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A reminder that spring game attendance is useless, but some schools love it

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The spring football game or scrimmage season is underway with Duke getting in a spring scrimmage in Durham on Saturday. Illinois also hosted an open practice for fans. With the first taste of spring football on our hands, it is time to dive head first into the spring football attendance conversation for the 2017 season. But to sum things up before continuing, remember that spring football is not held in a uniform regard from conference to conference or program to program. The numbers clearly show that.

Over the past three years, I have taken the liberty of tracking spring football game attendance figures out of pure curiosity. What I have learned from the past three years is not exactly all that shocking. Big time programs tend to see a higher interest in spring football, which leads to a higher interest in spring football games and scrimmages, which in turn leads to higher attendance figures. Last year, Ohio State set a national spring game record by drawing over 100,000 fans to its spring football game. Georgia impressed everyone with its spring draw with over 90,000 fans showing up for a unique experience complete with a concert, topping perennial SEC spring game attendance champion contender Alabama in the process. Penn State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Auburn continued to be among the nation’s leaders in spring game attendance with their usual big crowds. The same cannot be said for programs from the Group of Five, obviously, but even among the power conferences it is statistically clear the Big Ten and SEC are playing on a different playing field in the spring game attendance game compared to the Big 12 and Pac-12. The ACC tends to straddle the line.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when the spring game attendance numbers start to come together…

Not every school bothers to track attendance

In truth, most of the spring game numbers that are reported are actually estimates. That or it is an incredible coincidence that so many schools see an attendance figure that ends with a zero. In the three years I have tracked these numbers, Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Northwestern, and Texas are the power conference programs that have not reported or supplied a spring attendance figure for one reason or another. A large number of Group of Five programs do not track attendance figures either. Each school has their own philosophy in place over such a thing, so it is not at all shocking to see a good number of schools not pay extra care and scrutiny to such a figure.

Some games or scrimmages will not be played in a stadium

Sometimes a school will take its spring scrimmage outside of the typical home stadium, which means the attendance maximum will potentially be significantly lower than usual. Arizona State played its spring scrimmage on a soccer field last year. Notre Dame Stadium renovations forced the Fighting Irish to hold its spring scrimmage on a non-traditional field in 2015, resulting in a crowd of just 3,590 compared to crowds of over 27,000 in 2014 and 2016 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Stadium renovations are often the main reason a power conference program will move its spring game to a different venue, but that is not always the case. Not having access to a home football stadium also comes into play. Temple and Pittsburgh have each played their spring scrimmage on a practice field or a high school field in recent years, for example. Part of the reason may be having to fund a lowly-attended spring game in an NFL stadium. It’s just not worth it.

Texas A&M didn’t hold a spring game for two years (2014 and 2015) due to ongoing renovations at Kyle Field and an inability to figure out an alternative location that would comply with SEC spring game rules.

Weather can also be a factor

Some games get rained out. Some fans choose not to put up with the weather for a spring game.

Every school treats it spring game differently

Schools like Nebraska, Alabama, Auburn, Penn State and Ohio State have used their spring game to be the focus of an entire weekend or community event by making it a pretty big deal over years. Alabama lets fans run on the field for autographs. Penn State has a fair atmosphere outside the stadium. Some schools charge admission. Some schools simply open the doors and let the fans come and go as they please. There is no one way to handle a spring game. All of these different mechanics play into how the game is seen by fans.

In 2015, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio made it a point to have more fans than ever attend the Michigan State spring game. It almost worked, but it would be another year (and a Big Ten title) before Michigan State hit the 50,000 mark. Michigan experimented with making the spring game a Friday night event. It worked, although it struggled to match the buzz over the first spring game with Jim Harbaugh the previous year. Georgia organized an elaborate concert event around the spring game and led the SEC in attendance.

Schools will continue trying new and innovative ways to make the spring game something fans want to flock to, while others will treat it as nothing more than an afterthought. For example, are you surprised Wisconsin has failed to draw 10,000 fans each of the past three years? Considering how successful Wisconsin has been, that may seem odd to you, but Wisconsin simply doesn’t treat its spring game as much of anything at all.

Who will be the spring game champions of 2017?

