Trying to glean meaningful takeaways from a spring game is generally an exercise in futility. The playbook's been chop shopped down to the barest of frames, the offense and defense already know each other's every move and the coaches' only real objective is to get the hell out of there with no serious injuries.
With that said, Ole Miss' Grove Bowl should provide hints at some of the big questions we're hoping to have answered between now and Sept. 5 ... or at least we -- football-withdrawled lunatics thirsting for whatever meager talking points we can latch onto to carry us through the next four months -- are going to pretend it will. This year's game is particularly interesting for two reasons: Hugh Freeze is finally opting to have a real live scrimmage (as opposed to a lame ass series of drills) and, for the first time since Bo Wallace locked down the starting gig three years ago, there's a full-blown quarterback controversy in Oxford.
The game kicks off at noon CT from Vaught-Hemingway and you'll be able to tune in live online at WatchESPN.com. Here are things you should be paying attention to.
1. Who's leading the quarterback competition?
So pretty much everybody figures this job is Chad Kelly's to lose. But that assumption is based on 1) Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan looking shitty in limited snaps last season and 2) Swaggy C putting up big numbers in JUCO. We have yet to garner the empirical evidence to adequately compare the three, and with Hugh Freeze remaining tight lipped on the race, any guess at the leader is just that.
So not only will we be paying attention to who plays the best on Saturday, but we'll also be keeping a close eye on snap distribution. Will Freeze keep up his poker face and split it evenly three ways, or will he flash a tell by favoring one guy over the others?
2. Is C.J. Johnson any good at middle linebacker?
Mixed reviews have filtered out of practice regarding Johnson's move away from defensive end. Going from 4-3 edge rusher to 3-4 outside linebacker is one thing -- it's a fairly common transition in college and the pros -- but taking your hand off the ground and stepping back to the mike spot is another, even if it's with a guy who originally came out of high school as an elite linebacker prospect.
I don't know that we'll learn all that much from the spring game, to be honest. The biggest question isn't whether Johnson can make the transition physically -- we know he can run and tackle -- but whether he can adjust mentally to reading and diagnosing plays from an entirely different spot on the field. Since he already knows the offensive playbook, we won't really get a chance to gauge that aspect of his game.
3. Is the cornerback duo of Tee Shepard and Tony Bridges as badass as we think?
It's kind of surprising that, despite losing All-American Senquez Golson to graduation and moving Mike Hilton to safety, it's become pretty much a foregone conclusion that Ole Miss will be just fine -- if not even better -- at the cornerback position. Sure, Shepard (who missed all of last season after a foot injury in spring ball) and Bridges are two of the best defensive backs to come out of JUCO over the past two years, but we have yet to see them go against SEC-caliber opponents.
Don't get me wrong, I'm among the group that thinks they'll be superb, but it'll be nice to at least see them in action before we hang our hopes too high. There's only so much we can glean from their performance against an under-construction quarterback rotation and a Laquon Treadwell-less receiving corps, but it's better than nothing.
4. Is Hugh Freeze underselling Damore'ea Stringfellow?
If Stringfellow -- who was relegated to the bench by NCAA transfer guidelines last season -- is anywhere near as good as he's been billed, he'll pair with Treadwell atop what could be the most loaded receiving corps in the country. But according to Freeze, the former Washington Husky has had a rough go of it in spring practice.
"No," Freeze said when asked by The Clarion-Ledger if he's been pleased with Stringfellow. "He's got to pick it up. I've been straight with him on that. I'm going to challenge him in the offseason. He's got to get after it."
Here's the thing though: that sounds a lot like a head coach giving grief to a guy in the doghouse after a disorderly conduct arrest in January. I'd put money on this being a motivational ploy to keep keep Stringfellow on the straight and narrow.
5. How's Jeremy Liggins' transition to offensive tackle going?
I know, I know, we've been paying an inordinate amount of attention to a guy that, best case scenario, is a backup offensive lineman this season. But anytime a 300-pound wildcat quarterback makes the move to OT, you better damn believe we're going to document his every move. It's interesting that reports out of practice suggest he's been impressive in pass blocking but struggled in the ground game -- you'd think it would be the opposite for a guy that spent plenty of time bulldozing as a jumbo tight end out of the heavy package last season. How he looks Saturday will be a good indication of how far along he is, and whether we can truly count on him being a potential starter in 2016.
What else are y'all hoping to find out on Saturday?