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College football spring games 2024: Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee lead loaded slate of showcases

It is officially spring game season, and the first major slate kicks off this weekend with showcases around the nation. Saturday is a big day for the SEC, in particular, with eight of its now 16 teams hitting the field to bring their spring practice sessions to an end. 

That includes Alabama, which underwent a coaching transition for the first time in more than 15 years, and Georgia, which is looking to make it back to the College Football Playoff after its three-peat quest fell short last season. LSU is breaking in a new quarterback now that Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels is off to the NFL. 

It’s not just the SEC’s day to shine, though. Elsewhere around the country, Ohio State will play in front of a national audience after an invigorating offseason that saw major changes to both the coaching staff and roster. Though technically still a member of the Pac-12 until July, Utah is gearing up for a move to the Big 12 and a potential run at even loftier goals. 

Here’s a look at some of the top storylines to keep track of during this weekend’s spring games, as well as a rundown of the other notable teams in action on Saturday. 

Alabama: Ushering in new era

For the first time in almost 20 years, Alabama will be taking the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium without Nick Saban leading the way. Kalen DeBoer will make his on-screen Crimson Tide debut Saturday; Alabama’s much-anticipated spring game will be broadcast on national cable television in an uncontested, prime slot. There’s plenty of reason for the hype, clearly. 

DeBoer brought a brand new staff with him, highlighted by two fresh coordinators in Nick Sheridan on offense and Kane Wommack on defense. Alabama lost some stars to the transfer portal, but returning names like quarterback Jalen Milroe provide plenty of hype for a season that should be filled with excitement — no matter how it ends up. 

Ohio State: Paradigm shift underway

The buzzword for coach Ryan Day as he enters a crucial 2024 season is “physicality.” The Buckeyes went all-in on revamping their offense this offseason. They pulled off an absolute coup by convincing sitting UCLA coach Chip Kelly to join the staff as offensive coordinator. His tough-running inside zone scheme is evidence of a major change taking place in Columbus. 

Ohio State also dipped into the portal to add former Kansas State star Will Howard as its expected starting quarterback. The 6-foot-5 and 242-pound Howard may not have the dazzling arm talent we’ve come to expect from Ohio State QBs under Day, but he is a punishing runner with a Mack Truck frame that’s comfortable with the ball in his hands. Former Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins, another impressive offseason acquisition, fits Kelly’s scheme like a glove. Day is changing his philosophy and going all-in for a national championship run in 2024. Saturday marks the beginning of it all on national television. 

Utah: All eyes on Cam Rising

Utah is an early favorite to win the Big 12 in its first season with the conference, but its hopes hinge on the health of veteran quarterback Cam Rising. Entering his seventh year of college football, Rising is coming off a devastating knee injury that resulted in multiple torn ligaments and corrective surgery. Without him running the show in 2023, the Utes had the worst passing attack in the Pac-12 — and one of the worst nationally — while averaging fewer than 200 yards passing per game. 

Yet Utah still posted a respectable 8-5 record with the defense leading the way. No wonder there’s hype surrounding this team with Rising expected back. He’s gone through spring thus far, and since quarterbacks typically aren’t live in spring games, he’ll likely see plenty of work. 

Ole Miss: Transfers take center stage

In anticipation of what Ole Miss hopes is a College Football Playoff year, coach Lane Kiffin once more hit the transfer portal hard to fill roster holes and upgrade talent across the board. The Rebels eventually signed a robust 15-player transfer class during the winter window, almost enough to field a new starting lineup on both sides of the ball, that occupies No. 1 in 247Sports’ Team Transfer Rankings. 

Highlighting the haul is former Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen, who is the No. 3 overall player and second-highest ranked defender in 247Sports’ rankings. He immediately increases Ole Miss’ defensive ceiling with his ability to plug up the middle and disrupt offenses at the point of attack. Former South Carolina wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. should be a top target for returning quarterback Jaxson Dart, and running back Logan Diggs from LSU adds some versatility to a backfield that has a lot of production to replace. Kiffin and the Rebels are hinging their hopes on these transfers jelling with one another. Spring is where a lot of work gets done in that process. 

Tennessee: It’s Nico time

Tennessee fans got their first enticing look at quarterback of the future, Nico Iamaleava, in Tennessee’s 2023 Citrus Bowl win against Iowa. Iamaleava earned the game’s offensive MVP honors after tallying four total touchdowns and showing impressive command of the offense for a freshman in his first career start. Now, the proverbial keys to the castle are unquestionably his moving forward. As a former No. 2 prospect nationally, there’s understandable buzz ahead of his first year as a starter. The spring game will show where he’s progressed in his preparation and how comfortable he is with directing the offense on a full-time basis. 

Spring game schedule for April 13

Team Time (ET) TV/Stream

Houston

11 a.m.

ESPN+

Ohio State

Noon

Fox

Boston College

Noon

ACC Network

Purdue

Noon

Big Ten Network

Utah

1 p.m.

Pac-12 Network

Arkansas

1 p.m.

SEC Network+

Tennessee

1 p.m.

SEC Network+

Florida

1 p.m.

SEC Network+

Georgia

1 p.m.

SEC Network+

Georgia Tech

1 p.m.

ACC Network Extra

Kentucky

1 p.m.

SEC Network+

Penn State

2 p.m.

Big Ten Network

LSU

2 p.m.

SEC Network+

Pittsburgh

2 p.m.

ACC Network

Virginia Tech

3 p.m.

ACC Network Extra

Ole Miss

4 p.m.

SEC Network+

Miami

4 p.m.

ACC Network Extra

Alabama

4 p.m.

ESPN

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