QBs Will Howard, Jalen Milroe headline key players to watch on a loaded Saturday of spring games

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton04/10/24


Several of the 2024 preseason favorites will hold their spring game on Saturday, including Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama. College Football Playoff hopefuls like Tennessee, Utah, Ole Miss, Penn State and LSU will also wrap up spring ‘ball with one final “scrimmage.”

Then there’s the two Sunshine State rivals that will meet in Week 1 of the regular season: Miami and Florida.

Spring games have become watered-down products thanks to the transfer portal and coaches’ ever-increasing fear of key players getting injured, so schools like Ole Miss are moving to more Pro Bowl-type showcases with 7-on-7 games and skill events. 

Still, there are always some storylines to monitor or intriguing players to watch. 

So while you’re focused on Moving Day at the Masters, here are nine players to keep an eye on when you flip the channel to a little spring football this weekend:

Will Howard, Ohio State
Will Howard, Ohio State – © Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

QB Will Howard, Ohio State

The Buckeyes’ spring game will offer the first opportunity to assess whether or not Ryan Day indeed upgraded at quarterback by adding Kansas State transfer Will Howard to the roster. While the ex-Wildcats’ QB is being pushed by Devin Brown and 5-star freshman Julian Sayin, the expectation remains that Howard will start the season as QB1. 

Howard’s mobility should help Ohio State fix its red zone woes, but can the senior quarterback elevate a passing attack that has no shortage of explosive playmaking options (hello, Jeremiah Smith)? We’ll get our first look on Saturday afternoon.

WR Arian Smith, Georgia

The Bulldogs’ wideout has struggled to stay healthy for three years in Athens, but the senior speedster might be primed for a breakout season after a strong spring. 

Smith has consistently been mentioned as one of UGA’s top performers over the last month, with multiple big plays in multiple scrimmages. 

In four seasons, Smith has just 20 receptions — but he’s averaged 31.1 yards per catch during his career with six touchdowns. The talent is there, and Smith seems to be finally putting it all together.  

QB Jalen Milroe, Alabama

The Tide will preview a new era with head coach Kalen DeBoer taking over for Nick Saban, and while much of the roster looks a lot differently than it did a year ago, Alabama’s QB1 remains the same. Jalen Milroe opted to stay in Tuscaloosa, and he’s spent the last six weeks getting coached by one of the best offensive minds in college football. 

We know about Milroe’s tantalizing athleticism and deep ball prowess, but how will he be featured in DeBoer’s offense? Has he improved his intermediate throws? Is his decision-making better? If DeBoer can unlock Milroe’s full potential, we could be looking at a Heisman Trophy winner in 2024. 

QB Cam Rising, Utah

Cam Rising is a well-established commodity at this point, as the Utes’ quarterback is set to play his seventh season of college football this year. “Play” being the key word, though. 

After tearing his ACL in the Rose Bowl in January of 2023, Rising teased a return throughout last fall, yet he never suited up for a game despite being cleared to practice. Utah desperately missed its star quarterback, but Rising looks ready to return to form this year. Reports out of Utah’s spring camp suggest his knee is fully recovered and he looks “like his old self.” We should get a glimpse of how true that is this weekend.

QB DJ Lagway, Florida

The 5-star Texan was the crown jewel of Billy Napier’s 2024 recruiting class — and Gator fans everywhere hope that he’s the prince who was promised to turn around the program. Lagway sits behind UF’s starter Graham Mertz, but he’s without a doubt the most exciting player to keep an eye on during the Orange & Blue Game. 

A true dual-threat talent, Lagway could be featured in some special packages this fall as a way to get him on the field immediately. While Napier is unlikely to reveal those secrets Saturday, how will the freshman quarterback perform simply operating Florida’s normal offense? 

WR JoJo Trader, Miami

Jeremiah Smith, Cam Coleman and Bryant Wesco Jr. are a trio of freshman wideouts who have made waves this spring, and you can add Miami rookie JoJo Trader to the list, too. 

A former teammate of Smith at Chaminade-Madonna HS (Fla.), the 4-star signee has caused all sorts of problems for Miami’s secondary during the team’s 14 practices and will give Hurricanes fans a glimpse of his tremendous upside Saturday. Miami has two of the top returning receivers in the ACC in Xavier Restrepo and Jacolby George, and Trader stands to provide even more juice to a solid receiver room.

WR Chris Brazzell, Tennessee

Nico Iamaleava remains the most interesting man on Rocky Top, but what about the guys the former 5-star quarterback is going to throw to? 

Tennessee’s receivers took a step backward last fall, but the unit should be better in 2024 — partly due to the addition of a playmaker like Chris Brazzell. The 6-4, 190-pound Tulane transfer has quickly asserted himself as a vertical option who can play in the slot or out wide. He had 44 catches for 711 yards and five scores as a sophomore and could become one of Iamaleava’s go-to targets next season.

RB Kaleb Jackson, LSU

The Tigers lost three of their top four rushers from last season, headlined by Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels’ team-high 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns. With the QB-run game not expected to be a focal point of the offense this fall, the Tigers need a tailback (or two) to chew up yards and carries. 

In steps Kaleb Jackson. The sophomore has generated buzz this spring and looks set for a bigger role. He’s battling senior Josh Williams for the RB1 spot, and after flashing some as a freshman (31 carries for 165 yards and four touchdowns), he should see some early opportunities Saturday. 

QB Drew Allar, Penn State

James Franklin plucked Andy Kotelnicki away from Kansas specifically to spruce-up Penn State’s offense and to get the most out of junior quarterback Drew Allar. The former 5-star had a dazzling touchdown-to-interception ratio last season (25 :2) but he competed just 59% of his throws and averaged on 6.8 yards per attempt. 

What will he look like in Kotelnicki’s RPO, QB-run offense? The bulldozing 6-5, 240-pound quarterback won’t be touched during Saturday’s scrimmage, but is he decisive with his decisions? Is he making the correct RPO reads? Will he push the ball vertically more?