Spring football games: Who wins QB battles, who’s out, others to watch


It’s that time of year when everyone’s undefeated, every team got stronger and faster, and the coaches are smiling.

That’s right, it’s time for spring games, when optimism reigns and we’re all happy to get a taste of college football before the transfer portal opens up again and reshapes all the rosters before fall practice.

This week brings one of the biggest slates of spring games and some of the biggest names. Some schools have already played, and more games will come next weekend (we’ll be back for those).

But here are the highlights of what to watch Saturday, when we can get our first glimpse of many of tomorrow’s stars.

ACC

2022 record: 3-9, 2-6 ACC

QB outlook: After three years with Phil Jurkovec at the helm, BC turns its offense over to Emmett Morehead. The third-year sophomore from California played heavily down the stretch for the Eagles last season, throwing nine touchdowns and five picks in November. It was good enough to earn the full support of head coach Jeff Hafley, who also elevated QB coach Steve Shimko to offensive coordinator.

Non-QB to watch: The Eagles’ biggest loss from last season is undoubtedly wide receiver Zay Flowers, who might soon be a first-round NFL draft pick. There are options to replace him, but none quite so game ready as UCF transfer Ryan O’Keefe, who finished last season with 73 catches for 725 yards and five TDs.

Notable injuries: Boston College was utterly derailed in 2022 because of its offensive line, which was among the worst in the country after losing all five starters from the previous year, including Christian Mahogany, who went down with injury last summer. Mahogany’s return has been slow going thus far, and BC isn’t interested in rushing him. Mahogany went through his first full practice on April 5, and he’ll likely play a few series in the spring game, but getting the O-line back to full strength in time for the fall is job No. 1. — David Hale


2022 record: 11-3, 8-0 ACC

QB outlook: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made one of the biggest hires of the offseason with Garrett Riley as offensive coordinator, hoping he would be able to bring the most out of quarterback Cade Klubnik. Swinney calls the Riley offense “very quarterback friendly” and said it lines up with what Klubnik did in high school. “I just felt like with Garrett, that he was the voice, the energy and the confidence that we needed in the room,” Swinney said. “The timing was good. It’s been an easy transition.”

Non-QB to watch: DL Peter Woods, the top-rated defender in the 2023 recruiting class. The early enrollee from Alabaster, Alabama, has not disappointed this spring and should have an immediate impact this season. Last week, Swinney said this of Woods: “Smart, tough, loves to play, high character. Doesn’t really have any deficiencies other than he needs to go and get some game experience.”

Notable injuries: If there is one position group that remains a question because of injuries, it’s the wide receivers. Beaux Collins (shoulder) and Adam Randall (knee) are projected to either start or be significant contributors and they were either limited or did not participate this spring. Among the others sidelined: DE Xavier Thomas (foot), DT Ruke Orhorhoro (shoulder), OLs Walker Parks (ankle) and Marcus Tate (knee). — Andrea Adelson


2022 record: 10-3, 5-3 ACC

QB outlook: Jordan Travis is entrenched as the starter, so the Seminoles have spent some time this spring giving more work to backups Tate Rodemaker and A.J. Duffy. Both have played the majority of the first two scrimmages the Seminoles had in the spring. Coach Mike Norvell is still looking for more consistency from them in particular headed into the spring game.

Non-QB to watch: DE Patrick Payton. Payton won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last year, but defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said earlier this spring that Payton is the most improved player on the team. “Patrick is going to be a good athlete. He’s going to be a really smart football player,” Fuller said. “That’s what he is, and that’s what he was last year. But he had to develop physically, too, with strength and size. Now you’re seeing the physicality, and that’s critical because there are no great finesse defensive linemen.”

