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Spring Game Shows Notre Dame QB Decision Will Not Make or Break 2015 Season

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — From the moment the gates opened and the whistles blew, much of the focus was on Notre Dame football’s quarterback competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire on Saturday during the Blue-Gold Game.

Going into the spring finale, we already knew the battle would likely not be decided until the fall. And after watching two full, live quarters of play between the signal-callers, who alternated possessions, it sure seems Notre Dame will be able to adapt whichever way the competition heads.

“They both competed at a high level in the first half, and I think we all say they’re all capable of playing championship football,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Both Everett and Malik played well, did very good things.”

No, they weren’t perfect. Golson finished 7-of-15 for 83 yards, while Zaire completed eight of 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfectly lofted 68-yard strike to junior speedster Will Fuller.

There were, however, encouraging signs from their individual play.

On Notre Dame’s third drive, Golson, while on the move outside the pocket, drilled an accurate third-down throw to Corey Robinson. Three possessions later, Golson stood in the pocket amid a roughing-the-passer call and delivered a 22-yard completion over the middle to Corey Holmes—again on third down.

Zaire, meanwhile, flashed with his feet, eluding Jay Hayes and Matthias Farley on a pair of runs on his first drive in the first quarter. Zaire’s long heave then fell perfectly into Fuller’s mitts.

“The decisions they made were excellent, so really pleased with them in the first half,” Kelly said.

And while both are far from finished products and both certainly have their flaws (both quarterbacks lobbed a few fluttering throws, with and without pressure), the encouraging signs around them, too, indicate Notre Dame can adapt and succeed with either quarterback.

All of a sudden, Notre Dame has a three-pronged rushing attack to trot out behind a strong offensive line. C.J. Prosise continues to draw rave reviews from Kelly for his work at running back.

“He’s a guy that you’re going to fear,” Kelly said. “When you turn on the film, you’re going to look at him and go, ‘He scares me.’”

Asked if he has a preference between running back and wide receiver, Prosise said he has really enjoyed taking handoffs. Prosise piled up 64 rushing yards on 12 carries to lead the running backs. Tarean Folston carried nine times for 24 yards, and Greg Bryant added 36 yards on nine rushes of his own.

Regarding Prosise’s immediate future, Kelly said the slot receiver slash running back will get every opportunity to take over a starting position.

“I’m not going to paint him into any particular position or category,” Kelly said. “If he’s the best running back, he’s going to start. If he’s the best wide receiver, he’s going to start. It’s our job to get the best 11 players on the field. And right now it’s hard to make the case that he’s not one of the best 11.”

As a team, Notre Dame attempted 37 passes and logged 55 rushes, averaging 3.6 yards per attempt. Kelly said afterward it’s clear the Irish have a good offensive line. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Nick Martin, right guard Steve Elmer and right tackle Mike McGlinchey are penciled into the first unit, while redshirt freshmen Alex Bars and Quenton Nelson are both expected to play at left guard.

“They're going to be able to control the line of scrimmage in most instances, and we'll continue to go to our strength, which we believe is up front,” Kelly said.

So with a promising running game and mobile quarterbacks, the Irish offense appears stable. Turnovers, of course, can quickly wreak havoc, something the Irish avoided for the most part Saturday. Moving forward, Kelly said he wants to continue to develop Golson’s game management, including ball security, and his comfort running the read option. Consistency, on the other hand, is the operative word for Zaire.

“He does some things so well, and then there'll be a couple things that are not consistent,” Kelly said. “He'll do it so well in the same play, then there's a drop-off. So we think that's more concentration; that's just more focus and just working on those things with him.”

There are still 140 days until Notre Dame kicks off in prime time against Texas in the season opener. The roster is yet to be finalized. Summer OTAs and fall practice provide more opportunities for growth and depth-chart movement.

That development at the quarterback position is still vital. Sloppy play and turnovers can quickly derail games. But with an encouraging ground attack and two capable quarterbacks, the Irish prospects are promising.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Ohio State QB Cardale Jones Launches Ball 74 Yards at Spring Game

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones used Saturday's spring game as an opportunity to show why his nickname is "12 Gauge."

The national championship-winning quarterback took part in a throwing competition at halftime of the Buckeyes' spring game. The participants were Jones, J.T. Barrett and 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

Jones showed off his strong arm by launching the ball an incredible 74 yards. According to BigTenNetwork.com's Sean Merriman, Smith threw the ball 68 yards, and Barrett's toss went 59 yards. 

[Vine, YouTube]

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Alabama Quarterback Battle Looks Far from over After Spring Game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If there’s anything we learned last year, it’s not to judge a quarterback by his A-Day performance.

Blake Sims went 13-of-30 with 178 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown in last year’s spring game, and he only went on to lead a record-setting offense and break several Alabama quarterback marks along the way.

Still, the temptation remains, and so fans, coaches and media alike studied all five of Alabama’s quarterbacks closely on Saturday.

The only thing to really glean from Alabama’s quarterback performances was that this thing still has a long way to go before anything can be decided.

Because of the A-Day format, it wasn’t exactly a level playing field. And while all five guys had their share of ups and downs, a couple of hours in front of a half-full stadium running only a small portion of the offense isn’t going to determine who Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin trot out under center against Wisconsin.

