After a jammed packed weekend full of spring games, another 20 Power 5 programs will hold their final scrimmages in April this Saturday.
After seeing the debuts of 5-star quarterbacks like Nico Iamaleava and Arch Manning, as well as the new offenses at Georgia, Clemson and Texas A&M, this upcoming weekend has no shortage of intriguing spring games too with schools like Alabama, Colorado and Nebraska all in action.
Here are the 10 most intriguing spring games this weekend and some storylines to monitor.
WHO EMERGES AS THE FAVORITE IN THE SEC WEST?
Alabama, 3 p.m., SEC Network+
LSU, 2 p.m., SEC Network+
When SEC Media Days conclude in late July, it’s a safe bet that either Alabama or LSU will be the pick to win the SEC West in 2023.
The Tigers upset the Crimson Tide last season en route to a surprising division title in Year 1 under Brian Kelly. They return a loaded squad with the makeup of a 2023 College Football Playoff contender.
The spring has largely been about infusing the old with the new, as Kelly hit the portal for 12 transfers during the initial window.
One interesting development to watch with LSU on Saturday: Former freshman phenom Harold Perkins Jr. transitioning to his natural position of inside linebacker.
At Alabama, all eyes are on the quarterback battle between Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson. While Nick Saban is not expected to name a starter after A-Day, the most encouraging news this spring for the Tide has been their head coach’s confidence that the team is much improved at receiver, tailback and offensive line.
Newcomers like 5-star freshman tailback Justice Haynes and 5-star JUCO wideout Malik Benson — two guys who have generated all sorts of buzz out of Tuscaloosa this spring — will get to showcase their skills for the first time in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
FRESH FACES AT NEW PLACES
Nebraska, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network
Colorado, 3 p.m., ESPN
Wisconsin, 2 p.m., Big Ten Network
Three programs looking for major turnarounds this fall will hold their spring scrimmages, with Deion Sanders’ Colorado program getting the spotlight treatment by ESPN.
The Buffs have sold out their spring game, as Sanders has generated more national excitement around that program than perhaps anytime in school history — and this is a team that won a national championship in 1990.
Colorado is breaking in close to 50 new players on the roster, so the scrimmage will be the first time we get to see future starters like quarterback Shedeur Sanders and former No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter, a potential two-way star, in a Buffs uniform.
At Nebraska, Matt Rhule has also ginned up all sorts of offseason optimism at a once proud program, and Saturday’s scrimmage will provide a quick glance at some of the changes he’s instituted with the Cornhuskers.
While NU has a quarterback battle between Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims and incumbent Casey Thompson, the most interesting situation to monitor will be what its offensive and defensive lines look like — two units that struggled mightily in 2022.
Then there’s Luke Fickell at Wisconsin. The former Cincy head coach has instituted all sorts of changes during his short time in Madison — namely bringing the Badgers’ offense into the 21st Century.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR TEAMS WITH SECOND-YEAR HEAD COACHES?
Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+
Washington, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Notre Dame, 2 p.m.
Duke, 1 p.m., ACC Network Extra
Very little went right for Oklahoma in Year 1 under Brent Venables. With one of the nation’s worst defenses, the Sooners had their first losing season in 25 years. But Venables has been confident this spring that the program should get back on track in 2023.
Oklahoma signed an excellent recruiting class, headlined by 5-stars Jackson Arnold (QB),Adepoju Adewawore (EDGE) and Peyton Bowen(DB), and also brought in six transfers on defense. Venables is on record that he expects OU’s defense to be “on another planet” this fall, so we’ll get an early look if that’s true.
At Washington, Kalen DeBoer had one of the best debuts of any new head coach in 2022, taking the Huskies from a 4-8 team to 11-2 with seven straight wins to end the season. They return Heisman hopeful Michael Penixat quarterback, and DeBoer was able to retain OC Ryan Grubb, who spurned the advances of Nick Saban at Alabama.
Washington’s offense should be elite in 2023, but if the Huskies want to win a Pac-12 Championship and be a CFP contender, their defense needs to take a real leap. Have a couple of offseason transfer additions been enough, or will DeBoer to dip back into the portal post-spring for more help?
Mike Elko also vastly exceeded expectations in his first season at Duke. The Blue Devils nearly won a division title last year, going 9-4 in 2022 — with three losses by a combined eight points.
Duke’s schedule stands to be much tougher this fall, but it returns one of the better quarterbacks in ACC in Riley Leonard and the core of a defense that made great strides in 2022.
Finally, what’s in store for Marcus Freeman in Year 2 at Notre Dame? The Irish made one of the bigger splashes in the transfer portal this offseason, adding ACC record-setting quarterback Sam Hartman. They’re also breaking in a new OC after a sideways search for Tommy Rees’ replacement.
Interestingly, former blue-chip QB recruit Tyler Buchner has reportedly really impressed during the team’s 14 spring practices and is pushing Hartman for the starting job.
Notre Dame has a brutal schedule in 2023 (Ohio State, USC and Clemson), but the Irish are a quarterback away from being a playoff contender this fall. Does one guy become the frontrunner for the job on Saturday?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A IMMOVABLE FORCE MEETS A STOPPABLE OBJECT?
Iowa, 11:45 a.m., Big Ten Network
Will Iowa get shutout in its own spring game?
It can’t be ruled out.
The Hawkeyes should field one of the nation’s best defenses again in 2023, but Brian Ferentz remains the team’s embattled OC — with an absurdly amended contract in all.
Iowa does have a new quarterback in Michigan transfer Cade McNamara, so perhaps there’s hope for offensive improvement. It would be hard-pressed for Iowa’s offense to be worse this season after fielding the most inept unit in the Big Ten in close to a quarter century.