It goes without saying the Big Ten and SEC will be the dominating forces in the spring game attendance standings. With the biggest stadiums and some of the top annual spring draws between them, nobody will stand much of a chance to keep the pace. Eight of the top 10 spring game attendances were seen in the Big Ten or SEC in 2016. The two outliers were Florida State and Clemson of the ACC. Both the Seminoles and Tigers appear to go against the grain compared to the rest o the ACC, although Virginia Tech was right in the mix last year.

Speaking of Clemson, the defending national champions are one of a small handful of power conference teams to see an increase of spring game attendance each of the past two years (Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan State, and USC are the others) during this ongoing three-year research. Coming off a national championship, it would not be a stretch to think Clemson may see another year of increased attendance this spring, weather pending. The past two College Football Playoff national champions (Alabama and Ohio State) each saw a higher spring attendance compared to the previous season before winning the national title.

We’ll update the spring game attendance records throughout the spring, so stay tuned to see how it all plays out this year. Spring attendance numbers are good for PR purposes and gives some fans one more thing to brag about in the offseason.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.

Rutgers offensive line went curling and it was no Miracurl on Ice

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The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are almost over but one of the best moments to happen over in South Korea came early Saturday morning stateside as Team USA completed an improbable run toward a gold medal in curling. John Shuster and company wound up capturing America’s first ever Olympic curling gold medal and fittingly won by beating the No. 1 ranked team in the world from Sweden in what is now being dubbed the Miracurl on Ice.

It’s no stretch to say that curling is not just enjoying its quadrennial moment in the spotlight but is genuinely seeing interest in the sport peak in places from coast-to-coast. That even includes the bustling winter sports capital of… Piscataway.

Rutgers offensive line apparently tried their hands at curling for the first time earlier this week and The Players’ Tribune sent along a camera to see how they did against a local club.

Let’s just say that the Scarlet Knights should stick to football. That said, a Big Ten curling tournament should definitely be in the works ASAP.

Either way, congrats to Team USA on the gold medal and let’s hope their victory tour includes teaching offensive lines far and wide how to bring the, ahem, hammer.

Pitt hires WMU’s Cory Sanders as safeties coach, promotes Charlie Partridge

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It’s taken a little longer than he would have liked but Pat Narduzzi finally has a complete coaching staff.

Pitt announced on Saturday morning that Cory Sanders was joining the program as the Panthers 10th assistant and will be coaching the safeties. The veteran was most recently at Western Michigan in 2017 and also has head coaching experience at the Division II level.

“Cory Sanders really impressed us during the interview process,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “We will be adding a young, up-and-coming coach who has outstanding football knowledge and really excels at teaching the fundamentals. Cory is also a relentless recruiter with a great eye for evaluation. He is a great addition to our staff and now gives us two coaches—along with Archie Collins—who will focus on the secondary.”

Collins, who was hired late last month, is set to focus on coaching the cornerbacks and also heads to the Steel City from a directional school in Michigan (Central, in this case). The pair will essentially split the job that former assistant Renoldo Hill handled before he left to join the Miami Dolphins staff.

The school also announced that defensive line coach Charlie Partridge was being promoted to assistant head coach after his name surfaced in connection to several openings this offseason. Paris Johnson, a former graduate assistant for Narduzzi back at Michigan State, was named assistant director of player personnel as well.

Purdue QB David Blough cleared for spring practice

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In a stark change from most offseason news in the sport, Purdue has something positive personnel-wise to hang its hat on moving forward.

By way of the Indianapolis Star, head coach Jeff Brohm revealed Friday that David Blough is “way ahead of schedule” and has been cleared to participate in spring practice, which kicks off this coming Monday, for the Boilermakers.  Just how much of a participant the quarterback will be remains to be seen, though.

“He’s doing a great job and he will be out there at spring practice and will be participating,” Brohm said according to the Star. ‘Whether it will be fully that remains to be seen. He will be out there Day 1 and doing some portions of practice.

“We’ve got to make sure we protect him, especially in 11-on-11 settings. We’ll see how the first week goes if we can progress on that.”

Blough suffered a dislocated ankle in a November win over Illinois and missed the remainder of the 2017 season.  At the time of the injury, it was thought that it and the subsequent recovery process would keep the junior out of spring practice.

Blough had started the two games leading up to his season-ending injury, with Brohm confirming that the rising senior will be the starter as this offseason kicks off in earnest.  Elijah Sindelar, who reclaimed the starting job after Blough’s injury, will miss spring practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL on which he played for the last month of the regular season plus the Boilermakers’ bowl game.