Spring overreactions from each Way-Too-Early Top 25 team

The spring is prime overreaction time in college football.

Where are the breakout freshmen, backup QBs-turned-Heisman contenders and transfers who could be the missing piece in a deep CFP run?

With spring ball wrapped up and the summer’s “talking season” rapidly approaching, our reporters take a look at notable overreactions for each team in our latest Top 25 offseason power rankings.

Overreaction: Georgia’s offense won’t be nearly as good without star tight end Brock Bowers and receiver Ladd McConkey.

There’s no question the Bulldogs are going to miss the two aforementioned pass-catchers, who were selected with the 13th and 34th pick in last month’s NFL draft, respectively. Both players were explosive after the catch and served as safety valves for quarterback Carson Beck, who was confident they’d be open when they were on the field. But Georgia still has plenty of firepower returning and more talent coming this summer.

Beck should be even better in his second full season as a starter — he’s trending as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2025 draft. Dominic Lovett and Rara Thomas should emerge as go-to receivers after transferring to Georgia before the 2023 season, and Dillon Bell is a versatile playmaker as well. Miami transfer Colbie Young looked like a red-zone threat in the spring. Junior tight end Oscar Delp is another future NFL draft pick, and Stanford transfer Benjamin Yurosek will give Beck another proven target. — Mark Schlabach

Overreaction: Freshman phenom Jeremiah Smith will immediately take over for Marvin Harrison Jr. as Ohio State’s No. 1 WR.

The buzz this spring around Smith, the No. 4 overall recruit in this freshman class, was palpable. Smith dazzled throughout the spring with his body control and big-play ability. Clearly he has the potential to be, like Harrison, a high draft pick himself down the line.

But Emeka Egbuka reminded everyone in the spring game why he’ll be the Buckeyes’ go-to target in 2024 with a series of impressive catches, including a one-handed grab along the boundary. The senior leader will bring stability to an Ohio State offense that will feature a new quarterback and new playcaller in Chip Kelly. — Jake Trotter

Overreaction: The Ducks are going to be one of the most physical teams in the new Big Ten.

Editor’s Picks

2 Related

There’s plenty of skepticism about how the former Pac-12 teams like USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon are going to fare in their first season playing physical, defensive-minded Big Ten football. USC, for example, has made it a point to try and beef up its lines on both sides of the ball and though that remains a work in progress, there’s little doubt that the Ducks already have that pedigree going into this season. Their spring game was a manifestation of that.

While other teams took on a “thud” approach where they weren’t fully tackling each other, Dan Lanning’s team went all out with full tackling during its game (except for the quarterbacks) and showed off their athleticism. “Football requires a certain level of effort and physicality and that doesn’t happen by accident,” Lanning said after the Ducks’ spring game. “You have to practice it. Are we smart with our players? Yeah, absolutely. But we want to take advantage of every opportunity on the field.” Come Big Ten play, Oregon should be more than equipped to take on its opponents. — Paolo Uggetti

Overreaction: There’s a quarterback controversy.

Arch Manning electrified a stadium with plenty of fans wearing his No. 16 jersey during the spring game, throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, looking in command and locked in on deep passes all day, while Quinn Ewers threw a pick-six on one of his two drives on the day. But there’s no controversy.

Two years ago, when Ewers struggled in multiple games midway through the season, the Longhorns had a capable backup in Hudson Card, who transferred and started 11 games last year at Purdue , but Sarkisian allowed Ewers to ride it out and kept Card on the bench. Those growing pains paid off last year when Ewers led the Longhorns to the College Football Playoff, throwing for 3,479 yards, 22 touchdowns and six INTs throughout the season. Sarkisian knows and likes what he has in Ewers, who is currently projected to be a top 10 NFL draft pick next year and planned all along to let Manning get a spring showcase to keep developing for next season. — Dave Wilson

Overreaction: Former Duke QB Riley Leonard is injury prone.

The big get of portal season for Notre Dame was Leonard, who figures to be the catalyst for the Irish offense in 2024. Only problem? No one has seen him play in a Notre Dame uniform yet. After enduring a significant ankle injury last year — ironically against Notre Dame — he dealt with turf toe and then required an additional surgery on the ankle that kept him out of spring ball.

Does that mean Leonard will be playing catch-up all summer? Will he even be healthy enough to get the work he needs to be ready for Week 1? Not to worry. Leonard is a veteran. The light spring might ultimately be a benefit, in that it gave him time to heal and study the offense before being thrown into the fire. — David Hale

Overreaction: There’s no such thing as rat poison.

First of all, Lane Kiffin knows better. He has repeated the phrase often after hearing his former boss, Nick Saban, lament what rat poison could do to a football team that gets too full of itself after reading its press clippings. It’s been since the John Vaught years that Ole Miss has received this kind of love going into a season.

