2023 spring college football games: QB battles, injuries, more

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Friday, April 21, 2023

After a rousing start to the spring game schedule featuring Arch Manning's Texas debut and Georgia's first offense post-Stetson Bennett IV era, this weekend delivers another round of games giving us a window into the fall.

Deion Sanders, Matt Rhule and Luke Fickell all get their first spring games with their new teams this weekend while Sam Hartman and Tyler Buchner battle for the top quarterback spot at Notre Dame and former Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei makes his Oregon State debut.

Here are the highlights and storylines to watch for this weekend as games take place across the country.



2022 record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC

QB outlook: A year ago, with the ACC looking like the best QB conference in college football, Duke routinely ranked at the bottom of the QB rankings. Shows what the experts know! Riley Leonard quickly emerged as a legitimate game-changer, finishing 2022 with 33 touchdowns, nearly 3,700 total yards and nine wins. This year, Duke opens the season with an established star at the position and the only question is how much better Leonard can be in 2023 now that he has a year's experience under him and most of his supporting cast coming back.

Non-QB to watch: Nearly every storyline from 2022 was a good one for Duke, which went from three wins to nine in Mike Elko's first season. But if there was one clear point of concern, it was the secondary. That makes transfers Al Blades Jr. (Miami) and Myles Jones (Texas A&M) two of the most important players on the team. Elko raved about the leadership and performance both have displayed this spring, and if they can help limit the big plays in the passing game, there's a good chance Duke's defense will take a big step forward in 2023.

Notable injuries: The Blue Devils figure to be back to full strength by the time fall camp rolls around, but a number of veterans have missed time this spring, including defensive tackle DeWayne Carter, left tackle Graham Barton, defensive end VJ Anthony and left guard Maurice McIntyre. With so many veterans returning on both sides of the ball, however, the spring game might be a good opportunity for Duke to build depth, knowing the first string has plenty of snaps already under their belts. -- David Hale


2022 record: 8-5, 4-4

QB outlook: Jack Plummer waved goodbye to Jeff Brohm two years ago when he transferred from Purdue to Cal after losing the starting QB job to Aiden O'Connell. The relationship remained strong, however, and Plummer now reunites with Brohm at Louisville, bringing with him a deep knowledge of the offense and some serious upside. Even amid Cal's struggles last season, Plummer still had 22 touchdowns and just nine picks, while throwing for more than 3,000 yards. He's been the obvious QB1 at Louisville this spring, and if the offense can gel around him, he's primed for a big season.

Non-QB to watch: Louisville has its share of areas of need, with virtually no position group feeling fully formed at the moment. But the potential for some serious offense in the passing game should warrant some enthusiasm. Plummer's knowledge of the offense is huge, but his receiving corps looks to have some real weapons, too. Jamari Thrash (Georgia State) andKevin Coleman Jr.(Jackson State) have both flashed this spring, and with Ahmari Huggins-Bruce returning, Plummer should have options.

Notable injuries: The secondary is an area of concern after losing a handful of veterans, and the unit won't be close to full strength for the spring game, with safetyJosh Minkinsand corner Quincy Riley both missing the game with injuries. Receiver Chris Bell is also out, as is freshman QB Pierce Clarkson. --Hale

Notre Dame

2022 record:9-4

QB outlook: Coach Marcus Freeman recently said he could foresee his quarterback competition between Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman and Tyler Buchner go into the fall. Hartman has much more experience after setting ACC and school records for touchdown passes and 300-yard games. But Buchner is more experienced in the Notre Dame system and has shown improvements since missing most of last season with a shoulder injury.

Non-QB to watch: NG Jason Onye. Reports out of South Bend have tabbed Onye as one of the biggest spring surprises for the Irish. He has transformed himself from a little-used defensive end to what they hope will be a dependable player in the middle of their line.

Notable injuries: TEs Eli Raridon, Kevin Bauman, S Adon Shuler, DT Devan Houstan, LB Prince Kollie. -- AndreaAdelson


2022 record:7-6, 4-4 ACC

QB outlook: Returning starter Garrett Shrader has not participated this spring after undergoing surgery to his right arm. That has left Justin Lamson and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson to split the reps. Lamson appears to be ahead, but it is a race to be the primary backup to Shrader once he returns for fall camp.

Non-QB to watch: RB LeQuint Allen. He is expected to move into the starting running back role, replacing Sean Tucker, and coach Dino Babers has said he has had a good spring. Allen made an early impression in the Bad Boy Mowers Pinstripe Bowl against Minnesota last December, when he had 154 yards from scrimmage.

