Spring games have begun as teams spend the next month winding down spring practices and preparing to enter the offseason conditioning portion of the college football calendar. Every fan is dialed into whatever information they can get from scrimmages or open practices, hoping to get an idea of what the depth chart is going to look like in the fall. Most coaches won't declare winners here in April, but we can often glean who has the leg up in these battles based on who is running with the presumed starters as teams work to build chemistry among the players who will be competing on the field in the fall.
While quarterback battles are the easy headlines for many fans, we've identified a few other positions as well to highlight here in a trip around the country, checking in on some of the key position battles in college football this spring. Still, quarterbacks are mentioned as well, of course, because any team with College Football Playoff hopes knows that it needs a game-changer at the position in order to succeed at the highest levels of the modern game.
Alabama: Wide receivers
Names to know: John Metchie III, Slade Bolden, Javon Baker, Xavier Williams, Thaiu Jones-Bell, Jahleel Billingsley
While Bryce Young is the presumed starting QB, taking over for Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones, sorting out the production hole left by Heisman winner DeVonta Smith carries far more uncertainty. With Smith and Jaylen Waddle off to the NFL along with Najee Harris, the last pieces of the star-studded recruiting classes that helped win national championships in 2017 and 2020 are gone. But since Alabama is Alabama, there are, of course, options.
We saw John Metchie III emerge after Waddle's injury and finish with nearly 1,000 yards on the season, but he's going to miss Alabama's A-Day spring game this Saturday as he continues to rehab from injury. Slade Bolden will almost certainly have a role in the offense, potentially as a versatile inside or slot receiver, but what's interesting will be who emerges as the new game-changers on the outside. Javon Baker and Thaiu Jones-Bell are four-star prospects from the Tide's 2020 class, both ranking among the top 35 players at the position, and could be in line for those snaps in the offense. Adding intrigue to the discussion is Bill O'Brien assuming the role of offensive coordinator. With that in mind, look for Jahleel Billingsley to have a huge season and potentially emerge as one of the top tight ends in the country.
Ohio State: Quarterback
Names to know: Jack Miller, CJ Stroud, Kyle McCord
Miller started the 2020 season as the listed backup to Fields, but Stroud finished the year as the No. 2 and was the more highly-rated prospect from Ohio State's 2020 recruiting class. McCord is a five-star freshman out of Pennsylvania from the 2021 class that enrolled early and will be in the mix as well. The high ceiling of Stroud, the No. 3 quarterback in the class behind DJ Uiagalelei and Bryce Young, gives him an edge if we're setting odds on the battle. But with two sophomores and a freshman in the mix, I'd expect this battle to go as long as Day can stretch it out.
With the spring game coming up this weekend, the feeling out of Columbus is that the Buckeyes should be in a good spot regardless of who ends up being the starter thanks to the talent level of all three, the depth and, most importantly, the strength of the wide receiver position. With Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jackson Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming in addition to the tight ends, any quarterback in Ohio State's offense is going to look good.
Oklahoma: Offensive line
Names to know: Wanya Morris, Chris Murray, Erik Swenson
Oklahoma has routinely fielded one of the top offensive lines in the entire country, but there's some key pieces that need to be replaced in order for the Sooners to meet that high standard established under offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. They bring back both starting guards in Marquis Hayes and Tyrese Robinson but need new starters at tackle and center, a position that was held down the last three seasons by one of the best in the country in Creed Humphrey.
Lincoln Riley has turned to the transfer portal to address these needs, bringing in Morris from Tennessee to play tackle -- likely opposite Erik Swenson -- and Chris Murray from UCLA to play center. Getting that group to gel quickly is key to Oklahoma's hopes of not just making the College Football Playoff again, but contending for a national championship.