What to watch in the Auburn, Michigan State, TCU, Arkansas and Ole Miss spring games

It's that time of year when schools invite fans on campus, celebrate the end of spring football and hold their annual spring games after 15 grueling practice sessions. 

On Saturday, April 7, several high-profile programs will show the world (or, potentially, hide) what they've been working on, including Auburn, Michigan State, Arkansas, TCU and Ole Miss.

What should you keep an eye on? Let's break it down.

Auburn Tigers (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

Gus Malzahn's crew won the SEC West last year, but missed out on the College Football Playoff after falling to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Throughout the 2017 season, we saw the offensive line struggle against fast and physical defensive fronts -- especially in obvious passing situations. That's the most important item on the agenda for Malzahn this offseason, but it might be hard to accomplish until the Tigers get healthy. Centers Kaleb Kim and Nick Brahms are out with leg injuries, tackle Prince Tega Wanagho was in and out of the starting lineup last season and guard Mike Harrell might be asked to bounce around a bit. Throw in injuries that will keep receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings out, as well as returning starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and Auburn's primary goal on Saturday is to stay healthy. But at least the twos will get a ton of work.

Michigan State Spartans (5 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

The Spartans, fresh off a somewhat surprising 10-3 campaign, will hope to keep the momentum going in 2018. After a solid season as the starting quarterback, it will be interesting to see how junior quarterback Brian Lewerke improves upon a season in which he threw for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and only seven picks, and added 559 rushing yards and five touchdowns. If he takes another step forward, he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2018. Outside of that, it's all about the trenches for the Spartans. Kenny Willekes had seven sacks last year, and if he can help lead a group in the front seven that is loaded with potential, don't rule out coach Mark Dantonio's crew flirting with another CFP berth.

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Brian Lewerke's development is key to the Spartans' success in 2018. USATSI

Arkansas Razorbacks (2 p.m. ET, SEC Network)

The Razorbacks will head from Fayetteville to Little Rock for their first spring game under coach Chad Morris. The style change from former coach Bret Bielema's smashmouth, old-school style to the new, up-tempo offense Morris is installing will be fascinating to watch. Junior quarterback Ty Storey and sophomore Cole Kelley are the two primary contenders to take the spot vacated by Austin Allen, and both have had moments of brilliance during spring scrimmage, according to unofficial stats released by the school. Watching how each of them handles the offense will go a long way toward determining a winner. Outside of the quarterback battle, Morris has to find an offensive line that can keep the quarterbacks off the ground and depth along the defensive line. They've had neither over the last few seasons, and those two units will determine if the Razorbacks can make a bowl game in Morris' first year.

TCU Horned Frogs (2 p.m. ET, no TV)

As is the case in many spring games, all eyes will be on the quarterback battle between sophomore Shawn Robinson true freshman early enrollee Justin Rogers and Penn transfer Michael Collins in Fort Worth. With Kenny Hill gone, coach Gary Patterson needs to find someone who can make that offense click. Robinson saw limited action in 2017, tossing three touchdowns and rushing for 159 yards and notching one start -- a 27-3 win at Texas Tech on Nov. 18. The TCU defense needs to replace several starters, including former starting defensive backs Nick Orr (team-high three interceptions in 2017) and Ranthony Texada (33 tackles, one interception). In the high-octane Big 12, difference-makers in the secondary are a requirement if you plan on contending for the conference title.

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Can Shawn Robinson win the starting job at TCU? USATSI

Ole Miss Rebels (2 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

The known about Ole Miss is obvious. Quarterback Jordan Ta'amu is a dual-threat weapon, A.J. Brown leads a receiving corps that could be one of the best in the country and coach Matt Luke should be better prepared in Year 2 than he was in Year 1 after replacing Hugh Freeze in July. The unknown is what you want to see Saturday in the Grove Bowl, and it starts with the defense. The Rebels lost defensive linemen Breeland Speaks and edge threat Marquis Haynes off a unit that gave up a league-worst 459.5 yards per game and 34.6 points per game (13th in the SEC) a year ago. There's still talented players on that roster including lineman Benito Jones and Ken Webster, but the defense remains a massive mystery. If they can show signs of life on Saturday, it will go a long way toward making the Rebels a pest in the SEC West as they work through another year without a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions.

West Virginia cancels its game

One spring game you won't see this weekend that would have been fun is West Virginia. The Mountaineers announced Thursday that it has cancelled its spring game scheduled for April 7 due to snow that's expected to hit the Morgantown area. While we won't get a glimpse of what Dana Holgorsen's crew has on Saturday, they should be in the mix to win the Big 12 title thanks to the return of quarterback Will Grier and star wide receiver David Sills.  

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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