Is spring football over? No. There’s still a wad of games left to played, with 33 on the calendar this weekend and two stylishly scheduled caboose dates, Hawaii and Marshall on April 29 and 30. I am still thus far unsuccessfully lobbying the bosses that it is crucial that I go to Honolulu for my ultimate end-of-spring column … but for now this will have to do.
If you missed last week’s special first half of spring ball edition of Flipping The Field, well, c’mon man, get it together! This week we bring you Spring Wars: Episode II. And while, yes, there are still games to played, the weekend that just concluded featured most of the biggest, baddest remaining Power 5 programs, from L.A. (Los Angeles) to L.A. (Lower Alabama).
Here are the revised headlines after the second big weekend that was in spring football, in this special all-bullet point edition of Flipping The Field.
King of Spring … still. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. The Wolverines have been kicking back for nearly three weeks, having wrapped up spring ball back on April Fool’s Day. And while their attendance bragging rights were stomped under multiple black cleats (more on that shortly),the shadow of Captain Comeback has continued to loom large over the landscape of college football. Last week, even as his team was off the field, the NCAA membership’s decision to end satellite camps and his reaction to that ruling and a response from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze on Mike & Mike kept him in the headlines all week long. The latest wrinkle in As The Harbaugh Turns is the inevitable blaming of the media for giving the coach too much coverage. But here’s the thing about that. I sat in for Paul Finebaum on Wednesday, a radio show syndicated throughout the southeast and televised by the SEC Network. Other than read a headline about the Harbaugh-Freeze feud and play Freeze’s hit from ESPN Radio, I had no intention to talk Harbaugh anymore. But for the next four hours my phone lines were lit up and, with only a few exceptions, the little tell-tale subject line read “Harbaugh”. Love or hate him — and there are way more of the former than the latter — people still want to talk about him. And that’s why he wins the spring. Not to mention the winter and the fall, even when his team wasn’t winning actual games.
Biggest Box Office. Last week we informed you that Michigan was the leader in the Big House — er, clubhouse — drawing a whopping 60,000 for its Friday Night Lights edition. We also speculated aloud that other schools would be hard-pressed to beat that crowd. We were wrong. Penn State drew 65,000 to Happy Valley and Tennessee overcame a wonky winter to bring 67,027 to Neyland Stadium. Nebraska packed 72,922 into Memorial Stadium and 76,212 Crimson Tide fans showed up for A-Day. But it was UGA and OSU that won the day. New Georgia head coach challenged Dawgs fans to draw a capacity crowd of 93,000 to Sanford Stadium. They did it.
Kirby Smart challenged #DawgNation to pack 93,000 in Sanford.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 16, 2016
Meanwhile, as the leader of their archrivals squawked through spring, Ohio State has quietly marched through its practice schedule, heading into the summer with an audience of 100,189, besting their own record of one year ago. Urban Meyer, or at least whoever is in charge of Meyer’s Twitter account, was psyched.
— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) April 16, 2016
But the Buckeyes weren’t only about attendance. It will continue to be well-documented how many roster holes there will be for Meyer’s staff to fill this fall. That will happen when basically your entire team leaves for the NFL. But a lot of names that you might have recognized from national signing days past showed up on Saturday in Columbus, namely a pair of offensive skill players. Running back Mike Weber rushed for a pair of touchdowns while wide receiver Torrance Gibson, a converted quarterback, caught two of his own.
Can you earn one of those Buckeye stickers in a spring game? If so, hook this guy up. Linebacker Jerome Baker’s one-handed INT during Saturday’s game set the internet ablaze.
🔝 clips from 2016 Spring Game. #GoBucks
— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) April 16, 2016
By the way, he was playing with injured fingers. But here’s the thing, he had an equally-wowza one-hander back at the start of the spring practice, on March 26. If you were like me, saw his work and suddenly found yourself at a loss for words … well, that appears to have been his plan.