The spring game usually works against the offense.

Both offense and defense are limited in what they can do, but even still that gives the defense the advantage, since they are the ones doing the reacting.

This year, Saban put senior Jake Coker and junior Alec Morris on the White team with the first-team offense. Sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett were grouped with Crimson, which featured the first defense and the second offense.

It’s no secret that Alabama’s depth on defense is much better than that on offense. When the ones went against each other Saturday, it was a pretty even affair. But among the twos, the defense easily had the upper hand, from the line all the way back into the secondary.

That benefited Coker and Morris, while sort of handcuffing the other three.

“I thought the two quarterbacks that played with (the White) team had a much better opportunity," Saban said. "You're going to look at this and say, 'Well, these two guys played better.' Well, if I had to play on those two teams, I would have played better on the White team.

“...We lost a lot of players on offense. We don't have a lot of depth on offense right now, so it really affects the second unit a lot more than it does the first, especially when you have a few guys that are injured. Those guys had a better opportunity to have success, and they took advantage of it and did a good job.”

Coker in particular probably had the highest highs of any of the five passers. He made several pinpoint throws with confidence over the top and down the middle—the type of throws you want to see from your starting quarterback.

His first half stat line was almost perfect: 10-of-16 for 147 yards and a touchdown.

But in the second half, he had an ugly interception that was returned for a touchdown. Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News noted the huge inconsistency in his start to the second half:

The consistency is something that Coker struggled with a lot last year. He showed his flashes, and then he'd have a string of bad plays. When Coker is on, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but that consistency, or lack thereof, is keeping him from running away with the job.

Behind him, Morris was shaky at best, displaying the strong arm that wide receivers talk about seeing in practice but not much from a command standpoint.

On the other side, Cornwell got the second-most pass attempts of the five. Cornwell showed flashes, but his two interceptions were eyesores.

Bateman threw one pass into quadruple coverage that was promptly picked by Jabriel Washington. Barnett very much had about the day you'd expect a true freshman to have but finished on a high note, hitting ArDarius Stewart on a corner route for a touchdown in the game's waning moments.

So how does a coach judge an A-Day performance?

“You kind of take the plays that the quarterback couldn’t make, because he didn’t have a chance to make, and you really can’t fault him for that," Saban said. "You take the opportunities that maybe they had where they had protection, they had time, they had open people—did they throw the ball to the right place? Were they able to throw it accurately? Did they make good decisions? I think you have to sort of separate the things that they can control and the things that they can’t control and sort of evaluate it that way.”

Overall—looking at the stats and the situational play—you could probably say Coker had the best day. But he still looked far from ready to take over as Alabama’s starting quarterback right now.

There were struggles across the board, and some of that is just by design. But it also shows that there is no one person right now who is ready to take over as starting quarterback.

That question will take more time to answer.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Alabama Football: Winners and Losers from Crimson Tide's 2015 Spring

Spring practice has concluded for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and it was a very interesting one to say the least. 

From the quarterback battles, remodeling the secondary and the off-field issues, head coach Nick Saban is probably glad this part of the 2015 year is over so the Tide can really get to work in the summer and fall. 

But which players stood out for the Tide this spring? And who had a spring they would like to forget?

Here are the winners and losers from the Crimson Tide's 2015 spring practice and game.

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Texas Football 2015: Winners and Losers from Longhorns' Spring Practices, Game

With their Orange-White Scrimmage in the books, the spring has come to an end for the Texas Longhorns. 

Neither quarterback was overly impressive in the spring game, as neither broke 200 total yards on the afternoon. However, Jerrod Heard put up the better numbers with a lesser supporting cast, proving that Tyrone Swoopes holds the job by the narrowest of margins.

The real excitement came from freshman Malik Jefferson, who turned in an MVP performance for a defense that overachieved without much of its depth.

For him and Heard, the spring has been a great success. As for Swoopes and really the offense as a whole, the product should look much better at this point.

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LSU's Biggest Spring Day Win Comes with 5-Star Edwin Alexander's Commitment

The results on the field weren't particularly outstanding and its muddy quarterback situation didn't get cleared up much, but LSU still had a big win on Saturday thanks to the re-commitment of a past jewel of its 2016 recruiting class.

5-star defensive tackle Edwin Alexander pledged his allegiance to the Tigers after Saturday's spring game, which saw the starter-heavy White Team earn a 45-6 win over a Purple Team made up mostly of backups. Both of LSU's potential starting quarterbacks racked up big numbers in the scrimmage, though each struggled when going against the first-team defense.

Junior Anthony Jennings threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-20 passing, but he was just 5-of-6 for 27 yards against LSU's top defenders, while sophomore Brandon Harris (11-of-17, 178 yards, two TDs) was 4-of-10 for 37 yards with an interception against the starters.

Alexander was one of roughly three dozen prospects from 2016 or 2017 to attend the game, and by committing to the Tigers he returned to the team he'd originally committed to in November 2013 but then backed off from last April.

"LSU has always been the team to beat for Alexander, even after he dropped that original pledge," wrote Hunter Paniagua of Scout.com. "At the time, Alexander said he wanted to take a more open approach to his recruitment, but he paid little attention to schools other than LSU. Alexander visited campus several times this spring and opted to shut it down after spending the afternoon in Tiger Stadium."

