College football spring games 2022: Storylines to watch this weekend

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Friday, April 8, 2022

A lot of attention will be paid to the Masters this weekend, but college football never sleeps.

This weekend, spring games across the country will take place with countless storylines to follow. Which transfer will make the most noise on his new team? Who will win that coveted QB1 spot? And, of course, which team will come up with the best spring-game gimmick this season?

Here are the games we'll be watching on Saturday:


3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Is Jayden de Laura the answer at quarterback?

There isn't much incentive for second-year coach Jedd Fisch to name a starter quite yet, but ever since de Laura announced he was transferring in -- after starting at Washington State the past two seasons -- it's been fair to assume he's the guy. In 16 games for WSU, de Laura threw for 2,798 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions and represents what Fisch can only hope will offer stability at the position (five players attempted a pass last year for Arizona). The spring game will serve as an unveiling, of sorts, as de Laura throws in front of Arizona fans (in a red-and-blue uniform) for the first time. With quarterbacks being off limits in a spring setting, however, one of his best attributes won't really be on display. Arizona fans will have to wait until the fall to really appreciate how he's able to turn a broken play into something positive. --Kyle Bonagura

Arizona State

10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

How will ASU replace Jayden Daniels?

Well, look at that, a genuine quarterback battle. Not that ASU fans are thrilled to be in this position -- having to replace Daniels -- but the element of the unknown does make things more intriguing this time of year. The consensus, at this point, is that either Paul Tyson or Trenton Bourguet will be the Sun Devils' starting quarterback. Tyson, the great-grandson of legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, arrived as a transfer from Alabama in January, while Bourguet signed with ASU following a prolific high school career in Arizona. It's still possible the Sun Devils reach back into the portal during the inevitable next wave of transfers, but these are the two names to know going into the spring showcase. -- Bonagura


1 p.m. ET

Who will take the lead at QB?

No one is going to win the starting quarterback job on Saturday. It doesn't matter what TJ Finley, Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner do. Until former Texas A&M starter Zach Calzada has fully recovered from shoulder surgery and enters the race to replace departed three-year starter Bo Nix, we won't know what direction Bryan Harsin and the coaching staff want to go. But because Calzada has been limited, A-Day represents an opportunity for Finley, Ashford and Geriner to separate from one another. Finley has gotten a bunch of first-team reps this spring and it feels as if he's in the driver's seat, but he has something to prove after coming on for an injured Nix late last season and not exactly blowing the doors off the place. He was 0-3 as the starter with only four passing touchdowns and one interception.-- Alex Scarborough

Boston College

11 a.m. ET, ACC Network and the ESPN App

How will the offense look?

Even though quarterback Phil Jurkovec returns, the Eagles will not look completely the same in the spring game or the upcoming season. New offensive coordinator John McNulty is expected to diversify the offense -- though coach Jeff Hafley has offered few details in what exactly that will look like in an effort to keep it off opposing scouting reports. Perhaps the spring game offers a first chance to see what a "new look" BC offense will entail. Without question, getting the offensive line squared away is at the top of the priority list with four new starters in the mix. There will be no "new look" anything if Jurkovec has no time to pass and there are no running lanes available. BC also has to find more ways to get wide receiverZay Flowers involved after his productivity dropped a year ago. -- Andrea Adelson


1 p.m. ET

Who's got the edge in the quarterback battle?

In some ways, Luke Fickell's 2022 Cincinnati team will look quite a bit like the 2021 squad that reached the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats bring back their entire offensive line, and while plenty of stars have departed, there are still dynamic and explosive stars in the making, such as receiver Tyler Scott, running back Ryan Montgomery and safety Ja'von Hicks. But at quarterback, there are massive shoes to fill. Desmond Ridder is gone, and while both of the primary candidates to replace him are awfully well touted -- senior Ben Bryant was Ridder's backup before transferring to Eastern Michiganand throwing for 3,121 yards last season (and then transferring back), while sophomore Evan Prater was a four-star recruit -- now's the time to start building some buzz. Bryant has the experience edge, but Prater is a thrilling athlete. Who stands out? -- Bill Connelly


1 p.m. ET, ACC Network and the ESPN App

Do the Tigers have a QB problem or a QB competition?

