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Georgia Football: Winners and Losers from Bulldogs' 2016 Spring

Georgia's annual G-Day is complete after the Black squad defeated the Red squad 34-14 in Athens on Saturday in front of a record-breaking spring crowd of 93,000 fans.

This game was loaded with headlines. 

It was Kirby Smart's first game as head coach at his alma mater and also the debut of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. 

For Smart, who begged Georgia fans to pack Sanford Stadium for the spring game back in January, it was an impressive debut. He asked UGA's passionate faithful to fill up the stadium for his first game, and they delivered. 

As for Eason, who is competing with senior Greyson Lambert and junior Brice Ramsey for the starting quarterback job, it was an impactful first performance in front of the home crowd.

Who else delivered this spring?

Here are some winners and losers from Georgia's 2016 spring session. 

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USC Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Fresh off a Pac-12 South title, head coach Clay Helton's USC Trojans took the field in sunny Southern California on Saturday afternoon for the program's annual spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The practice was a low-key affair featuring situational live-hitting periods that weren't scored, but it did represent a chance for fans and the coaching staff to further evaluate the two signal-callers vying to replace Cody Kessler under center.

Max Browne, a junior who backed up Kessler in each of the past two seasons, and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold both hit the gridiron to showcase their arms—but limited live action prevented either quarterback from establishing a clear edge in the competition.

Browne had solid numbers to back up his play in the early going, but as the Los Angeles Daily News' Scott Wolf observed, his arm strength wasn't on display: 

USC's official Twitter account documented the day's first touchdown, courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks: 

Browne, a former 5-star recruit, per 247Sports, looked sharp, but based on the early reviews of Darnold's skill set, he may need to flash some improved potency when it comes to stretching the field vertically.

USC's official Twitter account shared a replay of Darnold's first touchdown:

According to Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, Darnold has stood out throughout the spring because he "is a bit more athletic and seems to have the stronger arm."

"I'll just be honest, I don't think there's a huge gap between the quarterbacks right now," Helton said earlier this week, per the Los Angeles Times' Zach Helfand

The big question moving forward, then, is whether Helton and his staff will go with Browne—who's a safer, more established commodity—or a raw, upside-laden option like Darnold.  

"I would say, 'Don’t ever put anything past anybody,'" Helton said April 5, per Wolf. "The best player plays. Whether it’s redshirt freshman or a true freshman. You play him."

Beyond the quarterback competition, USC's defensive line suffered a setback when 6'6", 330-pound sophomore defensive tackle Noah Jefferson exited the game after suffering a left elbow injury, per USCFootball.com's Keely Eure:

Feldman noted that Jefferson's injury came at an inopportune time since USC was already dealing with the loss of Kenny Bigelow to a knee injury.

Helfand noted the team's strategy of hosting a less physical scrimmage backfired: 

With a relatively uneventful spring game over, the Trojans will need to turn their attention to the 29 remaining practices before their season opens Saturday, Sept. 3, against the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

While the game will be a neutral-site showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Alabama's rabid fanbase figures to represent strongly as they make the shorter trek to the Lone Star State. 

Given the hostile environment the Trojans figure to trot into, they'll need to tighten things up on both sides of the ball and commit to a quarterback who can help extract the most out of the team's dynamic playmakers. 

 

Postgame Reaction

Following the spring game, standout wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster spoke to the Pac-12 Networks about the Trojans' matchup with the Crimson Tide:

According to Wolf, the quarterback competition may soon be over—unless it isn't:

Regarding Jefferson's injury, Helfand reported that it has been diagnosed as a hyperextension and is not considered serious by Helton. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Fresh off a Pac-12 South title, head coach Clay Helton's USC Trojans took the field in sunny Southern California on Saturday afternoon for the program's annual spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama's Defense Still Great, but Offense Has Much to Work On

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was impressive the way he shifted his weight, aimed and followed through on each throw while hitting target after target with precision.

The irony was not lost on anyone at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where 76,212 fans showed up for the University of Alabama’s final football practice of the spring, known as A-Day. They had hoped to see a quarterback put on a show, but didn’t expect it would be last year’s starter Jake Coker during a halftime passing challenge.

Otherwise, it was long day for the Crimson Tide’s offensive players, especially the quarterbacks.

“I think there were some good things out there today and there were obviously some things that we could have done better,” head coach Nick Saban said. “But I think when you match yourself against yourself sometimes there's mismatches that you really can't overcome.

“I'm not sure we have all the best players on the best teams.”

Consequently, Saban said that the numbers from Saturday’s scrimmage didn't really mean that much, especially with the final score of 7-3.

The White team, which had the first-team defense and second-unit offense, scored the only touchdown. Running back Damien Harris, who isn’t ready to concede the starting job to Bo Scarbrough, had 114 rushing yards on 20 carries and was named game MVP.

For winning, those players will all get steak at the team banquet. The Crimson team, which struggled to move the ball and was credited with minus-five rushing yards, will be served the traditional franks and beans.

One takeaway, though, was that Alabama’s defense appears to not just be very good, but potentially outstanding. Even with numerous new starters and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen held out after having shoulder surgery, it was credited with 16 tackles for a loss including 14 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and seven passes broken up. 

Only four plays resulted in gains of 20 yards or more, just six out of 28 third-down opportunities were converted and JK Scott punted 15 times. The lone touchdown, a five-yard pass from true freshman Jalen Hurts to Derek Kief, came when many of the backup players for the reserves were playing in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we played pretty well, but I thought I saw a lot of things that the defense could improve on,” senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “I feel like we’re going to be even better than we showed today.”