Rated by 247Sports as the No. 13 overall player in 2016, the 6'2", 310-pounder from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, Louisiana is considered the third-best defensive tackle in his class and is the top in-state product. 

Alexander is the ninth member of LSU's 2016 class, which 247Sports ranks as fifth-best. He gives the Tigers two 5-star commits, joining Florida cornerback Saivion Smith.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Ohio State QB Job Is Cardale Jones' to Lose After Strong Spring Game

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Counting last year's spring game and an appearance in the 2010 Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic in high school, Saturday marked Cardale Jones' third start inside of Ohio Stadium.

His performance helped make the case that it won't be his last.

The Ohio State national championship-winning quarterback didn't have the prettiest outing in the Buckeyes' annual spring game, an affair that resulted in a 17-14 win for Jones' Gray squad over the Scarlet. But with just a few passes, he reminded 99,391 fans in attendance why he's the best bet to start for OSU in the season opener.

While it's hard to read much into any exhibition—especially one where the team didn't allow Jones to be tackled—there was no questioning his arm strength on Saturday, which he displayed with a 74-yard toss in a halftime quarterback competition.

"That's it?" Jones responded when told the length of his throw. "My arm was kind of tired."

Jones' signature cannon of an arm helped him win the halftime battle against fellow Buckeyes signal-caller J.T. Barrett and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, and it'll be his best weapon in helping him win the more important faceoff coming up this summer.

It's no secret that the biggest quarterback competition in college football is still brewing in Columbus, as Jones will try to fend off Barrett and Braxton Miller as they each attempt to reclaim their status as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback. "There's going to be a lot of people interested," Urban Meyer admitted.

Meyer declined to name a starter for the season after the game, wanting to give Barrett and Miller the chance to recover from their respective injuries before doing so. But Jones appears to have solidified his status as the front-runner of the three heading into the summer, thanks in part to a strong spring.

"For the spring, I'd give him a very good spring," Meyer said after the game. "You didn't necessarily see it today."

Statistically, this wasn't Jones' best performance, a 19-of-42, 304-yard, two-touchdown, two-interception showing on a day where his Gray team only attempted three true rushes behind a makeshift offensive line. "He's got to be much sharper than that," Meyer said.

But while the Cleveland native's accuracy left something to be desired, it's what he did with his throws—both complete and incomplete—that helped strengthen his case to be the Buckeyes' starter.

His halftime throw aside, Jones made a habit of showing off the arm that could have made him a first-round pick had he opted to enter this year's NFL draft. The 6'5", 250-pounder routinely targeted wide receiver Corey Smith on throws down the field, connecting with the senior from Akron, Ohio, on passes of 37, 46 and 58 yards.

Jones was also able to consistently find spring stars Noah Brown (four receptions, 44 yards) and Curtis Samuel (three receptions, 30 yards), as he worked with what was clearly Ohio State's first-team wide receiver unit.

"I was with the guys I was repping with all spring. And for me to be able to have all the [first-team] reps with the guys who I think are going to be able to make plays for us in the fall, I mean, it was pretty fun," Jones said. "I hope I can carry it over to the fall."

Perhaps the player Jones' big arm impacts the most wasn't even on the field Saturday, as running back Ezekiel Elliott could be found running around the stadium with a selfie stick as he heals from offseason wrist surgery. 

It's not a coincidence Jones' insertion into the OSU lineup led to big numbers for the Buckeyes running back, who totaled 696 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in Ohio State's three postseason games last year. Defenses were unable to crowd the box thanks to the deep threat Jones provides.

Whether or not Meyer takes that into account when making the decision on which player his starter will be remains to be seen, although the fourth-year Buckeyes head coach insists that he has a plan. Rather than go on intangibles, Meyer says that he'll chart the progress of Jones, Barrett and Miller all summer, before naming a starter midway through fall camp.

"You have to be right on now," Meyer said. "This can't be, well, 'I'm going with him because it's my gut feeling.' It's got to be statistical analysis and data, backed up on who is going to play quarterback."

At first glance, that may not seem to bode well for Jones, who will never put up the same type of numbers as Barrett and Miller as he's more limited—albeit still capable—as a rusher.

But if you look at how the Ohio State offense performed as a whole with Jones in the lineup, totaling 1,633 combined yards against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon—as well as the Gray team's 324-yard showing on Saturday—there's no doubting the impact he's capable of making.

All with a single flick of his wrist.

 

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 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The White team earned a 27-14 victory over the Crimson team Saturday afternoon in the Alabama Crimson Tide's A-Day spring game.

The final score is somewhat deceiving as to the true difference between the two sides. The White team totaled 301 yards, compared to 141 for the Crimson team. The Crimson team did, however, own the turnover edge, collecting four interceptions and a fumble.

At halftime, the White team held a 17-0 lead. Adam Griffith hit a 49-yard field goal two minutes and 40 seconds into the game, and Jake Coker followed up in the first quarter with a 40-yard touchdown pass to ArDarius Stewart to put White ahead 10-0. Derrick Henry found the end zone 20 seconds after halftime, putting the Crimson team down 17 points.

Maurice Smith ate into the deficit with a 51-yard interception return with 10:22 left in the third quarter, but Griffith nailed a 28-yarder to make it a 20-7 game.

