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Tight end Isaac Nauta (18), outside linebacker D'Andre Walker (15) and then-quarterback Jacob Eason (10) compete during Georgia's G-Day spring game in 2016, which set an SEC attendance record with 93,000 fans.
some text Alabama head coach Nick Saban, left, works with defensive back Shyheim Carter in a practice drill Thursday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

FOOTBALL FANATICISM

The top spring-game crowds in SEC history:

1. Georgia (2016) 93,000

2. Alabama (2011) 92,310

3. Alabama (2007) 92,138

4. Alabama (2010) 91,312

5. Alabama (2009) 84,050

6. Auburn (2013) 83,401

 

With most college football programs across the country, spring games are not much more than a glorified 15th offseason practice allotted by the NCAA.

At Alabama and Georgia, they have become popular productions.

The two Southeastern Conference teams that met in last season's national championship contest are also the two league programs that have held spring games before more than 90,000 spectators. Alabama's A-Day and Georgia's G-Day matchups will take place this afternoon, and they are the lone SEC spring games to be televised this year by the main ESPN network.

"There are so many great things that happen on A-Day," Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a news conference after Thursday's practice. "It's a great tradition here. I see people canceling their spring game — that would be like hara-kiri around here.

"You would never think about doing that because of all the great traditions we have."

The A-Day game even has a sponsor — Golden Flake.

Alabama forever raised the bar as far as spring games becoming spring extravaganzas in 2007, when 92,138 fans packed Bryant-Denny Stadium to watch the first A-Day game with Saban as coach. That audience was topped by the 92,310 spectators who descended on Tuscaloosa in 2011, when the A-Day game coincided with a Saban statue unveiling outside the stadium.

The Crimson Tide's 2011 showing held the SEC spring-game attendance record until 2016, when former Saban defensive coordinator Kirby Smart challenged Georgia fans to pack Sanford Stadium. Bulldogs backers responded, as an announced crowd of 93,000 attended a G-Day that began with a Ludacris concert and included an introduction at halftime of Georgia's 2016 signees.

Alabama (74,426) and Georgia (66,133) had the league's top spring-game audiences last year, and more of the same is expected today, when LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee also hold their respective spring showcases to wrap up the league's lineup.

"I'm not sure what all we have surrounding the game," Smart said Thursday in a news conference. "I know we have some different things through our sports marketing, but I want to evaluate our players in a big-time atmosphere. The more butterflies they have now, the less they'll have next time."

The SEC's top spring crowds this year to this point have been at Florida (53,015), Texas A&M (48,000), Kentucky (36,090), Auburn (28,033) and South Carolina (25,500).

Alabama and Georgia owned the added intrigue this spring of publicized quarterback competitions, though the Crimson Tide's battle between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa never materialized due to Tagovailoa sustaining two hand injuries. Only Hurts is scheduled to play today.

Jake Fromm will quarterback the first-team offense at G-Day, with touted dual-threat early enrollee Justin Fields guiding the second-team offense.

"The expectations for them is to lead their offenses, command the huddle and make good decisions," Smart said. "It's a quarterback game because of the way we structure it: The two-minute drills at the end of each half puts the ball in their hands. I'm excited to see what Justin does, and I'm excited to see what Jake does.

"One of the more promising things this spring has been the depth of the receivers and the competition in the receiver room. The receivers have been a little ahead of the DBs, and if that continues there could be some points scored out there."

Alabama and Georgia have the two deepest rosters in the league and don't shy from pitting starters against starters and backups against backups to provide the most competitive spring games possible. Saban is continuing the motivational tactic of ordering steaks for today's winning players and beans for the losers.

"I'm the commissioner in this particular game, and under no circumstances will I be eating beans on Monday," Saban said. "It really means a lot to the program and really means a lot to our players and really means a lot to recruiting that we have a tremendous crowd. We don't like for our team to be complacent in any way, and we certainly don't want our fans to be complacent in terms of the support they give our players.

"Our players have worked hard, and this is an opportunity for them to have fun in front of fans that they have a tremendous amount of respect for."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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