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College football spring games: How to watch, what to expect

Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

This weekend's spring game slate features a number of prominent football programs ready to answer some of our burning questions. Here are our suggestions on what to scout for and keep an eye on this weekend, and how to watch your team.

Jump to a conference:
ACC| Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC | American | FBS Independent
Spring Game reading

ACC

Pittsburgh Panthers
1 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: It's doubtful Pitt will offer much in the way of flourishes on its prototypical run-first attack, but it will be interesting to see whether the Panthers continue to showcase more spread formations -- as they've done throughout the spring -- now that fullback George Aston and tailbacks Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison have moved on. Make no mistake: Pitt is still a ground-and-pound offense, but there could be some nuance to the approach this year, starting in the spring game. - David M. Hale

Syracuse Orange
1:30 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The Orange made huge strides last season, finishing the year ranked and with 10 wins for the first time in nearly two decades. Whether they can continue the climb and challenge for the ACC Atlantic crown likely depends on how good new starting QB Tommy DeVito will be in 2019. DeVito, a former ESPN 300 recruit, got his share of playing time last season. But this is still new terrain, and the spring game offers a first glimpse into what Syracuse's offense will look like with him leading the charge. - David M. Hale

Virginia Tech Hokies
4 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The Hokies have evenly split their quarterback reps among Ryan Willis, Quincy Patterson and Hendon Hooker this spring, and coach Justin Fuente has been mum on who has the edge to start. But the bigger story might be the defense, coming off the worst season under coordinator Bud Foster. Eleven starters return, and rising star Dax Hollifield has slimmed down and feels much quicker. Definite progress has been made, but a complete transformation might be in order to get the Hokies to compete for another Coastal Division title. - Andrea Adelson


Big 12

Baylor Bears
1 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Southwest

What we're excited to see: The upstart Bears could quietly have one of the top offenses in the Big 12 behind junior quarterback Charlie Brewer, who passed for 3,000 yards last season. Several of Baylor's top returning playmakers are sitting out the spring game. That will give running backs Trestan Ebner and Abram Smith and wideouts Jared Atkinson and R.J. Sneed the chance to show Brewer they can fuel the Baylor arsenal. - Jake Trotter

Kansas Jayhawks
7 p.m. ET, ESPN+

What we're excited to see: Les Miles is back in college football, and he has Kansas fans stoked ... about football. Yes, football. It's been a physical spring practice for the Jayhawks, and one question yet to be answered is who the starting quarterback will be. Carter Stanley is the holdover, and Thomas MacVittie is the junior college newcomer. They're competing for the starting job and doing so with a new system that includes run-pass-option (RPO) elements. The big treat might be seeing Miles' dance moves to the beat of rap star Rick Ross after the spring game. - Chris Low

Kansas State Wildcats
2 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The legendary Bill Snyder era is finally over in Manhattan, clearing the way for new coach Chris Klieman to put his mark on the program. Klieman won with overlooked players -- as Snyder did for so many years -- while dominating the FCS at North Dakota State. So in many ways, the Wildcats will look the same. Still, the spring showcase will provide a glimpse into how K-State might be different going forward. - Jake Trotter

Oklahoma Sooners
8:30 p.m. ET, Friday, Fox Sports Oklahoma

What we're excited to see: All eyes will be on quarterback Jalen Hurts, who will make his public debut in a new shade of red for the first time. Hurts, who went 26-2 as a starter at Alabama, is among the most high-profile transfers in recent college football history. If he can improve on his passing efficiency in Lincoln Riley's Air Raid attack, the Sooners will be a serious threat to reach the College Football Playoff for the fourth time in five years. - Jake Trotter

Texas Longhorns
7:30 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network

What we're excited to see: Tom Herman is looking for more explosive playmakers on offense, and the Longhorns might have them in a pair of freshmen: running back Jordan Whittington and receiver Bru McCoy should be fun to watch, as should redshirt freshman receiver Malcolm Epps, who's emerging as a weapon for the Horns. -- Sam Khan Jr.

West Virginia Mountaineers
1 p.m. ET, WVUsports.com

What we're excited to see: Not only do the Mountaineers have a new coach in Neal Brown but they'll have a new quarterback as well. Leading the pack to succeed Will Grier is Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall, who finally has the chance to show what he can do after sitting behind Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in Norman. - Jake Trotter

Texas Tech Red Raiders
3 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Southwest

What we're excited to see: Quarterback Alan Bowman was one of the nation's most productive passers when he was healthy last season, but his season got interrupted when he suffered a collapsed lung. When he was on the field, the then-true freshman was impressive. He'll have a new offensive scheme to master, but how he looks on Saturday will be worth watching. This is also a first impression for new coach Matt Wells and his staff. -- Sam Khan Jr.