David Cornwell made it interesting late in the fourth quarter with a nine-yard TD pass to Parker Barrineau, but the Crimson team was unable to complete the comeback. Stewart got his second touchdown reception of the day, this one from Blake Barnett for 29 yards with 49 seconds remaining.

Marq Burnett of The Anniston Star noted that the White team coaching staff knew exactly how to exploit the Crimson secondary:

Stewart was one of the standout performers from the game. He finished with eight receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. The sophomore wideout shared the co-MVP honor with fellow wide receiver Robert Foster, per Burnett. Foster had six receptions for 125 yards.

Travis Reier of BamaOnLine is already making the comparison to Amari Cooper:

A number of Tide fans were eagerly watching to see how the quarterbacks performed Saturday. With Blake Sims' graduation, the position is wide open.

Heading into the spring game, head coach Nick Saban admitted that he and his staff haven't yet tabbed anybody for the starting role.

"We don't really have a first-team quarterback," he said, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "We had to put some guys on both teams. And I think when it comes to that position, we're putting the guys on the teams so that we feel like they can get the most—how can we them the best reps and how can we play them where they get reps."

Coker seems the best bet for now to start once the season begins, and he did little Saturday to prove otherwise. The senior signal-caller went 14-of-28 for 183 yards and a touchdown.

D.C. Reeves of The Tuscaloosa News highlighted a throw from Coker to Foster late in the second quarter as evidence of Coker's ability:

The Tuscaloosa News' Aaron Suttles also praised the pass, crediting Coker for letting the play unfold and finding his man:

Barnett, a 5-star recruit from the 2015 class, only got four passing attempts under his belt. He went 3-of-4 for 28 yards. He also ran the ball four times, losing three yards.

David Cornwell was the Crimson's leading passer with 110 yards on 12-of-24 passing and one touchdown.

Cornwell fell himself victim to one of the Tide's talented recruits, however. Four-star safety Ronnie Harrison picked off a Cornwell pass in the second half, per Alex Byington of The Decatur Daily:

Former Tide QB and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy was a bit unwilling to heap too much praise upon Harrison for the play, per Mike Herndon of AL.com:

Tide fans might be a bit disappointed that more of Alabama's highly touted freshmen didn't make a major impact, but the team's 2015 season-opener against the Wisconsin Badgers isn't until September 5. That's a lot of time for those players to get acquainted to Saban's system.

Meanwhile, Saban will also have ample opportunity to determine whether Coker will be his guy at quarterback for the coming year. The Crimson Tide aren't lacking in talent at the position, so the ongoing battle between Coker, Cornwell and Barnett, among others, will be a story to watch in the coming months.

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Edwin Alexander to LSU: Tigers Land 5-Star DT Prospect

Nearly three years before his scheduled graduation date, Edwin Alexander committed to LSU. Six months later, he'd backed out. Now, following the intense recruitment fitting of his status among the nation's best recruits, Alexander is headed to LSU, per James Smith of NOLA.com

While it's been an up-and-down road, most expected Alexander to head to Baton Rouge when he finalized his decision. 247Sports' Crystal Ball rankings at one point had the Tigers with a 100 percent chance of landing the St. Thomas Aquinas product. No other school was even viewed as being close from an interest standpoint.

Alexander initially committed to LSU in November 2013, just days after head coach Les Miles offered him a scholarship. Like many kids in their sophomore year of high school, Alexander had a change of heart and pulled his verbal by April 2014 but did not rule out the Tigers. It felt at the time like he was merely getting his fill of all the recruiting process can offer.

By the end of last year, he'd received offers from Florida State, Texas A&M, Florida and just about every high-profile program in the southern United States. LSU remained a top dog—he went there three times for unofficial visits between July and October—but there was at least some creeping hope he'd change his mind.

Alexander is one of the most complete prospects in the 2016 class. He's already built like an NFL defensive tackle and uses his physical powers to impose his will on opposing offensive linemen. 247Sports' composite rankings have Alexander listed as the No. 13 overall prospect and third-best defensive tackle in his class. Rashan Gary and Derrick Brown are the only tackles ranked higher.

While his commitment is still verbal—and, as he's already proven, changeable—Alexander should bring an instant impact to Baton Rouge. There aren't all that many flaws here. He'll get much better when a collegiate strength and conditioning coach gets with him and better distributes his weight, but he is already a disruptive force against the run who's only going to get better.

If Coach Miles can coax more consistency in the pass rush, there's no reason to believe he won't be playing on Sundays someday.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Recruit star ratings and rankings via 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

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Ohio State and Urban Meyer Score Big Recruiting Wins at Spring Game

Ohio State's spring game was an opportunity to once again celebrate the achievements of 2014 while getting an early look at what's in store for 2015. Along the way the Buckeyes made strides toward 2016 and beyond, landing two key commitments to future recruiting classes.

Offensive lineman Jack Wohlabaugh joined OSU's 2016 class prior to Saturday's scrimmage, while cornerback Marcus Williamson committed to the Buckeyes afterward.

Both players were on hand for Ohio State's spring game, which drew a national-record crowd of 99,391 to Ohio Stadium.

