College football spring game standouts: Florida, LSU quarterbacks among best performers from loaded slate


Though college football spring games aren’t quite as thrilling as they’ve been in the past with teams preferring to protect players and keep things vanilla so the opposition can’t get a good look at actual scheming and game planning, there are still reasons to watch. Chief among them is the fact that spring games offer fans and media alike an opportunity to see new or previously under-utilized players in action. 

Whether it be a five-star freshman making his debut, a much-anticipated transfer suiting up for the first time or a previously known star stepping into a new role, spring showcases allow coaching staffs to evaluate their roster in a simulated live-game setting. There’s plenty to draw from how individual athletes look, even if the play-calling isn’t exactly riveting. 

So, after a loaded Saturday that saw national title hopefuls like Ohio State and Georgia conclude their spring practice sessions, it felt appropriate to take a look at the players that stood out. And in the spirit of spring, where things are all new, this article tried to spotlight players that aren’t exactly known commodities on the national stage. 

They could certainly reach that point, though, so here are the players that really stood out during the first full weekend of spring games. 

Arkansas looked like it might be in a bit of trouble when it lost longtime starting running back Raheim Sanders to the transfer portal. Jackson, however, assuaged any fears during his Razorbacks debut. The quarterback-turned-ball carrier quietly transferred to Arkansas from Utah during the offseason despite being a solid producer during his time with the Utes. He looks like a perfect fit for what Arkansas offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino wants to do scheme-wise. Jackson’s 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame is reminiscent of the punishing power backs that Arkansas used to pump out on a consistent basis during Petrino’s first stint with the program. He showcased that bully-ball running style while tallying three total touchdowns in the spring game, one of which came when he caught a pass from likely new starting quarterback Taylen Green (who deserves a nod for his own three-touchdown performance). Don’t be surprised if Jackson is standing out as one of the SEC’s best backs by year’s end.

Lagway’s not going to start anytime soon, barring Graham Mertz either suffering an injury or having a complete meltdown in performance, but it’s hard not to get excited about the freshman in this offense. The No. 3 overall prospect and No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2024, Lagway enrolled early and went through spring practice with the Gators, capping things off in Saturday’s spring game. Running the offense opposite Mertz, Lagway managed a breezy 12 completions for 173 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns came on his very first drive of the game — a 22-yard strike to wide receiver Aidan Mizell that displayed advanced ball placement for such a young arm. Lagway’s 6-foot-3, 241-pound frame is dripping with potential. Saturday only served to accelerate the hype train. 

Lovett, who transferred to Georgia from Missouri in 2023, had a solid first season with the Bulldogs while hauling in 54 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns. His return to the program was slightly overshadowed by Georgia’s 2024 transfer haul, which includes a pair of highly rated wide receiver additions in London Humphreys (Vanderbilt) and Colbie Young (Miami). Lovett re-asserted himself as the leader of the pack and potential breakout candidate in Georgia’s spring game. He led all pass-catchers with seven receptions for 104 yards and one eye-popping touchdown that saw him secure the ball with one hand despite a defender holding his other arm well away from his body. Lovett has an extensive route tree, great footwork and sticky hands that catch anything near him. He’ll be a favorite target for quarterback Carson Beck

It’s not easy to replace a Heisman Trophy winner. Stepping in for Jayden Daniels, Nussmeier automatically has immense expectations levied upon him, but he doesn’t at all seem phased about any of it. The redshirt junior was just about flawless in LSU’s spring game, connecting on all seven of his passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Those two scoring throws covered distances of 45 and 59 yards with the former traveling at least 50 yards through the air into the end zone. Nussmeier isn’t the most mobile quarterback, so don’t expect the same level of dual-threat ability that Daniels wowed with during his time as LSU’s starter, but Nussmeier does move in the pocket well and has a great sense of pressure. It also helps that he has tremendous arm talent and decision-making. All aboard the Nuss Bus! 

Ohio State’s secondary is going to be lockdown. Denzel Burke and Davison Igbinosun — a pair of potential first-round corners — are the stars, while Alabama transfer safety Caleb Downs has all the tools to be an All-American. Don’t sleep on Hancock, though. He eventually took over as Ohio State’s starting nickel corner last season and looked comfortable in the role despite his past as a boundary player. He returned to that spot in the spring game and more than held his own against the likes of Emeka Egbuka and freshman phenom Jeremiah Smith, breaking up a couple passes and overall playing solid football. Given his versatility, Ohio State has the ability to move Hancock around and increase its rotations in the secondary. He’ll be a leader on an absolutely loaded defense. 

Carter isn’t exactly an unknown. Penn State’s coaching staff has sung his praises since he arrived on campus in 2022 as a four-star freshman out of in-state La Salle College High School, and he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a linebacker last year. But the 6-foot-3 Carter transitioned to defensive end this offseason to offset the loss of Chop Robinson, and Penn State’s spring game was our first real look at him in this new role. He flourished. Though his final stat line — one tackle for a loss — doesn’t wow, Carter was a consistent presence in the offensive backfield and overmatched any offensive tackle the staff through at him. Carter will make a lot of money if he can maintain that level of play. 

Bernard signed with Michigan State in 2022 and transferred to Washington after one season with the Spartans, featuring in an offense that led the Huskies all the way to the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2023. Bernard had to play behind the likes of Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, but he still managed an admirable 34 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns. When Kalen DeBoer left Washington for the Alabama job, Bernard hit the portal again and quickly followed his head coach. In Tuscaloosa, Bernard has a chance to establish himself as the go-to target in a wide receiver room that’s lacking a solidified No.1 guy. He looked the part during Alabama’s “A-Day,” stretching the field with three catches for 122 yards. 

Miami TE Elija Lofton

Lofton is listed as a tight end on Miami’s roster, as well as for purpose of this story, but he has the potential to be so much more. In fact, the freshman’s first snap in Miami’s spring game came at running back as he entered early with the first-team offense. He looked very comfortable in the role, logging some impressive carries and blocking effectively with his 230-pound frame. Afterwards, Miami quarterback Cam Ward noted that Lofton will play a lot — in a lot of different roles — in 2024. Coach Mario Crisotbal even alluded to the fact that Lofton got some work on defense during closed spring practice sessions. If there’s one very under-the-radar freshman to keep an eye on entering 2024, it’s Lofton. 



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