The annual Heisman Trophy race captivates college football fans across the country, vaulting young athletes into national stardom. Several players enter the 2015 season surrounded by sky-high expectations and aim to justify the hype when games begin.
Every award-winning campaign has its origins, back to the hometowns and high schools that ultimately shaped these standouts. Those roots are also tied to their respective recruiting processes, as Heisman hopefuls took various paths into the spotlight.
Here's a look at eight potential candidates and how they performed as young prospects. Players listed are considered the top Heisman Trophy contenders, according to OddsShark.com.
The sun overpowered the Dallas horizon, and Tom Herman, still drenched in emotion from the previous evening, let the light wash over him. This was a moment he was hoping for—a fitting bit of symbolism for a man stuck between day and night, for a coach saying goodbye to one tremendous opportunity and saying hello to another.
It was the culmination of something spectacular. It was the start of a magnificent journey that was too terrifyingly incredible to pass up. As the sun overtook the world in front of him, Herman readied for the biggest transition of his life. But before he did, he finally enjoyed a few moments of euphoric calm.
Hours earlier, the former Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator helped guide Ohio State to a national championship with a third-string quarterback—a triumph that has yet to truly sink in long after the confetti has been swept away. Hours later, he would embark on his new life as Houston’s head coach with the blessings, wisdom and encouragement of Urban Meyer, his old boss and grand ambassador.
Before they said their goodbyes, Meyer passed along the following words of wisdom.
“He told me to hire people you trust and let them do their job, but always understand that it’s your name on the scorecard at the end of the day,” Herman told Bleacher Report. “Make sure everybody is in alignment—speaking the same language, delivering the same message. For the four hours we have them in our facility, the message needs to be very succinct.”
After Ohio State beat Oregon in the national championship, Herman didn’t sleep. He took his family to breakfast the next morning, dropped them off at the Ohio State charter home and hit the road—where he finally rested as the car chugged toward Houston.
When he arrived that night, he briefly greeted the new staff. It was less than 24 hours after his old team won a national title.
The next day, this staff met for 14 hours to outline a plan for the program and the mad dash to national signing day. The following morning, he was in a Texas high school before 7 a.m. to recruit.
The celebration was over. In reality, it had lasted just a few magnificent hours.
“It has been like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose,” Herman said. “As coaches we are not averse to work or long hours, but the added hours a day coupled with the mental responsibilities of holding down both jobs took its toll. But it was an opportunity I wouldn’t trade for the world, especially with what we did at Ohio State.”
Having known Cardale Jones since his days at military school, Herman gave the third-string quarterback a crash course leading up to and after the team’s Big Ten Championship Game demolition of Wisconsin. At the same time, Herman and the coaching staff had to manage a new timeline and an entirely new postseason structure—something unfamiliar to everyone involved.
When Houston became a realistic opportunity in early December, Herman couldn’t wait for Ohio State’s season to finish. In the midst of one of the most exciting and unprecedented runs in the history of the sport, Herman approached Meyer with the news that he had been offered the job.
The conversation, according to Herman, went something like this:
Herman: “Yes, sir.”
Meyer: “Oh, well that’s a real one, isn’t it?”
Herman: “Yes, sir. That’s a pretty good one.”
That was the extent of it. With coaching roots in Texas—he started off as a wide receiver coach at Texas Lutheran in 1998—this was a natural fit. Even after he exited the state and moved to Iowa State and then Ohio State, Herman recruited in Texas.
When the Cougars administration rolled out the red carpet, ensuring extreme flexibility during the national championship run, the decision became even easier.
Meyer supported his soon-to-be-former OC at the time, asking him if he could help in any capacity. At the same time, with so much on the line, he also reminded Herman that he still had a job to finish. By the middle of December, the exhaustion of working two time-demanding jobs started to show.
"He looks like someone hit him with a bat—a good bat, though," Meyer joked in the middle of December to Zach Braziller of the New York Post. "But he's a pro. I really admire him."
While Herman had a wonderful situation in Columbus—and a handful of inviting offers that had surfaced along the way—he was immediately attracted to the new opportunity. The message delivered his way was precisely what he wanted to hear.
"I saw the commitment to winning and upgrading their lot in life, spearheaded by the new stadium and the coaches’ pool they gave me to pay my assistants," Herman said.
"Also, let’s not forget we’re in the best high school football-playing city in America in the best high school football-playing state in America. It’s not like you can handpick your recruits and they come, but the numbers are there in the city of Houston."