Notable injuries: WR Mycah Pittman, OL Robert Scott and CB Kevin Knowles II are among the key players out for the game. — Adelson


2022 record: 5-7, 4-4 ACC

QB outlook: The QB position proved to be a revolving door down the stretch in 2022 for the Yellow Jackets, with Jeff Sims going down with an injury and Zach Pyron, Zach Gibson and Taisun Phommachanh all receiving playing time in November. Sims and Phommachanh are gone now, and the starting job is a three-man race between Gibson, Pyron and former Texas A&M starter Haynes King. King likely has the most upside, and Georgia Tech fans would love to see him showcase his skill set in the spring game to lock down the job now.

Non-QB to watch: Georgia Tech said goodbye to its top three receivers from last year’s squad, which means transfers Abdul Janneh and Christian Leary have been at the forefront this spring. Leary was once a top recruit for Alabama, and he brings an impressive skill set that has yet to be truly refined. Janneh (6-3, 180 pounds) arrives from Duquesne and could become a true threat on the outside for the Yellow Jackets.

Notable injuries: Georgia Tech is in good shape healthwise, but just five members of the Yellow Jackets’ high school signing class enrolled early, meaning a significant chunk of Brent Key’s latest recruits won’t be around until the summer. That might show up most on the offensive line, where three of Tech’s recruits — Benjamin Galloway, Patrick Screws and Ethan Mackenny — didn’t enroll early. None would likely compete for starting jobs, but developing depth at a position that’s been a black hole the past few years is critical. — Hale


2022 record:5-7, 3-5 ACC

QB outlook: Tyler Van Dyke looks to bounce back after a disappointing 2022, and he has a new coordinator to help. Shannon Dawson is bringing a version of the offense that allowed Van Dyke to have a breakout freshman season in 2021, and so far Van Dyke has been happy with what he has seen. “It’s been good,” Van Dyke said earlier this spring. “There are a lot of different ways that he gets the plays, in the run game, the pass game, which is good.”

Non-QB to watch: OL Francis Mauigoa. It’s no secret Miami needs a major improvement on the offensive line, and the consensus five-star prospect has turned heads as an early enrollee in the spring. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Mauigoa is already getting first-team reps at right tackle. Offensive line coach Alex Mirabal told local media, “He’s got like a sixth sense. He sees things that you as a coach don’t have to tell him. You know, and that’s a gift.”

Notable injuries: OL Zion Nelson, TE Elijah Arroyo and essentially the top returning defensive linemen in Leonard Taylor, Jared Harrison-Hunte, Akheem Mesidor and Jahfari Harvey. — Adelson


2022 record: 9-5, 6-2 ACC

QB outlook: Breaking news: Drake Maye is really good. If there’s one sure thing at North Carolina following last year’s trip to the ACC championship game, it’s that the Heels are in good shape at QB. The bigger question here is how Maye looks without Phil Longo calling the plays. Chip Lindsey takes over as the new OC, and maximizing Maye’s immense talent while not putting all the onus for UNC’s success on his shoulders will be a top priority.

Non-QB to watch: The North Carolina defense has been a train wreck for the past two years, with serious problems both up front and in the secondary. The back end of the D will have a ton of eyes on it during the spring game, too, after three of last year’s starters hit the transfer portal. Alijah Huzzie and Armani Chatman — two transfers who arrived this spring — will be at the forefront of the rebuilding effort.

Notable injuries: The bulk of North Carolina’s stars will be on the field for the spring game, but a few expected contributors will be out or in noncontact jerseys, including a few potential members of the secondary. Gio Biggers and Chatman have both been back at practice, but the Heels are being cautious with them. On offense, receiver J.J. Jones and tailbacks Caleb Hood and British Brooks will both be out for the game and aren’t likely to see serious work until the summer. — Hale


2022 record: 3-7, 1-6 ACC

QB outlook: With Brennan Armstrong off to NC State, Virginia has an open quarterback competition between two players: Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett and Jay Woolfolk, who is limited this spring because he’s the closer on the Virginia baseball team. Depth here is an obvious concern, and so is the experience level in general. Though Muskett has played and started on the FCS level, making the jump to Power 5 quarterback will require some patience.

