We’re nearing the first of May, which is both bad and good news for college football fans. We’re about to hit the slowest few months of the sport’s calendar, but we’ve got plenty of spring football action to react to and overanalyze while we wait for media days to hit in July.
With virtually every major college football program done with spring practice, it’s time to take a look what we learned and what it could mean for the 2017 season.
Nine things we've learned about some of college football’s top powers this spring:
Alabama doesn’t have a quarterback controversy – but boy, does it have depth
Congratulations to Alabama for providing us with our first official “controversy that isn’t really a controversy” that we’ll spend all summer arguing about! It comes at the quarterback position, where – after a breakout performance from true freshman Tua Tagovailoa in Alabama’s spring game – the Crimson Tide might have two quarterbacks capable of starting.
But while Tagovailoa (who threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns) is capable of starting for the Tide, make no mistake: This is still Jalen Hurts’ job. Let’s not forget that Hurts was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and led the Crimson Tide to within seconds of a national championship.
Therefore, there is no quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa. However, like everywhere else on the field, there is plenty of depth. Look for Hurts to start, but for Tagovailoa to get plenty of reps this fall as well.
Auburn has hype, too, but not enough to compete with Alabama
There also was plenty of hype coming out of the other spring game in Alabama, where new Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham lit things up in his debut on the Plains. The Baylor transfer tossed for 267 yards in his Tigers debut and showed a soft touch on deep passes that has been missing the last few years with Sean White and John Franklin III under center.
But while Stidham’s debut led to plenty of “Auburn’s back, baby” chatter, let’s pump the breaks a little bit.
Will the Tigers be better with Stidham under center? The answer is most certainly yes. And it’s not just about his performance in Auburn’s spring game, but also what he did in his limited role at Baylor in 2015 where he threw for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in limited time on the field. But even with Stidham’s presence, the Tigers still don’t have the overall depth or defensive personnel to compete with Alabama for an SEC West crown.
Todd Van EmstAP photo
Penn State may have found its replacement for Chris Godwin at WR
The Nittany Lions return virtually everyone of substance from last year’s surprising Big Ten title team, but one of their few losses came at wide receiver when Chris Godwin turned pro. The junior led the team in catches (59), receiving yards (982) and touchdown receptions (11) last season.
But if spring is any indication, Penn State might have already found Godwin’s replacement in redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead raved about Johnson to FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman, and Johnson backed it up with a monster spring game (seven catches for 81 yards). He should play a major role in the Lions’ passing attack after making just two catches last season.
Charles LeClaireCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
Despite its losses, Michigan will still be good on defense
While much of the focus on Michigan football right now is on its trip to Rome (and all resulting the chaos), when they actually practiced in the United States, the Wolverines took a major step toward solving one of their biggest issues. After losing 10 starters on defense, it appears as though Jim Harbaugh’s club has done a better than expected job of replacing them.
The talk of Michigan’s spring practice was its young defensive talent. Sophomore linebacker Devin Bush Jr. was the breakout star of the Wolverines’ spring game with three tackles and two sacks, while former five-star prospect Rashan Gary [pictured above] began to show signs of the recruiting hype that preceded his arrival in Ann Arbor last fall. The Wolverines also got some surprise contributions from early enrollees this spring, including defensive end Donovan Jeter and corner Ambry Thomas.
Getty ImagesDave Reginek
We won’t really learn anything about USC or Ohio State until games kick off in September
The Trojans and Buckeyes are atop virtually every “way too early” preseason poll, but when it came to spring practice, both Clay Helton's and Urban Meyer’s best work was in revealing little for next season’s opponents. At USC, Heisman front-runner Sam Darnold attempted just three passes in the spring game, while Meyer didn’t allow tackling in Columbus.
As much as we learned about the other teams on this list, we learned just as little about these two loaded squads. That shouldn’t stop either from being ranked in the Top 5 entering the season.
Nebraska once again proved it has the most loyal fan base in the country
There were no grand takeaways on the field in Lincoln, but the greatest one might have come off the field. Despite not finishing in the Top 10 since 2001 (including a 9-4 finish a season ago), the Cornhuskers managed to pack over 78,000 fans into Memorial Stadium. That was the second-most of any team in college football this spring, ahead of notable powers like Alabama, Michigan and Florida State.
And to the credit of their fans, it appears that support paid off. On a weekend when the Huskers hosted nearly 40 top recruits, a couple were swayed to commit to Nebraska while visiting. That included a pair of four-stars: cornerback Brendan Radley-Hiles and athlete Chase Williams.
Notre Dame will be better next season – how much better remains to be seen
A season ago, Notre Dame had one of its forgettable performances in recent memory, finishing 4-8 with losses to teams it should never lose to, including Duke and NC State. The good news is that at least on the afternoon of this year’s spring game, the bad taste of 2016 was washed away. New quarterback Brandon Wimbush completed 22 of 32 passes for over 300 yards, while Daelin Hayes added three sacks along the defensive front. Linebacker Nyles Morgan showed some added toughness up front as well.
All signs point toward Notre Dame being better next season. The question is whether the Irish will be good enough to satisfy their restless fan base.
Unfortunately for Texas fans (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), those lockers took away from the real story in Austin: After three straight losing seasons, Texas is still very much in “rebuilding mode.” Even the transition from Charlie Strong to Tom Herman won’t change that.
Florida State might already have its next great running back
This winter, the Seminoles said goodbye to arguably the greatest running back in Florida State history, Dalvin Cook, who rushed for over 4,400 yards and 46 touchdowns in his career. However, if we learned anything this spring it’s that the Noles might replace Cook with someone who is just as talented.
True freshman Cam Akers has a long way to go if he one day wants to pass Cook in the record books, but he showed why he was one of the most highly-touted recruits in the class of 2017 during Florida State’s spring game. Just a few months removed from his last high school game, Akers rushed for 87 yards and put up 102 all-purpose yards in his Seminoles debut a few weeks ago.