Saturday will mark the end of a two-week bonanza of spring football games across college football. While a few stragglers will conclude their spring drills over the coming weeks, most of the remaining top dogs will be wrapping up for the semester this weekend as the 2021 season draws closer. Among the most notable teams in action Saturday are Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
As the old saying goes: you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Saturday will be the first impression many fans get of first-year Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian. The former Washington and USC coach most recently served as the offensive coordinator at Alabama and is tasked with raising the ceiling following a decent -- but not great -- four years for the program under Tom Herman.
But the dawn of a new era at Texas is just one of several interesting storylines that will be on display Saturday as spring football draws closer to an end.
Here's a breakdown of seven major storylines to watch during Saturday's action. All start times Eastern.
Texas: Sark's new QB
2 p.m. on Longhorn Network
First-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian looked like an offensive savant the last two seasons as Alabama's offensive coordinator. But his starting quarterback in 2019 was Tua Tagovailoa, who went on to be selected fifth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. His starting quarterback on last year's 13-0 national title-winning Alabama team was Mac Jones, who is a likely top-10 pick in this year's draft. So how will Sarkisian's system look with an unknown commodity under center? The Longhorns have plenty of questions to answer, but chief among them is who will replace Sam Ehlinger at quarterback. The top challengers are junior Casey Thompson and redshirt freshman Hudson Card. Thompson completed 12-of-17 passes for 225 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in backup duty last season. Card, however, brings the pedigree of being the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Seeing how they look -- and how Sarkisian's system looks with them running it -- will be interesting.
Oklahoma: Maximizing receiving corps
5 p.m. on Bally Sports Oklahoma
The past two national champions have shown us how important receivers are in the equation for elite teams in today's offensive-oriented game. LSU's Justin Jefferson and Alabama's DeVonta Smith each surpassed 100 receptions in helping their teams to perfect seasons in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Well, Oklahoma's 2021 receiving corps looks like one of the deepest of the country, and perhaps the spring game will give us some hints on whether they can live up to their collective billing. The Sooners have three receivers who were ranked among the top five at their position in their recruiting class by the 247Sports Composite in Jadon Haselwood (No. 1 in 2019), Theo Wease (No. 3 in 2019) and Mario Williams ( No. 4 in 2021). Trejan Bridges and Cody Jackson were also top-20 receivers in their classes, while leading returning receiver Marvin Mims was the No. 29 receiver in the 2020 class. Having a superstar emerge from that group might do wonders for Oklahoma's national title chances.
Texas A&M: Replacing Kellen Mond
2 p.m. on SEC Network+
It's a new era under center at Texas A&M as someone other than Kellen Mond will be the Aggies' primary quarterback for the first time in the Jimbo Fisher era. While former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel will be back on the field to participate in a flag football game between program legends at halftime, he is out of eligibility. That means someone from the group of Haynes King, Zach Calzada and Eli Stowers will have to emerge as the program's new QB1. Though Fisher likely won't tab a starter for several more months, King seems to be getting the most buzz from spring drills so far. The redshirt freshman was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2019 who appeared in a couple of games last season backing up Mond. A strong performance in the spring game could help solidify his standing.
North Carolina: Finding new playmakers
3 p.m. on ACC Network
North Carolina returns a star at quarterback in junior Sam Howell. The two-time All-ACC selection has already thrown for 68 touchdowns and more than 7,000 yards in his career, and will be playing behind a veteran offensive line. That may sound like a recipe for an insanely productive junior season, but there is a significant caveat. The Tar Heels had four players who caught 25 or more passes last season, and they are all gone. Receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome combined for 109 catches and 14 touchdowns, while running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were each weapons in the passing game while also running for more than 1,000 yards reach. Replacing them won't be easy, and Saturday will provide a chance for some young offensive weapons to shine.
Arizona: Bruschi vs. Gronk
3 p.m. on Pac-12 Network
They never got to face each other in practice as their NFL careers just barely missed overlapping, but two stalwarts of the New England Patriots dynasty will clash on Saturday in Arizona's spring game as Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi will serve as honorary coaches. Tabbing two of the most famous Wildcats to be part of the game is a smart move for first-year coach Jedd Fisch, who is tasked with igniting a buzz around a program that is 9-20 over the last three seasons. Bruschi is already a senior advisor on Fisch's staff, so that wasn't a tough get. But bringing in Gronkowski for the game should elevate the program's credibility in the eyes of prospects who could need help remembering that Arizona does have some decent football history.
Tennessee: Looking for hope
4 p.m. on SEC Network+
After all the setbacks and self-inflicted woes Tennessee has suffered over the past 15 years, Volunteers fans need something to be excited about. The prospect of first-year coach Josh Heupel implementing a system that actually produces points is appealing. However, several of Tennessee's top producers from last season will be suiting up for other programs on Saturday. Last year's leading rusher and second-leading receiver Eric Gray is at Oklahoma now, while second-leading rusher Ty Chandler is at North Carolina. They are just two among a group of talented Vols that left the program amid a rough transition from Jeremy Pruitt to Heupel. Seeing just one or two players from either side of the ball emerge as legit playmakers during the spring game might lift the spirit of a downtrodden fan base.
South Carolina: Modern 'Beamer Ball'
2 p.m. on SEC Network+ (Sunday)
"Beamer Ball" was a brand of football played under the revered Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech that used elite special teams and the creation of turnovers to maximize what could be accomplished. So what will the second generation of Beamer ball look like at South Carolina? We'll get our first glimpse Saturday as first-year coach Shane Beamer roams the sidelines for his first-ever spring game as a head coach. As a veteran of seven Power Five conference staffs and the son of a legend, Beamer certainly has a pedigree. But he doesn't have an identity yet. The 44-year-old has never even been a coordinator, which makes the mystery of what the Gamecocks will look like even more profound. We'll get our first glimpse Saturday and begin to learn what Beamer ball 2.0 truly is.
Other notable teams in action on Saturday: Boston College (11 a.m. on ACC Network), Maryland (Noon on Big Ten Network), Baylor (1 p.m. on ESPN+), Oklahoma State (1 p.m.), Pittsburgh (1 p.m. on ACC Network), West Virginia (1 p.m. on ESPN+), Michigan State (2 p.m. on Big Ten Network), Ole Miss (5 p.m. on SEC Network+), Washington State (5 p.m. on Pac-12 Network)