— Jerome Baker Jr. (@Lastname_Baker) April 17, 2016
Past is always prologue in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide has a lot of questions to answer before starting their College Football Playoff title defense at the Jerry Dome vs. USC, so many questions that I actually received a few stressed-out tweets and emails from Bammers, worried that their A-Day game was being played without a starting QB and without any of their likely running backs healthy enough to get big rep numbers during spring. To me, it sounds an awful lot like A-Day 2009. That April, then-second year head coach Nick Saban prowled the sidelines looking like his seersucker was tailored too tight. Why? Because NCAA sanctions (not of his doing) were imminent, it was raining, he had a QB battle on his hands, and with injuries rifling through the backfield, the leading rusher among running backs was Terry Grant with 27 yards on 10 carries. All that team did in the fall was go 14-0 with a national championship, led by two guys who ended spring with little or no wow factor — Heisman winner Mark Ingram and SEC Network analyst and serial snappy dresser Greg McElroy.
Past is always prologue in Tuscaloosa, Pt. 2. I’m not saying this is creepy, but…ok, yeah, I’m totally saying this is creepy.
— Alex Scarborough (@AlexS_ESPN) April 16, 2016
And your starting QB for 2016 is … probably still TBD. Texas A&M ended spring ball by naming Trevor Knight their starting quarterback, which wasn’t a huge surprise considering his performance in their spring game … oh, and he’s also one of only two QBs left in town. Kentucky sophomore Drew Barker got the nod from head coach Mark Stoops after a solid spring … oh, and the other two guys transferred. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema named Austin Allen (Brandon’s little brother) the Hogs’ starter via Twitter. Other than that, most schools are sticking to what’s becoming the traditional spring script, leaving the decision to be made in August.
You win some, you lose some. Ever since the announcement of the satellite camp ban, critics have decried the shutdown as a big loss for non-Power 5 conferences and small schools. But amid that furor, those same schools scored a big win. Last week the NCAA football rules committee also announced that it had postponed the use of electronic devices such as laptops and tablets for in-game use until at least 2017. In March that same committee approved expanded video/digital usage in press boxes and locker rooms but not sidelines. The result was a mad scramble from Group of 5 schools, concerned about the cost of up-fitting to handle those systems, but also from Power 5 schools concerned that they would immediately be at a disadvantage to conferences that either already had the equipment or the cash to go shopping, namely the SEC.
“It was too much too quick, really for anyone,” one Power 5 team’s video coordinator said to me the day after the April ruling. “No one had an answer for uniformity. Different conferences were asking for different things. And no one had an answer for how it would work at neutral sites. It would have immediately widened the gap between the haves and have nots.”
As with all things Power 5 vs. Group of 5, that gap will likely still come to fruition, but now there will at least be time to slow down, write a real rulebook, and hope for the best.
Danny Ford Scientific Rocket Quote of the Week: Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach and our very own Chris Low have always had a bit of a bromance. One year I was assigned to write a feature on all the stuff that Spurrier had on display in his office at South Carolina. When I walked in, his immediate reaction was, “Wait…what are you doing here? I thought Chris Low was coming.” So it shouldn’t be a surprise that C-Low got the HBC to reveal what his all-time favorite Spurrierism was during a recent chat in Knoxville where Spurrier (a native Tennessean) was accepting the Robert Neyland Award from the Knoxville Touchdown Club.
“They were asking me about all those things I said, the Citrus Bowl jokes and Free Shoes U. stuff,” Spurrier said to Low. “I told them I always thought the best one didn’t have anything to do with Tennessee or FSU. It’s the one I said about preferring to play Georgia the second week of the season because you could always count on them having two or three good players suspended every year. Everybody said, ‘Did you really say that?’ and I said, ‘Yes, because it’s true.'”
— Vol Photos (@Vol_Photos) April 17, 2016
Meanwhile, 20,000 feet above Spurrier’s head … The Navy Leap Frogs delivered the game ball for Tennessee’s spring festivities. Warning: you might want to slap on a Dramamine patch before watching this.
You will also need Dramamine to watch this. There were plenty of wacko scoring affairs over the weekend, but none went more tilt-a-whirl than UNC. Here are the highlights, via the Tar Heels video crew…and they happen fast.