There’s no doubt that this is Kiffin’s most talented team, and he has added impact players on both sides of the ball. Not to mention, returns a top-flight quarterback in Jaxson Dart who will be in his third year as a starter. But no matter how hard you downplay it, there’s a different dynamic to going out and performing at a high level when everybody expects you to and is telling you how good you are. This will be a different world for an Ole Miss team that enters 2024 with a playoff-or-bust label. Certainly, rat poison isn’t unbeaten, but it’s real. — Chris Low

Overreaction: Offensive line could hold back the offense.

The Tigers lost All-SEC tackle Javon Foster to the NFL draft as well as two other offensive linemen, Xavier Delgado and Marcellus Johnson, who signed as free agents. Granted, every good offensive line has the proper chemistry, cohesion and players that are accustomed to playing alongside each other.

That said, the Tigers strengthened themselves significantly on the offensive line over the past four months by bringing in transfer tackles Marcus Bryant (SMU) and Cayden Green (Oklahoma). They join three returning starters, and if the Tigers can stay healthy up front, they’re plenty talented enough to give Brady Cook and his playmakers on offense the time and space to be a team that averages more than 30 points per game for a second straight season. — Low

Overreaction: Penn State’s pass protection is primed to fall apart.

With Olumuyiwa Fashanu and Caedan Wallace manning the tackle spots last year, the Nittany Lions allowed only 16 sacks, second fewest in the Big Ten. In last month’s draft, Fashanu went 11th overall to the New York Jets, and Wallace went in the third round to the New England Patriots.

Still, Penn State should be solid in protecting QB Drew Allar with players such as Drew Shelton, its swing tackle the past two years, and Wisconsin transfer Nolan Rucci potentially stepping into the starting tackle spots. — Trotter

Jalen Milroe and Alabama look to make a run in the CFP under new coach Kalen DeBoer. Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Overreaction: A quarterback controversy is brewing.

Let’s pump the brakes on a potential quarterback controversy looming in Tuscaloosa as Kalen DeBoer takes over for Nick Saban as Alabama’s coach. The Tide staff loved what they saw this spring from Ty Simpson and the steps he took. He was much more decisive in his decision-making and played with more confidence than he did last spring and preseason when he was competing for the starting job.

But Alabama’s starter unequivocally remains Jalen Milroe, who was the key to Alabama’s transformation a year ago from an above-average team to a playoff team. Milroe should thrive in DeBoer’s system and has a year’s experience to build on as a second-year starter. The best news for the Crimson Tide is that they have two quarterbacks they believe in, and that’s always comforting going into a season. — Low

Overreaction: Cam Rising and Dorian Singer are going to be one of the most potent QB-WR duos.

Both Rising and Singer are coming off of less than ideal 2023 seasons. Rising sat out the entire year recovering from knee surgery, while Singer had transferred to USC after a 1,105-yard season at Arizona only to struggle in the Trojans’ crowded receiver room (289 receiving yards and three touchdowns). A fresh start under an experienced quarterback is exactly what Singer may need in order to get back to his 2022 form.

Rising, meanwhile, is back healthy for one last hurrah in Salt Lake City and should benefit greatly from having a top wideout option like Singer. The two seem to have already developed some chemistry throughout spring, connecting on five passes for 92 yards in the Utes’ spring game as well. — Uggetti

Overreaction: Noah Fifita is primed for a Heisman-level season.

After a stunning breakout freshman season from Fifita where he threw for 2,869 yards and 25 touchdowns in just nine starts, Fifita is now getting what he didn’t get last year: a full offseason to prepare to be the Wildcats’ starting quarterback. During spring ball, he has stepped confidently into that role.

With standout wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan staying in Tucson despite the coaching change from Jedd Fisch to Brent Brennan, Fifita has the ingredients to build upon his first season under center and show why he may be not only the Big 12’s best offensive player, but could be one of the nation’s best, too. — Uggetti

Overreaction: DBU is back.

It wasn’t long ago that LSU dubbed itself “Defensive Back University” and deservedly so, after the Tigers sent Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Corey Webster and so many other great defensive backs to the NFL. Last season, however, the Tigers struggled to cover just about everyone. LSU ranked 108th in the FBS in pass defense (255.6 yards) and 108th in total defense (416.6).

Tigers coach Brian Kelly blew up his defensive staff, poaching coordinator Blake Baker from Missouri and bringing back longtime secondary coach Corey Raymond from Florida. The secondary took its lumps against quarterback Garrett Nussmeier during the spring game but bowed its neck and made some stops as well. If young players such as cornerbacks Ashton Stamps and P.J. Woodland and safeties Dashawn McBryde and Kylin Jackson continue to develop, the coaches should at least have more depth and talent in 2024. — Schlabach

Overreaction: The transition from Jim Harbaugh to Sherrone Moore will be seamless.