Two defensive players with new roles clearly stood out. Rashaan Evans, who moved from outside to inside linebacker this spring, made 17 tackles for the Crimson team, despite still learning the position, and won the game’s best lineman award.

“I felt really good. I felt really comfortable out there,” Evans said.

“My main thing is whoever has the ball, go get ’em.”

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Tim Williams, who is making the transition from pass-rusher to every-down player, made two sacks and was extremely disruptive for the White team.

“You have to have something in your heart to play on our defense—I can’t really put it into words,” said Williams, who did admit that he thinks that the 2016 Crimson Tide defense will be faster.

“Last year’s team was last year’s team. We’re trying to find our identity.”

Yet some of his success was a bit circumstantial as well. With Cam Robinson (shoulder) held out, Williams was often pass-rushing against Korren Kirven at left tackle.

Saban noted that Lester Cotton would have probably fared better at right tackle, but played at left guard, where he’s expected to line up in the fall, and right guard Alphonse Taylor will stay with the second team until he drops some weight.

“All the pieces are not together,” Saban said.

“Who you’re playing against matters.”

That was especially true of the quarterbacks, where the expected front-runners had the toughest circumstances and the worst numbers:

  • Blake Barnett: 9-16-0, 112 yards
  • Cooper Bateman: 9-24-1, 86 yards
  • David Cornwell: 5-13-0, 50 yards
  • Jalen Hurts: 11-15-0 120 yards, 1 touchdown

In the first half, they combined to complete 16-of-31 attempts for 138 yards (4.45 yards per attempt). Nobody had a turnover, but they also failed to post any points, with Adam Griffith missing four field-goal attempts of 36, 47, 42, and 54 yards for the White team.

Things only got a little better during the final two quarters. A 10-play drive led by Cornwell scored the first points, while Barnett had the longest possession of the day, 12 plays for 63 yards.

Fittingly, the game essentially ended when the first-team offense’s lone drive into the red zone ended with an interception by safety Ronnie Harrison in the end zone. With that, the defensive players didn’t mind not getting the shutout.

“No, I’m kind of happy,” Williams said. "I get to eat steak."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Does Georgia QB Jacob Eason Deserve Starting Job After Spring Game Performance?

ATHENS, Ga. — With 10:43 to play in the second quarter of Georgia's G-Day Game on Saturday afternoon, the 93,000 fans at Sanford Stadium on #93KDay got their wish.

Jacob Eason, the 6'5", 211-pound 5-star true freshman early enrollee from Lake Stevens, Washington, trotted on the field to lead his first drive as a Bulldog to the raucous cheers of Bulldog Nation.

Not only did he live up to their lofty expectations, but he was—by far—the best quarterback on the field, and head coach Kirby Smart should name him the starting quarterback prior to fall camp.

Eason hit running back Brendan Douglas for a 13-yard gain out of the backfield and followed it up with a 35-yard strike deep down the sideline to fellow true freshman Riley Ridley. His first series resulted in a missed field goal, but by that time, the story of Eason's first spring game had already been written—he isn't a star-in-the-making, he's a star of the present.

Predictably, Smart is doing his best to temper that enthusiasm. 

When told that "people" will say that it's going to be hard not to start Eason, Smart fired back.

"Really? Why would people say that?" he joked. "To me, he ended up around 60 percent, Brice (Ramsey) was around 60 percent and Greyson (Lambert) had two drops. For people to say that, maybe they should go to Coaching 101."

Consider that coachspeak, because Smart made it clear that he's aware of Eason's upside.

"He throws BBs," he said in the postgame press conference. "Sometimes he throws them to the other team and sometimes he throws them to our team, but he throws BBs, now. He can spin the ball. He can spin the ball. I didn't hide anything from y'all when I said that he has an elite arm. He's got great arm strength and arm talent. He makes good decisions most of the time."

Smart needs to use the grace period that first-year head coaches receive, name Eason the starter now, let him learn with the first-team all offseason and trot him out as the starting quarterback against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Young players need to navigate through the ups and downs of college football in order to become superstars.

The rest of Eason's afternoon included a seven-yard touchdown pass to fellow true freshman Isaac Nauta, a perfect 37-yard pass early in the fourth quarter to Reggie Davis down the sideline and a performance that matched the seemingly insurmountable hype. He finished the spring game 19-of 29 for 244 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions and shoulders that are even more loaded down with offseason hype. 

Lambert was the first quarterback out for Georgia on Saturday, but it was clear from the play-calling that the coaches don't trust him to be anything more than a game manager. The shots called deep for the senior returning starter were few and far between, and one of those "few" was intercepted and returned 98 yards for a touchdown by Aaron Davis.

Lambert led Georgia to a 10-2 record as a starter last year but only threw for 1,959 yards and hardly scared opposing defenses. 

Ramsey stretched the field well at times too, but he struggled with his decision-making in the pocket, misfired on some short passes and tried to force the ball to covered receivers often—with some success. 

If Lambert can't stretch the field and the concern around Ramsey is consistency, Eason's "youth" shouldn't prevent him from being the Bulldogs quarterback. After all, youth creates inconsistency, and at the very worst, he's equal to two veterans after just 15 practices as a college freshman. 

Eason will be a superstar. 

