Urban Meyer and Ohio State are still months away from officially kicking off their title defense, but on Saturday in Ohio Stadium, they'll showcase a bit of what's to come during the Buckeyes' annual spring game.
The product on the field, however, will be very different than what we'll see in the fall. Meyer is holding out a number of veterans in an effort to save their bodies from unnecessary contact, while giving some younger players an opportunity to show out in front of a big crowd.
Even still, there will be plenty of storylines to follow as the action unfolds.
The Maturation of Cardale Jones
College football's most interesting position battle has been a bit of a one-horse race so far as Cardale Jones has been the only fully healthy quarterback for the Buckeyes this spring.
While Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett continue the comeback from their respective injuries, Jones has taken the lion's share of reps during spring camp. And despite his incredible run through last year's postseason, Meyer still views Jones as a young guy with a lot to learn.
"He's still raw, almost a rookie," Meyer said last month, according to Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio. "He's an older rookie, but he became a more functional player as he got all of the reps during the bowl season and playoff run."
He should be even more functional after a full workload this spring, and seeing him operate the offense on Saturday will provide a glimpse at his development. If the coaching staff follows the same logic of spring games past, Jones should get a majority of the top offensive starters on his squad to go against the better defensive unit.
The Emerging Counterpunch to Joey Bosa
Noah Spence's season-long suspension left the Buckeyes defensive line a bit lopsided a season ago. While Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier combined to be a serviceable replacement, they weren't able to give Ohio State the one-two punch they were expecting with Joey Bosa.
That could change this season with the emergence of redshirt sophomore Tyquan Lewis.
The Buckeyes have plenty of promising young candidates at weak-side defensive end with Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard in the fold, but Lewis has really impressed the coaching staff during the offseason.
“Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said, according to Tim Moody of The Lantern. "It’s clicked in his mind, the kind of player he has to be,” Johnson said. “He’s playing much faster than he played last year.
“He’s had a really outstanding spring.”
Bosa, Ohio State's first unanimous first-team All-American selection since 2007, is certainly impressed.
“Tyquan is the other starting end and he’s doing an unbelievable job this spring of just killing it; going hard every day," Bosa said, via Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com. “Speed, he’s physical, he’s just a freak out there.”
Buckeyes fans will be able to get their first real look at Lewis this Saturday.
The New and Improved Noah Brown
Every spring, there seems to a breakout star who comes out of nowhere for Ohio State.
Last season it was Darron Lee, who locked down a starting linebacker spot and went on to be one of college football's most productive players.
This year, the Buckeyes' big surprise is all-purpose back Noah Brown.
The dynamic athlete played sparingly as a true freshman a season ago, but he came into the offseason motivated to change that in 2015. Brown dropped 25 pounds before spring camp opened, and now that he's lighter on his feet, he's making more plays for an offense that's becoming more lethal by the day.
"Noah Brown's probably [had] about as good a spring as I could have wanted...he's on a different level than he was in the fall," wide receivers coach Zach Smith said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "He's looking like a guy that's going to contribute heavily in the fall."
The Buckeyes are moving Brown around the wide receiver spots to see where he fits best, so look for him to run a variety of routes this Saturday.
The Heated Cornerback Battle
Ohio State's quarterback race has hogged the spotlight—and for good reason—but there's a heated battle at cornerback that may be even more important to the Buckeyes' success this season.
Meyer has proven that he can win with any of the three signal-callers he has on the roster, but holes in the secondary have been problematic during his tenure in Columbus.
With the departure of senior Doran Grant, Eli Apple has risen as the Buckeyes' top cornerback. But the other spot remains open, and there could be as many as three guys competing for it come fall.