Wohlabaugh, a 3-star prospect from Stow, Ohio, committed only moments after being offered by OSU on Saturday morning, per Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch. He is the son of Dave Wohlabaugh, who spent nine seasons in the NFL as a center. The 6'3", 280-pound guard is rated by 247Sports as the No. 564 overall prospect in the 2016 class as well as the 30th-best player at his position and the No. 18 player in Ohio.

Williamson, from Westerville, Ohio, has a 4-star rating and ranks 87th in the 2017 class. He's the nation's fifth-best cornerback and ranked fourth in Ohio. The 5'10", 178-pound Williamson, who has been clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash, also had offers from Michigan and Michigan State.

Ohio State now has 11 commitments for the 2016 class, which 247Sports has ranked third overall. The Buckeyes' 2017 class now includes five commitments, all of whom are 4-star prospects or better, and is ranked No. 1.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Ohio State Football: Winners and Losers from Buckeyes' 2015 Spring

Urban Meyer and Ohio State officially finished up spring practice as Cardale Jones guided the Gray Team to a 17-14 victory over the Scarlet team in the Buckeyes' annual spring game on Saturday.

But as Ohio State continues to gear up for a title defense in 2015, Meyer feels that his team has a long way to go.

"As a team, we did not improve," Meyer said of spring camp on Saturday, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com

Who improved and who failed to take a step forward this spring?

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LSU Football 2015: Winners and Losers from Tigers' Spring Practices, Game

The LSU Tigers finished off their 2015 edition of spring practice at the National L Club Spring Game.

Saturday's action provided a final chance to see some winners and losers from both the session as a whole and the intrasquad scrimmage. A few players displayed a terrific month-plus of work, while some individuals and collective units have plenty of improvements to make during the coming months.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the Tigers exited the spring without major injuries hovering over the roster.

Please note that this article takes a look at the entire spring, not just the game itself.

Who do you think showed out during the spring? Head to the comments section and add your thoughts.

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Auburn Football 2015: Winners and Losers from Tigers' Spring Practices, Game

Team Auburn defeated Team Tigers 24-14 in the program's 2015 A-Day. But as is always the case this time of year, the final score will pale in importance to a valuable spring that was only capped off by Saturday's scrimmage.

There are questions that remain regarding certain starting spots that may not be answered until the regular season, but a handful of players have helped their cause over the spring by standing out from the rest. It can be a discouraging time for others for the very same reason, as injuries and poor play can allow once-thought starters to lose playing time simply due to others stepping in front of them on the depth chart.

The fall is when it all comes together, but the foundation for great teams is laid in the spring. Auburn has plenty of foundation to lay on the heels of an 8-5 season and a complete re-tooling of the defense under Will Muschamp.

Now that spring football is in the books, let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the spring in The Plains.

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Jeremy Johnson Poised to Make Cam Newton-Like Impact for Auburn in 2015

Five years ago, an unheralded quarterback stepped into Gus Malzahn’s offense and propelled Auburn back into the national spotlight.

Cam Newton spent only one season on the Plains, but his impact will never be forgotten. The gregarious 6’5”, 240-pound quarterback won the Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national championship, throwing for 2,854 yards with 30 touchdowns against seven interceptions and rushing for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.

Newton is a superstar who has validated the Carolina Panthers taking him as the top overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft, and any comparison to him is inherently unfair.

But in Jeremy Johnson, Auburn might have found the next best thing. If Saturday’s A-Day Game is any indication, Johnson has the potential to make a Newton-like impact for Malzahn and the Tigers in 2015.

The junior had a breakout day, completing 14 of 22 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns.

Those are impressive numbers and even more so when you consider that Johnson didn’t take a single snap after halftime, compiling all of his numbers in the first half.

Johnson displayed clear separation from fellow quarterback competitor Sean White, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 109 yards. At 6’5”, 230 pounds, his frame is almost identical to Newton’s, and his game is impressive as well.

“He’s got a lot of experience,” Malzahn told Maria Taylor of the SEC Network on the game telecast. “Even though he’s been the backup, he has as much experience as anyone with practice and game snaps. I thought he did a good job today and we have high expectations for him.”

Saturday, Johnson made all the throws. He showed the ability to check down in Malzahn’s offense when necessary, but he also displayed an impressive touch with the deep ball.

He tossed a 35-yard strike down the right sideline to a covered D’Haquille Wiliams for a touchdown and a 43-yard pass to Myron Burton for another touchdown.

“They’re going to be part of the game plan this season,” he told Taylor of the deep passes. “The ones that I missed, I promise I’ll complete when it comes to game time. I want to give good receivers a chance and let them make plays.”

While Malzahn’s offense will always be based around the run game, Johnson’s presence gives it more of an air-it-out feel. Auburn must replace NFL-bound Sammie Coates, but Williams will be an excellent deep threat, and Burton showed signs Saturday of being a dependable target as well.

That’s important while Auburn learns how to replace the SEC’s leading rusher, Cameron Artis-Payne. Junior-college transfer Jovon Robinson is an impressive presence, and tailback Roc Thomas had his moments Saturday as well. But both could experience an adjustment while carrying a bigger load in Auburn’s backfield.

Johnson has excellent speed and can lower the shoulder on defenders, but he is a very different running threat (and player) than the man he’ll replace, Nick Marshall. Last fall, Marshall threw for 2,532 yards with 20 touchdowns against seven interceptions and added 798 rushing yards and 11 scores.