The defense loosened up during all of his drives on Saturday afternoon between the hedges, which is a telltale sign that the Bulldogs know what the kid nicknamed "Skinny QB" is capable of.

"His spring was very good," said defensive back Dominick Sanders. "He still has a lot to do and a lot of room to grow, but overall he did pretty well."

What's the downside to trotting Eason out there for Game 1 against the Tar Heels? A loss? 

Ramsey's inconsistency and Lambert's inability to stretch the field aren't going to lead Georgia to the national title this year anyway, and the moment either loses a game as a starter, the pressure put on Smart to play Eason will be as big as the crowd at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

So do it now.

I'm generally not a fan of naming starting quarterbacks during or immediately after spring practice unless it's obvious who the winner is.

It's obvious Eason is not only the future for Georgia but the present. So give him time to grow with the first-team offense rather than the twos and threes.

Smart knows Eason is the future. If he doesn't name him the starter prior to fall camp, he's just delaying the inevitable.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers of Saturday's College Football Spring Games

Thousands of college football fans flocked to stadiums across the country Saturday, essentially to watch a series of practice games that will have no bearing on anything in the future.

Welcome to spring football. Though nothing counts, since the season is still more than four months away, performances from schools' spring games and scrimmages help leave a lasting impression—good or bad—for the rest of the offseason.

No players, position groups or teams should be judged by what happens during the spring, but it does at least give an idea of what we can expect in the fall. Some performances were promising—others not so much.

We've chronicled the most notable efforts from Saturday's slate of spring football, picking out some choice winners and losers.

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Alabama Football: Winners and Losers from Crimson Tide's 2016 Spring

Sure, Alabama's A-Day spring game was unexciting for scoreboard watchers, as the final score read just 7-3 in favor of White. 

But there were plenty of developments nonetheless for the Crimson Tide faithful to pay attention to as we head into college football's dark abyss that is the summer. 

A freshman early enrollee shined perhaps the brightest of any signal-caller. Alabama's offensive line may need work, and Damien Harris may well be Derrick Henry 2.0. 

With that, let's check out the winners and losers of Saturday's A-Day game and the entire spring season. 

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Tennessee Football: Winners and Losers from Vols' 2016 Spring

Tennessee's 2016 spring practice didn't exactly go the way everybody wanted, as more than 20 players missed key repetitions throughout the course of the past month.

But several important questions were answered, despite the setbacks.

First, the actual, real-life football gave UT a respite from the frustrating Title IX lawsuit and negative headlines swirling around that situation off the field. For a month, much of the focus was on all the talent that will be dressed out in orange and white this fall.

Second, while the injuries were a disappointing blow for the team, fourth-year coach Butch Jones found some competitive depth in the process, which will benefit the Vols when the season rolls around and all those hurt players are back on the field.

For the veteran-laden Vols, it was a chance to see just how good they really could be.

"We stay focused on us," UT running back Alvin Kamara told the SEC Network's Jerry Punch after the spring game. "It's a lot of hype going around, but we've got to keep our heads down and work, and we'll get what we put in."

The Vols put in some pivotal work this spring and got back some positive returns.

Saturday's spring-culminating Orange & White game (which saw the defense win a 70-63 game in a modified scoring system that was far secondary to the individual player development) did little to dampen the excitement around Rocky Top.

For others who didn't get to participate or failed to take advantage of the situation with so many players out, this spring may wind up being a squandered opportunity. Let's take a look at some winners and losers from UT's spring.

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LSU Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

LSU Tigers freshman receiver Dee Anderson hauled in a 70-yard touchdown in the first half, and star running back Leonard Fournette also scored a touchdown to highlight the Purple team's 17-7 win over the White team in the LSU spring football game at Tiger Stadium on Saturday.

It seems like an eternity ago that Les Miles was on his way out as head coach of LSU. But the longtime head coach was front and center to see his team cap off spring football in his 12th season as Tigers head coach.

The Purple team got first dibs to begin the game, and they scored 17 points within the first 15 minutes, 10 seconds. After a Trent Domingue 42-yard field goal, Fournette capped off a nine-play, 65-yard drive at the end of the first quarter with a one-yard touchdown run to give the Purple team a 10-0 lead, via the Times-Picayune:

On the first play of the second quarter, the Purple squad took to the air to make it a 17-point lead. Quarterback Danny Etling connected with Anderson on a 70-yard touchdown, via LSU Football:

It was a time to celebrate for the LSU freshman, as this photo from David Ching of ESPN.com shows:

Ross Dellenger of the Advocate also noted Anderson beat a fellow newcomer to the ball:

LSU tried to show a balance offensively. Incumbent starter Brandon Harris was 8-of-12 in the first half for 56 yards and an interception. Etling had 93 yards on 4-of-7 passing and also threw a pick in the first half.

Harris looked comfortable in the pocket, sans that lone interception. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron also had Harris use his mobility to get out of the pocket and make throws in that regard, via the Times-Picayune:

But the Tigers offense runs through Fournette, who carried the ball eight times for 49 yards and that touchdown. His longest carry was 16 yards, and much like last year, Fournette's runs were physical, via LSU Football:

Dellenger also placed the over on Fournette's carries at 5.5 before the game, just to see if LSU would rest its Heisman Trophy candidate running back, but the over won:

The White team operated on a running clock in the second half and was able to get on the board late in the third quarter on a five-yard touchdown run from Bry'Keithon Mouton. 