Notable injuries: Shrader, OL Chris Bleich, LB Marlowe Wax, LB Stefon Thompson. --Adelson

Big Ten


2022 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big Ten

QB Outlook: The Hawkeyes brought in Michigan quarterback transfer Cade McNamara to help shore up a position that has struggled for a few seasons. McNamara helped Michigan beat Iowa in the 2021 Big Ten championship game and is now going to try to help the Hawkeyes turn their team around. Spencer Petras is returning, but Alex Padilla entered the transfer portal this offseason, while the team also has sophomores Joe Labas and Deacon Hill.

Non-QB to watch: Iowa also brought in Michigan tight end transfer Erick All with McNamara. All had a breakout game a few seasons ago against Penn State and provides the offense with a good pass-catching option to go with McNamara this season.

Notable injuries: Wide receiver transfer Seth Anderson is out with an injury, as is receiver Jacob Bostick. -- Tom VanHaaren


2022 record: 9-4, 5-4 Big Ten

QB outlook: Redshirt sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis is set to replace Tanner Morgan, who started 47 games for Minnesota and won 33 of them. Kaliakmanis, who went 3-2 as Minnesota's starter in place of the injured Morgan last season, and fifth-year player Cole Kramer took most of the first-team snaps in spring practice. They are working with their third offensive coordinator in as many years, although co-coordinators Matt Simon and Greg Harbaugh both were promoted from within the staff.

Non-QB to watch: Safety Jack Henderson. Minnesota added several transfers who will compete for starting jobs, including Henderson, an all-conference performer at FCS Southeastern Louisiana. Henderson, who had 163 career tackles in 33 games, worked at nickel safety for much of the spring and showed consistent playmaking ability. Other notable transfers in the spring game include linebacker Ryan Selig (Western Michigan) and wide receiver Elijah Spencer (Charlotte).

Notable injuries: Minnesota went through the spring without two key offensive contributors in tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford, the team's receptions leader last fall (42), and wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell. Defensive lineman Chris Collins, a North Carolina transfer, is out for the spring game with an injury. Running back Darius Taylor, a freshman early enrollee, has been banged up much of the spring. -- Adam Rittenberg


2022 record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten

QB Outlook: Nebraska brings back last season's starter, Casey Thompson, as well as former transfer Chubba Purdy. The new coaching staff also brought in Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims to add to the competition. Matt Rhule hasn't announced an official starter as of now.

Non-QB to watch: The wide receiver room has lost leading receiver Trey Palmer to the NFL and Alante Brown to the transfer portal. Marcus Washington was second on the team in receiving and will be back this season, and the staff brought in Baylor'sJosh Fleeks and Virginia'sBilly Kemp IV to help shore up the receiver room.

Notable injuries: There aren't many big injuries for Nebraska, but offensive line transfer Ben Scott will be out for a short period of time according to Rhule. -- VanHaaren


2022 record: 8-6, 6-3 Big Ten

QB outlook: Texas import Hudson Card was quickly named Purdue's successor to Aidan O'Connell by new coach Ryan Walters as the program looks to repeat as Big Ten West champions. Card started five of the 22 games he appeared in during his three years in Austin and has thrown for 1,523 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career. Card, a redshirt junior, will look to build on the momentum from O'Connell's final two years when the Boilermakers' offense was prolific -- averaged 399.8 total yards last year to finish fifth in the Big Ten and finishing only behind Ohio State with 278.8 passing yards.

Non-QB to watch: Sophomore outside linebacker Nic Caraway has had a strong spring. Caraway played in all 14 games as a freshman last year, recording 22 tackles (15 solo) with two tackles for loss and two sacks. Purdue's defense ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total yards (350.1) on the way to winning the program's first Big Ten West title. Caraway and two redshirt seniors, OC Brothers and Jacob Wahlberg, will help reshape the Boilermakers' linebacking corps.

Notable injuries: With tight end Payne Durham (56 catches for 560 yards and eight touchdowns), the team's second leading receiver in 2022, now off to the NFL, he leaves a significant hole. Redshirt senior tight end Garrett Miller, who tore his ACL in fall camp last year, is eager to get back out on the field to help Card adjust to the Big Ten. Miller, who has 21 career receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown, is still rehabbing but should provide some needed experience this fall. -- Blake Baumgartner


2022 record: 7-6, 4-5 Big Ten

QB Outlook: Graham Mertz transferred to Florida this offseason, but new coach Luke Fickell brought in SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai, and Wisconsin also got Oklahoma transfer Nick Evers, as well as Braedyn Locke, who transferred in from Mississippi State. The quarterback room is completely transformed from last season.