After Herman was introduced, he did everything he could for Houston while navigating Ohio State’s offense. He worked a few hours per day, mainly on the phones, setting a solid recruiting foundation for when he arrived.
More than six months later, Herman has done more than lay the groundwork for success. A string of successful recruiting grabs has shocked the expected timeline of the program. As of the middle of August, Houston had the nation’s No. 29 recruiting class and the No. 1 class in the American Athletic Conference, according to 247Sports. Last season the Cougars finished with the No. 90-ranked class; they were No. 76 the year before.
There is still a long time before any of this becomes official, although securing verbal commitments from elite players has altered the way the program has been perceived, especially from an outsider’s perspective.
Inside Houston’s walls, the players who are adjusting to their new head coach can feel a pulse unique from recent history. They haven’t held back from sharing their excitement.
"When you’re able to make some of the splashes that we have early on, it enhances your brand," Herman said. "One of the things I’m noticing is that our own players are looking at us and telling us we’re doing a great job recruiting. Well, yeah. What did you think we were, a bunch of slappies?"
As part of his recruiting pitch, Herman has refused to put his past behind him. In fact, in many cases, he’ll quite literally throw it right in the faces of anyone willing to listen. His championship rings from Ohio State are featured prominently in his office.
Take a step into Herman’s quarters and you’ll likely find yourself at the coffee table not long after you survey the room. Placed strategically in the center of the coffee table is the buffet of Ohio State bling Herman acquired over the past few seasons, headlined by his national championship ring.
"Whenever a recruit comes in and sits down, it’s literally the first thing they see," Herman said. "Trust me, their eyes gravitate toward it."
The prestige that traveled with him isn’t the only Ohio State influence to come along. Herman believes that the offense you watched power past Alabama and Oregon late last year will be similar to the one he runs in Houston.
It will take time to get all the necessary pieces in place to accomplish this goal, but he does not plan to veer away from what helped land him the job in the first place.
"We’re not going to stray from our core values or beliefs," Herman said about the offense while cycling through the uniqueness of some of the Ohio State teams he led during his tenure. "It will be very similar. I don’t know what it will look like at the end, but we’ll put our guys in the best position to succeed."
The next part is perhaps the most important. It’s finding a way to bottle everything he helped build at his last job and bringing it over. It’s igniting the indefinable—team camaraderie that is difficult to find even in the most successful places.
It’s unreasonable to expect Houston to consistently attract the type of talent the Buckeyes had to work with. And yet, perhaps more significant than any star power is the way a coach can get his players to buy into one another.
"One of the neatest things I saw with the team at Ohio State—and we preach about it all the time as coaches—is that the team genuinely played for the happiness, success and rings on the finger for the guy next to them," Herman said. "The results speak for themselves. When you play for the guy next to you, that’s when you win championships."
Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Georgia's three-man quarterback battle appears to be down to two.
According to Seth Emerson of DawgNation.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Faton Bauta has been relegated to third on the depth chart, leaving redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey and Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert as the two remaining options for head coach Mark Richt.
Emerson noted that Ramsey and Lambert have been rotating with the first and second teams during the media viewing period over the last two practices, while Bauta was running with the threes. That rotation had been even up to this point in fall camp.
That's enormous, and it's about all Georgia fans should have expected during fall camp due to Lambert's late arrival from Virginia in late July and a slightly tweaked pro-style system under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer that demands players to learn much quicker than under former coordinator Mike Bobo.
What are the odds Lambert beats out Ramsey for the starting job?
I'd say Ramsey still has a slight edge on the former Cavalier. We'll go with Ramsey at 3-1 and Lambert close behind at 5-1. It's very close—I won't give Richt what he truly wants.
"I'd like to know and have peace," he said on Saturday. "I'm looking for some peace."
The rubber will truly meet the road over the next few weeks now that they're splitting first-team reps between the two of them rather than three.
Lambert's biggest asset is the experience he gained while serving as the starting quarterback in Charlottesville. No, the stat line isn't exactly Heisman-worthy. He tossed 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over the last two seasons, but he did light up Florida State with 220 yards and three touchdowns late last year in Tallahassee—not too shabby.
But can he adapt to the system—which demands a quick learner—in only a month?
That work with Schottenheimer this spring is what Ramsey has working in his favor, and unless Lambert wows the coaching staff over the next week leading up to the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, it will likely be what earns Ramsey first-team snaps in the opener.
With that said, though, how long will Ramsey have a hold on the starting job?