But he was a converted defensive back whose NFL future, if there is one, is likely as a cornerback. Johnson is a different animal, with size and speed much like Newton’s.

Clearly, Saturday’s stats must be taken with a scoop of salt. New Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp still has work to do with his new charges, particularly in the secondary. And the divided, no-contact nature of games like this can make it difficult to evaluate plenty of matters, including Johnson’s running skills.

But it’s clear that Johnson isn’t afraid of the spotlight. He started 2014’s season opener against Arkansas when Marshall was suspended following an offseason arrest for marijuana possession and looked plenty comfortable, completing 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-21 victory.

Suggesting he’ll duplicate Newton’s accomplishments in one season might be a stretch. Suggesting Auburn fans get a sense of déjà vu toward 2010? That isn’t so far-fetched, not at all.

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LSU Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The LSU quarterback battle took center stage during Saturday's spring game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the White Team defeated the Purple Team by a score of 45-6. 

Junior Anthony Jennings took the bulk of the snaps last season, but sophomore Brandon Harris showed some flashes of brilliance when given opportunities. They are engaged in an open competition, and they both did some very good things Saturday.

Here is a look at their stats, courtesy of LSU Football on Twitter:

Jennings was excellent from jump street as he completed a 33-yard pass to junior tight end Colin Jeter before throwing a 37-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Malachi Dupre.

Lyons Yellin of WWL-TV was extremely impressed by the Marietta, Georgia, native's hot start:

With Jennings and Harris each getting reps at quarterback for Team White throughout the opening half, the latter wanted to prove that he could match the incumbent starter.

That is precisely what Harris did when he also threw a touchdown to Dupre late in the first quarter from 35 yards out to make it 14-0.

The sophomore added another touchdown strike early in the second frame as he hit junior Travin Dural for 41 yards. Cody Worsham of TigerRag.com provided a Vine of Harris' perfectly placed pass down the sideline:

After a five-yard touchdown run by sophomore Darrel Williams made it 28-0 in favor of Team White, Jennings re-entered the game and connected on a 70-yard bomb to Dural.

Although he had to settle for a field goal, it capped a great half for the signal-callers as both Jennings and Harris posted some fantastic numbers, according to LSU Football on Twitter:

The quarterback situation got even more interesting in the second half as freshman Justin McMillan entered the mix. On his very first play from scrimmage, he made it 38-0 in favor of Team White with a 50-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end DeSean Smith.

As Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com pointed out, McMillan's pass had some heat behind it:

The first notable miscue among the quarterbacks came courtesy of Harris at the end of the third quarter as freshman cornerback Kevin Toliver II picked him off.

It wasn't a great pass by Harris, but Toliver made the play happen by being physical with the receiver, as ESPN.com's David Ching suggested:

Jennings capitalized in the fourth quarter as he went on to throw his second touchdown of the day in the form of an eight-yard pass to Dural.

Team Purple was able to prevent the shutout when freshman fullback David Ducre rushed for a two-yard touchdown as time expired, but the spring game was all about Team White and the development of LSU's quarterbacks.

While the Tigers are traditionally a run-first team, Leonard Fournette and the running backs took a backseat to the passing game.

Not only did that benefit the quarterbacks, but it also allowed the receivers to shine as both Dural and Dupre managed over 100 yards and two touchdowns apiece:

It should also be noted that LSU's traditionally great secondary had some issues Saturday. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that the receivers played well, but that will certainly bear watching as the regular season gets closer.

Head coach Les Miles always tends to have excellent defenses, though, which is why much of the focus will be on the quarterback situation moving forward.

There may be more questions than answers regarding the quarterback battle since both Jennings and Harris performed admirably, but having two potential starters is a good problem for the Tigers to have considering how much they struggled at the position last season.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Ohio State Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Head coach Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes began the march to their title defense at Saturday's spring game, where Team Gray defeated Team Scarlet, 17-14.

Cardale Jones was the star of the event, playing all four quarters and throwing a couple of deep touchdown passes to Corey Smith for Team Gray. 

For Jones, the event served as a way to take an early lead in the three-way quarterback battle yet to unfold, while Smith used the platform to make his case as the No. 1 wideout after offseason departures.

Brandon Castel of The-Ozone.net revealed Smith's final line and award afterward:

Saturday was a day of celebration and moving forward, as Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch illustrates:

As Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch notes in response to a tweet by Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde, fans flocked far and wide to see the defending champions begin their next campaign:

It started with the infamous Oklahoma drill at the 50-yard line, finalized with Jones taking on another quarterback to rile up the players before the actual game.

During the pregame interview, Meyer stressed the importance of finding a guy who could take the top off the defense with Devin Smith on his way to the NFL.

Corey Smith, who caught just 20 passes a season ago, reeled in a 46-yard bomb from Jones on the first drive in response. It seemed to lead to a touchdown reception by Jalin Marshall, but the referees later corrected the call and ruled him down to keep the game tied.

Joey Bosa and the defenses dominated after the non-touchdown until late in the second quarter, when Jones unleashed a 58-yard pass to Smith to put Team Gray up 10-0 going into the break.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer put it best:

Smith seemed to be Jones' favorite target on the day, although he did attempt to get the ball deep down the field to Curtis Samuel, Marshall and others in the first half.

