The first loaded weekend of spring games hits on Saturday, as several big brands with major questions heading into the 2022 college football season take center stage. Major quarterback battles are on the line, but coaching changes and other position battles will soon dominate headlines.
This week, Chip Patterson went in depth on the quarterback battle at Clemson, while Barrett Sallee talked about Bryan Harsin's redemption tour. Meanwhile, I dove into how Texas A&M's quarterback competition will define the fate of its vaunted recruiting class that made history in the 2022 cycle.
Here are some of the key storylines to watch from the first round of spring games this weekend, followed by a look at the schedule featuring the notable teams in action on Saturday.
Spring games storylines
Clemson -- Integrating new coordinators: The Tigers' success over the last decade came during a period of unmatched coaching consistency. But after Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and Tony Elliott (Virginia) earned head-coaching jobs, Dabo Swinney's squad will be without both coordinators for the first time since 2014. While Clemson remains among the most attractive coordinator jobs in the nation, Swinney opted to promote internally. Brandon Streeter takes over the offense after seven years as quarterbacks coach, while senior defensive assistant Wes Goodwin takes over the defense and linebackers.
Streeter served as offensive coordinator at Richmond and Liberty when both schools competed in the FCS. Goodwin, to the contrary, has never even worked as a full-time on-field assistant. He worked closely with Venables in an off-field role over the last three years, but calling defense is a different animal. All eyes will be on Streeter and Goodwin to see whether they can get the Tigers back to national prominence. The spring game provides an important practice ground.
Texas A&M -- Quarterback competition: Bad quarterback play defined Texas A&M's disappointing 2021 season, and the question remains open heading into the spring game on Saturday. Incumbent starter Zach Calzada transferred to Auburn, but that leaves the door open for three talented signal-callers to push for first-team reps.
Sophomore Haynes King won the starting job out of camp in 2021 but suffered a lower-leg injury in the second game. LSU transfer Max Johnson is the only quarterback on the roster with meaningful success against SEC foes after starting 14 games and throwing for nearly 4,000 yards in two seasons. Five-star freshman Conner Weigman rated as the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher has given little indication which direction he is leaning, but the distribution of throws during the spring game could provide insight into the state of the competition.
Auburn -- Steadying the ship: No coach in the nation has gone through as chaotic an offseason as Bryan Harsin. Rumors swirled in February that Auburn might try and can its coach after a disappointing 6-7 campaign, including a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl. However, Harsin managed to keep his job -- at least for one more season.
Now, the focus is where it should be: football. After losing both coordinators, Harsin defiantly put his own spin on the program by promoting former Boise State colleagues Eric Kiesau and Jeff Schmedding to run the offense and defense, respectively. He added transfer quarterbacks Zach Calzada and Robby Ashford to compete for the quarterback job. Harsin has a shot at a do-over, and the spring game will be his first chance to coach since the booster revolt in February. If fans leave Jordan-Hare feeling satisfied with the state of the program, that will be a big win.
Cincinnati -- Finding new stars at cornerback: The Bearcats boasted the best cornerback rotation in the nation last year behind Thorpe Award winner Coby Bryant and Consensus All-American Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. The players were impressive enough that Alabama effectively punted on passing the ball in the College Football Playoff matchup with the Bearcats. Both players will be picked early in the NFL Draft and have lengthy pro careers, but that leaves a vacuum in Cincinnati's backfield.
Senior Arquon Bush should slide over to full-time cornerback after playing a nickel role next to Bryant and Gardner. However, the other spot is an open competition. Senior Jaquan Sheppard and sophomore Todd Bumphis were listed as backups on the roster. Nickel Taj Ward could also factor into the rotation. With four starters gone in the five-man secondary, finding the next in line will define the defense.
Florida State -- Finding WR help: Florida State's passing game ranked in the bottom 40 nationally at barely 200 yards per game in 2021, putting them in the range of programs like South Carolina, UNLV and Georgia Tech. While quarterback Jordan Travis showed flashes, the receiving corps didn't give him much help. Florida State did not produce a single 400-yard receiver or 100-yard game during a tumultuous 5-7 campaign.
However, coach Mike Norvell was aggressive to fill the hole. The Seminoles added four Power Five transfers with major experience at wide receiver with West Virginia transfer Winston Wright being the most surefire contributor. Wright caught 110 passes for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two seasons despite playing in an anemic Mountaineers passing offense. Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson and Oregon's Mycah Pittman were blue-chip recruits out of high school. Illinois transfer Deuce Spann boasts an impressive 6-foot-4 frame.
Florida State's top receiver Ontaria Wilson is back for his redshirt senior season, so FSU isn't exactly starting from scratch. Adding more pass-catchers should give Travis a chance to thrive.
Spring games schedule, how to watch
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