machine escalates immensely. And let’s be honest, there was plenty of hype already to be found.
The 4 or 5-star tag creates unreasonable expectations long before a player ever see the field. A taste of this potential in a televised scrimmage simply elevates the hysteria. From there, expectations become enormous, perhaps even impossible.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the latest to fall victim to this. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 10 player overall, according to Rivals in 2012, and is an exceptional talent with seemingly unlimited potential.
He has the size (6’4"), he has the arm—he hit 97 mph pitching for the FSU baseball team earlier this year—and he also has an opening.
With EJ Manuel off to the NFL and the quarterback spot up for grabs, many Seminoles fans are hoping that Winston would get the call this fall. Judging from his performance in the team’s spring game this past weekend, fans could very well get their wish.
Those in attendance at FSU’s spring football game didn’t have to wait long to get a taste of this potential. On his first play at the start of the second quarter, Winston connected with wideout David Tyrrell on a 58-yard touchdown pass.
His incredible play continued, and Winston finished the game 12-for-15 for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
A star is born, even though he was dissecting his own team in a game that didn't matter. That glimpse into greatness is more than enough for some.
It’s a familiar spring ritual, and Winston, of course, isn’t alone on the road to unproven All-Star. In fact, two players from an offseason ago highlight two very different paths after picking up spring steam with their superb play.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger received rave reviews last March. His absurd scrimmage numbers were frequently broadcasted over Twitter, and the buzz over the former Georgia QB and his golden bayou arm began to build.
It culminated with 270 passing yards and two touchdowns on only 14 completions in LSU’s spring game. Many believed that the LSU offense would look vastly different from the limited air attack in play with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.
The season came, and the hype came and went. Although Mettenberger flashed moments—especially in the second half of the season—the 12-touchdown and seven-interception stat line didn’t quite live up to the promise that was relayed throughout March.
On the flip side of this hype scenario is Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
Yeldon actually finished only two spots behind Winston in the Rivals 100 rankings, checking in at No. 12 overall in the class of 2012. After decommitting from Auburn just before January, Yeldon committed to the rival and enrolled early. A legend before he arrived.
By mid-April, Alabama fans were salivating.
With Trent Richardson just weeks away from the NFL draft and Eddie Lacy out after a surgery to repair turf toe, Yeldon was the main attraction at Alabama’s spring game. The nearly 80,000 fans in attendance watched T.J. run for 88 yards and also catch the football exceptionally well. Many of his 91 yards receiving came on one play.
This play, however, helped shatter Tuscaloosa hypemometers.
Although Lacy was healthy and starting by the team’s first game against Michigan, Yeldon entered the season with incredible expectations.
He matched them, even going above and beyond. The talent translated in the very first game where Yeldon ran for 111 yards on only 11 carries. For the season, he finished with more than 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Yeldon’s window of excellence was indeed a sign of things to come, and he enters his sophomore season as arguably the nation’s best ball carrier.
Want to blame someone for the next hyped player that doesn't pan out? Blame Yeldon and the few like him. They prove that the hype can be matched, that stardom can be found in the spring. It's rare, but it is very real.
In the case of Jameis Winston, he could very well be the next great quarterback in college football and the breakout talent FSU fans believe he will be. He could be T.J. Yeldon or even something more. The ability is clearly there, much of which has already been on display.
Or, he could fall short of the expectations many are now placing on him. It's simply far too early to tell, although many have their minds made up.
Don’t fall into the trap of expecting greatness after a scrimmage, no matter the performance. This stance isn’t geared just towards Winston, of course, because he could very well be worthy of it all. Given what we've seen, I'm certainly not betting against it.
It is instead a reminder to temper expectations, regardless of how much potential a player might exhibit.
At a time where optimism should be flowing for all, enjoy the football while you can. Learn the new faces, watch for improvements and keep an eye on the touted recruits who are enjoying their first or second offseason at a school.
Before we crown them kings of spring, give these players time to develop in moments that matter. For every T.J. Yeldon, there are many more who can't simply can't match the ridiculous bar that they've set in April.
Excitement is encouraged, potential is undeniable, but the calendar doesn't lie.