Non-QB to watch: RB Mike Hollins. In perhaps the most remarkable story in college football this spring, Hollins has returned to practice after surviving a shooting that took the lives of teammates Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry. Hollins has been running with the first team and said earlier in the spring he feels an extra sense of motivation in carrying on the legacy of his teammates.

Notable injuries: Among the key players limited or out are DL Chico Bennett Jr., DT Aaron Faumui and S Jonas Sanker. — Adelson


2022 record: 3-8, 1-6

QB outlook: Virginia Tech brought in Baylor transfer Kyron Drones to challenge Grant Wells for the starting job, and at least through the first few weeks of practice, Wells appeared to be ahead. Wells has started more games to be sure, but he also was not nearly as effective as he needed to be during last year’s 3-9 season. So the hope continues to be for Drones to keep pushing and improving as he acclimates to a new school and system.

Non-QB to watch: RB Bhayshul Tuten. The Hokies added several skill players from the transfer portal to help their productivity, and while receiver Ali Jennings has received a lot of the attention among that group so far, Tuten has had a nice spring and has been a welcome addition to the running back room. Since 2016, Virginia Tech has had only one 1,000-yard rusher. Coach Brent Pry has praised Tuten for his “level of competition and play.”

Notable injuries: S Nyke Johnson and DE Ishmael Findlayter won’t play in the spring game. — Adelson


2022 record: 8-5, 3-5 ACC

QB outlook: Oh how Dave Clawson wishes he could stop talking about the QB position. Yes, Sam Hartman is gone after rewriting the ACC record book during his career at Wake Forest, but that doesn’t mean the Deacons don’t feel good about the position in 2023. Mitch Griffis takes over, and Clawson has lauded the veteran as a ready-made replacement. Wake fans got a look at Griffis in the opener last year when Hartman was out following surgery to repair a blood clot, but the spring game will put Griffis on the big stage for the first time as the Deacons’ clear-cut starter.

Non-QB to watch: Wake’s defense made strides last season under new coordinator Brad Lambert, and the Deacons return a good bit of talent at linebacker and in the secondary. Up front, however, there are real questions, particularly on the interior of the D-line. Jasheen Davis returns at end after a strong 2022, but beyond that, there are a lot of unanswered questions, and if the Deacons are going to take another step forward on that side of the ball, Lambert & Co. need to identify some impact talent along the line. Keep an eye on Villanova transfer Bryce Ganious along with freshman early enrollees Kerrington Lee, Chris Marable and Ka’Shawn Thomas.

Notable injuries: A handful of Wake starters, including tailback Justice Ellison and receiver Jahmal Banks, missed time this spring, but as the spring game approaches, the biggest names all are at close to full strength. How much they actually play during contact situations, however, remains a question given Clawson’s penchant for maximizing depth. — Hale

BIG TEN

2022 record: 5-7, 3-6 Big Ten

QB outlook: A year removed from throwing a program-record 27 touchdown passes in 2021, Payton Thorne‘s hold on the job is in some question this spring. Thorne (2,679 yards, 19 TDs in 2022), a redshirt senior with 26 career starts, will be battling redshirt freshman Katin Houser, a four-star signal-caller from the 2022 class, and redshirt junior Noah Kim (14-of-19 passing for 174 yards and three TDs in four games in 2022). Thorne, Houser or Kim will be looking to improve a unit that ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total offense (353.0 YPG) and eighth in points (24.4 PPG) last year.

Non-QB to watch: Nate Carter comes to East Lansing from UConn and will be asked to help jump-start a running game that averaged just 113 yards a game last year — 12th in the Big Ten. Carter, a redshirt sophomore, rushed for a combined 983 yards and three touchdowns in his two seasons with the Huskies. Carter hopes to form a potent one-two punch with redshirt junior Jalen Berger (683 yards, six TDs in 2022) as they attempt to take some load off the shoulders of whoever wins the quarterback competition.