Big Ten

Illinois Fighting Illini
2:00 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: Last season, the Illini defense gave up an average of 508.3 yards per game, which was good for third worst of any FBS team behind Oregon State and UConn. Have they improved? Additions include Washington transfer linebacker Milo Eifler, and there are some younger players looking to step up and help. Linebackers Shammond Cooper and Dele Harding should be in that conversation as well as Delano Ware, who was moved from safety to linebacker. Improving the defense is going to be crucial for the upcoming season's success. - Tom VanHaaren

Indiana Hoosiers
Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten N

What we're excited to see: Head coach Tom Allen, looking to get more out of the offense, brought in new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State. The unit received good news when it found out Utah quarterback transfer Jack Tuttle was granted immediate eligibility from the NCAA, but a short-term sickness will keep him sidelined for the spring game. With or without Tuttle in for the spring game, it will still be interesting to see what the tweaked offense will look like with DeBoer in charge. - Tom VanHaaren

Michigan Wolverines
5 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis says he has installed 90 percent of the team's new playbook. While most of that will remain under wraps until September, Gattis said viewers will get a feel for how the huddle-free, up-tempo version of the offense might breathe some fresh air into the 2019 Wolverines. - Dan Murphy

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Noon ET

What we're excited to see: Minnesota's quarterback competition will spill into preseason camp, although fans can scout Tanner Morgan and Zack Annexstad in Saturday's game. It's also a chance to see an offensive line featuring Daniel Faalele, the 6-foot-9, 400-pound Australian, and the competition at left tackle between Jason Dickson and Sam Schlueter. Star receiver Tyler Johnson did this at last year's spring game, and more highlights could be on the way. - Adam Rittenberg

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

What we're excited to see: How much the defense has improved. Yes, fans go to spring games to see offense, but Nebraska won't contend in the West Division without an improved defense. Lineman Darrion Daniels, a transfer from Oklahoma State, has impressed this spring. Nebraska also seems to have more versatility, with Cam Taylor, JoJo Domann and others. "I'm not saying that we're the Tampa Bay Bucs with Warren Sapp and the boys yet," defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said, "but we're moving in the right direction." - Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State Buckeyes
12 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

What we're excited to see: The debuts of head coach Ryan Day and quarterback Justin Fields are certain to garner a lot of attention this weekend. Don't forget to check out what's happening on the other side of the ball for a defense with a brand-new coaching staff after some underwhelming performances in 2018. - Dan Murphy

Penn State Nittany Lions
3:00 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The Nittany Lions are going to need some of the younger players to step up and take on bigger roles in 2019. On defense, linebacker Micah Parsons led the team in tackles and has an opportunity to take the next step in 2019. Parsons, along with Jesse Luketa and Jayson Oweh, can help improve the defense. On offense, running backs Journey Brown, Ricky Slade, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford are going to be needed to help a unit replacing Miles Sanders and quarterback Trace McSorley. Ford hasn't gotten to campus yet, but the other three will be on display in the spring game. - Tom VanHaaren

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
3:30 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The Scarlet Knights are in need of some reasons for optimism, and the most likely provider there is sophomore quarterback Art Sitkowski. Head coach Chris Ash said Sitkowski has taken some steps forward in the past few weeks after starting 11 games in his first year on campus last fall. - Dan Murphy


Pac-12

Arizona Wildcats
8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

What we're excited to see: Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said this spring that all his quarterbacks would get the same amount of reps. That group, of course, includes Khalil Tate, who went into last season as a Heisman Trophy favorite before a slow start and lack of team success derailed his chances. Can Tate return to the 2017 form that saw him become one of the most dominant players in the country? Saturday's spring game won't completely answer that, but he's definitely the player to keep an eye on. -- Kyle Bonagura

Stanford Cardinal
4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

What we're excited to see: The Cardinal are in an interesting spot. After a decade of dominating the conference primarily with a physical run-first approach, they were forced to shift gears last season and rely mostly on quarterback K.J. Costello and the passing game. It's hard to imagine that coach David Shaw sees that as a long-term solution, but with Costello back for another year, chances are there will be more of the same for at least another year. Saturday's practice should feature enough scrimmaging to provide some insight into how that process is going. -- Kyle Bonagura

Utah Utes
1 p.m ET, Pac-12 Network

What we're excited to see: The Utes are one of the few Pac-12 teams that will attempt to simulate a gamelike atmosphere, which will be especially valuable in evaluating some of the younger players who haven't seen much game action yet in their college careers. Beyond that, it's the first real look at coordinator Andy Ludwig's vision for what the Utes will look like offensively since returning to Salt Lake City after 10 years away. -- Kyle Bonagura


SEC

Alabama Crimson Tide
2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

What we're excited to see: There are some interesting things to watch on offense -- most notably the revamped line and running backs -- but it's the defense that should receive the most attention. Coordinator Tosh Lupoi, star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and half the starters from last season are gone. With new defensive coordinator Pete Golding in charge, there's a lot to do. The good news is that a solid core of Dylan Moses, Xavier McKinney and Raekwon Davis is in place, and pass-rusher Terrell Lewis and cornerback Trevon Diggs return too. But pay attention to how lesser-known quantities such as defensive backs Jared Mayden and Patrick Surtain II develop to tell you just how good this Alabama defense will be. - Alex Scarborough