Redshirt sophomore Gareon Conley currently has the edge, but redshirt freshman Damon Webb is closing the gap. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs talked about the position battle on Monday, via Bill Landis of The Plain Dealer:
There's a different level of expectation on the part of the player who feels really good that he's gonna be the starter. Damon Webb is nipping at [Conley's] heels and he wants that job, but Gareon is walking out of the building every morning saying, "I'm gonna be that guy." It's a different level than, "I hope I might be that guy." There's no safety net.
It doesn't look like either Conley or Webb will lock the spot up this spring, which opens the door for Marshon Lattimore. The talented redshirt freshman is coming off a surgically repaired hamstring, and the coaching staff loves his potential.
The Buckeyes certainly have plenty of options, and they're hoping to see if any of them can step up this Saturday.
The New-Look Curtis Samuel
That's something Ohio State fans have been looking for since Meyer arrived in Columbus. From Corey Brown to Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, the Buckeyes have tried a number of guys in that role, but no one has replicated the eye-popping numbers that the former Florida great produced under Meyer.
Curtis Samuel, an all-purpose back who was Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup a season ago, is next in line.
But Meyer didn't yank Samuel from the running backs room just because he's looking for the next Harvin. It was a move that was made to get the most talent on the field.
"The days of Curtis Samuel playing 10 plays are over," Meyer explained, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "It's our job to get him on the field for 40 or 50 plays."
To do that, Samuel will line up all over the field for the Buckeyes this fall. His ability to line up on the perimeter or motion into the backfield will keep opposing defenses guessing, and it's a role he's very comfortable with.
"I played running back and slot in high school, so coming to college, it hasn't been much of a transition for me," Samuel said, via Wasserman. "But it's just going to help me get in space more and help me make more plays for the team."
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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It’s no secret that there’s plenty of money to go around in college football. The new College Football Playoff, along with lucrative television contracts, have pumped a large infusion of cash into FBS athletic departments, and head coaches have benefited.
This week, Ohio State announced that coach Urban Meyer had received a new contract which will pay him $6.5 million annually, second nationally behind Alabama’s Nick Saban (who made $7.1 million in 2014, per a USA Today salary database). In the SEC, the coaches of both Mississippi schools, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, received contract extensions which pushed their pay over $4 million annually.
In December, Michigan signed Jim Harbaugh to a deal that will pay him $5 million annually, continuing college football's arms race, as Adam Kilgore of TheWashington Post noted.
“It’s simple, really,” agent Neil Cornrich, who represents Bob Stoops, Kirk Ferentz and other top coaches, told Kilgore. "As long as the revenues from college football continue to grow, all the numbers will follow.”
Last fall, 27 coaches were listed by USA Today with salaries of $3 million or more, a figure sure to jump this year.
With all that cash floating around, there are some programs which aren’t getting the biggest bang for their buck and athletic directors that regret handing out contracts. Here’s a look at the nine most overpaid coaches in college football. Unless otherwise noted, all salary figures came from the USA Today database.
Spring practice will officially end on Thursday for the Georgia Bulldogs. But with the spring game played on Saturday, fans and coaches got a look at what the team is good at and what the team needs to work on moving forward.
The Bulldogs have the talent to be a contender in the SEC and the College Football Playoff, but it was the same story last year and the year before, and they could not put it all together.
There are some positions that are strong and will carry the Bulldogs in the fall. But there are a few positions that will need to do some adjusting in order for them to get back in the SEC title game and beyond.
Here are grades for each position group post-spring practice.
The "Guschamp" marriage will be in full effect on Saturday, when the world gets its first real glimpse of the new-look Auburn Tigers led by third-year head coach Gus Malzahn and first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Is that the championship combination?
There's no question that the Tigers are loaded with talent, but that doesn't mean this spring has been a breeze. Malzahn has to replace his starting quarterback and the top rusher in the SEC, while Muschamp is in desperate search of a pass rush and defensive backs that won't get burned week after week.
What should you watch for on Saturday on the Plains?
Focus on the Backup QBs
Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the rest of Auburn's offensive staff can sell the idea that there's a quarterback battle going on, but there's not. It's junior Jeremy Johnson's show.