Harris played better in the second half, going 3-of-4 for 50 yards and no turnovers. Etling went 2-of-4 for 13 yards in the second half. Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report noted before today's game that Harris' accuracy was something to watch out for:

Malachi Dupre had five catches for 77 yards, as he continues to establish himself as LSU's top target heading into the fall. Sam Spiegelman of SEC Country thinks this could be a huge year for Dupre:

The microscope is going to be on Harris heading into the 2016 season, and he played well in his first live action since last year. Etling showed off his strong arm on that touchdown throw in the second quarter. Harris is the starter until further notice, but this is a battle to keep an eye on as fall camp approaches.

LSU's offense will go as far as Fournette goes, though, and this eight-carry game was a clear indication that the Tigers are prepared to rely on their star running back again. He didn't show any signs of last year taking a toll on him, finishing off runs with physicality and power. A balanced offense is what LSU needs to be competitive in the SEC this year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Winners and Losers from Longhorns' 2016 Spring

Led by freshman Shane Buechele and the running backs, the Texas squad outscored the Longhorns by a 21-7 margin in a rain-shortened 2016 spring game.

Distancing himself from senior Tyrone Swoopes as the afternoon wore on, Buechele led the offense to three scores to just one for the senior. In all, the early enrollee completed 19 of his 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in an impressive showing.

While Buechele provided hope for the quarterback position, Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman picked up right where they left off in 2015. Texas' fearsome duo needed only 16 carries to put up 174 yards and two touchdowns, showing that they're ready to carry the mail for this team in the fall.

With a talented young group on the other side of the ball, head coach Charlie Strong should have an exciting team in his third season with the program.

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Ohio State Spring Game Shows Buckeyes in Good Hands at QB After J.T. Barrett

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second consecutive year, all eyes were on the signal-callers at the Ohio State Buckeyes' spring game.

But as opposed to a year ago, the star of the show won't have a direct impact on the upcoming season.

At least that's the plan.

With his competition with former teammate Cardale Jones, who is now just limited to halftime entertainment, J.T. Barrett knows his starting job is safe, as evidenced by the Buckeyes' quarterback playing just one half of Saturday's exhibition. But behind Barrett, a battle to be his backup—and possibly his successor—has raged on throughout the spring, although based on Saturday, it may not have been much of a competition.

Quarterbacking the Gray team against Barrett's—and eventually Stephen Collier's—Scarlet squad, Joe Burrow stole the show at Ohio State's annual exhibition. Playing his snaps inside of Ohio Stadium, the redshirt freshman looked impressive, completing 14 of his 23 attempts for 196 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-17 victory for the Gray in front of a national spring-game record 100,189 fans.

"Joe Burrow has been coming on," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. "Last year, I had my concerns. Just arm strength, release, twitch, ability to run the ball because you have to do that. He's gotten better. He's a grinder. ... You see him starting to grow."

Based on the playing time divvied up between the two backup quarterbacks heading into the game, perhaps Burrow's breakout performance shouldn't have come as a surprise. Given the Gray team all to himself, the native of The Plains, Ohio, received a full game's worth of playing time, as opposed to Collier, who didn't relieve Barrett until the second half.

Burrow didn't get off to a good start—an incompletion to begin his first series was followed by two sacks—but by the time the Buckeyes headed to the locker room for halftime, Burrow and OSU's young wide receiving corps were clicking. In his first series of the second quarter, the former Athens High School standout engineered a six-play, 55-yard drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Torrance Gibson.

On his ensuing drive, Burrow once again led his team to the end zone with a two-yard shovel pass to Gibson, concluding an 11-play, 60-yard drive.

"I was a lot more comfortable in the second quarter," Burrow said. "The receivers and I got going a little bit. [Running back] Antonio Williams was running the ball pretty hard, and our offense starting clicking."

Rushing 11 times for 51 yards—with an additional 20 yards negated by four sacks—Burrow showcased the mobility necessary to play in Meyer's spread offense as well as an accurate touch on deep balls like the 47-yard touchdown he threw to Terry McLaurin near the end of the third quarter.

His main target for the day, however, remained Gibson, who arrived at Ohio State as the other—and perhaps headliner—quarterback in the Buckeyes' 2015 class, having since converted to wide receiver.

Rather than playing the parts of natural enemies, Burrow and Gibson looked like Columbus' connection of the future, with the 6'4", 205-pounder catching six balls for 50 yards and two touchdowns from his fellow redshirt freshman.

"Off the charts. He's one of the fastest guys on the team," Burrow said of Gibson's potential. "We're going to keep working to build some chemistry and he'll be my favorite target here pretty soon."

Much like his first spring game, Burrow's college career didn't have a perfect start either, with Meyer admitting he had questions about the former 4-star prospect's physical tools. Despite his storied high school career, Burrow's competition—or perceived lack thereof—in Ohio's Division III left some wondering whether he was an Ohio State-caliber quarterback.

And while he wasn't without his shortcomings, including being picked off by sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker on an impressive one-handed catch, Burrow, at the very least, showed Saturday that he has the natural ability necessary to one day be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback.

"I know I can play here now," Burrow said after the game. "I know what I need to do to be the starting quarterback, and I know what I need to do to be the backup this season."

Did he ever doubt that?

"I didn't, but I think a lot of people did," he said. "I think I showed that I can play here to all the coaching staff and all the players on our team."

Saturday may have been the first chance for the public to see that, but for those close to the Ohio State program, Burrow seems to have been impressing since the start of the offseason. As early as national signing day, Meyer proclaimed Burrow as Barrett's primary backup, despite Collier being a year older and already having playing time under his belt.