Notable injuries: Darius Snow was expected to be one of the linchpins of the defense after racking up 87 tackles (61 solo) and 5.5 tackles for loss in 2021 as a nickelback and safety. Shifted to linebacker heading into last season, he sustained a knee injury in the season opener against Western Michigan that ended his season. Snow, the son of former Spartan and NBA player Eric and nephew of former Spartan and NFL linebacker Percy, will be instrumental in helping a defense that sorely missed him last fall — finishing 13th in the Big Ten in total defense (416.5 YPG). — Blake Baumgartner


2022 record: 11-2, 8-1 Big Ten

QB outlook: Kyle McCord and Devin Brown have competed throughout the spring to replace two-time Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud, but Brown won’t participate in the spring game after undergoing a procedure on a finger on his throwing hand. McCord, who also teamed with top wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. in high school, is seen as a slight favorite, but neither he nor Brown, ESPN’s No. 81 overall recruit in 2022, pulled away in practice. “It’d be nice to see one of them kind of separate,” coach Ryan Day said earlier this spring. The Buckeyes’ quarterback will be throwing to the nation’s deepest wide receiver group, but also will be playing behind a reworked offensive line and facing a seemingly energized defensive front applying more pressure.

Non-QB to watch: Nickel safety Cameron Martinez. Ohio State’s secondary clearly must improve after the struggles late last season, and Martinez has emerged this spring as a potential playmaker. The safeties loom large in coordinator Jim Knowles’ scheme, and Martinez’s versatility in coverage and as a run-stopper should help a group returning Lathan Ransom and others but needing more depth and reliability. Martinez has made several interceptions in practices and should look to punctuate his spring.

Notable injuries: Aside from quarterback candidate Brown missing the spring game, Ohio State had several starters or key contributors miss all of spring practice, including linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, wide receivers Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, and running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor. Henderson dealt with a foot injury for much of last season. Starting linebacker Steele Chambers sustained a right leg injury during spring practice that will require surgery, and wide receiver/returner Xavier Johnson injured his left leg. Both are expected back for preseason camp. Without both Eichenberg and Chambers, Ohio State is rotating several players into the first-team linebacker roles. — Adam Rittenberg


2022 record: 11-2, 7-2 Big Ten

QB outlook: Coach James Franklin said Penn State is holding a genuine competition at quarterback, even though decorated 2022 recruit Drew Allar has long been projected as Sean Clifford’s successor. Allar and fellow second-year player Beau Pribula both have logged significant work this spring. Pribula didn’t see the field last season, while Allar, ESPN’s No. 2 pocket passer and No. 51 overall recruit in the 2022 class, had 344 passing yards and four touchdowns in 10 appearances. A scenario where Allar doesn’t start seems unlikely, but Pribula’s athletic ability gives him opportunities to see the field in other ways.

Non-QB to watch: Penn State will lean on KeAndre Lambert-Smith as its top receiver, but other options must emerge for an inexperienced quarterback. One will arrive this summer in Kent State transfer in Dante Cephas, and others will get their opportunity on the spring game stage, including third-year Harrison Wallace III, Florida State transfer Malik McClain and sophomore Omari Evans. Wallace averaged 14.4 yards per catch in limited work last year, while McClain is a big target at 6-4 who started games in each of the past two seasons. The speedy Evans has generated good reviews this spring.

Notable injuries: Franklin doesn’t discuss injuries, but Penn State is mostly healthy. He said defensive tackle Coziah Izzard and tight ends Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren both entered the spring with “bumps and bruises,” so they could be limited or unavailable for the Blue-White Game. The tight end situation likely will increase opportunities for sophomore Khalil Dinkins and Penn State’s other reserves. — Rittenberg

BIG 12

2022 record: 9-5, 6-2 AAC

QB outlook: John Rhys Plumlee is the incumbent, but his spring has looked a little different from those of most quarterbacks. Plumlee has split his time with the baseball team, where he is the starting center fielder. Despite his added responsibilities, Plumlee had not missed any practice time with the football team in the spring.

