The most important storylines to watch in this weekend’s spring games


This Saturday features a whole host of spring football games that will give fans the first real glimpse at what might be in the store for the upcoming fall college football season. And in some cases, fans will be able to watch their teams play in person for the first time in over a year.

From quarterback battles to walk-ons showing what they can do for a team, here are the games we’re keeping our eyes on.

Alabama Crimson Tide
1 p.m. ET on ESPN and the ESPN App

It’s time to see what Bryce Young has to offer. The former five-star prospect was Mac Jones‘ backup as a freshman and showed some flashes in limited action. He has a live arm and is plenty athletic. But can he command the offense? That’s the ultimate question that will determine whether he wins the starting job over Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe. After operating primarily on instinct last year, Nick Saban said he’s seen Young’s confidence improve within the offense. If he can build on that in front of a crowd on Saturday, it could go a long way in solidifying his hold on the position. — Alex Scarborough

Arkansas Razorbacks
3 p.m. ET on SECN+ and the ESPN App

The Razorbacks are coming into the spring with running back depth that could be one of the strengths of their offense in 2021. Trelon Smith took on the majority of the workload in 2020 because of injuries and an opt out from Rakeem Boyd, and he is expected to do so as well in 2021. Along with Smith, the Razorbacks expect some combination of Dominique Johnson and true freshmen speedsters A.J. Green and Javion Hunt to help along the way. — Harry Lyles Jr.

Auburn Tigers
2 p.m. ET on SECN+ and the ESPN App

There might be no more important job for first-year coach Bryan Harsin than the development of quarterback Bo Nix. No one doubt’s Nix’s ability. In two seasons as the starter, he’s shown a strong arm, athleticism and play-making ability. But he was also proven to be a deeply flawed quarterback who struggles with his accuracy and too often turns the ball over. Some of that may lie at the feet of Gus Malzahn and the previous coaching staff, but they’re gone and now it’s up to Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to get Nix pointed in the right direction. If not, Auburn could struggle mightily this season. — Scarborough

Georgia Bulldogs
2 p.m. ET on SECN+ and the ESPN App

Keep an eye on the wide receivers. George Pickens suffered a torn ACL late in March, and he’s undoubtedly a big loss for the Bulldogs offense that finished out the 2020 season on a strong note. Beyond Pickens, the Bulldogs are still pretty banged up at the position right now. Dominick Blaylock is on track to return from his torn ACL of last year, as is Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who had a devastating broken ankle against Florida. This has opened up things for the younger guys like Arian Smith, Justin Robinson, and others, as Blaylock and Rosemy-Jacksaint remain limited. — Lyles

LSU Tigers
1 p.m. on SECN+ and the ESPN App

No one is expecting a resolution to the quarterback competition on Saturday. Coach Ed Orgeron said he’s given all four QBs — not just Max Johnson and Myles Brennan — first-team reps. So setting that aside, turn your attention to the defense, which desperately needs to recover from last season when every possession seemed to feature a blown assignment. New defensive coordinator Daronte Jones was charged with simplifying the scheme and improving communication. Getting the defense playing fast and confident again this spring would be a huge step in the right direction. — Scarborough

Miami Hurricanes
11 a.m. ET on ACC Network and the ESPN App

With D’Eriq King rehabbing his injured knee, the Hurricanes have spent the spring getting valuable first-team reps to freshmen quarterbacks Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia, so they will take center stage in the spring game. Beyond the quarterbacks, watch for receiver transfer Charleston Rambo, who came to Miami from Oklahoma. Rambo has made a big impression this spring, and he finished the second scrimmage with seven catches for 107 yards — including a 57-yard touchdown off a trick play. Coach Manny Diaz said Rambo has “given us a big shot in the arm.” He joins a deep and talented receiver group, but there is always room for someone with his big-play capabilities in the Miami offense. — Andrea Adelson

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Noon ET on SECN+ and the ESPN App

You might have seen that ESPN’s FPI (our statistical rating and projection system for every FBS team in college football) has Mississippi State ranked 8th. One of the reasons for that is the same thing you should be watching for in their spring game: the quarterbacks. The ranking expects the Bulldogs to be better offensively because of Will Rogers being a young quarterback with experience, or Southern Miss transfer Jack Abraham‘s experience as a three-year starter. Mike Leach has said that Rogers will have to work to keep his job, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye on these two. — Lyles

Ohio State Buckeyes
Noon ET

Who replaces Justin Fields at quarterback is the main question for the Buckeyes right now. Head coach Ryan Day said C.J. Stroud has been taking some reps with the ones during spring practice, but that there hasn’t been enough separation between Stroud, Jack Miller and true freshman Kyle McCord to name a starter. Stroud and Miller both had two rush attempts last season, but no pass attempts, so there is no real advantage in experience between the two. McCord was the No. 31 ranked recruit overall in the 2021 recruiting class, but is still trying to assimilate to the college game. Day said the quarterbacks haven’t tried to win the job on one throw or in one day, but they’ve been focused on improving throughout the entire spring and competing together. Whether it’s Stroud, Miller or McCord, there will be a ton of help around the starter, with seven of the top eight players in receiving yards returning. — Tom VanHaaren

TCU Horned Frogs
Noon ET

Gary Patterson likely just wants to see some of his players take the field, as the Frogs have been banged-up in the secondary. Patterson has to replace two stars in Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington at safety, and said recently that just one player — Bud Clark — took every rep in a recent scrimmage at free safety. A walk-on running back (Deryl Reynolds) started at corner. Patterson has proven he can piece together a great defense using a next-man-up philosophy. He might get that chance this week. — Dave Wilson

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Noon ET

Air Raid vet and Tech alum Sonny Cumbie returns from TCU to run the offense, and the hope is that he restores the classic Red Raiders offense. Along with that, the quarterbacks will be the subject of most of the spring-game intrigue. Henry Colombi, who started four games last year, returns while Alan Bowman departed for Michigan. Oregon transfer Tyler Shough, the Ducks’ starter in every game last season, has impressed Tech coaches both in his abilities and his work ethic since arriving. — Wilson

USC Trojans
4 p.m. ET

After their pandemic-shorted 2020 season was played without fans, it will be nice to see fans back in Coliseum again as USC plans to allow 5,000 fans to watch the spring game. All eyes will be on Kedon Slovis, who should form one of the best partnerships in the country next season with receiver Drake London. After he burst onto the scene in 2019, Slovis didn’t take the step forward many USC fans were hoping for last season, albeit under unique circumstances, but he still has three years of eligibility remaining and has the ability to leave an impressive legacy behind. — Kyle Bonagura

Utah Utes
2 p.m. ET

The Utes’ spring game will present the first major opportunity for transfer quarterback Charlie Brewer to make an impression on his new fan base. He’ll still need to beat out Cam Rising to win the job during fall camp, but Brewer has separated himself from the rest of the quarterbacks on the rosters during spring practice. In 40 starts over four years at Baylor, he threw for 9,700 yards with 65 touchdowns and is a source of optimism for the Utes headed into the summer. — Bonagura

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