With their respective efforts Saturday, that doesn't seem to have changed, with Collier completing four of his nine pass attempts for 154 yards and an interception. With the Buckeyes having needed to rely on their backup at points in each of the past four seasons, Burrow is aware of the playing time that could be available in the coming season and thus, the importance of his competition with Collier.

"I feel like I did what I needed to do this spring [to be Ohio State's backup in 2016]," Burrow said. "I have a long way to go. I'm going to keep working, and I'm going to have to show more in the fall."

That may be the case. After all, Meyer made a point after the game to say Ohio State's quarterback needed to be a Heisman Trophy contender, and Burrow obviously isn't there quite yet.

But with Barrett being a redshirt junior with the potential to leave after the upcoming season, Burrow seems to have a decisive advantage when it comes to being the next Buckeyes starting quarterback.

Whether he'll continue his progress from his impressive spring remains to be seen. But it's nice for once to finally have some clarity in a quarterback competition taking place in Columbus.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Alabama Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

As the Alabama Crimson Tide prepare to defend their national title, A-Day took place in Tuscaloosa with the White squad knocking off the Crimson squad by a final score of 7-3. 

The final score was a secondary concern for 'Bama fans and head coach Nick Saban, as the team is looking to replace 11 total starters, including Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and quarterback Jake Coker as well as break in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt after Kirby Smart left for Georgia. 

Fortunately for the Tide, their roster is stacked with talent every year. Alabama had the nation's best recruiting class in 2016, per 247Sports, to say nothing of key returning players like defensive end Jonathan Allen and standout offensive linemen Cam Robinson and Ross Pierschbacher. 

As is often the case when Alabama is involved, offense was difficult to come by. Both teams were scoreless in the first half, though at least the running back competition did yield some positive results early, per Michael Casagrande of the Birmingham News:

Getting Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough carries will be integral because even though Alabama ran the ball 633 times in 2015, the bulk of those carries were reserved for Henry (395) and Kenyan Drake (77). Harris and Scarbrough combined for 64 attempts. 

Harris was the standout among the running backs during the game, with Charlie Walter of WSFA Channel 12 tweeting out the box score heading into the second half:

But the key story for Alabama's offense on this day was quarterback Jalen Hurts. The true freshman lacks the experience of redshirt freshman Blake Barnett or junior Cooper Bateman, but his skill set adds a dynamic rarely seen from Crimson Tide signal-callers.

Hurts got to play hero in the fourth quarter, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Derek Kief. 

Per Saturday Down South, when looking at those three quarterbacks, Hurts was the one who earned the positive praise:

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted people in Tuscaloosa were gushing about Hurts while he was there:

Alabama's offense isn't always explosive, which is by Saban's design. Given how strong and powerful the Crimson Tide offensive line usually is as well as how big and physical their running backs tend to be, they usually like to pound opponents into submission. 

Hurts still has a long development road ahead of him, but his ability to create plays with his legs and use his arm to throw down the field could open things up for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin

No discussion of Alabama football would be complete without talking about the defense. Linebacker Rashaan Evans was a man possessed on the field, making 12 tackles in the first half. 

As noted by Meredith Hornsby of BamaHammer.com, Evans is still looking to move up the depth chart:

Evans figures to take on an important role this season, especially with Reggie Ragland departing for the NFL.

Charlie Potter of 247Sports noted that Saban said it was "really important" to get Evans significant reps at inside linebacker on Saturday. 

Despite some sloppy play on offense, Alabama should feel confident about where things stand right now. Saban and the coaching staff have more than four months to figure out the quarterback situation, but their defense still looks fantastic. 

No one recruits like Saban, so even in a year in which 'Bama has to replace so many starters, there is so much high-ceiling depth in place that they will be ready to defend their crown this fall. 

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Miami and Mark Richt Could Be Surprise ACC Coastal Contenders

Saturday afternoon, Miami fans got their first extended looks at the Mark Richt era, and they had to like what they saw.

Although the Hurricanes’ spring game, which was played before 15,000 fans in Fort Lauderdale due to ongoing renovations at Sun Life Stadium, was far from perfect, Richt’s new players showed that Miami’s on-field renovation could come together quicker than expected.

With talented Brad Kaaya at quarterback and tough defensive back Corn Elder leading the defense, even a banged-up Hurricanes group flashed potential that could make Miami contenders in the wide-open ACC Coastal Division this fall.

“I thought there were good things on both sides of the ball,” Richt told ESPN’s Andrea Adelson following the game on ESPN3’s broadcast. “I thought guys played hard to the end.”

That wasn’t always the case under Al Golden. Miami officials finally had enough of Golden last fall, and they canned him the day after a program-worst 58-0 home loss to Clemson. Richt, a South Florida native and former Miami quarterback, fell in the Canes’ lap after being fired at Georgia. He brings new energy and new life to a roster that sorely needs a boost.

Golden did leave him some significant talent. Start with Kaaya, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2014. He is a great fit for Richt’s pro-style, multiple-back system. Last fall, his touchdowns slipped from 26 to 16, but his passing yardage rose from 3,198 to 3,238, and his interceptions fell from 12 to five.

Saturday, he looked sharp and threw a trio of touchdowns for the Orange team. A pair went to emerging tight end Christopher Herndon IV, and the last, with 10 seconds left, went to wideout Braxton Berrios. That capped an excellent two-minute drill.