Non-QB to watch: DT John Walker. The highest-rated recruit in UCF history, the four-star prospect enrolled early and participated in bowl practices. His growth in the spring has been noticeable, according to coaches and teammates, and he is expected to play — possibly start — right away.

Notable injuries: None. — Adelson


2022 record: 9-4, 6-2 AAC

QB outlook: Ben Bryant, who went 9-2 as the starter last season, throwing for 2,723 yards and 21 TDs before a season-ending injury, is back for a sixth season. But the Bearcats also added former Florida and Arizona State starter Emory Jones. Evan Prater, who completed 22 of 58 attempts for 312 yards in three games after Bryant’s injury last year, returns but is out with an injury and won’t play Saturday.

Non-QB to watch: Everything will be new with Scott Satterfield taking over for Luke Fickell, with Satterfield saying he just wants to let the players play and get everyone reps in this game without the coaches getting in the way. One big key for the season is Dontay Corleone, a 6-2, 230-pound defensive tackle who is a preseason All-America candidate after bursting onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, racking up 45 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 2 forced fumbles in 2022.

Notable injuries: Aside from Prater, TE Joey Beljan, a Western Kentucky transfer, is out, along with OL Luke Kandra, a transfer from Louisville who appeared in 21 games the past two seasons. Satterfield said Tuesday he expects eight to 10 players to be out for the game. — Dave Wilson


2022 record: 10-4, 7-2 Big 12

QB outlook: Will Howard returns after helping lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 title last season, including starts in the conference championship game over TCU and the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. He’s listed at 6-5, 242 on the spring roster and could be the league’s preseason first-team QB when the media votes.

Non-QB to watch: There are a lot of holes to replace on defense, notably on the defensive line where the Wildcats lost Felix Anudike-Uzomah, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. They also lost starting nose tackle Eli Huggins. With an inexperienced secondary, finding the pieces up front to replace them will be key. K-State added junior DT Jevon Banks from Mississippi State this offseason to help.

Notable injuries: DJ Giddens, the favorite to replace all-everything RB Deuce Vaughn, is out for the spring, as is Treshaun Ward, the splashy transfer RB Kansas State landed from Florida State. Some of the younger backs will get time to shine, but the real competition will be in the fall. Tight end Ben Sinnott also is out. — Wilson


2022 record: 13-2, 9-0 Big 12

QB outlook: Chandler Morris, who signed with Oklahoma out of high school before transferring back to TCU, has had an interesting career with the Horned Frogs. He started one game in place of the injured Max Duggan in 2021 and looked like a superstar in an upset of eventual Big 12 champ Baylor when he had 531 yards of offense, second best in school history. Then he won the job over Duggan last year but was injured in the opener and watched as Duggan became a Heisman finalist. If Morris can stay healthy, he should put up big numbers in new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ offense.

Non-QB to watch: The receiver position got a major overhaul this offseason with JoJo Earle arriving from Alabama and John Paul Richardson coming in from Oklahoma State. Returners like junior Savion Williams, who’s in line to fill Quentin Johnston‘s position as he heads off to the NFL, will get lots of work, along with redshirt freshman Major Everhart, who has 10.38 speed in the 100.

Notable injuries: A couple of other anticipated wide receivers, Jack Bech (LSU transfer) and Jaylon Robinson (Ole Miss transfer) are both out this season recovering from injuries. — Wilson


2022 record: 8-5, 6-3 Big 12

QB outlook: Quinn Ewers is back for Year 2 and has skill-position talent all around him. It’s his job to lose, but the most famous freshman in the country, Arch Manning, will be the source of much spring game curiosity.

