Spring Game Watch List: April 26
Previewing the spring games and events that will be held at Michigan State, UCLA, Iowa, Rutgers, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Kansas State, Washington State, Cal and Kentucky.
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. All times Eastern.
Michigan State: 2 p.m., TV: BTN
On-field: Instead of splitting up the teams into first string and second string, Michigan State splits up into the Green and White teams via an annual player draft. Starting quarterback Connor Cook will lead the White team, and he will be thankful for the light contact with star defensive end Shilique Calhoun on the opposing squad. One spot to keep an eye on will be linebackers on both squads, as Michigan State must replace Max Bullough and Denicos Allen in the starting lineup.
Off-field: The first 30,000 fans will receive a commemorative 2013 championship team poster. You might need to get to Spartan Stadium early to get one, since Mark Dantonio said he wants 50,000 fans at the spring game (more than double the estimated turnout from 2013). The 2013 Big Ten and 2014 Rose Bowl champs will also be honored at halftime and fans can get photos with the trophies before the game.
UCLA: 8 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: Jim Mora divided the team himself, putting the first-team offense and second-team defense on the Blue team, led by OC Noel Mazzone. The first-team defense and second-team offense will make up the White team and be under the direction of DC Jeff Ulbrich. Brett Hundley is clearly locked in as the starting quarterback, but the backup job is still up for grabs with redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard and Jerry Neuheisel competing for a spot on the depth chart. The Bruins are deep at running back but have not defined the offensive line, which is missing dismissed tackle Torian White. Keep an eye out for cornerback Fabian Moreau on defense, as expectations have been soaring for him through spring practice.
Off-field: The StubHub Center in Carson is part of UCLA's efforts to reach all of the Los Angeles area, but the school has arranged for a picnic area for fans who want to test their game day setup for tailgating. The Bruins will sign autographs in the fan zone before the game and a Jim Mora signed football helmet (from the black L.A. Midnight jerseys) will be available for auction.
Iowa: 3 p.m., TV: Hawkeye Sports Network, BTN.com
On-field: The buzz around Iowa suggests that this could be one of the banner years for Kirk Ferentz in his tenure with the Hawkeyes. Jake Rudock has a firm hold on the No. 1 quarterback spot, Brandon Scherff might be one of the best tackles in the country and there is a trio of capable running backs with Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock. Linebacker has been the sole area of concern this spring, so keep an eye on Quinton Alston, Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman -- three possible starters for the Hawkeyes in the fall.
Off-field: Don't get confused if the scoreboard starts randomly adding points. Kirk Ferentz will opt for an offense vs. defense setup for this year's spring game with a unique scoring system.
Touchdown -- 6 points
Explosive Play -- 1 point (run of 12+ yards, pass of 16+ yards)
3 consecutive first downs -- 1 point
PAT -- 1 point
FG -- 3 point
Touchdown -- 7 points
Turnover -- 3 points
3 and out -- 1 point
QB sack -- 2 points
Sudden change -- 4 points (defined as "when offense starts inside the 35 and is held to a field goal or no points").
In actual off-field fun, there will be a kids zone open for 2½ hours before the spring game at the south end of Kinnick Stadium with face painting, a football toss, 10-yard dash, koozies and tattoos (temporary, we assume).
Rutgers: 4 p.m.
On-field: The quarterbacks have dominated the storylines of spring, with new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen on the sidelines and returning starter Gary Nova entrenched in a QB competition. Nova has been sharing snaps all spring with redshirt freshman Chris Laviano and redshirt junior Mike Bimonte -- though neither player has ever taken a live game snap. Coach Kyle Flood says the competition will continue into the summer, so expect it to be the focus of the spring game.
Off-field: For those unaware, the Rutgers spring game features a very cool finale with two teams of New Jersey Special Olympians playing flag football for the final five minutes of the game. The spring game is also preceded by "Believe Bowl IV" -- the alumni flag football game held in support of former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand.
