College Football Spring Football Preview: Part 1
After the National Championship gets played, every college football player, fan, and coach cannot wait for spring practice to start. Usually a few weeks into spring practice, the team will an intra-squad scrimmage where the public can get a first look at what to expect the following fall.
Saturday, April 14th, will be the largest of the Spring Football weekends. Starting at 11:00AM EST with Ball State and Kent State and ending at 8:00pm EST with Arizona, this weekend is loaded with college football’s premier teams.
Here are some of the teams, their kickoff time, and their odds of winning the 2019 National Championship for some of the top schools.
|Team||Kickoff Time||Odds to Win National Championship|
|Ohio State||1:45pm EST||15/2|
|Virginia Tech||3:00pm EST||60/1|
|Texas A&M||5:00pm EST||75/1|
|Florida State||6:00pm EST||33/1|
|Miami (FL)||6:00pm EST||30/1|
|Michigan||7:00pm EST (Canceled)||16/1|
Each of these teams are still chasing down the 2018 National Champion, Alabama. The Crimson Tide do not play their spring game until next weekend and they currently sit at 21/10 favorites to win the 2019 National Championship.
What to Look for in the Spring Game
Coming off a solid season despite getting blown out by Iowa 31 points, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes are faced with replacing one of Ohio State’s all-time great quarterbacks in J.T. Barrett. It appears that the quarterback battle between Dwayne Haskins and Joe Burrow is favoring Haskins before the spring game. It will be interesting to see if Burrow can rise above and be a serious contender, but all signs are pointing to Haskins being the signal caller for the Buckeyes next year. There has never been a 1,000 yard receiver in a single season at Ohio State since Urban Meyer has been there. Could this be the year that it finally happens? Austin Mack, now a junior, was a consensus top 100 national prospect coming out of high school. This might be the year that he finally breaks out. The backfield at Ohio State is loaded as both Mike Weber and JK Dobbins combined for over 2,000 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns.
Lincoln Riley took over the reins from Bob Stoops in 2017 and had a solid first year for the Sooners. The Sooners finished off their 2017 campaign with a #3 final ranking after falling to Georgia in the College Football Playoffs. But with the departure of Baker Mayfield to the NFL draft, the quarterback position is one of uncertainty in Norman. Kyler Murray, a Texas A&M transfer, seems to be the number one quarterback as it stands now, but dual sport athlete is having to focus on both football and baseball this spring. This has opened up the door for Austin Kendall to potentially make the quarterback race interesting. Kendall, a former 4 star, redshirted in 2017, but has all of the physical attributes to be a successful college football quarterback. Five star true freshman Brendan Hadley-Riles should see the field plenty during 2018, but with solid cornerbacks, he may be the de-facto Nickelback. The Sooners are a little thin at safety, but if they can stay healthy and get solid quarterback play from Murray or Kendall they may be vying for a spot in the final four at the end of year.
Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers have made the four team College Football Playoffs in each of the last three seasons and they could be heading back for a fourth straight year. Kelly Bryant, entering his senior year, appears to be the starter, but Clemson has gotten back-to-back five stars prospects in Hunter Johnson (sophomore) and Trevor Lawrence (true freshman). With C.J. Fuller transferring from Clemson, sophomore phenom Travis Etienne and junior Tavien Feaster should split carries in the backfield for the Tigers. The wide receiver position has been extremely strong for Clemson over the past decade, but this may be the year this group takes a step back. Former walk-on Hunter Renfrow is the only wide receiver with any significant experience. Renfrow has amassed nearly 1600 yards and 14 touchdowns in his three years at Clemson. The Clemson defense is loaded up front headlined by Austin Bryant at defensive end and Dexter Lawrence at defensive tackle. If Clemson’s young but talented secondary can put up a similar performance to last year, the Tigers have a great shot at winning the ACC and participating in the College Football Playoff for a fourth straight year.
