Ranking the 10 Must-Watch Spring Games of 2018

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2018

Ranking the 10 Must-Watch Spring Games of 2018

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    College football fans and analysts must be careful not to overvalue spring games, but that doesn't mean the exhibitions aren't entertaining.

    Every year, the scrimmages that attract the most attention usually have a recently hired coach, a new signal-caller, high expectations for the next season or a combination of both.

    And in 2018, quarterback competitions will control the headlines for several top schoolsincluding two with returning starters.

    Those position battles are also the pivotal topic for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Texas head coach Tom Herman, who need a reliable player behind center to lift their respective programs. Meanwhile, Nebraska's Scott Frost and UCLA's Chip Kelly are among the first-year coaches working to turn around their teams.

    Although the next schools on the list would be Florida State and Texas A&M, we've focused on the 10 most intriguing spring games.     

                  

    Note: All spring game info via fbschedules.com.

10. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 21; noon ET; Big Ten Network

    Key reason to watch: Welcome back to Lincoln, Scott Frost. The quarterback of the 1997 co-national champion team, he's returned to the place where his coaching career also began. Frost, who led the UCF Knights to a 13-0 record last year, was a graduate assistant for the Cornhuskers in 2002. He'll bring a fast-paced offensive system to the program.

    Other storylines: So who's running that offense? Tanner Lee declared for April's NFL draft, leaving Patrick O'Brien, Tristan Gebbia and freshman Adrian Martinez to fight for the quarterback spot. Defensively, just 13 teams had fewer takeaways than the Huskers (12) last season. Conversely, UCF ranked second nationally with 32. This is a major transition period for both sides of the football.    

9. Miami Hurricanes

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, April 14; 6 p.m. ET; TBD

    Key reason to watch: Malik Rosier did a commendable job behind center in 2017. Is he a championship-caliber option, though? Redshirt freshman N'Kosi Perry and early enrollee Jarren Williams are pushing the incumbent for the position.

    Other storylines: Gerald Willis III is tasked with replacing one of two NFL-bound defensive tackles (Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh). Coaches have praised the Florida transfer, but the spring game will be his first national appearance after spending 2017 on the practice squad. The scrimmage also will be the debut for 5-star running back Lorenzo Lingard.    

8. UCLA Bruins

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    Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, April 21; 2 p.m. ET; Pac-12 Network

    Key reason to watch: Kelly, of course. Five years and an expired show-cause penalty later, the mastermind behind the Oregon Ducks' ascent is back in college footballand the Pac-12. He'll attempt to bring UCLA its first conference title since 1998.

    Other storylines: Kelly's teams are known for scoring, but the Bruins must break in a new quarterback to succeed three-year starter Josh Rosen. Perhaps just as stressful, UCLA ranked 108th in yards per play allowed (6.26) and 123rd in yards per game allowed (483.7) last season. One of Kelly's first major tasks is turning around that unit.     

7. Georgia Bulldogs

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 21; 4 p.m. ET; ESPN

    Key reason to watch: While there are a few choices, we're most interested in seeing quarterback Justin Fieldsthe No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 classplay opposite Jake Fromm. Fields brings a dual-threat skill set that he'll likely put on display this season; the question is whether he'll be a situational contributor or limited to garbage-time reps.

    Other storylines: Let's not forget about Fromm, who still has plenty of room to develop as a quarterback. It certainly won't hurt that a talented group of 2017 receiver recruits is a year older. Fromm and his classmates, including running back D'Andre Swift, are poised to control a much greater share of production this year.

6. Michigan Wolverines

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 14; Time and Viewing Info TBD

    Key reason to watch: Michigan has stockpiled talent at quarterback, but someone needs to demand the starting job. Depending on whether Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is eligible, the Wolverines could have a three-man competition featuring him, Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey. Which option will perform best?

    Other storylines: Put simply, the offensive line has not performed at a high enough level in Harbaugh's tenure. Ed Warinner replaced Tim Drevno as the position coach, and the Wolverines are desperate for the new voice to be effective. The progression of a young receiving crew is also important for Michigan in 2018.

5. Texas Longhorns

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    Ray Thompson/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 21; 7:30 p.m. ET; Longhorn Network

    Key reason to watch: Shane Buechele eclipsed 3,000 total yards as a freshman, but Texas waffled between him and Sam Ehlinger last season. Two-quarterback systems that work are an exception to the rule, so the Longhorns will probably settle on one eventually. While the spring might reveal a few answers, will the scrimmage back it up?

    Other storylines: Although we're focused on the quarterbacks, the winner of that battle won't matter as much if the offensive line doesn't improve. Plus, the loss of defensive lineman Poona Ford to the NFL feels undervalued. The Longhorns need a new anchor for the defensive front.

4. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 14; 1:45 p.m. ET; TBD

    Key reason to watch: Dwayne Haskins is the presumed replacement for J.T. Barrett at quarterback, but it's not over until it's over. He'll try to establish himself as the clear-cut No. 1 option ahead of Joe Burrow and Tate Martell, a prized 4-star recruit in 2017.

    Other storylines: This offseason is familiar. Ohio State is still waiting for a dominant receiver to emerge, and the offensive line might shuffle pieces to get the best five players on the field. Though the spring game doesn't provide a definite answer for starting lineups, it's typically a useful insight into which players have impressed coaches.

3. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Date: Saturday, April 14; 2 p.m. ET; TBD

    Key reason to watch: The celebrated Baker Mayfield era is over, so Kyler Murray has his first opportunity to command an offense every day. Granted, he's still playing baseball at the school. Murray's past performances on the gridiron are encouraging, and Oklahoma is looking for that player to steal the show during the spring game.

    Other storylines: Eyes will be drawn to Murray (plus top competitor Austin Kendall) and the Marquise Brown-led receiving corps, but the Sooners have a variety of holes to plug on defense. They lost leading tackler Emmanuel Beal and top sack artist Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, as well as four other key players.

2. Clemson Tigers

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, April 14; 2:30 p.m. ET; ESPN

    Key reason to watch: The odds are slim anyone other than Kelly Bryant is under center next season, but Trevor Lawrence will be fighting for the backup job. Rated the top prospect in the 2018 class, Lawrence will attempt to hop Hunter Johnson on the depth chart.

    Other storylines: If you'd like to watch the absurd amount of talent on Clemson's defense, that sounds like a great plan. Potential first-round picks Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell both returned for their senior years, rejoining All-ACC teammates Dexter Lawrence and Austin Bryant. A revamped group of wideouts is worth monitoring too.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Date: Saturday, April 21; 2 p.m. ET; ESPN

    Key reason to watch: Four-year starter JK Scott leaves an enormous hole on Alabama's special teams. Punters are players too! But yes, we're looking forward to checking up on the quarterback competition between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa more than anything. Hurts has a 26-2 career record, but Tagovailoa is capable of replacing the incumbent, as he proved in the national title game victory over Georgia.

    Other storylines: Although finding the talent isn't a concern, the Crimson Tide still need to rebuild the entire secondary. They lost six key defensive backs. Similarly, Alabama has an impressive bunch of young receivers, but the team needs more production from the unit. It has to replace Calvin Ridley, whose 224 catches ranked second in school history.

                                            

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.comcfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.