Few coaches enjoy spring games. Most are too worried about injuries or sneak-peeks to get fancy and add the wrinkles we'll see this fall. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, for instance, decided against showcasing the Bearcats' new 3-4 defense in the April 25 spring game to prevent future opponents from previewing the scheme.
Plus, the quality of play tends to be horrendous. "Spring games are usually awful," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "It's not great ball ... Since I've been coaching, I haven't seen a good game."
If coaches had their way, the series of practices designed to show them what they've got to work with after graduation and the NFL draft have fleeced their rosters wouldn't end in a trumped-up exhibition that provides further opportunity for injury.
"We want to get out of here without anybody getting hurt," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "You hold your breath. We want a quick game and everybody feeling good."
Pomp and circumstance and injury fears aside, spring scrimmages remain the culmination of a period where lessons are learned, jobs are lost and statements are made. Here's a look at some of the biggest winners and losers from this spring.
1. Tate Forcier, Michigan, QB. The Wolverines lost Nick Sheridan, who started eight games in 2008, to a small fracture in his lower right leg, but that loss ended up being a big gain for Forcier. The early enrollee is better suited for Rich Rodriguez's spread offense than Sheridan, and he proved it in the spring game, throwing four touchdown passes and running for another score. At this point, the QB job is basically Forcier's to lose, even with Sheridan expected back and heralded incoming freshman Denard Robinson arriving in Ann Arbor for preseason camp.
2. Attendance figures. Whether or not coaches view spring games as a necessary evil, there's no denying fans are coming out in droves to watch these scrimmages. Michigan drew an estimated 50,000 despite going 3-9 in 2008, Nebraska drew a whopping 80,149, Alabama poured 84,050 into Bryant-Denny and Ohio State enticed a record 95,722 Buckeye faithful (though Jim Tressel surely deserves some credit for parading around in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses).
3. Gus Malzahn, Auburn, offensive coordinator. This position brought much angst to Tigers fans last year, as the since-fired Tony Franklin installed an attack that led Auburn to a 104th place national finish in total offense. Malzahn, whose Tulsa offense racked up nearly 8,000 yards, also has a reputation for opening things up. But if the spring game is any indication, things will be different for Auburn in 2009. The offense scored six TDs, but the Neil Caudle/Kodi Burns QB debate remains an issue.
4. Jeff Fuller, Texas A&M, WR. Fuller made a splash as a freshman, catching 50 passes for 630 yards and a school-record nine touchdowns. But with Ryan Tannehill, the other half of the Aggies' record-setting duo, out for the spring and possibly moving to quarterback once he returns, A&M spent the spring turning the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder into its top offensive weapon. Fuller caught nine passes for 147 yards in the spring game and could battle Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant for the title of the Big 12's best receiver with Michael Crabtree now in the NFL.
5. Patrick Edwards, Houston, WR. Just call him the Bionic Man. Five months after breaking his leg in a gruesome collision with a metal cart parked at the back of the end zone against Marshall, the sophomore miraculously rejoined the Cougars this spring. He wasn't allowed to participate in contract drills or the spring game, but the mere fact that he's walking, let alone playing football again, lands him on this list.
1. Missouri's offense. You just know Gary Pinkel was hoping he'd close his eyes and Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and DaveChristensen would be back in Columbia. Without the key pieces from last season's eighth-ranked offense, the Tigers looked abysmal this spring, managing only one touchdown (a one-yard run by QB Jimmy Costello). Remember, this was against a defense that gave up 411.5 yards per game and 48 TDs in '08. Mizzou can't possibly be this bad on offense come fall, but the Tigers could be in for a long, long season.
2. UCLA's quarterbacks.Rick Neuheisel will pick a starter, but only because he has no choice. In the spring game, probable starter Kevin Prince started 1-for-7 with an interception, prompting Norm Chow to say, "If this is too big for you, we'll call off the game." Holdover starter Kevin Craft, meanwhile, failed to complete a pass in five attempts and fumbled a snap inside the five-yard-line, while newcomer Richard Brehaut completed 7-of-14 passes for 47 yards and a TD. At this rate, it's hard to imagine things getting much better for a squad that threw 21 interceptions to nine TDs a year ago.
3. Mitch Mustain and Demetrius Jones. It's come to this for these once sought-after QBs? Mustain, the '05 Parade magazine Player of the Year who transferred from Arkansas to USC, finds himself third on the Trojans' depth chart behind Aaron Corp and freshman Matt Barkley. Jones, who Rivals.com ranked the No. 2 dual-threat passer in '06, left Notre Dame for Cincinnati in '07 but moved to outside linebacker after finding himself third behind Tony Pike and Chazz Anderson on the depth chart. Jones' move isn't completely implausible; last season, teammate Connor Barwin switched from tight end to defensive end and led the Big East in sacks. For Mustain though, the writing is on the wall. You just don't move up two spots in preseason camp at USC. His best move could be to a FCS school.
4. Navorro Bowman, Penn State, LB. Expected to be one of the centerpieces of a stout Nittany Lions defense, the first-team All-Big Ten performer's future is in jeopardy after he received a year of probation for admitting to smoking marijuana in the offseason, which violated a previous probation. Joe Paterno suspended the redshirt junior for the spring game, saying he'd speak to Bowman about his future. Bowman, who failed two random, team-administered drug tests, will probably be suspended through the summer. There's precedent -- JoePa did suspend Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma for three games last year after they were charged with marijuana possession.
5. Coaches who Tweet. Everyone, including college football's resident king of cool, Pete Carroll, is tweeting. But just because some coaches are showing how hip they are by opening a Twitter account doesn't mean every coach should be living life 140 characters at a time. West Virginia's Bill Stewart set the hip factor back decades with this tweet: "Driving at 4:15 a.m., I was listening to Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys. Talk about getting pumped up early in the morning," while Minnesota's Tim Brewster's supplied the gem: "What an awesome morning!! My Chili is Hot!! Is Yours??" Thanks, Twitter. Now coaches have officially entered the TMI Age.