It's no secret 2021 was an outright disaster for once-heralded quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who threw for just nine TDs and had 10 INTs. But the spring opened with a sense of optimism that he could get back to the prime prospect he appeared to be in relief of Trevor Lawrence two years ago. Uiagalelei slimmed down and, according to coach Dabo Swinney, was laser-focused on fixing the woes of his sophomore campaign. The problem is he's had few weapons at his disposal this spring, making it tough to get a read on his real progress. The same goes for freshman Cade Klubnik, who has the potential to unseat Uiagalelei as the starter -- as both Deshaun Watson and Lawrence did with incumbent veterans during their freshman seasons -- and if Klubnik far outshines Uiagalelei in the spring game, the calls for change will only grow. In truth, however, until Clemson gets healthy at receiver, tight end and running back, it might not matter who's taking the snaps at QB. -- David Hale

Florida State

5 p.m., ACC Network and the ESPN App

Which new players will make an impact?

Florida State has an intriguing mix of veteran players returning -- including starting quarterback Jordan Travis-- along with 23 early enrollees who are there for the spring (13 freshmen, 10 transfers). That number leads the nation, but it also speaks to the urgency the Seminoles feel in trying to find players who can make an immediate impact for 2022 to get them back to a bowl game. These are the players to keep an eye on both in the spring and heading into the season. UCF transfer linebacker Tatum Bethune, Albany transfer defensive end Jared Verse, and freshman cornerbacks Sam McCall and Azareye'h Thomas are all poised to have strong seasons in some capacity to help the defense take another step forward. The receiver group has looked much stronger, too, thanks to the additions of transfers Mycah Pittman (Oregon) and Johnny Wilson (Arizona State). That will only help the passing game, which should be improved with Travis' own improvements as a passer. -- Adelson


2 p.m. ET

Is Lance Leipold's culture-building effort beginning to take hold?

Leipold took over in Lawrence at maybe the single worst possible time last season. The Jayhawks had gone through spring ball under an interim coach after the firing of Les Miles, and Leipold officially took the job on April 30. He and his coaches didn't get to see their roster in action until August, and it was hard to see any progress from the team until November. There was progress in November, however -- the Jayhawks knocked off Texas in a thriller, then came close to doing the same against TCU and West Virginia. Now Leipold and his assistants have an extremely experienced roster and actually get a chance to begin laying the foundation of a real culture. What does that look like? How does quarterback Jalon Daniels perform after a run of strong late-season performances? How does the second string look -- are there semblances of real depth? How are some well-touted transfers (Michigan State cornerbackKalon Gervin, Miami-Ohio end Lonnie Phelps, etc.) looking? There is optimism building in Lawrence, but how much is realistic? -- Connelly


1 p.m. ET

Who is the next Wan'Dale Robinson?

The Wildcats hit it big last offseason, landing the former Nebraska wide receiver Robinson via the transfer portal. Robinson not only had a school-record 104 receptions, he also set a record for receiving yards with 1,334. But now he's off to the NFL, along with offensive coordinator Liam Coen, and it's fair to wonder who will be quarterback Will Levis' go-to weapon in the passing game. The answer might come from the transfer portal yet again, and there are two good options. One is Tayvion Robinson, who averaged 37.7 catches and 518.3 yards in three seasons at Virginia Tech. The other is Javon Baker, who struggled to break into the starting lineup during his two seasons at Alabama but showed flashes of the same ability that made him an ESPN 300 prospect in 2020. -- Scarborough


2 p.m. ET, BTN

How will the transition from Scott Frost to Mark Whipple evolve?

Frost kept his job on certain conditions, among them overhauling the offensive staff and hiring a veteran playcaller in Whipple, who last fall oversaw a record-setting Pitt offense led by Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett. How Whipple's philosophy blends with Frost's -- and Frost's willingness to step away from the offensive operation -- will be an ongoing storyline in Lincoln, as fans will get a glimpse at the product during the spring game. Frost isn't announcing a starting quarterback, but all eyes will be on Texas transfer Casey Thompson, who has been throwing to LSU transfer Trey Palmer and others during practice. The running back group also should be intriguing with Jaquez Yant, junior college transfer Anthony Grant and others. Although injuries might prevent Nebraska from using a traditional spring game format, the offense's ability to produce -- and limit mistakes -- will be very much under the microscope until the opener Aug. 27 against Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland.-- Adam Rittenberg