It's not like Georgia has a daunting schedule out of the gate, with the Warhawks at home followed by a road trip to Vanderbilt in Week 2. Ramsey will likely "win" the starting job, but it'll likely be more like winning the first spin of a roulette wheel at a casino. Ramsey might win the first spin, but that doesn't mean he's going to leave the casino with a pocket full of cash.
Whoever wins the job, Georgia has to find a way to stretch the field.
With maulers up front and a deep running back corps led by superstar Nick Chubb, the eventual winner of the quarterback competition will have to keep defenses honest, pose a threat deep and prevent opposing defenses from bringing eight or nine in the box to slow down the running game. Georgia managed just 34 passing plays of 20 or more yards a year ago, which was the fourth-worst mark in the conference.
The first two games will likely be auditions for the two remaining contenders, with Ramsey going in as the leader while Richt and Schottenheimer find out which one is the best gamer. Ramsey has the arm strength and familiarity of the offense to get the first shot, but the underdog—Lambert—will still have a chance.
It should make for an interesting early-season battle before the Bulldogs host South Carolina in Week 3.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
It’s almost here. We’re just over a week away from the much-anticipated opening of the 2015 college football season, where coaches and players hope months of preparation and work will pay off with glory, victories and national acclaim. It’s the best time of the year because everyone is 0-0 and no one has absorbed a bad loss yet.
That’s about to change, of course. College football is wonderful because of its unpredictability. Who would have pegged Florida State or Ohio State as the last two national champions outside of Tallahassee or Columbus? And while the Buckeyes are the clear favorite to repeat as national champions, history tells us a challenger will come seemingly out of nowhere and emerge on the national scene.
We just don’t know who it is yet.
As we move into September, we’re sure to see surprises across college football, whether they take the form of teams thriving or struggling or an unexpected player emerging in a prominent role. Here are 10 bold predictions for the first month of the college football season.
With Michigan's season opener against Utah taking place next Thursday night, we are nearly one week away from the start of Big Ten football. And with Wisconsin taking on Alabama and Ohio State facing Virginia Tech, the conference should dominate the headlines of college football's opening weekend.
That would be par for the course for the Big Ten in 2015, a year which has already seen the league capture the first-ever College Football Playoff championship and hire one of the sport's most high-profile coaches. In fact, it's hard to remember a year where the conference has possessed this much hype heading into a season.
From Piscataway, New Jersey, to Lincoln, Nebraska, and every Big Ten stop in between, the league is buzzing with anticipation as the 2015 season approaches. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top storylines that will define the league in the upcoming year.
We're a little more than a week away from the start of the 2015 season, when every team in play is hoping to have a shot at a division, conference or national championship. The players have their own goals as well, and for some of them, that involves picking up some fancy trophies in December.
College football has more than a dozen national awards that are doled out based on individual performance throughout the season, most notably the Heisman Trophy. Each has its own group of voters who pick the recipients, but Bleacher Report's college football staff has decided to take on the task of picking every award winner.
Our predictions are based on votes cast by 19 members of our staff: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Justin Ferguson, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh; video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus; and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates. The top vote-getter for each award is our choice, while the second-highest is the runner-up.
Some of our experts have also provided some insight as to why they chose a certain player to win the award over others.
Check out our predictions for 16 of college football's biggest postseason awards for 2015—then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Safeties.
Other CFB 250 Positions
Three of the top five safeties return from last year's CFB 250, but only one returns at the same position.
Last year's No. 2 safety, Jalen Ramsey of Florida State, has returned to his former position at cornerback, while last year's No. 3 safety, Su'a Cravens of USC, has moved full-time to linebacker.
Those movements deplete the position and turn a strong year of safeties into a dubious one. Only one of last year's top 10 players returns to patrol centerfield. There is talent and potential to replace those lost players, but a lot of it is young and hard to count on.
The players on this list will have to grow up, and fast.
But before we dig into that, a disclaimer: The safeties who follow were graded as college prospects, not as NFL prospects.
Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between a college run defense and professional run defense. If a safety can set the edge and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter if he can set the edge and make plays in the NFC North—at least not here.
This is all about college performance.
Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now. Also, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Note: This video contains NSFW language.
Daniel Tosh doesn't like anyone, really. His brand of comedy—which has been wildly successful in recent years—pretty much boils down to ripping people apart.
His most recent victim? Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
During a segment on Tuesday's episode of Tosh.0, the comedian mocked the unauthorized biography that Saban recently discredited. Tosh hit on everything with a mock children's reading, including Saban's height, family and coaching history in the NFL.
