Four SEC teams held spring games over the weekend and provided a thrilling display of football that won’t soon be forgotten. Actually, that’s probably an exaggeration.
The truth is the intra-squad scrimmages Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, and Texas A&M put on display were all pretty much like every other spring game that will be played this year, or has been played in the past. They’re all over-hyped and they typically all under-deliver.
However, that isn’t to say there wasn’t some news made from the so-called “games.”
Jim McElwain’s acorn hasn’t fallen far from the Nick Saban Coaching Tree
McElwain spent four seasons working under Saban as Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2008-11). During that time, McElwain undoubtedly learned a lot, including that Saban values experienced quarterbacks — even if that experience didn’t come on the field. No matter how intense a quarterback competition appears to be in the spring, the Crimson Tide will eventually line up behind the quarterback that’s been in the program the longest. That’s what happened in 2015 when senior Jake Coker beat out then-sophomore Cooper Bateman, and what happened in 2014 when senior Blake Sims beat out Coker — who was then a junior. Neither Sims nor Coker had played much actual football before being picked to be the Alabama quarterback, yet both had time to mature while watching from the sidelines. At Florida, the quarterback that best fits that description is Luke Del Rio — the transfer who most recently was at Oregon State after signing with Alabama out of high school. McElwain has called Del Rio the leader for the Florida quarterback job throughout the spring and cited his time in the program as the factor that gives him an advantage. Even though Del Rio has never played in a game for the Gators, he has been around the program longer than the other quarterbacks contending for the job — Austin Appleby, who recently transferred from Purdue, and incoming freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.
While it might not seem much like Saban for McElwain to admit any one quarterback leads over the others, the notoriously evasive Saban did actually reveal to the media this week that if he had to pick a starter this week he’d pick Bateman — who by the way has been at Alabama longer than any of his other competitors at that position.
South Carolina might have found some new stars
Obviously incoming freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain — and his three touchdowns — will garner most of the attention from South Carolina’s Garnet & Black spring game on Saturday, but it was the contribution of a couple of Gamecocks veterans that might have been the bigger story. Redshirt sophomore receiver Deebo Samuel had an impressive performance with 31 yards receiving, 33 yards rushing, and even a 28-yard pass completion. Plus sophomore linebacker Boosie Whitlow was credited with two sacks — even though quarterbacks weren’t allowed to be tackled to the ground during the game. The emergence of this pair as possible leaders is without question good news for South Carolina fans, but also potentially good news for everyone else too. After all, Deebo and Boosie are just fun names to say — kind of like characters who should be in a “buddy cop” movie together.
Who wouldn’t want a little more Deebo and Boosie in their life?
Auburn’s spring game can be summed up by a U2 song
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gave three quarterbacks a chance to impress this spring, and after Saturday’s A-Day game it’s safe to say that all three missed their opportunity. Last year’s signal callers — Jeremy Johnson (35 yards passing) and Sean White (125 yards passing) — don’t seem destined to return as a starter this year. Junior college transfer John Franklin III, who many have predicted to eventually win the job, wasn’t all that impressive either (61 yards through the air). It’s easy to imagine these results have Malzahn singing, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” and it isn’t the least bit surprising that Davis Webb — a graduate transfer quarterback from Texas Tech — is now reported to be giving the Tigers a look.
Texas A&M isn’t playing around
In a time when a lot of college football is clouded in secrecy, and many coaches fear disappointed players deciding to transfer, Texas A&M is doing things differently. The Aggies announced from their official Twitter account that Trevor Knight — a transfer from Oklahoma — would be the team’s starting quarterback for its season opener against UCLA on Sept. 3. This isn’t unexpected news, but the timing is notable. It can only be assumed that Knight clearly outplayed sophomore Jake Hubenak to the point there was no value in keeping it quiet.
This almost certainly is the correct decision by coach Kevin Sumlin. Knight has been a successful quarterback with the Sooners, and the confirmation that he’ll be the signal caller for Texas A&M breathes new life into an Aggies fan base eager to remember that Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, and eager to forget the quarterback troubles Texas A&M had a year ago.
In other words, the announcement of Knight provides them with hope, and that is what spring football is ultimately all about.