7 Spring Games Fans Shouldn't Miss
Did you know that seven FBS programs play their spring football game this month?
That’s right: Duke (March 1), Air Force (March 19), San Jose State (March 22), San Diego State (March 26), South Florida (March 29), BYU (March 29) and Troy (March 29) all have live-action games this month.
This means a couple of things. First, spring ball is here, and second, you need a plan.
With 128 teams set to compete in the FBS in 2014, it’s hard to know where to tune in, where to tune out and what’s worth missing the family picnic for.
Here’s a quick look at seven tasty servings from the buffet of spring ball.
When: Sat., April 5, 1:00 p.m. ET
Remember that time Ole Miss shocked the world and signed, according to Rivals, the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation?
That was the class of 2013, and those signees will be sophomores in 2014—meaning it’s time to see if they can begin to transform Ole Miss into a championship-caliber program.
Players to watch this spring include 5-star defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who registered 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks as a freshman in 2013. He’s still active on the roster, despite allegations of assault in a civil suit.
Next up is 5-star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels’ No. 2 receiver as a freshman last season with 608 yards and five scores on 72 catches.
Mississippi's class of 2013 consisted of three 5-stars, nine 4-stars and 15 3-stars, which means that the next two years could feature some of the best raw talent in the history of Rebels football.
When: Sat., April 5
Well, that was Gunner Kiel, who, after ditching LSU, left Notre Dame and ultimately settled at Cincinnati. According to Tom Groeschen of Cincinnati.com, Kiel just went 16-of-20 for 185 yards and two touchdowns in the Bearcats’ first intra-squad scrimmage of 2014.
Kiel or Evans will lead a passing offense that finished 2013 ranked No. 18 in the FBS. It won’t hurt either of them that Cincinnati returns three starting members of its offensive line and four of its top five receivers from a year ago.
When: Fri., April 11, 7:30 p.m. ET
Not only does the Cardinals’ spring game mark the beginning of Bobby Petrino’s sequel at Louisville, it signals the beginning of their first season in the ACC.
If that weren’t enough, who will replace Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback? Will it be Will Gardner, the 6'5" 3-star pro-style prospect from 2011 who threw 12 passes and two touchdowns as a freshman last season?
Or will it be redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin, a 3-star pro-style signee from Lexington who is also from the class of 2011?
Interestingly, Rivals had Bolin as the No. 33 pro-style prospect in 2011, while Gardner was unranked.
Either way, look for offensive-minded Petrino to build on the solid foundation of the Cardinals’ 35.2-point scoring average from last season. That job will be made easier with eight returning starters on offense.
When: Sat., April 12
Before you pooh-pooh the thought of desperately Googling “Indiana spring football game recap,” consider this: The Hoosiers return more starters in 2014 than any team in the Big Ten and are ranked No. 3 in the nation in returners.
Only Texas-San Antonio and Central Michigan bring back more.
Back on campus are eight starters on offense including the entire line, quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson and No. 3 receiver Shane Wynn, who led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2013 with 11.
This is good news for a team that ranked No. 16 in the FBS in scoring last season and No. 17 in passing yards.
On defense, Indiana returns 10 starters including everybody from the front seven and three members of the secondary. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen, as the Hoosiers defense finished 2013 ranked No. 115 in scoring, giving up 38.8 points per game.
Overall, Indiana is primed to improve on its 5-7 finish from a year ago and may be the surprise team from the new Big Ten East division.
Could it be the start of the Hoosiers’ first bowl season in seven years?
When: Sat., April 19, 2:00 p.m. ET
Though many will tune into Alabama’s spring game to see if senior Blake Sims or former Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker will get the edge in the race to replace AJ McCarron under center, there’s a lot more to like than just the quarterback race.
Beyond that bizarre reality, tune in to watch Saban magically fill the holes created by his NFL draft pipeline, as he readies the Tide for yet another national title run.
Only this time, he’s just come off his first back-to-back losses at Alabama since 2008, when the Tide also dropped the last two games of the season (the SEC title game to Florida and the Sugar Bowl to Utah).
2008 marked the beginning of the run where Saban and the Tide won three national titles in four years.
When: Sat., April 19, 2:00 p.m. ET
TV: Longhorn Network
If you are one of the lucky few folks who get the Longhorn Network in your living room, you’ll want to check out the beginning of the Charlie Strong era in Austin.
While much of the hype will be about his bid to be the first head coach at Texas to settle on a starting quarterback and stick with it since Colt McCoy, don’t forget about the defense.
Yes, the Longhorns’ spring game will feature the first glimpse of Strong’s defense at Texas. And remember that this is a guy who has blazed a defensive trail through his coaching career.
In 1999, Strong took over as the defensive coordinator at South Carolina under Lou Holtz. He took a defense that had ranked No. 87 in scoring in 1998 to No. 57 in 1999, No. 6 in 2000 and No. 18 rank in 2001.
In his eight years as the coordinator at Florida, only once did his defense finish out of the top 32 in scoring. Three of his last four years, the Gators ranked in the top six.
At Louisville, he took a defense that ranked No. 66 in scoring in 2009 to No. 18 in 2010, No. 17 in 2011, No. 36 in 2012 and No. 2 in 2013.
What this could mean for Texas, which ranked No. 72 in scoring in 2012 and No. 57 last season, is intriguing—especially given the talent that the Longhorns have stockpiled.
When: Sat., April 26, 8:00 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network/Pac-12.com
Way out on the West Coast, look out for UCLA’s late-April spring game, which may mark the beginning of a magical season in Brentwood, Calif.
UCLA returns 16 starters in 2014, the most in the Pac-12 and No. 13 overall in the FBS. This, combined with a 10-win campaign from a year ago, means that the spring game may be a preview of the first Bruins team since 1998 to win a conference title.
Back on campus in 2014 are eight members of an offense that ranked No. 20 in scoring last season. Included in the haul are a whopping four members of the O-line, quarterback Brett Hundley, four of the top five receivers and the top three rushers.
On defense, the Bruins return eight members of the No. 35-ranked scoring defense from a year ago. Included are four starters from the front seven and four guys from a secondary that ranked No. 41 versus the pass.
What also bode well for UCLA are the gains that Jim Mora has made in recruiting. He has taken a program that signed, according to Rivals, the No. 45-ranked group in 2011 to a No. 13 rank in 2012, a No. 8 rank in 2013 and a No. 18 rank this year.