Welcome to the Dan Mullen era. With Jim McElwain leaving mid-season, the Florida Gators got arguably their first choice at head coach. Many around the nation believed that Dan Mullen would only leave Mississippi State for two jobs, Alabama and Florida. After a tumultuous 4-7 season, Florida Gator fans are hoping Dan Mullen can right the ship. Florida has struggled with finding the right quarterback over the past few seasons and many in Gainesville aren’t sold on Feliepe Franks. His completion percentage was under 55% last season and only threw 9 touchdown while throwing 8 interceptions. True Freshman Emory Jones seems to be the prototypical quarterback that Dan Mullen likes to use in his offense. The gator backfield should be one of the team’s major strengths this year. Jordan Scarlett should be the starter day one, but look for Lamical Perine and Adarius Lemons to receive significant snaps in 2018. A major point of concern for the Gators is their offensive line. Although there are multiple four stars on the offensive line, many of the Gators lineman haven’t lived up to their potential. Regarding the defense, Todd Grantham has taken over and will be implementing a 3-4 defense. The secondary led by C.J. Henderson, Marco Wilson, and Chauncey Gardner should not be affected by this switch in defensive schemes. Overall, the Gators should be much improved from a year ago, but competing with Georgia in the SEC East will not be easy.
Quarterback is arguably the most important in college football and with Sam Darnold leaving for the NFL, the quarterback battle is possibly a three player race. Jack Sears and Matt Fink have the early advantage of spring football and the player that comes out at the top should have the inside track of becoming the quarterback when fall rolls around. Possibly the most talented quarterback on the roster, J.T. Daniels, is not even on campus yet as he will not enroll until the summer. With the departure of Deontay Burnett at wide receiver and Ronald Jones at running back, the younger skill position players will need to step up in assuming larger roles. The shoe-in starting running back for the Trojans Stephen Carr had back surgery and is recovery on schedule, but will be out for the spring. This leaves Vavae Malepeai and Aca’Cedric Ware as the top two running backs. The defense should be stout for the Trojans, but their only real weak point currently is their defensive line after Rasheem Green left for the NFL after his junior year. The Trojans should win the Pac-12 South, but beating the Washington Huskies is a tall task for Clay Helton and the Trojans.
Head Coach Justin Fuente and the Hokies begin their season in Tallahassee against the Seminoles on Labor Day this fall. Similar to many other teams this year, the quarterback situation is a question for the Hokies. Josh Jackson started out the season looking like a Heisman candidate, but over the last five games of the season struggled through the air as he threw for only three touchdowns while throwing five touchdowns. Either the highly touted true freshman Quincy Patterson or redshirt freshman Hendon Hooker could push for the starting job when the season starts. Virginia Tech has produced multiple stand-out defensive backs in the NFL and although they lost multiple DBs this past year they still have a deep enough pool of talent. A big question mark is who will step up for the Hokies at wide receiver as Cam Phillips is preparing for the NFL draft. Although Eric Kumah and Sean Savoy both had more production than Hezekiah Grimsley, the Blacksburg faithful thinks Grimsley will be the number one wide receiver by the start of the season. If Virginia Tech can upset Florida State on Labor Day the schedule sets up nicely for the Hokies to make a run at the ACC Championship as they get both Notre Dame and Miami at home.
Kevin Sumlin went 11-2 during his first year with Texas A&M, but after three straight 8-5 seasons and then finally a 7-6 season, the Aggies had enough and rolled out the red carpet for Jimbo Fisher. When Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for the Aggies, College Station, Texas was elated hoping he could bring them their first National Championship since 1939. The quarterback battle between Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel is closer than most would think after Starkel’s numbers were much better than Mond’s. Ultimately, it is going to come down to who can read defense’s better and run Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense which requires multiple progressions and checks at the line of scrimmage. The Aggies lost their top two wide receivers in Christian Kirk and Damion Ratley who combined for nearly 50% of the 2017 receiving yards. Expect Jhamon Ausbon and Camron Buckley to step up as the number one and two wide receivers for the Aggies in 2018. With Mike Elko taking over the defense for the Aggies, expect the defense to be vastly improved from a year ago as he has been successful everywhere he has been. Texas A&M has a tough schedule through the first few weeks as they battle Clemson and Alabama, both of whom will most likely be top-5 teams when they meet.
