Contributing writer to NBCSports.com's College Football Talk, Comeback Media's The Comeback and for Athlon Sports. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Philadelphia area native.
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.
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)
- Ohio State – 80,134
- Nebraska – 78,312
- Alabama – 74,326
- Penn State – 71,000
- Georgia – 66,133
- Clemson – 60,000
- Michigan – 57,418
- Florida – 48,000
- Auburn – 46,331
- 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.
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight did not have a terrific showing in the spring game last weekend, but head coach Jim Harbaugh says he is still the top quarterback on the depth chart coming out of the spring. That said, Speight could be under pressure to keep it once the summer rolls along and the 2017 season gets underway.
“It’ll always be (a competition,)” Harbaugh said when speaking to the media, according to a Detroit Free Press report from Mark Snyder. “Still over the course of the whole spring practice, Wilton on our depth chart, he’s No. 1. But it’s a meritocracy. By your effort and by your talent you will be known. That’s a good thing for our football team.”
Harbaugh’s comments are none to surprising. The 2017 season could be a slight step back for Michigan coming off a big step forward for the program in 2016, but Harbaugh has always been one to ramp up the competitive fire in the program. It has not led to a Big Ten division championship yet, but there is no question it has helped get Michigan back on the right track as a program. No position is considered safe under Harbaugh, who will focus on playing the best possible players at every position for a chance to improve as a team and win games. That’s his job, after all.
Speight played 12 games for the Wolverines last season. In those 12 games, Speight passed for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 61.6 percent of his pass attempts and was picked off seven times. Other options that could replace Speight if a chance is deemed necessary would include senior John O’Korn (who previously started at Houston) and Brandon Peters, who was also less-than-impressive in the Michigan spring game.
Construction delays for the brand new football palace being constructed in Atlanta have forced an MLS match to be rescheduled, but there will be no altering the schedule or location for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff games. In a radio interview in Tennessee, Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic president and CEO Gary Stokan says he is in constant communication regarding the subject and remains confident the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee game on September 2 and the Alabama-Florida State game two days later will not have to be moved.
“I have talked with them (officials) daily over the last week,’’ Stokan said to WNML. “We’ll be in good shape. It’s the fourth event (UT-GT) in there.’’
The other events scheduled to be held in the new football stadium include a pair of NFL preseason games for the Atlanta Falcons. The MLS match that was rescheduled is the other.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is currently scheduled to open on July 30, giving it a full month to work out some kinks before hosting its first real events. The targeted opening date has already been pushed back a handful of times; the stadium was supposed to be open by now.
In the event Mercedes Benz-Stadium is not deemed ready to host the Chick-fil-A Kickoff games, one or both can be moved back to the Georgia Dome. The longtime home stadium of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff and Peach Bowl will remain open and ready for business until Mercedes Benz-Stadium is given a certificate for occupancy. The Georgia Dome was supposed to be torn down in June, but the constant delays with the new stadium have forced that plan to be pushed back as well, just in case.
The spring has come and gone in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers have a new starting quarterback in line for the fall. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley announced, via Twitter, Tanner Lee will be the new starting quarterback moving forward.
Lee transferred to Nebraska from Tulane in January of last year. After choosing Nebraska over LSU, Lee had to sit out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he took flight this spring and generated some sparks in the Nebraska offense. Lee was given an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA last August, meaning he will be eligible to play for Nebraska in 2017 and 2018.
Lee started 10 games for Tulane in 2014 and nine games in 2015. Between his two seasons playing for Tulane, Lee racked up 23 touchdowns but was picked off 21 times. At Nebraska, he will have a stronger supporting cast to count on, which should help cut down on the turnovers and maybe improve in the scoring department.