Moore showed down the stretch, as Michigan’s interim coach last season, that he’s ready to lead the Wolverines. But Michigan lost 13 players to the NFL draft, two more than any other program (ahead of Texas). That included quarterback J.J. McCarthy, who went 10th overall to the Minnesota Vikings.

With a new starting quarterback still to be determined, and several new starters on either side of the ball, the reigning national champions could endure some early growing pains at the outset of the Moore era in Ann Arbor. — Trotter

Former Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel transfers to Oregon in its first season in the Big Ten. Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Overreaction: The Sooners’ offensive line will be their undoing.

Oklahoma lost five offensive linemen who made up the bulk of its starts and career snaps, not to mention its offensive coordinator (Jeff Lebby, the new Mississippi State coach) and quarterback (Dillon Gabriel, who transferred to Oregon). Not ideal heading into its first SEC season. But the Sooners boast one of the top offensive line coaches in the country in Bill Bedenbaugh, who is piecing together transfers from Washington, Michigan State and USC, among others, to pair with young OU linemen.

There were plenty of concerns when QB Jackson Arnold, Gabriel’s replacement, threw three interceptions in an Alamo Bowl loss to Arizona. But since then, the Sooners elevated former North Texas head coach Seth Littrell to OC and brought in Purdue WR Deion Burks (who had five catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game) and Southeastern Louisiana tight end transfer Bauer Sharp, to an already talented wide receiver group. The Sooners will be able to move the ball, and if the defense under new coordinator Zac Alley can keep the Sooners from becoming one-dimensional, that’ll allow Littrell to scheme his way out of any growing pains up front. — Wilson

Overreaction: The offense will take a step back.

This is a natural assumption after Florida State lost Jordan Travis, Trey Benson, Keon Coleman and Johnny Wilson to the NFL draft. Florida State addressed this in the transfer portal, signing quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, receivers Malik Benson and Jalen Brown, and running backs Roydell Williams and Jaylin Lucas. While the running game looks like it has potential to be a force, the offense left unanswered questions following the Spring Showcase.

No official stats were kept, but Uiagalelei was inconsistent, and beyond Benson, the receiver group didn’t step up the way it needed to. Coach Mike Norvell referenced missed opportunities and dropped balls in his news conference afterward. — Andrea Adelson

Overreaction: Nico Iamaleava for Heisman.

Anybody who has seen Iamaleava throw the ball and deftly work his way around the pocket knows what an immense talent Tennessee’s first-year starting quarterback is. But there’s such a thing as too much hype (and too many expectations) too soon. His performance in the win over Iowa in the Cheez-It Citrus bowl game was promising, but bowl games aren’t always a great indicator of what comes next.

The Vols need to play well around Iamaleava this season, both in the way the offensive line protects him and the way his skill players make plays. Iamaleava is well-liked in the locker room and has shown no entitlement despite all the attention he’s received. But now comes the real challenge — performing consistently week in and week out against the grind of an SEC schedule. Iamaleava also needs to bulk up. Unlike his arm talent, his durability could be a question. — Low

Overreaction: No more spring games in Stillwater?

For the second year in a row, the Pokes didn’t have a spring game because of construction at Boone Pickens Stadium. Not having a spring game is not unusual. Mike Gundy is not the biggest fan of the spectacle for good reasons, such as protecting players from injury. However, the one big caveat that Gundy acknowledged is the fan aspect of it, and how it’s also for them.

Until they find a replacement, we’ll file this in the “overreaction” category, even though I would expect them to find a replacement fan event or engagement eventually. — Harry Lyles Jr.

Overreaction: The offense is going to be electric.

When the Wolfpack’s first-team offense put up 51 points in the spring game — highlighted by explosive performances from transfer QB Grayson McCall, transfer receiver Noah Rogers and transfer tight end Justin Joly — NC State fans had every right to be overjoyed.

It’s hard to recall the last time the Pack had so many playmakers at skill positions. Enter: KC Concepcion, Jordan Waters and Hollywood Smothers. But let’s tap the brakes just a bit. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae should have plenty of on-field talent this season, but NC State hasn’t had an 1,000-yard receiver or rusher since 2018. The spring offered reason for optimism, but we want to see it against real competition before we’re sold. — Hale

Overreaction: The offense is a disaster.

You can forgive Clemson fans for a bit of offensive pessimism after three straight years of frustrating performances. The days of Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence feel like a bygone era, and the dismal performance from the spring game tells us little about how the Tigers might rebound in 2024.

