Spring games are pretty much worthless.
No coach worth his Sansabelt shorts is going to reveal more than a shred of the fall formations, game plan or even training table menu.
"We just try to have some fun," said Ohio State's Jim Tressel, who will join his peers in showing very little in Saturday's spring finale.
|Allan Webb split time with Allan Evridge at QB in 2005. (Getty Images)|
Those 15 spring practices are where jobs begin to be won and lost. Fights break out. High school kids enrolled a semester early get feet wet and bells rung.
"I want it, man. I want it bad," said Kansas State's Josh Freeman, one of those early enrollees.
What Freeman wants is to be the starting quarterback in his first game as a true freshman. Freeman, a 6-foot-6 prospect from the Kansas City suburbs, arrived in January, the centerpiece of Ron Prince's first recruiting class. He didn't come to Manhattan to sit and wait, and really, K-Staters don't particularly want him to sit.
They get their first look Saturday during an all-day, carnival-like spring game celebration. Officials are expecting 20,000 fans, which is what the formally moribund program used to draw in the 1980s for a regular-season game. Bill Snyder made it a national program before retiring last year.
Now it's Ron Prince's turn with Freeman attached to his hip in a spring game that will mean more than most.
Kansas State's quarterback play -- once a hallmark of the program -- has been spotty. There have been consecutive last-place finishes in the Big 12 North. Prince wants to make a splash. Freeman wants to dive in.
The season is a long way off, but the coach said the other day he was looking for someone to grab it by the reins," Freeman said. "This is where you can start to actually measure how you do in game situations. This is a pretty big deal."
Prevailing opinion seems to be that redshirt sophomore Allan Evridge has a slight edge at the moment. But Prince hasn't built his rep holding back. The former Virginia offensive coordinator is one of the youngest I-A coaches in the country. His hiring initially was a total shock to Wildcat Nation.
Then he shocked them back by getting Freeman to change his commitment to Nebraska and come to K-State. There were rumors swirling that Freeman had been promised the starting job. Hey, whatever works.
Freeman at least has a heck of a shot. If he opens against Illinois State on Sept. 2, Freeman would become at least the third true freshman Big 12 quarterback to start a season opener in the league's 11-year history.
"Coach Prince, he basically came in and knew I was committed to Nebraska. He told me not necessarily what I wanted to hear," said Freeman, the nation's No. 4 pro-style quarterback according to rivals.com. "Some of it I wasn't sure about it. He was caring about how I developed as a person. He's always on me about class.
"Coach," Freeman added, "is the omnipotent one."
Freeman's de-commit became an even bigger story when Nebraska coach Bill Callahan alluded to the quarterback at a Special Olympics function.
"We want players who want us because we feel Nebraska's a special, special situation," Callahan was quoted as saying. "If you're a prima donna, if you're a drama queen, there's no room for you at Nebraska. You can go to Kansas State."
"It made me laugh," Freeman said. "I'm a Wildcat now." Early enrollees aren't such a phenomenon anymore. The idea is to get accustomed socially, academically and athletically before fall camp. Freeman has no problem missing the past two Grandview (Mo.) High proms. In 2005, he was on an unofficial visit to Notre Dame. Freeman is bummed about having to live in the dorms as a freshman.
It's worth it to play in one of those (allegedly) worthless spring games.
"There's a buzz, I can tell, around campus," he said. "People are getting antsy."
Scouting the nation
Saturday is the unofficial end of spring practice. Most schools will have wrapped up by then. What we've learned and what we will learn this weekend ...
- Penn State great Jack Ham says quarterback Anthony Morelli has the quickest release he has seen since Terry Bradshaw. That's the good news. The less-than-good news is that insiders are bracing for a Nittany Lions slide this season. Morelli, a junior who is taking over for Michael Robinson, has a rocket arm but his other qualities are questionable, mostly because he has hardly seen the field. Plus, expect Penn State, which wraps up spring practice Saturday, to struggle switching offense from the spread to pro-style.