Non-QB to watch: The receiver room was also transformed as the offense is going to look much different at Wisconsin with offensive coordinator Phil Longo. The staff added Oklahoma State receiver Bryson Green, USC receiver C.J. Williamsand Cincinnati receivers Quincy Burroughs and Will Pauling to the roster to help in the pass game.

Notable injuries: Center Jake Renfro and Green have both been dealing with injuries this spring. Renfro transferred in from Cincinnati and Green from Oklahoma State, both are expected to contribute. -- VanHaaren

Big 12


2022 record: 6-7, 4-5 in Big 12

QB outlook: Dave Aranda named Blake Shapen the starter at the end of last spring's practice to give the opportunity to former starter Gerry Bohanonto consider his options. Bohanon split for USF, while Shapen struggled down the stretch, ending the season with 2,709 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, as the Bears lacked a deep threat due to departures at WR. Shapen returns, while Baylor also brought in Sawyer Robertson from Mississippi State, a 6-4, 200-pound former four-star recruit from the state of Texas. Robertson will have to adapt from the Air Raid system he ran in high school and college to Jeff Grimes' NFL-style offense, but he will push Shapen for the starting job.

Non-QB to watch: The offensive line will be a point of concern after losing all-Big 12 tackle Connor Galvin and two other fifth-year seniors, center Jacob Gall and guard Grant Miller, while sophomore Micah Mazzccua transferred to Florida. So the Bears had to hit the portal to bring in brothers Clark and Campbell Barrington from BYU, both of whom played for Baylor OL coach Eric Mateos and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes when they worked at BYU.

Notable injuries: Receiver Jordan Nabors, who started once last year as a freshman and played in nine games while returning some kicks and punts, is out, as is RB Jordan Jenkins and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Tre Emory. -- Dave Wilson

Iowa State

2022 record: 4-8 (1-8 in the Big 12)

QB outlook: He's got four-star freshman J.J. Kohl breathing down his neck, but all indications suggest incumbent starter Hunter Dekkers will remain atop the depth chart in 2023. Head coach Matt Campbell will hope that new offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase can rein in mistakes -- Dekkers threw 14 interceptions and finished 75th in Total QBR last season -- and can fix an offense that plummeted from 43rd to 113th in scoring offense.

Non-QB to watch: Dekkers will be without NFL-bound wideout Xavier Hutchinson this season, so his 107 receptions will be spread to others, including possession man Jaylin Noel and intriguing, 6-foot-4 Eastern Kentucky transfer Jayden Higgins. Higgins broke out for 58 catches, 757 yards and 10 touchdowns at the FCS level and will be asked to provide some big-play pop after a nice spring.

Notable injuries: Most notable this spring has been a player returning from injury -- running back Jirehl Brock was great in September but battled injuries and then missed the last two games with a broken foot. He is back, and it appears ISU has mainly avoided any significant injury issues this spring. -- Bill Connelly


2022 record: 6-7, 3-6 in Big 12

QB outlook: Dillon Gabriel, a senior, is the starter after passing for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns to six interceptions last year. But when he was injured, the Sooners struggled mightily, including in a 49-0 loss to Texas where OU passed for 39 yards with two interceptions. Enter five-star recruit Jackson Arnold, ESPN's No. 8 overall recruit from Denton Ryan in the Dallas area, who the Sooners hope can give them some long-term stability at the position.

Non-QB to watch: The wide receiver group returns only Drake Stoops (80 career catches) and Jalil Farooq (41 receptions) among players who caught more than three passes last year. Star Marvin Mims Jr. is off to the NFL and Theo Wease transferred to Missouri. There are high hopes for Farooq to be the next Sooners star, while redshirt freshman Nic Anderson provides a big (6-4, 209 pounds) target after an injury-plagued freshman year. D.J. Grahammoved from defensive back to receiver and OU added Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony.

Notable injuries: Oklahoma has not released its injury report but RB Jovantae Barnes, who had 519 yards last year and could be in line to start this year, has not been practicing. Transfer left tackleWalter Rouse, who started 39 games at Stanford, is recovering from surgery and is out. -- Wilson

Texas Tech

2022 record: 8-5, 5-4 in Big 12

QB outlook: Tyler Shough, a 6-5, 230-pound senior who transferred from Oregon before the 2021 season, has started nine games in the past two seasons for the Red Raiders, winning all five of his starts last year. He is battling sophomore Behren Morton, a four-star recruit who started four games last year before missing the last three games with an injury. Tech coach Joey McGuire has no issue with using multiple QBs, so there will be packages for both players as the battle continues into the fall.