It should be noted that Tosh is a Miami Dolphins fan, which might clear things up a bit. (Saban lasted just two years as the Dolphi head coach before leaving for Alabama.)
Even the kids joined in, though. Ouch.
[Comedy Central, h/t College Spun]
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
LSU Tigers free safety Jalen Mills has undergone surgery to address an ankle injury he suffered in practice August 19.
Continue for updates.Mills Undergoes Ankle Surgery Tuesday, August 25
Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today reported Mills has undergone a procedure, leaving the Tigers secondary without its senior leader.
Mills made the transition from cornerback to safety in 2014 and thrived as a first-team All-SEC selection. It will be difficult for the Tigers to replace Mills on the back end while he recovers, but at least Miles offered an update with a silver lining regarding Mills' recovery timeline.
Junior Rickey Jefferson is the next man up to fill in for Mills ahead of the Associated Press No. 14 Tigers' season opener September 5 against McNeese State in Baton Rouge. LSU's depth is immediately being tested at a key position with Jefferson, who's converted to defense during college after playing mostly receiver in high school.
It will be interesting to see how the Tigers' core adjusts in the aftermath of former defensive coordinator John Chavis' departure for Texas A&M.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Will college football’s best quarterback win the Heisman Trophy for the sixth year in a row? That’s the key question bettors have to ask themselves before they wager on the 2015 winner based on past history and the latest betting odds.
The two co-favorites are senior quarterback Trevone Boykin of the TCU Horned Frogs and junior running back Ezekiel Elliott of the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes at 5-1 at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.
Boykin was one of the most electrifying players in the country last year, passing for 3,901 yards and rushing for 707 more to go along with 41 combined touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
The All-American signal caller saw his Horned Frogs fall just short of earning a berth in the College Football Playoff last season and leads one of the top contenders to win the title in 2015-16 at 13-2 odds.
The favorite to win the national championship are the Buckeyes at +260 (bet $100 to win $260) behind Elliott and quarterbacks J.T. Barrett (9-1 odds to win the Heisman) and Cardale Jones (14-1). The starting quarterback job is still up for grabs, as Jones stepped in late in the year when Barrett suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Former starting quarterback Braxton Miller (33-1) was in the mix as well before he switched positions to wide receiver. But it was Elliott who exploded onto the scene during the team’s title run, finishing with 1,878 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, with 696 and eight, respectively, coming in the last three games.
The last running back to win the Heisman was Mark Ingram of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2009, and prior to that it was Ron Dayne of the Wisconsin Badgers in 1999. Reggie Bush of the USC Trojans initially won it in 2005 before it was taken away because he was found guilty of taking improper benefits while in school.
A couple of other running backs worth a look as dark-horse picks on the odds to win the Heisman are sophomores Nick Chubb (12-1) of the Georgia Bulldogs and Leonard Fournette (12-1) of the LSU Tigers. Both players have the advantage of playing in the SEC and will be the best players for their respective schools in 2015.
Chubb takes over full-time for the departed Todd Gurley, while Fournette should be primed for a breakthrough year after heading to LSU as the top recruit in the nation a season ago as a freshman.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Ohio State's defense hit rock bottom at the end of the 2013 season, and head coach Urban Meyer knew something needed to change.
The Buckeyes defense had given up an average of 38.7 points and 539 yards to the team's three final opponents—Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson—while dropping its last two games of the year. Those losses halted a historic 24-game winning streak and cost Ohio State a chance to play Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
That prompted Meyer to shake things up.
After former co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers left for James Madison and former defensive line coach Mike Vrabel jumped to the NFL, Meyer wanted to find replacements who would bring the aggressiveness and spark back to Ohio State's defense.
That's what brought new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash (formerly at Arkansas) and defensive line coach Larry Johnson (Penn State) to Columbus.
Ash was tasked with leading the charge in a defensive overhaul. Instead of running the conservative zone schemes that defenses picked apart in 2012 and 2013, Ash installed his aggressive 4-3 scheme with quarters coverage in the secondary.
The 2014 defense made a huge leap, which was instrumental in the Buckeyes' run to (and through) the first-ever College Football Playoff.
And Ash said that this year's defense is vastly improved.
"Words can't even describe how far we've come. It's a completely different unit," Ash said on Monday, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "Each player is better, each unit is better, the overall Silver Bullet defense is better."
That's big news for the Buckeyes, who showed glimpses of dominance during their postseason run.