Wake Forest: 2 p.m., TV: ESPN3
On-field: Saturday will truly feel like page one of a new era for Wake Forest fans. The Demon Deacons have a new head coach in Dave Clawson, new schemes on offense and defense, two new quarterbacks competing for snaps and no returning starters at the skill positions. Eyes will be on Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa under center, but just as important will be replacing the playmaking of wide receiver Michael Campanaro. That's where E.J. Scott and Matt James have an opportunity to step up in the spring game. Defensively, the unit is strong on the back end with Merrill "Bud" Noel and Kevin Johnson in the secondary, but the staff will be looking for players like Desmond Floyd and Ziggy Allen to step up on a defensive line lacking in depth and experience.
Off-field: The game is set to feature a running clock in the second half, which will allow spring game attendees to use a free voucher for entry to "Bark in the Park," a night of ACC baseball between Wake Forest and Duke where fans are encouraged to bring their four-legged friends.
Virginia Tech: 2 p.m., TV: ESPN3
On-field: Replacing Logan Thomas and looking to energize an inconsistent offense have been the top concerns of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Disappointed at times with the performance of redshirt senior Mark Leal and redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley, Loeffler has already declared that the starting job will remain open until Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and incoming freshman Chris Durkin join the competition in May. Frank Beamer even started allowing the defense to hit the quarterback last week, and according to the Washington Post that will continue on Saturday in the spring game.
Off-field: The HokieBird Spring Festival, held just before the spring game, inclues inflatables, interactive sponsor setups, backyard games, an autograph session with the Virginia Tech spirit squad and an appearance by the HokieBird. Admission to the Maroon-White game is free of charge but the school encourages fans to bring items for a canned food drive being held at the gates.
Kansas State: 2 p.m.
On-field: Like Iowa, there is a sense around Kansas State football that 2014 could be a year to remember. Jake Waters has taken over as the permanent answer at quarterback and the defense should be solid with Ryan Mueller and Travis Britz on the defensive line and Morgan Burns emerging at the cornerback position. Replacing linebacker Ty Zimmerman has been a concern, as has working out a crowded running back competition, but the general feeling is that Bill Snyder has a solid squad that could cause some trouble in the Big 12 title race once again.
Off-field: Wildcat legends Terence Newman and Darren Sproles will be in attendance as honorary coaches, and the school is promising "a very special pregame announcement."
Washington State: 4 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: Things have been quiet in Pullman much of the spring thanks to the presence of returning starting quarterback Connor Halliday. Entering year three under Mike Leach, Halliday says he is even more comfortable with the offense and he could be shredding record books by the end of 2014. On the defensive side of the ball, a struggling secondary will be rebooted after heavy turnover and fans are hoping that Xavier Cooper and Darryl Monroe can anchor the front seven while the defensive backs settle into a new rotation.
Off-field: Connor Halliday will have some local support as the Crimson and Gray game will be held at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane. Halliday, a Spokane native, played high school football on that same field and is expecting "a lot of people" to come out and see the improvement that coaches and teammates have been talking about this spring.
Cal: 2 p.m., TV: Pac-12 Network
On-field: A 1-11 finish in 2013 has the Cal team going back to square one, starting with new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. After turning around Texas Tech's defense and leading a strong unit at Cincinnati, Kaufman will hope to repair a Bears unit that ranked No. 119 nationally in yards allowed per play (7.08). Quarterback Jared Goff will have some depth at wide receiver this season, but the offense, particularly the running backs and offensive line rotation, won't be set until the fall.
Off-field: The first 100 fans in attendance will get to lead the Bears onto the field through the tunnel before the game. The school also promises plenty of promotional prizes and on-field competitions during the game, free food, posters and t-shirts for the first 2,500 fans.
Kentucky: 3:30 p.m.
On-field: Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said the quarterback competition between Patrick Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips will run into the fall, but how the reps are split could hint at where the quarterbacks stand at this point, particularly with Maxwell Smith returning to the group in the fall after sitting out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery. Kentucky's strength on defense will likely be its defensive line, led by senior end Alvin "Bud" Dupree.
Off-field: You thought Kentucky wouldn't do it big for Big Blue Weekend? Please. It's an all weekend event.
What are your Big Blue Weekend plans? pic.twitter.com/4ySAoPGjCW— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) April 22, 2014
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