Non-QB to watch: Coordinator Tim DeRuyter's aggressive defense requires edge rushers, and with the departure of future first-round pick Tyree Wilson, outside linebackers will get lots of attention. The Red Raiders love Syracuse transfer Steve Linton, a 6-5, 235-pound senior who will move from D-line to OLB, as does Myles Cole, a senior with a similar frame to Wilson at 6-6, 285. Isaac Smith and Joseph Adedire, who replaced Wilson after he was injured last year, are both out for the spring. Coaches are eager to see Terrell Tilmon, an Oregon transfer who played in 15 games with the Ducks at both OLB and tight end, and Dylan Spencer, a 6-5, 245-pound true freshman who was a prized recruit.

Notable injuries: Wide receiver Xavier White, Tech's second-leading WR and leader in all-purpose yards last year, will be out, along with defensive lineman Tony Bradford Jr. and DB Rayshad Williams. -- Wilson

West Virginia

2022 record: 5-7, 3-6 Big 12

QB outlook: JT Daniels, who started 10 games last year, departed for Rice. Garrett Greene returns after playing in 21 games over three seasons and starting two last year, including throwing for 138 yards and a touchdown while rushing 14 times for 119 yards and two TDs in a 23-20 win over Oklahoma. He's battling Nicco Marchiol, a four-star recruit who redshirted last season, but appeared in two games.

Non-QB player to watch: Senior Jimmy Bell, the 6-foot-10, 285-pound starting center for the West Virginia basketball team, hasn't played football since high school but has been working out at offensive tackle, with a possible tryout at tight end as well. Coach Neal Brown said he was trying to keep expectations within reason, but that Bell is a natural athlete.

Notable injuries:Zach Frazier, the all-conference center, is unlikely to play while recovering from a leg injury, as is Josiah Trotter, a four-star linebacker recruit who is the son of former NFL All-Pro Jeremiah Trotter.-- Wilson



2022 record: 1-11, 1-8 in Pac-12

QB outlook: Hiring Deion Sanders as the head coach essentially meant naming Shedeur Sanders, his son, as the starting quarterback. In two years playing for his father at Jackson State, Sanders threw for nearly 7,000 yards with 70 touchdown passes to just 14 interceptions. Does that kind of production follow? We'll see, but after two years of dismal quarterback play in Boulder, he represents an immediate improvement and reason for optimism.

Non-QB to watch: CB/WR Travis Hunter. Whether it's at corner or receiver, Hunter can be the difference-maker the Buffs have sorely lacked. He's been a recognizable name at the national level since his surprising decision to -- as a five-star recruit -- commit to Jackson State, but his transfer to Colorado provides a stage for the country to become more familiar with his game.

Notable injuries: None. -- Kyle Bonagura

Oregon State

2022 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac 12

QB outlook: All eyes are on Clemson transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, whose move from Death Valley was not surprising, but whose final destination was. Corvallis represents a brand new start for DJU and this week's spring game will be the first glimpse at a story that will undoubtedly have plenty of redemptive narratives should he play up to his talent level. As far as the Beavers are concerned, Uiagalelei could be the key to turning their improvement under head coach Jonathan Smith from merely being a nice story to becoming a legitimate conference contender.

Non-QB to watch: Running back Damien Martinez. The freshman wasted no time in becoming the lead back for the Beavers last year, totaling 982 yards (6.1 per carry) and seven touchdowns as well as six straight games of 100 rushing yards or more. Martinez led OSU's running game, which was the strength of their offense, and should only improve in his second year.

Notable injuries: Smith has mentioned that wide receiver Anthony Gould, who had nearly 500 receiving yards, three touchdowns and was a key cog in the Beavers' special teams as a returner, will be limited. -- Paolo Uggetti


2022 record: 3-9, 1-8 in Pac 12

QB outlook: Ari Patu and Ashton Daniels figured to be the most likely options for first-year coach Troy Taylor, but incoming QB Myles Jackson has the potential to factor into the mix come the fall. One other thing to keep an eye on: Taylor is expected to be more active in the transfer portal than his predecessor, David Shaw, so it's possible the Cardinal could look elsewhere when spring ball wraps.

Non-QB to watch: Linebacker David Bailey made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2022 and has the potential to develop into one of the best defensive players in the country.