“It takes more than one guy, but he’s a great player, a great person, very coachable and teachable,” Richt said of Kaaya. “I love how he’s been responding to everything.”

With leading receiver Stacy Coley out nursing an injury, Berrios (healthy after battling a knee injury suffered in the 2015 season opener all season) showed he can be a No. 1 receiver. Meanwhile, returning 1,000-yard rusher Joseph Yearby also flashed his talent as a lead back, helping an offense that Richt said “was just about out of skill players” by game’s end.

Elder also made several nice plays on Kaaya throws and proved he can be a star for a defense in need of one.

There were some negatives—Richt wasn’t pleased afterward following a poor snap on the final extra point.

“In the end, we didn’t have a whole lot of gas left,” he said. “We’ve got to finish better in general. Get tougher mentally and finish better.”

While it’s hard to extrapolate opinions from a spring game that Richt designed to be vanilla (first-team offense versus second-string defense and vice versa, for the most part), the Hurricanes have pieces to contend in the ACC Coastal immediately.

North Carolina will be the likely favorite to defend its 2015 Coastal title, but the Tar Heels are replacing quarterback Marquise Williams with backup Mitch Trubisky. Beyond them, the division is wide open.

Both Virginia and Virginia Tech are breaking in new coaches in Bronco Mendenhall and Justin Fuente (who's replacing the retired Frank Beamer), respectively. Georgia Tech is rebounding from a 3-9 season. Duke could be without quarterback Thomas Sirk (who sustained a torn Achilles in winter workouts), and Pitt, under second-year coach Pat Narduzzi, could also push for the title.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes return 16 starters from an eight-win team. They have a favorable schedule, hosting Florida State and North Carolina while traveling to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Richt’s work is far from done, but this is a team that could certainly challenge for the Coastal championship and, at long last, make a trip to the ACC title game.

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Ohio State Football: Winners and Losers from Buckeyes' 2016 Spring

A record of 100,189 spectators came out to see Ohio State wrap up spring practice with its annual spring game, and the Gray team came out victorious with a 28-17 win over the J.T. Barrett-led Scarlet team. 

It was an important camp for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, who are undergoing a near-complete overhaul after losing eight starters on each side of the ball from last year's team. And with injuries to key returning players such as Noah Brown and Tyquan Lewis, there was an enormous youth movement in Columbus this spring.

Which players and position groups are entering the summer with positive momentum, and which still have some ground to make up before fall camp starts? 

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USC Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

The 2016 USC spring game is underway at the Coliseum.

Pac-12.com has a live stream of the action. Bleacher Report is providing updates and highlights throughout the scrimmage.

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USC Spring Game 2016: Live Score, Top Performers and Analysis

The 2016 USC spring game is underway at the Coliseum. Pac-12.com has a live stream of the action. Bleacher Report is providing updates and highlights throughout the scrimmage...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ohio State Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Gray team defeated the Scarlet team 28-17 Saturday in Ohio State's annual spring football game in front of a record-breaking crowd at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. 

One year after setting the national spring game attendance record with 99,391 fans at the Horseshoe, OSU upped the ante Saturday with 100,189 on hand to witness the exhibition, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.

That prompted head coach Urban Meyer to show his gratitude on Twitter:

Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett entered the game with all eyes on him, but he struggled with two interceptions for the Scarlet team, while freshman Joe Burrow put up 196 yards and three scores through the air for the Gray squad.

As seen in this GIF courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes on Twitter, the players were pumped and ready to play after a long offseason:

That included Meyer, who entered the contest with a positive outlook, as evidenced by this video via Ohio State on BTN:

Emotions ran high prior to the start of the game, as a moment of silence was held for late Ohio State and New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, as seen in this video provided by Big Ten Network:

Eric Seger of ElevenWarriors.com offered a look at the helmet decals Buckeyes players wore in memory of Smith:

After being mired in a quarterback controversy with Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller over the previous couple seasons, Barrett stepped onto the field as the unquestioned starter Saturday and got his spring off to a positive start on the first drive.

He completed six of his seven attempts for 40 yards, and kicker Sean Nuernberger finished it off with a 43-yard field goal to out Scarlet on top 3-0:

The defense stepped up on the ensuing possession, however, as sophomore safety Malik Hooker intercepted Barrett and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to give Gray a 7-3 advantage:

Things started to snowball for Barrett after the initial interception, as he was picked off once again on the next drive by sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

That gave the Gray offense a short field, and they took advantage of it when Burrow found a well-covered Torrance Gibson for an 18-yard score to extend the lead to 14-3:

Gray continued to pour it on as the second quarter progressed with Burrow leading the way. The native of The Plains, Ohio, connected with Gibson for another touchdown on a two-yard shovel pass after setting it up with a 52-yard strike to sophomore wide receiver Terry McLaurin:

By virtue of that play and several others made by Burrow Saturday, ESPN.com's Austin Ward suggested that his spot behind Barrett on the depth chart was safe:

Scarlet managed to gain some momentum back ahead of halftime, as freshman running back Mike Weber cashed in from two yards out to make the score 21-10 in favor of Gray entering the locker room:

That momentum carried over into the second half, as Weber found pay dirt once again from eight yards out in the third quarter, which allowed Scarlet to cut the deficit to 21-17:

Gray attempted to respond, as Burrow and the offense moved into Scarlet's red zone, but sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker made what was unquestionably the play of the day.