The Montgomery, Alabama, native has been sharp in the limited time he's seen the field over the last two seasons, particularly in a 243-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arkansas in the season opener last year. What's his goal for the season? It's pretty lofty, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser.
His experience, ability to kickstart the Tiger passing game and keep some of the same dual-threat elements that were present in previous seasons—particularly with fellow bruiser Cam Newton—will be too much for the staff to ignore.
But who will be the backup?
Sean White is a former Elite 11 MVP, and Tyler Queen enrolled early to try to earn backup snaps as a true freshman. White is the more likely to win the job, and his upside can't be ignored. But what, exactly, does he look like?
He's more known for his accuracy than his arm strength, and Auburn fans need to know what he's capable of and how the offense will change when he steps on the field.
In the Trenches
Auburn finished last season with only 21 sacks and was searching for a pass rush all year long—so much so that Brandon King, a hybrid safety/linebacker, moved down to defensive end in certain situations.
Carl Lawson's absence due to an ACL injury had a lot to do with it. The rising redshirt sophomore was a beast as a freshman in 2013, notching 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and solidifying himself as a true every-down defensive end.
Who will help him out? Montravius Adams has the potential to be a force inside and could get some help from fellow defensive linemen Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell and others who need to make an impact. Auburn hasn't finished in the top half of the SEC in total defense since 2008—which was Muschamp's last season as defensive coordinator during his second stint on the Plains (he was a graduate assistant under Terry Bowden from 1995-96).
"I'm very excited because people look at Auburn as an offensive team," Swain said, according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "We want to change their mindset. Auburn started as a defensive team, ever since I've been a fan. We're just trying to get back to it."
That starts up front. With incoming freshman Byron Cowart looming, the Tigers participating in spring practice need to finish strong to leave a favorable impression for the new defensive staff during summer workouts.
Auburn tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead last season with 22 interceptions, but the difference between the Tigers and Rebels was about as wide as the Grand Canyon. The Tigers got torched to the tune of 230.1 passing yards per game—due in part to the fact that the pass rush was virtually nonexistent.
The good news is that there's a quality corner in Jonathan Jones returning, but he could be limited for the spring game, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. That could be a blessing in disguise.
Josh Holsey moved back over to corner from safety alongside Stephen Roberts and others, "Rudy" Ford is at safety alongside Georgia transfer Tray Matthews, Nick Ruffin is backing up the safeties and newcomer Tim Irvin is lining up at nickel.
How will the new-look secondary look and can they be more consistent?
Expect Auburn to air things out to give its quarterbacks some work, which means there will be plenty of chances for the corners and safeties to shine.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Malzahn has produced 12 1,000-yard rushers in nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach and is charged with replacing the SEC's leading rusher from last year. Cameron Artis-Payne was phenomenal last year, posting 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Junior college transfer Jovon Robinson, true sophomore Roc Thomas and redshirt sophomore Peyton Barber are all vying for playing time this spring. Robinson is still adjusting to life at Auburn and what the staff is expecting of him from a pass-protection standpoint, Barber is more of the underdog and Thomas—"Mr. Football" in the state of Alabama in 2013—is trying to be more patient this year in Auburn's offense, which features plenty of pulling guards and tackles.
"Maybe my patience hitting holes," Thomas told Brandon Marcello of AL.com, when asked about a weakness. "I think I was a little bit too fast last year trying to hit the holes. I mean, I just really need to be patient."
Auburn doesn't need to find a true No. 1 running back right now. After all, it wasn't until October of 2013 when Tre Mason solidified himself as the top option and then ran all the way to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
The running backs do, however, need to show that they're capable of earning that trust of the staff, because at some point, Malzahn will settle on one so the Tigers can press tempo in drives without substituting running backs.
My gut is that Robinson will be the guy, and the staff will see that on Saturday.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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