Spring Game Watch List: April 19
Previewing the spring games and events that will be held at Alabama, Auburn, Texas, USC, Washington, Missouri, Arizona State, Utah and more.
Saturday will give us a small taste of fall with several schools wrapping up their spring practice in front of football-starved fans. While the competition will lack the intensity of a game day in the fall, schools have learned how to make up for that with off-field events that make the modern day spring football game a department-wide event for the whole family.
There will be team scrimmages or controlled practices with position battles playing out on the field. But there will also be athletic clinics for kids, cooking contests, blood drives and other charity events, alumni flag football games and even dance contests. Below we have highlighted some of the best on and off-field events for Saturday.
The Iron Bowl Rivals each call identify their spring celebration as A-Day. Yet another thing for these two programs to fight over.
Alabama -- 2 p.m., TV: ESPNU
On-field: Alabama's starting quarterback competition won't be settled on Saturday, as Florida State transfer Jacob Coker waits for his turn to battle AJ McCarron's backup, Blake Sims, in the fall. Don't even expect the new Lane Kiffin-led offense to show too many wrinkles in the nationally televised scrimmage, but it will be interesting to see how Derrick Henry, Cameron Robinson and other young stars have developed in spring practice.
Off-field: The fan turnout is always a spectacle, but we're hoping for some coverage of Tony Hoard and the K-9 Crew. For the uninitiated, Alabama says the spring game's halftime show "includes high-flying aerial tricks and Frisbee catching flips choreographed to upbeat music by Hoard and his group of rescued dogs."
Auburn -- 3 p.m., TV: ESPN
On-field: Gus Malzahn shook up the SEC in 2013 with a frenetic late season charge that mirrored the Tigers' up-tempo offensive attack. If possible, the second spring game of the Malzahn era could open with even more excitement than the first. With Nick Marshall back under center and two of the top three running backs returning, few expect Auburn's offense to slow. Auburn's defense, in its second year under Ellis Johnson, needs to replace Dee Ford on the line and Chris Davis in the backfield. If you're looking for a potential replacement for NFL-bound Greg Robinson at left tackle, our own Jeremy Fowler would like to introduce you to cancer survivor Shon Coleman.
Off-field: The festivities leading up to the Tigers' spring game include a punt, pass and kick contest for children (grades 1-6) along with both the 62-mile and 22-mile rides for Bo Jackson's charity event, Bo Bikes Bama. Now in its third year, Bo Bikes Bama raises money for Governor's Emergency Relief Fund, providing funds for the construction of community storm shelters across the state. You can still register to ride HERE.
Charlie Strong, Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen are no strangers to spring games, but each of them will be hosting the first spring showcase for fans at their new high-profile gigs.
Texas -- 2 p.m., TV: Longhorn Network
On-field: Charlie Strong wants to field an up-tempo attack that matches many of the Big 12 offenses, and the addition of Joe Wickline from Oklahoma State reinforces those plans. It will likely take some time before we see how Wickline and Shawn Watson, who followed Strong from Louisville, shape the Longhorns offense, but there is a loaded backfield (Johnathan Gray when healthy, Malcolm Brown and hopefully Joe Bergeron) that will help alleviate concerns at the quarterback position. Defensively the Longhorns' strength will be on the line, with Cedric Reed and Malcolm Brown, but there are starting jobs all over the field.
Off-field: Fans around Austin will know they've reached the pregame fan fest when they see Tex, the 30-foot tall inflatable mascot. Make your way to the north end of the stadium to snap your picture with Bevo or get an autograph from former Longhorn star Vince Young (though it should be noted, per the school release, that Vince "reserves the right to refuse to sign certain items").
USC -- 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network
On-field: Steve Sarkisian saved himself a series of post-spring game questions by naming Cody Kessler the starting quarterback for 2014 earlier this week. While the Trojans still have some depth issues as the program deals with the fallout from NCAA sanctions, the top line is promising for contention in the Pac-12 South. Eight starters are back on both sides of the ball, including potenal All-Americans in defensive tackle Leonard Williams and wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Off-field: Fans in the stadium have only themselves to blame (or credit) when it comes to the music being blasted from the Coliseum speakers on Saturday.
