Newcomers shine in Tide’s A-Day finale

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It’s bad enough for SEC foes that Alabama returns more than a dozen starters from its 2011 BcS title-winning team.

Now those same teams are faced with the prospect of having to deal with at least a couple of new recruits who may be ready to make an instant and immediate contribution as the Tide attempts pull off a repeat.

The hands-down star of the game was running back T.J. Yeldon, who was one of a handful of early enrollees for the Tide this past winter.  All Yeldon did was combine for 179 total yards — 88 rushing, 91 receiving — in helping lead the White team over the Crimson team, 24-15, in what’s officially called the Golden Flake A-Day Game.  Included in that total was a 50-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Phillip Sims.  For that performance, Yeldon was honored with the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player of the Game Award

Additionally, fellow true freshman Chris Black caught a 44-yard scoring pass from Sims.  The catch-and-run by the wide receiver was the first of two scores on the day thrown by Sims.

“It’s really important. It doesn’t really matter about the game. It’s basically another practice for us. You basically just want to see consistency,” head coach Nick Saban said of the performance put out there by the new players in general. “How do they do consistently playing that position and doing their role and playing their role and those guys have done a great job. You couldn’t ask any more from them and like I said as a whole offense we have to keep progressing and we’re going to have some ups and downs right now. We’re learning some new plays and doing some different things but as long as we just come out and get better every day we’ll be fine.”

Unfortunately, the player to whom Sims looks up to on the depth chart didn’t fare as well.  While A.J. McCarron, who was quietly semi-spectacular in his first season as the Tide’s starter last season, matched Sims with a pair of touchdowns, he also threw three interceptions, including one on the first play from scrimmage.

Despite the uneven play from his starting QB and the stellar production from his true freshmen, Saban wasn’t getting too high or two low over either area, rather focusing on the improvement his squad made throughout the 15 spring sessions.

“One thing that never happens in college football is no one ever has a bad spring and no one ever has a bad spring game. We didn’t have one either,” Saban said in comments distributed by the team. “We had a lot of guys who made a lot of improvement this spring. We are still focusing on more and more guys knowing what it takes to win and the preparations, ability to adjust, play with poise, execute and do their job.

“None of that stuff happens by accident. It happens because of the way you prepare and the way you work. We will look and see how many guys have made progress in the regard. I think this game today was kind of a final exam for some of the players relative to spring practice. How much you improve, where you are in your development, are you ready to take responsibility for a role on the team.”

For those who are curious, the school detailed in its release that the format for this game was very similar to that of a regular season game: “he format for the A-Day game was much like a normal game, with a few minor variations primarily regarding the game clock. The game consisted of four 15-minute quarters with a running clock. The clock stopped only following scoring plays, penalties, and changes of possession. Regular clock rules were used during the final minutes of the second quarter and the fourth quarter.”

Incidentally, the game was played in front of 78,526 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the fifth-largest attendance mark for an A-Day football game.  It was however, roughly 14,000 less than the record crowd that watched the Tide’s spring game last season.

(For all of CFT’s coverage of the 40-plus spring game action Saturday, click HERE.)

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.

Ohio State claims 2017 national championship… for spring game attendance

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For the third consecutive year, Ohio State is your national champion in the all-important category that is spring game attendance. The Buckeyes once again had the largest attendance for its spring game this month despite stadium renovations cutting out 20,000 seats from Ohio Stadium. After a weekend that saw Alabama and Penn State prove to be the final hurdles necessary to clear, the Buckeyes can once again boast about having the highest attendance this spring, for whatever that is worth.

Alabama (73,426), Penn State (71,000) and Georgia (66,133) made their final push to round-out the top five spring crowds this year over the weekend. The only power conference programs remaining on the spring game schedule are Arkansas, Oregon, Virginia, and UCLA this coming weekend. If you took the combined spring attendance of each of those schools, they would collectively fall shy of Ohio State’s spring crowd total for this season.

Spring Game Attendance Top 10 for 2017 (as of 4/24/2017)

  1. Ohio State – 80,134
  2. Nebraska – 78,312
  3. Alabama – 74,326
  4. Penn State – 71,000
  5. Georgia – 66,133
  6. Clemson – 60,000
  7. Michigan – 57,418
  8. Florida – 48,000
  9. Auburn – 46,331
  10. Oklahoma – 43,723

How valuable the attendance figures for the spring game varies from fanbase to fanbase, and even within each fanbase there is a wide range of opinion on what the significance of the spring game attendance really is. It does help inject some reason to be enthusiastic about the program on the recruiting trail, but it ultimately is open to interpretation just like so many other recruiting tools. Remember, the majority of schools out there hardly make an effort to promote their spring game and make it an event fans look forward to. There may be no conference that demonstrates the wide range of affection for the spring game than the Big Ten.

The Big Ten is led by Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State and, recently, Michigan when it comes to spring game crowds, but then there is the curious case of Wisconsin. The Badgers have a loyal following, but have not cracked the 10,000-fan mark since 2014, when I began tracking spring game attendance figures. Northwestern has never even kept track of its spring scrimmage numbers, and neither has Indiana for the past three years.

You can check the updated spring game attendance numbers and sort them by conference HERE.