• There are still plenty of storylines within the spring games that haven't been scuttled by weather this weekend. If you're tuning in for your last fix of 11-on-11 until fall, here are the stories and names you need to know.
By Joan Niesen
April 13, 2018

Most FBS teams are winding down spring practice after roughly a month of the same old drill: new coaches and coordinators installing their systems, quarterbacks competing for starting jobs, Vegas drawing up Heisman and national championship odds that will seem quaint by November.

Spring games offer a bit of an on-field payoff after weeks of speculation, and April 14 has one of the busiest slates, even with weather in the Midwest forcing multiple teams to call their events off (more on that below). If you’re truly football-starved—or just tired of watching baseball games that look like they’re being played in Siberia—hunker down from the late morning until the sun goes down and squint hard enough for it to look like fall. Here’s an hour-by-hour guide of what to watch as intriguing programs large and small wrap up their spring semester proceedings.

Ohio State (11:45 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

The weather forecast that forced other Midwest spring games to be called off has pushed Ohio State’s to the front of the schedule. With the graduation of J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has another quarterback battle on its hands. Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow are the most likely options, but Urban Meyer declined to name a favorite in the days leading up to the spring game. Tate Martell, the talented dual-threat quarterback who redshirted last year, seems to be a long shot given the experience factor in favor of the two players in front of him. You probably remember Haskins from the comeback win over Michigan he led last season after Barrett was sidelined by a controversial pregame injury. If Burrow doesn’t win the job, he’s in position to graduate next month and transfer to a program where he’d be immediately eligible to play two more seasons.

Missouri (1 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Missouri did a complete about-face in the middle of last year, starting out 1–5 and closing with six straight wins and a 33–16 loss in the Texas Bowl. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, whose wide-open offense turned things around in Columbia last year, left for the head coaching job at UCF, and Missouri replaced with of of the winter’s most fascinating hires: Derek Dooley, last seen in the SEC being run out of Knoxville with a 15–21 record at Tennessee. Dooley is installing a pro-style system helmed by senior quarterback Drew Lock, who’s in position to convince NFL talent evaluators he’s a first- or second-round pick with a year that builds on 2017’s stat-stuffing performance.

Clemson (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

The last time we saw the Tigers, they were being smothered to death by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The stars of the Tigers’ defensive line are all returning, which has ramped up the expectations and placed extra pressure on the offense, where a question mark at QB remains. Kelly Bryant will more than likely return as the starter, but sophomore Hunter Johnson and freshman Trevor Lawrence, the class of 2018’s No. 1 overall recruit, both have the talent, if not the game experience, to challenge for the job. Clemson is also working in a new wave of receivers after losing Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud to the draft—keep an eye on freshman Derion Kendrick and sophomores Amari Rogers and Tee Higgins.

Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) 

Dan Mullen has been tasked with revitalizing an often unwatchable offense, while the defense under aggressive new coordinator Todd Grantham should be one of the SEC’s most interesting units, if not always its most efficient one. Incumbent starter Feleipe Franks got a clean slate with the arrival of the new coaching staff, but there will be plenty of interested observers when redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask and freshman Emory Jones run the offense on Saturday. Franks will need to curb his penchant for turnovers to hold off his challengers.

USC (3:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears are the two QBs on campus competing to replace Sam Darnold, but five-star signee JT Daniels is expected to step right into the thick of the race once he graduates high school and arrives for fall camp. Fink and Sears can’t win the job on Saturday, but they can leave a final impression that will give Clay Helton and his staff something to think about over the summer dead period.

Stanford (4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

New offensive coordinator, Tavita Pritchard replaces Mike Bloomgren, who took the open head coaching job at Rice. Still, this is a team known for its continuity, and there’s little reason to expect much in the way of stylistic change next fall—or that the spring game will feature a product that at all resembles the team Stanford will field next fall. Star running back Bryce Love won’t play, and scholarship quarterbacks K.J. Costello (hip) and Davis Mills (knee) have missed all of spring ball with injuries.

Texas A&M (5 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Jimbo Fisher was brought to College Station this winter to turn Texas A&M from a winning program into a playoff contender. This year’s spring game appears set to supply the requisite hoopla attending the arrival of a new coach, including an appearance by Johnny Manziel, who will quarterback a halftime flag football game. That alone is reason enough to tune in.

Florida State (6 p.m. ET, ACC Network Extra)

Former Oregon and USF coach Willie Taggart replaces Fisher in Tallahassee, and his primary offseason order of business is running a quarterback battle between James Blackman, who was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season, and Deondre Francois, the injured starter Blackman replaced in Week 1 of 2017. Whichever player can adapt best to Taggart’s fast-paced offense will likely win the job—Francois has missed all spring, so Blackman and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman will split Saturday's snaps. Between the Seminoles receivers set to benefit from the new system and the returning RB duo Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, there will be a lot of skill position talent to get excited about.

Arizona (8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

The Wildcats have had a rocky offseason, thrust into the coaching carousel late after firing Rich Rodriguez in January in the wake of a sexual harassment claim against him. His replacement: Kevin Sumlin, the former Texas A&M coach who’d looked like the odd man out in the hiring dominoes until the Wildcats called. Coach and team are still getting acclimated, but it’ll be worth tuning in for an offseason glimpse of electric quarterback Khalil Tate, who rushed for 1,411 yards and passed for 1,591 in a 2017 campaign in which he started as the backup and ended as a 2018 Heisman sleeper. His career is now in the hands of the coach who groomed Manziel in College Station.

Undercards you can't watch on TV: Kent State (11 a.m. ET), SMU (Noon)

If you’re going to commit to this day, start when the games start, even if they aren’t televised. The MAC East’s last-place team from a year ago wraps its first spring under new coach Sean Lewis, who supplanted Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley as the FBS’s youngest head coach when he was hired after two seasons as Syracuse’s offensive coordinator. With help from Dino Babers’s breakneck spread offense, Lewis is hoping to turn around a program with just nine winning seasons in its history.

In Dallas, new coach Sonny Dykes is getting situated after Chad Morris left for Arkansas. Dykes wasn’t the most exciting hire of last offseason, and SMU made the  unorthodox choice to have him coach the team in its bowl game just days after being hired, which resulted in a 51–10 loss to Louisiana Tech. The spring game will go a long way towards wiping the slate clean.

Not happening: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa State

Thunderstorms and plummeting temperatures across the Midwest have caused a few prominent programs to simply pack it in for the spring, but the storylines they’ll take into the summer are still worth mentioning. Michigan's quarterback situation remains murky until the Wolverines get the final word on Shea Patterson’s eligibility, but Wilton Speight’s transfer to UCLA thins out the Wolverines’ QB room to merely three viable candidates. Jim Harbaugh needs to field a competent one in his fourth season in Ann Arbor, and if Patterson isn’t cleared, sophomore Brandon Peters and redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey will have a lot on their shoulders.

There are fewer question marks for the reigning Big Ten West champions, but an outsider’s glimpse at senior quarterback Alex Hornibrook would have been nice before fall camp. If the Badgers can take their offense up a notch in Hornibrook’s final year, it may be enough to get them over the Big Ten title game hump and into true playoff contention.

And in Ames, second-year coach Matt Campbell is out to transform his team from the ultimate spoiler into one that will contend regularly in the Big 12. Last year, the Cyclones beat Oklahoma and TCU en route to an 8–5 season, and all but one of their losses came in one-score games. Will quarterback Kyle Kempt capitalize on the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA?

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