Ohio State Buckeyes: Pittsburgh Panthers

At this time last year, Texas A&M was the epicenter of college football during spring practice. The Aggies' 2013 spring game drew a record crowd. ESPN televised the game, "Johnny Football" was the face of the sport and it helped swing in-state recruiting momentum from the Longhorns.

It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.

“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”

The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State coach Urban Meyer likes the opportunity to get young players, such as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, some playing time in a spring game.
Spring games are at somewhat of a crossroads in college football. They’re hardly fighting off extinction as 54 FBS programs held games this past weekend. But the watered-down product is giving coaches reason for pause. The argument against holding the spring game is picking up steam, and coaches are questioning the value in using the final spring practice on a half-speed “dog-and-pony show,” as Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship puts it.

A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.

Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.

“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”

Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.

“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”

However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.

Fisher To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.

-- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”

Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.

“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”

There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.

Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.

A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.

“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”

[+] EnlargeVirginia Spring Game
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThese Virginia students received a better-than-front-row view of the Cavaliers' spring game.
Fans and alumni are maybe the most overlooked part of the equation of whether it is realistic to ditch the spring game. Florida State director of marketing Jason Dennard said it would be nearly impossible to change the Seminoles’ spring game model, which begins with downtown events Friday. The school even receives grant dollars from the local economic development council to fortify the weekend lineup.

“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”

While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.

“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.

Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.

“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”

Army Bowl notebook: Dec. 31 

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
9:10
PM ET
SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl -- on the last day of 2013 -- has come to a conclusion. Here is Tuesday’s notebook featuring some of the nation’s elite athletes:

LB Williams: Law and order equals '98 percent'

Early Offer: Rutgers reeling 

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
5:30
AM ET
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Rutgers was assembling one of the best classes in the country, but that changed after a two-day stretch when two ESPN 300 recruits decommitted; while most of the attention has been on Florida State, Auburn could be a sleeper for one of the nation’s top receivers; and Ohio State loses a receiver pledge but it could open the door for other targets at the position.

Scarlet Knights lose key commits

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

From official visits past and future to a commitment, the Big Ten was buzzing with headlines this week.

Here’s a look at a few programs that highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.

Boiler Up


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

2013 freshman All-American candidates

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
12:30
PM ET
Projecting the eventual success level of high school prospects is difficult in its own right, but forecasting which ones will play right away and make a big splash in college can be even more difficult. Sometimes, however, there are no-brainers such as South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and USC's Leonard Williams. But more often than not, there is no guarantee when it comes to freshmen making instant impacts. So many factors, from team needs to injuries to maturity, will determine who makes the biggest splash.

Headlined by Ole Miss DE Robert Nkemdiche and Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, RecruitingNation takes a look at the Class of 2013 members who can make the biggest impact as freshmen.

To take a look at the team, click here Insider.

Best of the Midwest: Class of 2015 

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
10:00
AM ET
Hjalte FroholdtBrad Bournival/ESPNHjalte Froholdt, the No. 14 player in the ESPN Junior 300, will be playing his junior season in his native Denmark but will have plenty of suitors waiting for his return to the United States.
There are currently 34 Midwest prospects -- 15 from Ohio -- within the ESPN Junior 300. Not a single one of them has pledged an allegiance to a school as of yet.

That means the dogfight is already on, as Big Ten schools and others around the country prepare for an 18-month battle for some of the best.

As is usually the case, the Midwest will bring some interesting storylines over the next few years as the focus will shift to the heartland for some of the biggest names at the high school level.

In keeping with Tuesday’s theme, here are the top 11 prospects out of the Midwest and where they’re at in the process.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Ohio State grabs commitment No. 16 

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
9:09
PM ET
Ohio State certainly is doing its part to shore up positions of need in the 2014 recruiting class.

After landing ESPN 300 offensive guard Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal) on Sunday, the Buckeyes hauled in four-star athlete Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) on Monday. He is their 16th pledge in 2014 and picked Ohio State over Pittsburgh and Penn State.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Four-star ATH Hooker names top six 

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
3:47
PM ET
HOOVER, Ala. -- Recruiting was the last thing on Malik Hooker's mind this week. The New Castle (Pa.) High School athlete traveled with his team to Alabama to compete in the National Select 7-on-7 tournament. Even though he was from out of town, it didn’t take long for other players to figure out who he was.

“There are kids out here that are playing to try and outdo me,” Hooker said. “That’s what everybody out here wants to do -- they want to outwork the guy they’re against. I’m just out here trying to make myself better and make my team better as a whole.”

New Castle finished 2-4-1 in Thursday’s pool play before being eliminated on Friday. Before the trip, Hooker narrowed his list to six schools -- Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Most colleges are not completely sure which position Eric Glover-Williams will play at the next level, but they plan to use him the same way his Canton (Ohio) McKinley coaches will in 2013. Glover-Williams will have the ball in his hands early and often.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The final few days of July could shape the end of Brady Taylor’s recruitment.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jenkins compared to OSU legend Pace 

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
10:34
AM ET
Some college coaches have told Sterling Jenkins (Pittsburgh/Baldwin) he already looks like an NFL lineman. The Ohio State coaches think he could be the next great NFL lineman.

Orlando Pace
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIOrlando Pace was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times during his career.
Jenkins, a 2015 offensive tackle, visited the Buckeyes on Wednesday, and offensive line coach Ed Warinner told Jenkins he reminds him of former No. 1 pick and future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace. Pace was a new name to Jenkins, but he appreciated the Buckeyes’ belief in him.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Right now, Malik Duncan (Cleveland/Central Catholic) is losing the burrito battle.

That could change in the coming months, however, as the 5-foot-8, 167-pound Duncan continues to blow up on the recruiting scene.

A first cousin to BCS prospects Erick Smith (Cleveland/Glenville) and Jerome Baker (Cleveland/Benedictine), Duncan has a running bet with Baker every time the two get an offer.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Peter Winovich was 10 years old when his younger brother, Chase (Jefferson Hills, Pa./Jefferson Hills), was born. The elder Winovich picked up football when Chase was an infant and the younger brother, unsurprisingly like so many younger siblings, wouldn’t take too long to follow.

But the age difference didn’t allow for too much on-field collaboration as Chase’s first three years of Pop Warner football coincided with Peter’s last three of high school ball.

Peter went on to play quarterback for Bowling Green. And Chase will follow in his footsteps. Sort of. Chase, an outside linebacker, garnered bigger interest sooner than his older brother. He has his pick of BCS offers, but will chose Michigan, Ohio State or Pitt.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN 150 ATH Henry on top four, visits 

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
12:00
PM ET

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- ESPN 150 athlete Dravon Henry smiled under his bucket hat over the weekend but winced when asked about his top school.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle) is not new to football. He was just new to high school football.

The 2014 athlete that exploded onto the recruiting scene a month ago played football back in eighth grade but dropped it in high school to pursue basketball. He made his way back to the gridiron before his junior season, and it paid huge dividends. Hooker has added double-digit offers, and the majority have come since April.

“I’m grateful for it because not a lot of people can say they haven’t played football since eighth grade and come back one year and get scholarships or as many big scholarships I have,” Hooker said.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Recruiting Effect of Marquee Matchups
National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree joins ESPN's Antonietta Collins to discuss how high-profile early-season college football games affect recruiting efforts of teams involved.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video