Non-QB to watch: With Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson preparing for the NFL draft, there is a good chance there won’t be much clarity on the future of the running back rotation from this game, with both Jonathon Brooks and Keilan Robinson, the top two returners from last year, nursing injuries and likely seeing limited action. Freshman CJ Baxter and sophomore Jaydon Blue have both gotten plenty of reps in the spring and will get an opportunity to make an impression.

Notable injuries: Safety Jalen Catalon, a transfer from Arkansas who’s in the mix for a starting job, won’t play and is still rebounding from a season-ending shoulder injury last year. Sophomore DJ Campbell, an offensive lineman who appeared in seven games last year, will also be out, coach Steve Sarkisian said Tuesday. — Wilson

PAC-12

2022 record: 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12

QB outlook: After throwing for 3,685 yards and 25 touchdowns — and helping the Wildcats to improve from 124th to 48th in scoring offense — in his first season after transferring from Washington State, Jayden de Laura enters Year 2 with far better familiarity in head coach Jedd Fisch’s system. He’ll have his go-to guy, deep-threat receiver Jacob Cowing, back as well.

Non-QB to watch: Take your pick on defense. The Wildcats have been dismal for a while on that side of the ball, and second-year coordinator Johnny Nansen is looking at massive turnover as well. Of the 12 defenders with at least 300 snaps, only three return. Transfers Justin Flowe (Oregon linebacker) and Bill Norton (Georgia tackle) have been asked to provide immediate leadership.

Notable injuries: The most notable injury happened in the fall and might benefit the Wildcats in 2023. Left tackle Jordan Morgan allowed only two sacks in 10 games but injured his knee in November, which prevented him from declaring for the NFL draft. If he’s good to go this fall, de Laura’s supporting cast becomes a lot more proven. — Bill Connelly


2022 record: 3-9, 2- Pac-12

QB outlook: With last year’s leading passer, Emory Jones, transferring to Cincinnati, Kenny Dillingham’s first spring as head coach features quite the QB battle between Notre Dame transfer Drew Pyne, blue-chip freshman Jaden Rashada and Trenton Bourguet, who took over late in 2022 and threw for at least 349 yards in three of ASU’s final five games.

Non-QB to watch: There are lots of jobs up for grabs on the ASU defense, and Dillingham hit the transfer portal about as hard as anyone when it comes to filling them. Edge rusher and former top-100 recruit Clayton Smith, a sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, has made an early impression in Tempe and could stand out Saturday.

Notable injuries: With LaDarius Henderson transferring to Michigan, Cal transfer Ben Coleman, honorable mention all-conference in 2021, was a leading candidate to take over at left guard in 2023. But a late-March injury will potentially keep him out until well into the fall. The O-line underwhelmed last season and appears awfully thin this spring. — Connelly


2022 record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

QB outlook: In two years at TCU, Sam Jackson saw minimal playing time in a backup role before opting for the transfer portal, eventually landing in Berkeley. His arrival comes at a pivotal time as the Bears attempt to reinvent their offensive identity, shifting back to more of a spread approach under new OC Jake Spavital.

Non-QB to watch: One bright spot last season was the emergence of freshman running back Jaydn Ott, who ran for 897 yards and eight touchdowns. He was already one of the better running backs in the Pac-12 last season and has the potential to receive more national recognition this season if he can build off his promising start.

Notable injuries: Brett Johnson‘s long road back from injury appears to be coming to an end. After missing the past two seasons — for separate injuries — the standout defensive lineman is expected to be ready for the start of the season. — Kyle Bonagura


2022 record: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12

QB outlook: You could say the QB situation is pretty decent. Junior Caleb Williams returns after throwing for 4,537 yards and 42 touchdowns and winning the Heisman in his first season out west. There’s certainly some spring intrigue with the backup QB role — how is blue-chip freshman Malachi Nelson progressing? will he top last year’s backup Miller Moss? — but the starter is quite obviously set.