It started in the Big Ten title game, when the defense was facing a stiff challenge in Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon—the nation's leading rusher and eventual Heisman Trophy runner-up. The Buckeyes stepped up in a big way, holding Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries while blanking the Badgers 59-0.
Against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes harassed quarterback Blake Sims into one of his worst performances of the year, forcing him to throw a career-high three interceptions. They also limited Amari Cooper, who finished third in the Heisman race, to his second-worst yardage output of the season as they advanced to the national title game.
Against Oregon and its brutally efficient offense, Ohio State was at its best. The Ducks came into the game averaging 47.2 points per game, but the Buckeyes held them to a season-low 20 points while effectively limiting Heisman winner Marcus Mariota.
Instead of the defense collapsing in the pivotal three-game home stretch of the season, it thrived, and the result was a national title.
"I think our defense from the last three games was the best I've ever witnessed," Meyer said, via Seger. "Obviously we had some growing pains because we grew up the secondary and changed dramatically what we were doing. Very systematic approach."
But with seven defensive starters back, those growing pains should be a thing of the past, and the Buckeyes could be primed to dominate defensively. After watching the unit falter during his first two years in Columbus, Ohio State's head coach is excited for the upcoming season.
"I love where we're at," Meyer said, via Seger.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons, and after the fifth-year senior sustained a right knee injury in practice Aug. 17, his collegiate playing career appears to be over.
According to the Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer, Scott-Wesley told his high school coach "he was done playing," after re-injuring his right knee.
The wideout appeared in just five games during the 2013 season due to a torn ACL. Last year, Scott-Wesley was limited as he battled an ankle injury, which left him with a grand total of three receptions for 52 yards and a score. He also underwent surgery for a torn meniscus back in July, per the Athens Banner-Herald's Fletcher Page.
Scott-Wesley posted a photo on Instagram Tuesday afternoon indicating he could be evolving into a coach now that his playing career has been cast in doubt:
Over the course of his career in Athens, Scott-Wesley racked up 25 catches for 498 yards and four touchdowns, with a career-long reception of 85 yards during the 2013 campaign.
Sans Scott-Wesley, Georgia will turn to senior Malcolm Mitchell and sophomore Isaiah McKenzie as its primary playmakers on the outside. McKenzie is still a work in progress, though, as he notched just six catches for 67 yards as a freshman while primarily serving as a punt and kick returner.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With an experienced corps of returning starters looking to wash away the bitter taste of a 2014 regular season that rolled off the rails, Notre Dame football begins 2015 with high expectations.
The Irish are ranked 11th in the preseason AP poll, their highest ranking since the 2006 squad opened the year second in the country.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly begins his sixth season in South Bend and said this year’s squad is faster, more athletic and deeper than the 2012 group that finished the regular season 12-0 and fell to Alabama in the national title game. Throughout the fall, Kelly has praised the overall leadership, too, lauding the deepest stable of leaders he’s had during his tenure.
How good can Notre Dame be?
Let’s break down the Irish heading into 2015.
At this time last year, Irish fans were still waiting to see how Notre Dame would replace its two coordinators, as Chuck Martin left for the head-coaching job at Miami (Ohio), and Bob Diaco took the lead gig at UConn.
While the turnover this year isn’t as high up the ranks, Notre Dame still deals with a slew of staff shuffles.
Quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur left after one season to take the same role with the Atlanta Falcons. Running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford is now the assistant head coach and running backs coach for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks is now at Oklahoma. Longtime assistant coach Bob Elliott, who tutored the outside linebackers in 2014, is now a special assistant to Kelly and has recently focused on defending the option.
Notre Dame dipped into its own history books to replace Alford and Cooks, hiring all-time leading rusher Autry Denson to coach the backs and two-time consensus All-American cornerback Todd Lyght to coach the secondary. Mike Elston, who had been the defensive line coach, moves to handle the linebackers and adds the title of recruiting coordinator, while veteran assistant Keith Gilmore joins the staff as the defensive line coach.
Most notably, Kelly brought in 32-year old Mike Sanford as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, giving Mike Denbrock the title of associate head coach.
Sanford will coach from the press box, Kelly said Friday, but the Irish have still yet to announce who will handle the play-calling chores. Last week, Kelly said that every day has been an affirmation of what he hoped he’d get in Sanford. When it comes to the quarterbacks, in particular, Kelly said Sanford has eliminated the gray area when it comes to keys and progressions for Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer, Brandon Wimbush and company.
“I just think that's central to having a great communication base with your quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “If they don't see it through the same lens that you do, there is miscommunication, and that's been cleared up where it's easy communication now with the quarterbacks as to how did you get across the board on your reads if you didn't start with the right movement key, and Mike's done a great job there.”