With Burrow under pressure, Baker went up and pulled in a ridiculous, one-handed interception to prevent Gray from extending the lead:

That gave Scarlet an opportunity to possess the ball and potentially drive for the go-ahead score, but Hooker played hero once again by intercepting sophomore signal-caller Stephen Collier for his second pick of the day.

Burrow then capped off his big day and provided the dagger in the fourth quarter when he hit McLaurin for a long touchdown to go up 28-17, which was ultimately the final score:

While Barrett's performance may prove to be the biggest story coming out of the spring game, there is still plenty of time for him to right the ship before the start of the 2016 season.

The play of Weber was particularly encouraging, as he rushed for 38 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries and looks to be a strong option to replace Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.

Both of the Buckeyes' defensive units led by co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano made some big plays as well, especially in terms of defending the passing game, which is a good sign for Meyer's team.

OSU has lost just two games over the past two seasons, and while it will be forced to replace a number of high-profile players in 2016, its depth of talent was on full display Saturday.

Meyer is as good as they come in terms of recruiting players and fitting them into his system, and based on many of the performances on both sides of the ball, the Buckeyes figure to be contenders in the Big Ten once again during the upcoming season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame Football: Winners and Losers from Fighting Irish's 2016 Spring

For the Fighting Irish, this spring has seemingly been all about the quarterback battle—and for good reason. Notre Dame has two experienced starters returning this year, and like Ohio State's quandary a season ago, we're departing spring practice without a very clear picture.

Brian Kelly structured the 2016 Blue and Gold Game to provide a game-like atmosphere, designed to give one quarterback an opportunity to separate himself from his "opponent" for the starting role.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), that didn't happen.  In fact, both quarterbacks played fairly well.

So, realistically, we're no closer to an answer today than we were when spring practices began a few weeks ago.

But the quarterbacks weren't the only storyline to emerge from South Bend this spring.  Let's go over all the winners and losers from Notre Dame's 2016 spring.

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Spring Game Shows Brian Kelly Officially in Best-Worst Position for QB Battle

Brian Kelly entered Notre Dame’s spring game hoping for separation between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in their battle to become the Fighting Irish’s starting quarterback.

He didn’t get it. Instead, Notre Dame’s head coach continued to stare at a difficult choice Saturday as his team wrapped up spring practice with a 17-10 Blue squad win in the Blue-Gold game. Both Kizer and Zaire flashed solid skills while running the offense, and each showed signs that the competition will carry into fall practice.

Kelly is in the best-worst position possible as summer begins. He has two talented quarterbacks on his roster but no sign that either has made a move forward with four-plus months until the 2016 season opener against Texas.

“They did a nice job,” Kelly told NBC Sports Network’s Jac Collinsworth on the telecast following the game, “but I don’t think anyone separated themselves.”

That’s a distinct contrast from last spring, when Zaire beat out incumbent Everett Golson to become the Irish’s starter. Golson transferred to Florida State, leaving Zaire as the man until he broke his ankle in the second week against Virginia.

Kizer stepped forward, leading Notre Dame to a 10-win season and Fiesta Bowl berth while throwing for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Zaire’s return to health this spring left Kelly with a quarterback quandary.

Ideally, one signal-caller would have made a name for himself Saturday. Instead, both showed they were competent in running the offense. Neither played after halftime, and Kizer’s Blue team outscored Zaire’s Gold team 10-7 in the first half.

Kizer completed 10 of 17 passes for 113 yards with 22 rushing yards, while Zaire went 6-of-15 for 120 yards passing with 18 rushing yards and a 12-yard rushing touchdown, per stats from the NBCSN broadcast. 

“They’re managing the little things, getting guys lined up right, making sure they get into the right protections,” Kelly said on the broadcast. “I think both have done a good job. Both have handled themselves well. I don’t think anything earth-shaking has happened.”

If anything, Kizer was slightly more consistent. He completed his first five passes, including a nice play-action throw to incoming freshman Kevin Stepherson. Kizer finished a touchdown drive with a read-option handoff for a score and showed comfort in the offense by audibling out of a pair of plays in favor of successful quarterback draws.

Meanwhile, Zaire completed just one of his first five passes but led a strong second-quarter drive that covered 92 yards, throwing for 79 yards on the drive. He had the day’s best pass, a deep throw that receiver Torii Hunter Jr. hauled in for a 50-yard gain, and he finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.

So what does Kelly do now? Both Kizer and Zaire have shown they can win as the starting quarterback, but only one can be the starter.

When he makes the choice (as he inevitably will), Kelly also runs the risk of forcing a transfer. Zaire has two years of eligibility remaining, while Kizer has three years left. Of course, 2015 showed the value of having two quality quarterbacks on the roster.

Kelly's track record shows he is not concerned about waiting until deep in preseason practice to pick a starter. He could also learn from what Fiesta Bowl opponent Ohio State and Urban Meyer went through in a similar situation last fall.

Meyer and the Buckeyes agonized between J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, picking Jones as the starter for the opener against Virginia Tech.

Jones started seven games, but the offense sputtered at times under his control. He finished with 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns against five interceptions, while Barrett, who claimed the job by season's end, had 992 yards with 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. This spring, the job is Barrett's after Jones left early for the NFL draft. 

Kelly said in reference to that situation "So I'll make sure that doesn't happen to us," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We'll have an identity. We'll know who we are."

The decision, whatever it winds up being, should work out well for a Notre Dame offense that is replacing seven starters. It’s just a matter of making that decision.