Auburn Tigers
4:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network

What we're excited to see: Gus Malzahn's return to playcalling duties is an important development, but it's unlikely he's going to show anything during a televised scrimmage. Rather than X's and O's, look toward the quarterbacks' execution. Replacing Jarrett Stidham won't be easy without much actual experience behind him. Malik Willis, Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg have time in the program, but are relatively unknown. Folks around Auburn are high on true freshman legacy Bo Nix, but he'll need to get off to a fast start if he wants to win the job right out of the gates. - Alex Scarborough

Florida Gators
1 p.m. ET, SEC Network+

What we're excited to see: Coach Dan Mullen has promised some tricks during the spring game, beyond joking that he might fudge the attendance numbers to read 41,014. That's a dig at Florida State, which Florida beat 41-14. So, if it seems Mullen is loose headed into the spring game, he has reason to be: The Gators have a settled starter in Feleipe Franks and talent across the board at the skill positions. New starters on the offensive and defensive lines will be the keys to watch. - Andrea Adelson

Kentucky Wildcats
6 p.m. ET, Friday, SEC Network

What we're excited to see: Mark Stoops has steadily built the program, and the Wildcats won 10 games last season for the first time since 1977. But whereas last year's team was laden with experienced players, the 2019 version of the Wildcats will feature several newer faces eager to prove they're ready to continue the momentum. Many of those new faces will be on defense, and a lot of eyes will also be on quarterback Terry Wilson to see how much more efficient and accurate he's become as a passer. - Chris Low

Mississippi State Bulldogs
2:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU

What we're excited to see: It's tempting to pay close attention to the quarterbacks, where Keytaon Thompson appears to be the heir apparent to Nick Fitzgerald despite coach Joe Moorhead's flirtation with a few grad transfers this offseason. Instead, watch the defense, where there is major work to do without stars Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram. Erroll Thompson, Leo Lewis and Willie Gay Jr. form one of the most experienced linebacker groups in the SEC, but they'll need players such as Chauncey Rivers and Kobe Jones to step up and join them as all-conference-caliber players for the defense to play close to as well as it did last season. - Alex Scarborough

Missouri Tigers
4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU

What we're excited to see: This is easy. It's Kelly Bryant, and it isn't even close. There's the Clemson angle, of course, which is as much about how he left as it is how well Trevor Lawrence played thereafter. But there's also the matter of the guy Bryant is attempting to replace. Drew Lock was a three-year starter who set an SEC record for touchdowns and is projected by many to be a first-round pick. With big shoes to fill and even bigger questions about his development post-Clemson, Bryant will be under a microscope. -- Alex Scarborough

Tennessee Volunteers
6 p.m. ET, SEC Network

What we're excited to see: While Tennessee returns many of its key contributors from last season, fans are probably more intrigued to get a glimpse at what this team will look like in Year 2 under Jeremy Pruitt with an overhauled coaching staff. Pruitt brought in Jim Chaney from Georgia as offensive coordinator and former Tennessee national championship quarterback Tee Martin as passing game coordinator and receivers coach. Derrick Ansley comes over from the NFL ranks and will call plays on defense. Can the Vols be more explosive on offense, and will some unproven players be able to come through in the defensive line? -- Chris Low

Texas A&M Aggies
8:30 p.m. ET, Friday, Network TBD

What we're excited to see: The Aggies have a handful of young, intriguing players to scout. Highly regarded freshman tight end Baylor Cupp, whose measurables head coach Jimbo Fisher raves about, will be worth watching as A&M looks to find a successor to Jace Sternberger. Sophomores Jashaun Corbin (running back) and Leon O'Neal (safety) are among the exciting second-year players likely stepping into starting roles in 2019. -- Sam Khan Jr.


American

UCF Knights
2:30 p.m. ET

What we're excited to see: The focus will no doubt be on the quarterbacks, especially Darriel Mack Jr. and Brandon Wimbush as they compete for the starting job. Mack replaced injured starter McKenzie Milton at the end of last season; Wimbush transferred in from Notre Dame. Beyond saying Mack and Wimbush were getting equal reps, UCF coaches haven't gone into great detail about what they have seen at practice or who might have the edge. So the spring game could reveal some clues about where they stand. - Andrea Adelson


FBS Independent

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
12:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network

What we're excited to see: "We want to be a tempo offense," quarterback Ian Book recently told ESPN. Sophomore receivers Joe Wilkins, Lawrence Keys III, Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy should provide Book with top-end speed options. Book has focused more on attacking the deep middle and will look for tight end Cole Kmet and others. The shuffling lineup at linebacker, with players and with positions, is also worth tracking. - Adam Rittenberg


Spring Game reading

Jalen Hurts has arrived at Oklahoma

Ryan Day's journey from New Hampshire to Ohio State

Will Notre Dame be consistently elite?

Has Florida finally found its QB in Feleipe Franks?

Tua Tagovailoa is ready for revenge

It won't be easy for Jimbo Fisher in Year 2

Jim Harbaugh's attempt to change the Michigan offense