Non-QB to watch: USC’s defense was abjectly awful in 2022, and the run front was a big reason for that. Adding 300-pound transfers Kyon Barrs (Arizona) and Anthony Lucas (Texas A&M) was a major step in rectifying that, and with sacks leader Tuli Tuipulotu gone, other transfers like Jack Sullivan (Purdue) and Jamil Muhammad (Georgia State) could be integral as well.

Notable injuries: The good news is no one has suffered any key, long-term injuries this spring. The bad news is a number of nagging injuries have resulted in head coach Lincoln Riley having to shuffle the practice schedule around a bit. “Too many nicks,” he told local media. — Connelly

SEC

2022 record: 7-6, 3-5 SEC

QB outlook: KJ Jefferson is the established fifth-year senior starter for the Razorbacks, and at this point, we know what we’re getting out of one of the better quarterbacks in the conference. If anything, seeing how new offensive coordinator Dan Enos changes anything will be the surprise.

Non-QB to watch: Missouri transfer Trajan Jeffcoat, who comes over after starting the past three seasons. Coach Sam Pittman has expressed praise for Jeffcoat, who should be a promising addition to an Arkansas team that led the SEC in sacks last season.

Notable injuries: Players who won’t be around until the summer include RB Dominique Johnson, DB Alfahiym Walcott and OL Luke Brown. — Harry Lyles Jr.


2022 record: 6-7, 3-5 SEC

QB outlook: Anthony Richardson and his out-of-this-world talent are gone. And, after going after some bigger names in the transfer portal, Florida landed on Graham Mertz — a veteran who could still have some upside left in him. The former No. 1 QB prospect in the class of 2019, Mertz started 32 games at Wisconsin, totaling 5,405 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Non-QB to watch: Keep an eye on pretty much the entire offensive line, where four starters are gone, including standout O’Cyrus Torrence. Austin Barber, a frequent contributor off the bench last season, could slide in at left tackle. Former Alabama transfer Damieon George could play opposite him at right tackle. The good news is center Kingsley Eguakun and his 26 consecutive starts return.

Notable injuries: Tight end Keon Zipperer could be out for a while after suffering a knee injury last month. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior, who caught 13 passes last season, indicated in a Facebook post he could miss the entire season, writing, “2024 shake back year.” — Alex Scarborough


2022 record: 15-0, 8-0 SEC

QB outlook: There is a full evaluation going on between quarterbacks Brock Vandagriff and Carson Beck. Coach Kirby Smart told reporters last week, “I don’t put a lot of pressure on offensive identity in the spring. We got to figure out who the quarterback is, who the guys that get the ball are, who the guys that without the ball in their hand are valuable.”

Non-QB to watch: The receivers room. The Bulldogs will need a sturdy receiving corps with a new quarterback, and Smart acknowledged with two transfers and three midyear receivers, “That’s five people that are basically trying to learn a new language, and it is a new language.”

Notable injuries: Marvin Jones Jr., Joshua Miller, Dan Jackson, Andrew Paul and Jalon Walker are all out. — Lyles


2022 record: 9-4, 4-4 SEC

QB outlook: If Will Rogers isn’t the best quarterback in the conference — and we’re not saying he isn’t — then he’s certainly the most accomplished. He has started 33 games and is already the SEC career completions leader (1,159) and has school records for career passing yards (10,689) and passing touchdowns (82). The only question facing Rogers and the State passing game is how they adjust to a new system under OC Kevin Barbay, who spreads the field but doesn’t run the pure Air Raid that Mike Leach did.

Non-QB to watch: Let’s double-dip and spotlight a pair of transfers in Geor’Quarius Spivey and Ryland Goede. Why are they notable? Well, a few months ago they were competing for the national championship — Spivey with TCU and Goede with Georgia. But what’s most compelling is the position they play: tight end. Under Leach, the position was nonexistent. Without any pure tight ends on the roster, Barbay had to go out and find them on his own.