The units were split, so Cade Klubnik wasn’t playing with his full arsenal of first-team impact players Jake Briningstool and Tyler Brown. And the game plan, as Klubnik noted, was little more than a Day 1 installation. If anything, the emergence of freshman Bryant Wesco is cause for optimism for a receiving corps that should be much improved. — Hale

Overreaction: Nothing can stop the Wildcats offense.

The Wildcats will be able to run on anybody in the country, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. There was already hype because of what fans expect quarterback Avery Johnson to bring to the table, which has only grown with time.

Running back DJ Giddens is facing big expectations after a breakout 2023, in which he rushed for 1,226 yards and 10 touchdowns (along with 323 receiving yards and three TDs), and former Colorado running back Dylan Edwards is a welcomed addition from the transfer portal. — Lyles

Overreaction: Tyler Shough will be a star.

A seventh-year senior, Shough has had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career. But in the spring game, he showed exactly why Jeff Brohm went after him in the transfer portal. Shough played nearly flawless, going 8-of-12 for 177 yards and two touchdowns, that included one on the first play from scrimmage — a beautiful 80-yard pass to Chris Bell — that immediately showed his arm strength. His predecessor, Jack Plummer, had experience in running the Brohm offense, but if there was one thing the Cards did not do — it was stretch the field consistently enough.

Shough has the arm talent to do that, and Bell looks poised to be WR1. Louisville wanted to add more receivers through the portal, but even without that, Shough has made major strides over a short period of time in getting acclimated to a new offense and making plays happen. — Adelson

After injuries the past two seasons, Jalon Daniels looks to show off his skillset this fall. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Overreaction: Jalon Daniels is a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Because of his injury history the past two seasons, I think this is a lofty expectation of him, though it’s also entirely possible if he stays healthy. Daniels had a breakout 2022 season, in which he probably would have at least received an invite to New York had he not gotten injured. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He also had 425 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in nine games.

Daniels played in just three games last season but has all the weapons to succeed in 2024. Here’s hoping one of the most exciting players in the nation can stay healthy. — Lyles

Overreaction: New quarterback Brock Vandagriff is a sleeper Heisman Trophy candidate.

Vandagriff, who transferred to Kentucky from Georgia, is going to be an interesting case study this season. Was he simply blocked by Stetson Bennett and Carson Beck at Georgia? Or was he not good enough to lead an SEC offense? We’re about to find out at Kentucky, where the Wildcats have turned over their offense to the former four-star recruit.

Vandagriff might not have the pocket presence of former starter Devin Leary, but he’s going to be a lot more mobile than his predecessor. It’s hard to take too much from Kentucky’s spring game — nine defensive linemen were out with injuries — but it was evident that quarterback draws will become a staple of the offense. Vandagriff threw two touchdowns and limited his incompletions. So far, so good. — Schlabach

Overreaction: Is Miami ba… ?

OK we won’t finish the sentence, but expectations are building in Miami (again) after a spring game in which transfer quarterback Cam Ward threw for over 300 yards and looked like he will put himself in contention for preseason ACC Player of the Year. Ward has dazzled at previous stops at Washington State and Incarnate Word, but if he is able to have another 3,000-yard season and show off at Miami — there will be an opportunity to deliver big-time results in Year 3 for Mario Cristobal.

Beyond Ward, Miami made some major additions through the portal after the spring game, signing running back Damien Martinez and receiver Sam Brown to go with an already veteran receiver group. Xavier Restrepo and Jacolby George combined for nearly 2,000 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns a veteran group, too, and Ward specifically pointed to that unit as one of the biggest selling points in choosing Miami. The Hurricanes open at Florida in a game that will no doubt set the tone for its season. — Adelson

Overreaction: The Aggies lost too much in the portal to win in Mike Elko’s first year

The Jimbo Fisher blockbuster deal has now gone the way of Blockbuster Video. Aside from the 2020 COVID season, Fisher never lost fewer than four games in his five full seasons, and the Aggies went 12-13 over the past two years.

The Aggies immediately lost some of Fisher’s star recruits to the portal, like wide receiver Evan Stewart (Oregon) and former No. 1 overall recruit, defensive linemen Walter Nolen (Ole Miss), LT Overton (Alabama) and Fadil Diggs (Syracuse). But new coach Mike Elko embraced the portal and began plugging holes, including adding Big Ten sack leader Nic Scourton of Purdue. There are new faces all over the secondary, and Elko has been working to rebuild the Aggies culture and forge a new attitude. There is plenty of talent on hand, and with a schedule that includes the preseason’s toughest matchups in Notre Dame, Missouri, LSU and Texas all at home, Elko will have the opportunity to make a quick turnaround if he has succeeded in finding the right parts and fitting them together. — Wilson

Previous Article
Next Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.