For Kelly, that will be the toughest part.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2016: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire enjoyed stretches of strong play as the quarterback competition heated up during the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's annual Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. In the end, Kizer's Blue squad earned the 17-7 victory. 

Kizer displayed a better overall understanding of the offense, which doesn't come as a surprise given the experience he gained last year, but Zaire held his own with dangerous playmaking ability. But it was the defense that stole the spotlight throughout most of the contest.

With that in mind, let's take a deeper dive into some of the top storylines to emerge from the Fighting Irish's 2016 spring game. 

 

Quarterback Battle

Irish head coach Brian Kelly stated coming into the spring game that trying to get a good read on the quarterback situation was crucial. He explained they set up the rosters as evenly as possible in order to give both players a fair opportunity, as relayed by Benjamin Padanilam of the Observer:

Both of them want to be the starter, badly. … I made them both live, so they're going against each other. I'm doing it for a reason because I want them to be in a competitive situation where we can evaluate. We split the squad, we tried to get them balanced as best we could and let this be one more evaluation tool for both of these guys in this game. It's important to them.

Kizer, who had 31 total touchdowns last season, made a statement right out of the gate. He led the Blue squad to a scoring drive on its first possession of the game, completing all four of this throws, including a couple nice touch passes.

The junior showed a nice understanding of the offense, too. He audibled into a quarterback run on a third down during the Blue team's second drive, which resulted in him splitting the defense between the spread-out tackles and running for a first down.

Mike Vorel of ND Insider pointed out Zaire's group finally started to move the ball once the quarterback started to create more looks for the defense by using his running ability:

It ultimately allowed him to match Kizer's touchdown drive with one of his own. Zaire connected on three of his four throws on a march that started inside the Gold team's own 10-yard line. He beat the defense over the top twice, including a nice high-arching throw to Torii Hunter Jr.

He capped off the drive by running the ball in from 13 yards out, as the program spotlighted:

Jim Naveau of the Lima News provided the final stats for both players:

All told, neither quarterback made any massive strides in the competition Saturday. If Kizer came into the spring with a slight advantage based on his play last season, he likely leaves the marquee offseason practices in the same position.

Zaire will probably need to set himself apart when practices resume ahead of the season if he's going to earn the starting job. The biggest thing he can take out of the spring game is to not restrict himself by taking the creativity out of his game.

 

Defensive Standouts

Although most of the focus coming into the game was on the quarterbacks, it was the Notre Dame defenders who looked a step ahead at the end of spring ball. They allowed just 24 combined points and looked solid at every level.

No player stood out more frequently than Max Redfield. The senior safety, who lined up with the Gold team, was all over the place making plays, both in run defense and pass coverage. His only mistake was a missed tackle on the Blue team's first score, but it was obviously a costly one.

Junior defensive tackle Daniel Cage also put together a strong showing for the Gold side. It's a position where the Irish are still looking for players to step up, and he made a great case to at least get an extended look heading into the season.

Notre Dame Football showcased one of his key plays:

On the flip side, Devin Studstill was highly impressive for the Blue defense. The freshman wasn't particularly highly touted coming out of high school—a 3-star prospect, ranking No. 482 in the 2016 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings—but he looked primed to make a quick impact.

The most important thing for a young safety is understanding their role within the scheme. A lot of them get lost out there in the early going. But the early enrollee looked comfortable and showed a nose for the ball coaches love to see from defensive backs.

A spring game isn't nearly enough to draw any definitive conclusions, of course. That said, the staff probably came away from the spring game with at least some positive vibes on the defensive side of the ball after ranking 45th in yards allowed last season.

 

Quick Hits
  • Dexter Williams scampered into the end zone from 17 yards out for the first touchdown of the contest. The sophomore ran with authority every time he touched the ball. That includes breaking two tackles on a scoring play, as Notre Dame Football highlighted:
  • Hunter appears ready to claim a more active role in the offense following the departure of Will Fuller, a possible first-round NFL draft pick. The wideout was able to create separation on a consistent basis, and the team put his best effort of the day on display:
  • John Chereson and Justin Yoon both missed field-goal attempts in the second half. Chereson did make a short kick right before halftime, and Yoon made 88 percent of his field goals last season. But missing a couple of kicks in a low-pressure situation could be a minor cause for concern.
  • Notre Dame appeared to emerge from the game without suffering any serious injuries. Although the coaching staff wants to see players fighting for playing time, doing so without suffering any health setbacks is the biggest thing at this time of the year.
  • Reserve quarterback Montgomery VanGorder wrapped up the scoring with a short-yardage run. If there's one thing the defense certainly must improve before the regular season, it's containing those inside runs by QBs, as the Irish illustrated on the score:

 

Postgame Reaction

Afterward, Kelly joked that the game ball ended up going to punter Tyler Newsome with the offenses struggling to find consistent success, per Irish Sports Daily.

The head coach was happy with the way Zaire moved Saturday after suffering a broken ankle that brought a premature end to his 2015 campaign, as noted by Irish Illustrated:

As for the competition, JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago provided the coach's comments on the situation, and it doesn't sound like either quarterback pushed himself firmly ahead of the other quite yet.

"I thought Kizer managed the game pretty darn good. I thought Malik did some pretty good things as well," Kelly said.

So the high-profile competition continues with spring ball in the book. Angelo Di Carlo of WNDU noted Kelly believes it probably won't get decided until late in fall camp.

 

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