Notable injuries: Running backs E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins both missed significant time due to injury in 2022 and have been eased back into the fold this spring. If Stanford is to bounce back in 2023, having both of them healthy is nearly a requirement. --Bonagura


2022 record: 10-4, 7-2 in Pac-12

QB outlook:Cameron Rising's return to Salt Lake City for another year was a huge victory for the Utes, who are looking to begin their quest for a third straight Pac-12 title. Rising has improved in every category since his first full playing season in 2021 and is coming off a 3,000-yard, 26-touchdown campaign last season. He will likely key any kind of run Utah makes to the CFP this year ... after he fully recovers from his leg injury.

Non-QB to watch: Cornerback Miles Battle. Kyle Whittingham hasn't exactly fully embraced the transfer portal, but in a year where the Utes lost Clark Phillips III to the NFL, adding a player like Battle from Ole Miss, who has the talent to make a difference in a secondary that will be facing some of the best offenses in the nation, could be key.

Notable injuries: As noted above, Rising is still recovering from the knee injury and the surgery he underwent after the season ended. Rising has not participated in spring camp and is not going to play in the Utes' spring game. Whittingham has said Rising has had no setbacks and is expected to be healthy for the fall. -- Uggetti


2022 record: 11-2, 7-2 in Pac-12

QB outlook: After far exceeding expectations in Year 1 following a transfer from Indiana, Michael Penix Jr. put the NFL on hold to return to Seattle for another year. He'll begin the season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites, ready to guide an offense that should be among the most explosive in college football.

Non-QB to watch: WR Ja'Lynn Polk. The Huskies' depth at receiver might be their biggest strength and Polk is a significant part of that. He could be the No. 1 option on a good team, but ranked third on the team in catches (41), receiving yards (694) and receiving touchdowns (6) last season behind Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, both of whom are back.

Notable injuries: Running back Dillon Johnson's availability has been limited since transferring from Mississippi State, but he's expected to play a major role in the fall.

Washington State

2022 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Pac 12

QB outlook: Cameron Ward had a solid -- if often inconsistent -- season after transferring to Wazzu from Incarnate Word, throwing for 3,231 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Cougars reached a bowl game for a school-record seventh consecutive season (not including 2020). Gone is OC Eric Morris, who left to become the head coach at North Texas, but his replacement, Ben Arbuckle, guided Western Kentucky to big numbers last season.

Non-QB to watch: LB Ron Stone Jr. After being named second-team All-Pac-12 last season, Stone had the opportunity to test the NFL waters. Instead, he returned for his sixth season and will be among the top defensive players in the conference again.

Notable injuries: The Cougars have remained relatively healthy throughout the spring without any major absences. --Bonagura



2022 record: 11-2, 6-2 in SEC

QB outlook: Alabama signed two of the top six pocket passers in the 2023 class in Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan. But don't expect a rookie to get the nod under center to start the season. No, the race appears to be down to two returning players: Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson. Milroe, who was Bryce Young's primary backup last season, is a gifted runner that needs to show improvement in terms of accuracy and decision making throwing the football. A former four-star prospect, Simpson isn't quite the running threat Milroe is, but he's capable of making plays with his feet. As a freshman, he appeared in four games last season and completed 4-of-5 pass attempts.

Non-QB to watch: Nick Saban wants a more well-rounded running game. And while Jahmyr Gibbs was certainly effective last season, he was more of a threat in open space rather than between the tackles. In freshman running backs Richard Young and Justices Haynes-- the No. 1 and 2 backs in the 2023 class respectively -- Alabama has a pair of powerful runners who could make up for that shortcoming and compliment Jace McClellan nicely.

Notable injuries: Dallas Turner, one of the most talented edge rushers in college football and the heir apparent to Will Anderson Jr., is out all spring recovering from surgery. He's expected to be back in time for preseason practice.


2022 record: 10-4, 6-2 in SEC

QB outlook: Jayden Daniels returns for a second season starting in offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock's system. Last season, the former Arizona State transfer threw for 2,913 yards, 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 885 yards and 11 scores. If he can make more explosive plays in the passing game -- he averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, which ranked 64th in the FBS -- the Tigers' offense could take a major step forward.

Non-QB to watch: Last season was a case of growing pains for a rebuilt offensive line. When you have true freshmen starting at both tackle spots, mistakes are to be expected. But so is improvement. If Will Campbell and Emery Jones develop like some expect, they could anchor a line that has the potential to make significant improvements this season.

Notable injuries: Maason Smith, one of the most talented interior linemen in the SEC, who missed practically all of last season with a torn ACL he suffered Week 1, was spotted participating in individual drills for the first time earlier this week. --Scarborough