The early reviews, such as one by Men of the Scarlet and Gray's Jeremiah, hinted that Smith has what it takes to step into the void and act as the No. 1:

There is competition, though.

For instance, Terry McLaurin brought in a clutch touchdown pass from Stephen Collier to end the half at 10-7, as captured by Ohio State on BTN:

Speaking of the half, Jones put on a show then, too, throwing a football 74 yards to best former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the longest pass competition. 

Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod offered thoughts on the matter:

Jones remained in the game for the second half with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller still nursing injuries.

Most of the other players on the field to run out the clock were younger, though. This was no surprise, as Meyer wants to keep his players both healthy and hungry. He spoke to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel about the latter before the game:

I think we’ll be fine offensively and defensively. Scheme-wise, I’m pushing them [to be] on the cutting edge. On offense, we have two new coaches who came from two great programs. On defense, I love our staff, we’re trying to do more stuff. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the development of the young guys, and will we still be that same hungry team that showed up in New Orleans and then Dallas?

Collier and other young players took control in the third frame, which happened quickly with no stoppages thanks to a rolling clock. Team Scarlet scored as the frame ended, giving it a 14-10 lead.

Jones and Smith took a late drive the distance, though, as the two converted a 37-yard deep connection to take back the lead, 17-14. Castel explained the degree of difficulty on the throw for Jones:

A last-ditch effort in response from Collier fell short as the Buckeyes' pass rush ramped up to secure the victory for Team Gray.

Ohio State on BTN captured Meyer's thoughts on the game afterward:

For the Buckeyes, the tire has hit pavement for their title defense. Meyer's defense looks as strong as ever, and Saturday proved that his offense will continue to click right along, no matter which of the three talented quarterbacks winds up winning the job.

The road is long throughout the summer for a Buckeyes roster with plenty of jobs still up for grabs. Saturday was a great start and a reaffirmation that Ohio State remains one of the deepest teams in the nation across the board.

 

Info courtesy of OhioStateBuckeyes.com unless otherwise specified. 

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Notre Dame Football 2015: Winners and Losers from Spring Practices, Game

With the spring ball session now in the books for the Notre Dame football team, it seems like a good time to be reflective. 

This piece will take a look at the winners and losers from spring practice. Of course, the quarterback position is a hot-button issue in South Bend. One of those options has flashed, while another has some work to do. 

An expected leader of the defense has continued to improve, a senior offensive skill player is making a push at another position and an early enrollee freshman has immensely impressed. Lastly, a former member of the team seems unlikely to return. 

Here are the winners and losers from the spring practice period for Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

 

 

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Auburn Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Auburn football's drive to the 2015 regular season kicked off in exciting fashion Saturday as Team Auburn defeated Team Tigers 24-14 in the A-Day spring game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.

Several players stood out, but junior quarterback Jeremy Johnson likely has Tigers fans talking more than anyone else does after making a strong case for the starting job.

As seen in this photo, courtesy of the Auburn Tigers' official Twitter account, there was no shortage of excitement and pageantry surrounding Saturday's exhibition contest:

The fun atmosphere seemed to play into Team Auburn's favor out of the gates, as sophomore running back Roc Thomas put the team ahead 7-0 on a 36-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter.

According to Justin Ferguson of Sporting News, Thomas flashed a wide array of skills to rack up the first points of the game:

The Team Auburn lead was soon pushed to 10-0 when sophomore kicker Daniel Carlson successfully booted a 50-yard field goal through the uprights.

Per Bryan Matthews of Rivals.com, Thomas was undoubtedly the standout player of the opening quarter, as he averaged better than 15 yards per carry:

While Thomas was the story of the first quarter, most Auburn fans entered Saturday's game hoping to see some progress from the quarterback position. With Nick Marshall making the move to the NFL, the Tigers will have a new starter under center in 2015.

Johnson pulled ahead in the race for that job, as the big signal-caller made some fantastic plays in the second quarter. After connecting with senior wide receiver Ricardo Louis on a 49-yard pass, Johnson threw his first touchdown of the day to senior wideout Duke Williams on a 36-yard strike.

His second scoring pass came six minutes later as he hit freshman receiver Myron Burton Jr. from 43 yards out to give Team Auburn a commanding 24-0 advantage.

In addition to Johnson's excellent play, he certainly looked the part, as pointed out by Michael Pelfrey of WEGL 91.1 FM:

The Auburn Athletics Twitter account provided a good example of Johnson's big-time arm with a video of his beautiful sideline pass to Chandler Cox:

After watching him throw for well over 200 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Brian Stultz of 247Sports felt as though Johnson made a statement regarding his place on the depth chart:

It wasn't necessarily a runaway, though, as freshman Sean White acquitted himself well, too:

Team Tigers managed to get on the board prior to halftime to make it 24-7, and it was Thomas who found pay dirt once again as he shifted over to the other team.

Thomas finished the half with 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he and Johnson established themselves as potential linchpins in the Auburn offense for the 2015 campaign.

The second half of the spring game paled in comparison to the first half in terms of excitement, but a third quarterback emerged and showed off some impressive skills in addition to Johnson and White.

Freshman Tyler Queen threw a touchdown to fellow freshman Jimmie Stoudemire to pull Team Tigers to within 10 points of the lead.