North Carolina

3 p.m. ET

Pay no attention to the team in Chapel Hill

It was just a year ago that the Tar Heels were the sleeper hit of the spring. With Sam Howell at quarterback and an influx of top recruits, the college football world was high on UNC, which spent an entire offseason soaking in the adulation -- only to finish 6-7 with a host of genuinely ugly losses. Now Howell is gone, as are the expectations, and according to the folks at UNC, it might all be for the best. This team just wants to fly under the radar and let its play do the talking. Just who will be making those plays remains a big question, however. At QB, the battle to replace Howell will be one major topic, but there are holes at tailback, outside receiver, linebacker and some big questions on the O-line. The spring game might offer a few insights into how close Mack Brown is to finding solutions at each spot, but odds are, he won't be eager to hype any progress made. For Carolina, the less said this offseason, the better.-- Hale


1 p.m. ET

How will the offense look without Kenny Pickett?

The most obvious storyline revolves around the quarterback position, where USC transfer Kedon Slovis and veteran backup Nick Patti are competing this spring. Coach Pat Narduzzi has been predictably tight-lipped about whether one is ahead of the other at this point and has given no indication that he is close to naming a starter. But at least on paper, Slovis would seemingly have an edge based on his starting experience and history with the Trojans. Both quarterbacks are learning a new system under first-year coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., adding another layer of questions as to what the offense will look like without Pickett. Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison returns, and Akrontransfer receiver Konata Mumpfield has turned some heads. Plus the entire starting backfield and offensive line return. So the quarterback who emerges from the competition should be in position to find immediate success. --Adelson


Noon ET, BTN

Can the Boilers emerge as a West Division threat?

Purdue comes off of its best season under coach Jeff Brohm, whose playcalling prowess and recruiting success came together nicely in 2021. The team now must build on its nine-win performance and challenge for its first Big Ten West Division title. Standout quarterback Aidan O'Connell returns, but Purdue loses its most recognizable playmakers on both offense (wide receiver David Bell) and defense (end George Karlaftis). Wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr., a transfer from Iowa, could help fill the void left by Bell, along with wideout Broc Thompson, tight end Payne Durham and others. The Boilers need to run the ball more effectively and get King Doerue and others back. Despite losing Karlaftis, Purdue might have more depth along the defensive line in 2022, especially in the interior. The Boilers also return dynamic players in the secondary, such as safety Cam Allen and linebacker/safety Jalen Graham. -- Rittenberg


4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network

Can Stanford find its way back to relevance?

For a decade, beginning in 2009, Stanford was the picture of consistency. There was a firm identity the program rode to 10 straight bowl games, half of which were New Year's Six games. Few programs in college football experienced as much success during that time period as the Cardinal. But in the past two full seasons -- tossing aside a 4-2 record in 2020 -- the Cardinal lost what made it great. That dominant offensive line and running game disappeared, and with it, so did success. Stanford went 2-7 in the Pac-12 last season, second worst in the conference, which sets up a pivotal season for longtime coach David Shaw. Saturday's spring game won't provide any definitive answers, but it marks an important opportunity to showcase the early stages of a possible turnaround. -- Bonagura

Texas A&M

2 p.m. ET, SEC Network and the ESPN App

Talent abounds, but who'll take the reins at QB1?

You might have heard a little bit about the Aggies making noise in the recruiting world, including a historic haul that includes four of the ESPN 300's top seven overall prospects -- all defensive linemen -- along with two other top-10 defensive ends. But the defense wasn't the most glaring issue last season. It was at quarterback and wide receiver, where the Aggies struggled mightily. Zach Calzada is off to Auburn, but Haynes King returns to battle for the starting job he won last year before being injured. Jimbo Fisher has the deepest roster of QBs he's had since arriving in College Station, adding LSU transfer Max Johnson, a very Fisher type of quarterback, as well as hyped freshman Conner Weigman (No. 27 in the ESPN 300), whom the coaches felt brought the "it factor" when they evaluated him. With another star recruit, the nation's No. 2 wide receiver, Evan Stewart, making his debut as well, all eyes will be on the passing game and who can start to separate. -- Dave Wilson