Notable injuries: The good news is State returns a fairly veteran offensive line. The bad news is Kameron Jones, who started 12 games last year, has been out all spring recovering from offseason surgery. — Scarborough


2022 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC

QB outlook: The Rebs appeared to be in pretty good shape at quarterback with Jaxson Dart returning after the former USC transfer threw for 2,900 yards last season. But Lane Kiffin wasn’t satisfied with the depth at the position. When Luke Altmyer left, Kiffin went out and signed Spencer Sanders, a former All-Big 12 selection at Oklahoma State, and Walker Howard, a former four-star prospect from LSU.

Non-QB to watch: The tight end position didn’t offer much for Ole Miss last season. Michael Trigg, the highly touted former USC transfer, appeared in only seven games after suffering an injury. So, adding to the competition, Kiffin signed former Memphis starter and John Mackey Award semifinalist Caden Prieskorn. He has the size and blocking ability to be a difference-maker and play well off Trigg, should Kiffin choose to utilize more two-tight end sets.

Notable injuries: A shoulder injury late in the season hampered Sanders during offseason conditioning and limited him early on in spring practice. He eventually worked up to being a full participant during a recent scrimmage, but that delay might cause coaches to hold off on any bold proclamations about the quarterbacks until fall practice, when everyone is healthy. — Scarborough


2022 record: 8-5, 4-4 SEC

QB outlook: Spencer Rattler is the man in Columbia; the only question is, can his play and confidence carry over from the end of 2022? In the Gamecocks’ final three games, Rattler completed 69% of his passes for 1,044 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Non-QB to watch: The edge has been something Shane Beamer has emphasized since the end of last season, particularly the depth. Donovan Westmoreland, Desmond Umeozulu, Bryan Thomas, Terrell Dawkins and Tyreek Johnson are all players to watch here.

Notable injuries: DL Tonka Hemingway, OT Cason Henry, LB Mo Kaba and EDGE Jordan Strachan will likely miss the entirety of the spring, while CB Marcellas Dial, nickel Keenan Nelson Jr. and safety Peyton Williams have dealt with other injuries and have missed a portion of practice. — Lyles


2022 record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC

QB outlook: From the praise coming out of Knoxville this spring, it feels like Joe Milton is the favorite to be the starter going into next season. However, there’s understandable hype around freshman Nico Iamaleava, who comes in as the 23rd player in the ESPN 300 and the fourth-ranked quarterback.

Non-QB to watch: Offensive lineman Cooper Mays. He has spoken this spring about being the head of the room and has been actively working to get better at it. Look for him to show leadership qualities in the small sample we get.

Notable injuries: The Vols have a handful of injuries all over the place, but most notably among running backs. Running backs coach Jerry Mack mentioned that because Jaylen Wright hasn’t been able to practice as much, other players are getting reps. — Lyles


2022 record: 5-7, 2-6 SEC

QB outlook: Sophomore Conner Weigman was thrust into the starting job last year and looks to be the future for the Aggies, with all the tools to be a star in new coordinator Bobby Petrino’s offense. But Max Johnson, who started 14 games at LSU before transferring to A&M before last season, also is in the mix and went 2-1 as a starter last year with wins over Arkansas and Miami before suffering a season-ending injury.

Non-QB to watch: Jimbo Fisher hasn’t entertained much discussion of how playcalling and the offense will look with Petrino on board. After the Aggies ranked 101st nationally in scoring offense last season (22.8 PPG), 93rd in total offense (360.9), and 99th in third-down conversions (35%), any chance to see what the new-look offense has in store will be dissected. But the big plays will have to wait. The Aggies are playing with only half the field due to stadium construction.

Notable injuries: Star wide receiver Evan Stewart reportedly returned to practice this week after wearing a boot on his foot and missing some spring practices. Offensive linemen Bryce Foster, Trey Zuhn, Hunter Erb, along with TE Max Wright and DB Deuce Harmon, have all been out or limited this spring and center Matthew Wykoff just said this week he’ll be entering the transfer portal. — Wilson



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