Final score: Offense 74, Defense 70
You’ll definitely want to watch the highlights 🎥 https://t.co/ST6W7YXavR
— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) April 16, 2016
Just fast-forward to the finish, bro. After spending some time at Cal two weeks ago, I can assure you that the Bears still have a long way to go to sort out the official heir to Jared Goff. But if Saturday’s 38-37 final score was any indication, it’ll be entertaining whichever way Sonny Dykes decides to go. The game was won on its final play.
TOUCHDOWN BLUE! Bowers throws a 24-yard TD to Singleton to win the game!https://t.co/1zfjAAix5f
— Cal Football (@CalFootball) April 16, 2016
Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Actually, it’s Ka-sun! Ka-sun! Kyle Kasun grew up a lifelong Nebraska fan and the son of a lifelong Nebraska fan. He’d dreamed of playing for Big Red and was a solid high school player, but didn’t receive a sniff from his beloved school. In March, when the Huskers held open tryouts he gave it a shot … and earned a roster spot as a walk-on. On Saturday, his interception on the final play of the day earned a 46-41 victory via the spring game scoring system. His new teammates carried him off the field. But the real moment was captured by his mother.
— Juliekasun (@juliekasun) April 16, 2016
The Guy You Should Know About, But Probably Don’t: Shane Buechele, QB, Texas. If you live in Texas or spend your days wearing burnt orange, then yes, you already know about him. You might already have a tattoo of his name on your arm. That’s how out-of-control the Buechele hype might start becoming in Austin after splitting time with Tyrone Swoopes behind center during the Horns’ spring scrimmage. He’s not giant (6-1, 182 pounds) and had he stuck to the normal 18-year old’s calendar he’d prepping for his senior prom, not the opener vs. Notre Dame. But in the Orange & White Game he was 22-of-41 for 299 yards and a pair of TD passes, leading three of four scoring drives before weather washed out the second half. Swoopes was 4-of-16 for 71 yards and a pair of interceptions, while Jerrod Heard, last year’s primary starter, missed the game with a shoulder injury. In a related note, running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman both looked sharp, combining for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Warren looks like he might have spent January and February trying some serum from the Avengers Tower, bulking up to 255 pounds.
The Guy You Used to Know About But Forgot About But You Should Know About Again: Seth Collins, Oregon State. Collins started the first seven games of the 2015 season as the Beavers dual-threat QB (946 yards/6 TDs passing, 580 yards/8 TDs rushing),but was sidelined by injuries. He returned for the Oregon finale, playing a little quarterback with some receiver and running back reps too. He ended the season by requesting a transfer and signing a non-binding financial aid agreement with Northern Illinois, but has now decided to stay in Corvalis. A tremendous athlete, he spent last spring in a three-way battle for the starting QB job. This year head coach Gary Andersen has another QB battle on his hands, but this time around Collins isn’t involved. He sat out spring practice, but did study with the team and will return this fall as a receiver.
Extra Point: No matter how you feel about Duke as a sports fan, one of the greatest stories in college football over the last decade has been the improbable reconstruction job that head coach David Cutcliffe has done in Durham. The Blue Devils sideline has always been a place for kids with positive, smart energy. I know because I’ve been on that sideline on and off ever since I was 12 years old, so I can tell you that smart and nice is nothing new. It’s the winning part that’s new. Case in point about the good kids: last week tight end David Reeves went back to high school. Why? To be the date of a senior who’s been battling leukemia for the last three years. The night was setup by the Meg’s Smile foundation.
Jasmine’s prom begins with #80 TE from The Duke Blue Devils DJ Reeves!!! pic.twitter.com/piWkpKFSW9
— Meg’s Smile (@MegsSmile) April 9, 2016
To learn the story behind the story, read this piece from my bud Andrea Adelson.
Actually, let’s make it a two-point conversion. The star of Penn State’s Blue-White Weekend wasn’t redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley, who was 23-of-27 for 281 yards and 4 TDs. It wasn’t even Donald Trump, who made the ultimate Happy Valley campaign promise, bringing Joe Paterno back . No, it was five-year old Leah Still. Her fight against stage IV neuroblastoma has been nothing short of a miracle.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) April 16, 2016
On Saturday she celebrated being cancer-free for one year by taking to the sidelines and helping out the Penn State cheerleaders.