AL.com's Cole Cubelic was complimentary of the young signal-caller:

While Auburn fans had to enjoy seeing Queen get some positive work in, the biggest takeaway from Saturday's game is the fact that Johnson looks capable of being a starting quarterback in the SEC.

He and Thomas offered a glimpse of what could potentially be a potent offense, which is necessary in such a difficult conference.

Carrying this level of play over from the spring to the regular season won't be easy for Auburn's offense, but the talent is clearly in place to do some special things on that side of the ball.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Ohio State Sets New Spring Game Attendance Record with 99,391

Spring football isn't just a southern tradition anymore, not as long as Ohio State keeps drawing big crowds.

The defending national champion obliterated its own national record for spring game attendance on Saturday, drawing 99,391 fans to Ohio Stadium to watch the Buckeyes play a glorified scrimmage that featured only one of the team's three star quarterbacks (Cardale Jones) because of injuries.

Several other OSU players were held out or saw limited action, but that didn't stop fans from coming out in droves to get an early glimpse of the presumptive favorite to win the 2015-16 title.

Saturday's attendance topped the previous best of 95,722, which OSU set in 2009, according to Kevin Ryan of 247Sports. The Buckeyes, Nebraska and Penn State are the only schools outside of the South to register a spring game crowd of more than 75,000, per Ryan. Prior to Ohio State's record-shattering feat Saturday, Nebraska had the highest-attended spring game of the year, drawing 76,881 attendees on April 11.

Alabama has been the gold standard of late in the spring game attendance department, posting the top figure in three of the previous five seasons (with Auburn taking the title in 2013 and Ohio State doing so in 2012) and averaging a national-best 83,545 over the past eight years, per the school's website. Yet this year's game in Tuscaloosa, also held Saturday, wasn't nearly as well-attended based on pictures posted on Twitter:

Even more notable: Alabama did not charge admission to its A-Day game, while Ohio State fans paid $5 (though they also got admittance to the Buckeyes' men's lacrosse game beforehand).

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Notre Dame Spring Game 2015: Recap, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish went from looking like a national title contender to mediocre in the span of one month in 2014. After the team took the field for its spring game, it's still unclear what kind of team Brian Kelly will have in 2015. 

Per Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, the Gold won an entertaining back-and-forth affair by a score of 37-34:

Many programs would consider having an 8-5 season with a close loss on the road against Florida State a positive step, but the Irish collapsed in grand fashion with four straight losses in November in which they allowed an average of 44.5 points. 

Notre Dame did salvage the year with a bowl win over LSU, but even that game raised more questions because Malik Zaire played well as the main quarterback. Everett Golson's future with the Irish seemed uncertain after the season, but he is still with the program. 

In the days leading up to the spring game, Kelly said he had confidence in Notre Dame's ability to win in 2015 because of the quarterback depth, via WatchND.tv (h/t Chip Patterson of CBS Sports).

"There are certain areas that I think at the quarterback position, maybe other than Ohio State, I would take our two quarterbacks," Kelly said. "I would take our two over Ohio State's, but in terms of depth I don't know that anybody has a better situation than we do with the two quarterbacks that we have."

There's no denying the raw talent Golson has, as he showed at various points in 2012 and 2014, and Zaire looked impressive in spurts against a strong LSU defense, but consistency will be key for whoever gets the majority of snaps in 2015. 

Based on the returns in the spring game, Golson picked up where he left off at the end of 2014. An interesting aspect of this game, per Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, is how Kelly seemed to want his quarterbacks getting a feel for playing against a live defense:

That strategy allowed the coaching staff to see how Golson reacts under pressure, per Matt Fortuna of ESPN:

It was obvious, at least early, how the coaching staff wanted to use Golson. Sampson provided a breakdown of the play calls on Golson's first drive in which he attempted just one pass:

On the other side, Zaire looked comfortable throwing the ball and displayed nice touch with accuracy on this bomb to Will Fuller that went for 68 yards, per Notre Dame Football:

Because of how both players were used in this game, as well as the splits in the Music City Bowl, it appears Zaire may end up getting the bulk of the snaps as a passer while Golson comes in mostly to run and make an occasional pass to keep defenses honest. 

While quarterback was the focal point of this game, there were other players who seemed to make positive strides as the game went on.

Nick Watkins, who was a highly regarded 4-star recruit in 2014, according to 247 Sports, gave Irish fans something to smile about on that side of the ball with plays such as this, per Notre Dame Football:

Watkins was the one Fuller beat on that long touchdown pass, though Kelly said after the game he was pleased overall with how the young cornerback looked, per Chris Goff of The Journal Gazette:

Kelly highlighted two specific areas and two specific players whose progress he was pleased with, according to Jack Nolan of UND.com: 

This program has been more consistent with Kelly than it was under Charlie Weis, but beside the 12-win season that culminated in an appearance in the national title game three years ago, the Irish have been winning eight or nine games since 2010. 

Notre Dame continues to have well-regarded recruiting classes, including the 11th-ranked class in 2015, according to 247 Sports, but that hasn't been enough to push it back into the elite status among teams around the country. 

Kelly certainly isn't working with a bare cupboard, but there are areas lacking that need to be addressed in the offseason. He's happy with how things played out in the spring game, so that may be a good sign heading into the season in four months.

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