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College football spring games are exciting for both fans and pundits alike. It is the first real look, on a bigger stage than the practice field, at what a team could look like for the upcoming season. Even so, there are some spring games that layer on plenty more intrigue than others. Included among this season's spring games worth paying attention to are Texas and Ohio State.
Quarterback battles often take center stage, and 2023 is no exception. College Football Playoff contenders like Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama all have to break in brand new signal callers.
Meanwhile, there are new coaches around the country generating a ton of buzz. Getting a peek at how guys like Deion Sanders or Matt Rhule will run their respective programs makes tuning in well worth while.
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Here are the college football spring games that will be worth paying attention to:
The Big 12’s newest additions
It was hard to pick out which of the four new Big 12 schools — Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU — would be most interesting to monitor as they make the jump to the Power Five. There is an argument to be made for each program having the best shot at immediate success. Cincinnati made the playoff two years ago, but it has to contend with the loss of Luke Fickell, the man that got it there. Houston won 12 games in 2021 and entered 2022 with plenty of buzz, but disappointed with an 8-5 season. The Cougars are led by coach Dana Holgorsen, who has Big 12 experience from his time at West Virginia.
UCF has maybe the best coach out of the whole bunch in Gus Malzahn, a proven winner in the SEC who guided the Knights to nine wins in each of his first two years at the helm. Malzahn has never had a losing season as a head coach. Could that streak continue with a tremendous jump in conference quality? Then there is BYU, a program that flirted with playoff relevance in recent years but never quite broke through the Group of Five’s glass ceiling. The Cougars have actually been independent since 2011, so they technically were not in the Group of Five, though they were considered at the same level for playoff purposes. Getting a good look at each of these teams with the Big 12 logo on their jerseys is well worth keeping an eye on this spring.
Colorado Buffaloes (April 22)
Anything Colorado does is worth watching until the buzz around new coach Deion Sanders dies down, which will take a while. This game will even be broadcast on ESPN’s flagship station — frankly unheard of for a program like the Buffaloes. People who did not watch Jackson State get their first real peek at what a Sanders-coached team looks like. There are plenty of questions to monitor. How does his style translate to the Power Five level? What does Shedeur Sanders look like? How will Travis Hunter be used after playing both ways at Jackson State? All this, and much more.
Clemson Tigers (April 15)
Clemson’s biggest addition comes in the form of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, who is fresh off helping lead TCU to an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. The Tigers were in desperate need of a jolt on the offensive side of the ball. They have not been great there since Trevor Lawrence departed for the 2021 NFL Draft. After tutoring Heisman finalist Max Duggan, Riley gets his hands on one of the sport’s brightest young signal-callers in Cade Klubnik, who could put up monster numbers if he meshes in Riley’s system. The offense Clemson puts on the field in the spring game is bound to look completely different than what Tigers fans are used to.
Auburn Tigers (April 8)
If nothing else, this marks coach Hugh Freeze’s return to the SEC stage. The former Ole Miss coach who had his tenure with the Rebels end amid an NCAA investigation into numerous recruiting violations rebuilt his career at Liberty. Now he is right back in the SEC West, trying to revive a program that desperately lost its way under former coach Bryan Harsin. Freeze was relatively vocal about his displeasure at the roster he inherited, thanks to Harsin’s lackluster recruiting efforts, which translated into Freeze hitting the portal hard for 12 prospects. Seven of those play along the offensive or defensive line. Auburn’s spring game is key for those pieces gelling together.
Nebraska Huskers (April 22)
Nebraska never has much trouble getting crowds gathered for any football-related event, but fans are sure to pack Memorial Stadium for their first glimpse at the Matt Rhule era. On paper, the Cornhuskers made one of the best hires during the 2022-23 coaching carousel. Rhule has a proven track record of rebuilding programs rather quickly, and Nebraska is in desperate need of a jolt of energy. There is a blueprint to how Rhule-coached college teams look, but it will be interesting to see if he has updated his philosophy at all after a couple years ofNFL experience.
Georgia Bulldogs (April 15)
No quarterback competition is more impactful than the one happening down in Athens. Georgia has to replace two-time national champion Stetson Bennett at the most important position on the field and, as things stand, the Bulldogs are turning to homegrown options over the transfer portal. Junior Carson Beck is the clubhouse leader after backing Bennett up last year. He threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns in limited action, including an appearance in Georgia’s thrashing of TCU in the national championship game. But a pair of former Top247 prospects in Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton are getting a fair shake at the job. All three will likely get equal run during Georgia’s “G-Day” to see what they can do running a live offense.
Ohio State Buckeyes (April 15)
The next two entries are worth watching for about the same reason. Ohio State has huge shoes to fill at the quarterback position, as the Buckeyes lose two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and likely top-5 draft pick C.J. Stroud. Junior Kyle McCord served as backup over the last two years and even started a game as a true freshman in 2021 with Stroud injured, throwing for 319 yards and two touchdowns against Akron. The Buckeyes also brought in Oregon State graduate transfer Tristan Gebbia for depth, though McCord’s direct competition seems to be former top-50 quarterback Devin Brown.
Alabama Crimson Tide (April 22)
Like Ohio State, Alabama has a gaping hole to fill at the quarterback position. If Stroud is not first off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft, then Bryce Young probably will be. He won a Heisman Trophy while leading the Crimson Tide to 23 wins, a College Football Playoff appearance and an SEC championship. Young actually missed one game last season, which allowed fans to see one of his potential replacements in Jalen Milroe, who threw for three touchdowns and one interception but looked far from a complete product. Seeing how he has progressed will be key in the spring game. "A-Day" will also provide a look at redshirt freshman Ty Simpson, a former five-star prospect that could very well push Milroe for the job.
Texas Longhorns (April 15)
Probably the most obvious choice on this list, but Texas’ spring game gives fans their first extended look at Arch Manning in a simulated game situation. The No. 1 prospect in the class of 2023 is one of the most ballyhooed recruits in the modern era of college football. Obviously, expectations are huge because of the name on the back of the jersey. At the very least, the spring game will give a peek at how he is adjusting to the college game. Also worth noting is how Texas looks health-wise. The Longhorns have a pair of key receivers in Xavier Worthy and Isaiah Neyor coming off injury.