Lethal Simplicity is the motto the Florida State offense has for the 2018 season after Willie Taggart is the head ball coach down in Tallahassee after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. The Seminoles were one of the slowest paced teams in college football offensively last year, which is surprising given all of the athletes they have year in and year out. The biggest question mark the Seminoles have is at quarterback. Deondre Francois was the starting quarterback when the 2017 season began, but he tore his patella tendon in his knee against Alabama in the first game. True freshman James Blackmon took over for the Seminoles after Francois went down. Blackmon had some bright spots during his first year, but many fans in Tallahassee did not see the progression they hoped for in their freshman quarterback. With Francois back healthy, Blackmon putting on 15 pounds of muscle, and Bailey Hockman playing lights out, this truly is a three man race for the starting quarterback position in Tallahassee. James Blackmon appears to have a slight lead at the moment, but do not be surprised with whoever starts at quarterback from the Noles come fall. With three top running back recruits (Cam Akers, Khalan Laborn, and Zaquandre White) in the 2017 recruiting class, the return of Jacques Patrick was questionable. It appears that Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers will split the majority of the carries, but Amir Rasul, Khalan Laborn, and Zaqaundre White should also get some touches in Taggart’s up-tempo offense. The wide receiver unit is thin again for the Seminoles in 2018, but there is not a lack of talent. Look for sophomore D.J. Matthews and redshirt freshman Tamorrion Terry to have big years for the Noles at receiver. The offensive line, which has given up 68 sacks over the past two season is now lead by offensive line coach Greg Frey. The Seminoles have a slew of talent on the offensive line, but they will need to play as a group in order to have a successful year up front. The defensive line at Florida State is absolutely loaded even though Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi will be playing the NFL next year. The slim spot on defense for the Seminoles will be their linebackers as they lost their top three linebackers in Matthew Thomas, Ro’Derrick Hoskins, and Jacob Pugh. Josh Brown and Emmett Rice have stood out so far during spring practice and should lead the Seminole linebacker corps in 2018. Defensive back have been the strength of the Seminoles in terms of players over the past decade even though they struggled at times in coverage last year. Junior Levonta Taylor and Sophomore Stanford Samuels should start at cornerback for the Seminoles. This first year for Taggart is a tough one as the Seminoles have one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Most of the Miami contingent thought the Hurricanes were a few years away last year, but after starting out and looking like College Football Playoff contenders, the Hurricanes crumbled down stretch and lost their final three games. Mark Richt has the Miami players and fans believing in the team since he took over last year. With running back Mark Walton heading to the NFL, Travis Homer should see the vast majority of the carries for the Hurricanes during 2018. Malik Rozier, the Hurricanes starting quarterback, was highly inconsistent and often times inaccurate for long stretches. It will be difficult for either Cade Weldon or N’Kosi Perry to supplant Rozier, but do not be surprised if Rozier gets pulled if he continues to be inconsistent. The wide receiving unit is a question mark for the Hurricanes as Braxton Berrios has graduated. Ahmmon Richards should be the number one receiver for the Hurricanes come fall, but they will need solid production from Darrell Langham, Lawrence Cager, and Jeff Thomas should the Hurricanes want to repeat as Coastal Division champions. The defensive backfield returns some highly skilled players including Michael Jackson who recorded four interceptions and was named a second team all-ACC performer. The schedule sets up favorably for the Hurricanes if they can get passed LSU the first week of the season as they get the Seminoles at home this year.
Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines did not the season the thought they would in 2017 as they finished the season 8-5. There is continued uncertainty about quarterback's Shea Patterson's status for this upcoming season as he has transferred from Ole Miss. Many around the program are confident that Patterson will be available to play for the Wolverines this year. After the dismal performance from Brandon Peters in Michigan's bowl game and Joe Milton's youth, Shea Patterson should be the starter come fall as long as the NCAA deems him eligible. The Michigan wide receivers caught only three touchdown passes all of last year; the group this year young, but talented. The top two spots in the Michigan running back depth chart appear to be locked up with Chris Evans and Karan Higdon as the duo ran for over 1600 yards and scored 17 touchdowns last year. The Wolverine defense should not miss a beat from a season ago, where they were one of the nation’s top defenses. With road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State, this is not the easiest of schedules for the Wolverines. Look for them to finish 2nd or 3rd in their division when it is all said and done in the 2018 season.
Check in next week for a preview of the April 21st slate of spring football games.
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