Don’t tell fans that the annual spring football games played around the SEC are little more than glorified scrimmages. Many are planning to make pilgrimages to their favorite team’s stadium this weekend, and many more will do the same next weekend.
Of course, this year also brings viewers the option to tune into all the games on television — which means a chance for fans to take a peek at their rivals if they wish. With that in mind, here’s a ranking of how much entertainment an SEC fanatic can expect from this weekend’s games:
Auburn’s A-Day game — Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network (Rating: 8/10)
With apologies to the Masters, the South’s real Tradition Unlike Any Other might be the yearly hype surrounding the new Auburn quarterback. Last year Jeremy Johnson was burdened by those expectations, and things didn’t go well. He eventually lost the starting job, but he has stuck around the program to fight for the position once again. His chief competition this year might be the new Next Big Thing — junior college transfer John Franklin III. Saturday will be the first opportunity for fans to see Franklin in an Auburn uniform, and curiosity is high. Tigers fans are anxious to find out if Franklin is really as good as advertised, while the other SEC fans are simply wondering: Haven’t we been through this before?
Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut — Friday, 7 p.m. ET SEC Network (Rating: 7/10)
The Gators get extra points for scheduling their spring game on a Friday night. There’s no doubt an extra layer of mystique is added by playing under the lights. Yet the real value of the game might be that it benefits the fans around SEC territory whose social calendar isn’t… shall we say… quite as full as others. Which is not to assume anyone reading this is going without a date this weekend, but if for some reason you find yourself stood up, take comfort in knowing last year’s SEC East champ will be there to keep you company.
South Carolina’s Garnett & Black game — Saturday, Noon ET, SEC Network (Rating: 6/10)
The Will Muschamp era promises to be a never-ending stream of enjoyment for SEC fans, but don’t expect Coach Boom to once again earn that nickname during the spring. He’ll likely save his high-energy sideline show for the start of actual games. Of course, a calm and collected Muschamp might lead some Gamecocks fans to wonder: Who is this guy? However, those same South Carolina fans should have no problem identifying true freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain — who’s making his debut on Saturday, and is the No. 1 reason for anyone to watch this one.
Texas A&M spring game — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, SEC Network (Rating: 5/10)
The problem with Texas A&M’s spring game is that there might not be a lot for the Aggies’ best player to do. Junior defensive end Myles Garrett will again be a beastly pass-rusher this season, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to turn him loose on trying to sack his teammates on Saturday. After all, quarterbacks take off from Texas A&M like they’re Southwest jets. Coach Kevin Sumlin probably doesn’t want to risk one of this year’s potential starters — Jake Hubenak or newcomer Trevor Knight — deciding to transfer during the game.
Ole Miss — No spring game (Rating: 0/10)
Who told Ole Miss it could sit this one out? That’s right, the Rebels will end spring practice without any kind of spring game. Something about that seems sort of un-American, frankly. Ole Miss is skipping its chance to field an intra-squad scrimmage because of ongoing renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Are you serious? This is 2016. If Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh can figure out a way to hold part of the Wolverines spring practice in Florida, then surely Rebels coach Hugh Freeze could’ve found an alternate site for a spring game — if not for his players, then for his fans who could’ve gotten another opportunity to congregate at The Grove, and for the rest of us who could’ve congregated on our couches in front of the TV.
It wouldn’t have been real football, but it would’ve been the closest thing we’ll get for a few more months.