- Should be a great Heisman race if Notre Dame's Brady Quinn continues his trash talk. The Irish quarterback says he's going to burn defensive back/boxer Tom Zbikowski with a couple of bombs in Saturday's spring game. We can only hope that Quinn keeps the chatter up when he plays Michigan, USC, etc.
- You'll need a scorecard and a color key code for ND's spring game. Players will wear four different colored jerseys to designate their status. Quinn will wear a red jersey, indicating no-touchie by the defense. But the rest of the quarterbacks will be live bait. Interesting because the offensive line, which will wear green, has only seven scholarship players and will play both against the starting and second-team defenses.
- Here's a couple bad signs for the Gators, who are expected to contend (again) for the SEC title in Urban Meyer's second season. The running game remains unsettled going into Saturday's game. Converted linebacker Billy Latsko started one spring scrimmage at tailback. "I get very upset thinking about that position," Meyer told reporters. In his first season, the Gators were 56th nationally and fifth in the SEC, averaging only 3.87 yards per carry. Meyer finally added a blocking element during the '05 season in the form of a fullback/H-back to help his struggling runners.
- Remember, though, not to put too much stock in whatever happens. Everyone got jacked up last year when Meyer debuted with offensive spring fireworks before 58,000 at The Swamp. Chris Leak threw for four touchdowns and Josh Portis ran for a QB spring-record 48 yards. Leak did indeed struggle in the offense and Portis eventually transferred.
- Things are serious at Minnesota, where offensive coordinator Mitch Browning's warning has been widely circulated: "We don't have a running back right now that's capable of playing at the Big Ten level," Browning said. That coming after the school produced two 1,000-yard rushers for three consecutive seasons. Minny goes into Saturday's spring game hoping with all its might that Gary Russell gets his academic act together. Russell ran for 1,130 yards and a school-record 19 touchdowns in '05. He is spending this semester at a local juco in hopes of becoming eligible for the fall. A rash of injuries has knocked out other contenders, leaving juco transfer Brylee Callender as the tenuous No. 1. Callender reportedly had to take (and pass) 27 credit hours last semester to get eligible.
- Minnesota also loses Outland and Rimington winner Greg Eslinger at center and left guard Mark Setterstrom, a second-team All-American.
- For the Miami offense's sake, let's hope these spring games are worthless. The Canes' offense needed seven possessions before getting a first down in the April 15 game. No pass play went longer than 9 yards. Quarterbacks Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright combined for 77 passing yards. There's buzz that this might be the best Miami defense ever, but if the offense can't hold up its end ...
- We'll check with LSU in August. There wasn't much learned from the spring game played the Saturday of the Final Four (April 1). Because of basketball fever, LSU officials dropped the $5 admission price. Only about 3,000 fans showed up. What were they going to see? The game went on without both starting safeties, LSU's starting quarterback, three of the top four running backs and two offensive line starters.
- If Josh Freeman doesn't start the season, Texas' Jevan Snead might be the next Big 12 true freshman to start the season opener. Neither Snead, who also enrolled early, nor redshirt freshman Colt McCoy separated themselves in Texas' spring game earlier this month. Both might play in the fall.
- In our analysis of USC's running backs earlier this week, we forgot tailback Desmond Reed. So have a lot of Trojans fans. Reed blew out his knee fielding a kickoff at Notre Dame (in the high "Weis Turf," remember?) and has been slow to recover. When he has been on the field (2004-2005), the former prep All-American from San Gabriel, Calif., has averaged 6.2 yards per carry. If he is not able to return this season, Reed would lose a year of eligibility because he has already redshirted (2003). He would return in '07 as a senior, unless, of course, he gets a sixth year from the NCAA.
- Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm is way ahead of schedule in rehabbing the ACL he tore in November. Coaches fully expect him to be back healthy in the fall.