Who wants to help us with the playlist for the USC Spring Game? Tweet us your song suggestions now for the Coliseum. pic.twitter.com/v1c58DonEc— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) April 17, 2014
Washington -- 4 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: Chris Petersen's strict code of conduct has already been witnessed with his handling of presumed starting quarterback Cyler Miles. Earlier this week, Petersen had no updates on the indefinitely suspended redshirt sophomore and as of now he is not expected in the spring showcase. However, fans in attendance could be witnessing the team's best offensive asset for 2014 in Shaq Thompson, the star linebacker who has been raising eyebrows all spring at running back. Thompson remains committed to defense first, but Petersen won't rule out No. 7 from the offensive backfield.
Off-field: Washington is referring to its spring event as a "spring preview," and from the descriptions it sounds like an open practice. Fans will be able to show up early for autographs with the team and football-related activities for children before watching the Dawgs practice in Husky Stadium.
Elsewhere around the country
Missouri -- 1 p.m., TV: MUTigers.TV
On-field: Unfortunately, "off-field" has been the primary focus of Missouri football recently, so Tigers fans will be happy to see Maty Mauk lead the reigning SEC East division champs back on the field for the annual Black-Gold game. The recent dismissal of Dorial Green-Beckham makes wide receiver a position of interest, but also keep an eye on the defensive line where the group must replace Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and others.
Off-field: Admission to the spring game is not costly, but it can be free if you bring canned/boxed food items to donate to the Food Bank. This year's spring game will also mark the debut of a new "Family Fun Zone" that promises inflatable games, a face painter and a balloon artist, a Cotton Bowl Trophy photo op and a live DJ.
Arizona State -- 2 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: The return of Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong have ASU fans excited about the offensive potential of this group -- even without Marion Grice -- but there are some concerns on the defensive side of the ball with the departures of Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and veteran defensive back Alden Darby. Fans will want to keep an eye on JUCO early enrollee Edmond Boateng, reportedly bulked up and in the mix for snaps, in Saturday's spring game.
Off-field: Arizona State recruited some extra help for spring game coverage, allowing a few select fans to join the social media team for the day and tweet updates from the game. The school also has several cool prizes that fans can win, including a an all-expense paid trip to see the Sun Devils play Washington in Seattle.
Georgia Tech -- Friday night, 7 p.m., TV: ESPN3
On-field: Justin Thomas appears to be the quarterback set to take over after Vad Lee's transfer, and with a handful of capable A-backs and B-backs it look likes another year of big rushing numbers for the Yellow Jackets offense. Travis Custis, an early enrollee for 2014 after a clearinghouse issue prevented his fall enrollment, has raised eyebrows from the B-back position and could add intrigue to the competition in the backfield.
Off-field: Inclement weather has forced a slight change of plans for Georgia Tech, but fans will still be able to enjoy the food trucks outside of Bobby Dodd Stadium even though the autograph signings and other activities have been moved to the concourse. The post-game fireworks show, a bonus of the Friday night spring game, has unfortunately been canceled.
Utah -- 3 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: The injury bug has bit Utah hard this spring, and several players expected to be in the mix for 2014 will be out or limited for Saturday's activities. Quarterback Travis Wilson has returned from a health scare and has been competing against the first-team defense, which is looking to replace starters like Trevor Reilly gone.
Off-field: Last week's spring games featured several cooking competitions, and the Red-White game will be preceded by an ultimate tailgate challenge with celebrity judges. On a heartwarming note, each team in the spring game will have an honorary coach. Mac Brennan, 8, is the son of two Utah staff members and was diagnosed with leukemia in December. He will help coach the Red team while Tristan Chidester, a 12-year old bone cancer patient, will help coach the White team.
"We selected Tristan and Mac to coach this year's Red-White spring game as a tribute to their fighting, resilient and winning spirit in battling cancer. Their courage and positive attitude is an example and inspiration to us all and we could not be more honored to have them both on the sideline Saturday as we wrap up spring practice with this year's Red-White game."
-- More first impressions: Saturday will be the first time for fans to see coaches at Western Kentucky (Jeff Brohm), Wyoming (Craig Bohl), Arkansas State (Blake Anderson), Georgia Southern (Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz) and Army (Jeff Monken).
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