In Alford and Cooks, Notre Dame lost two of its best recruiters. Cooks found success in Texas, while Alford consistently lured top talent from Florida. In the immediate aftermath, their prowess could be difficult to replicate
Defensively, the Irish benefit from a return to health (with the exception of fall casualties Jarron Jones and Shaun Crawford). But Notre Dame also has a full year of experience in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s system, a blitz-heavy, pro-style approach with multiple looks.
What to Watch for on Offense
Surprise, surprise. We’ll begin with Zaire.
The redshirt sophomore stepped into the undisputed (minus one @NDFootball tweet) No. 1 quarterback job when Everett Golson elected to use his fifth year at Florida State.
Zaire’s career numbers include one start, 21 completions, 35 attempts, 266 yards and one passing touchdown. His ledger also includes a win over LSU in the Music City Bowl, as he earned the start over Golson, though both played roles in the victory.
In practices open to the media, both in the spring and fall, Zaire appears to bring more comfort to the read-option game. The charismatic southpaw will have the chance to lead the offense.
Now in his third year on campus, Zaire has narrowed his focus in the learning process, Kelly said. Whereas in the past Zaire may have been thinking of too much football minutia, Kelly said the dual-threat quarterback has let go of that which is not nearly as vital.
In the backfield, C.J. Prosise steps into a prominent role after making the full transition from slot receiver. The 220-pound speedster and junior Tarean Folston will carry the load, as Greg Bryant will not play for Notre Dame in 2015.
“We’re just gonna push each other to be better every day,” Prosise said earlier this month. “We don’t want to just settle and just think either one of us has a spot. We’re fighting right now. We’re definitely battling. But we’re still also teaching each other and knowing that we’re there to help look out for each other.”
Over the last week-plus, Prosise has battled a hip flexor, but Kelly said Friday he was expected to be “full-go” Monday, allowing two full-game weeks of preparation before the season opener against Texas.
Possibly Notre Dame’s deepest position on the roster, wide receiver will be a strength for the Irish in 2015.
Junior Will Fuller returns after a breakout sophomore season in which he piled up 76 receptions for 1,094 yards and a program record-tying 15 touchdowns. The Irish also return junior Corey Robinson (40-539-5 in 2014), senior Chris Brown (39-548-1) and fifth-year senior slot man Amir Carlisle (23-309-3).
Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Torii Hunter Jr. (7-65-1) was one of the standouts in fall camp, and Kelly said Friday he can play all three receiver spots, not just the slot.
“Torii’s a playmaker for us,” Kelly said. “We’ve gotta be able to get some touches for him.”
The Irish are so deep—or “blessed,” as Kelly said earlier this month—at wide receiver that second-year man Justin Brent is auditioning at running back, and playing time could be tough to come by for fellow sophomore Corey Holmes.
Notre Dame’s talented freshman wideouts impressed in the fall, with the lengthy Equanimeous St. Brown and jitterbug C.J. Sanders flashing regularly.
Freshman tight end Alize Jones had his moments, as well, and we’ll see how much playing time he can carve out among a crowded group of tight ends. Redshirt sophomore Durham Smythe has battled a balky hamstring, so second-year players Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar have received more reps. Fifth-year senior Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, could help in the blocking game.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Nick Martin lead the offensive line, which inserts new starters at left guard (likely Quenton Nelson, with Alex Bars in the rotation) and right tackle (Mike McGlinchey) and lost Conor Hanratty and Matt Hegarty, both of whom had fifth-year options. Still, Kelly is high on this group, especially with the added physical ability of Nelson and McGlinchey, Stanley’s growth and Martin’s health.
What to Watch for on Defense
The biggest news on Notre Dame’s defense heading into a new season revolves around returns: Defensive tackle Sheldon Day passed on the NFL for his senior year; cornerback KeiVarae Russell has been fully cleared by the NCAA; middle linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace are back from serious injuries.
The injuries and depth issues that, in part, derailed Notre Dame’s defense down the stretch in 2014—when the Irish allowed 43 points to North Carolina, 39 to Navy, 55 to Arizona State, 43 to Northwestern and 49 to USC—are mostly solved.
The next question is how the Irish will be in their second season under VanGorder.
Along the defensive line, Day, junior Isaac Rochell, senior Romeo Okwara and sophomore Andrew Trumbetti will be counted on. So too will tackles Jerry Tillery and Daniel Cage after Jones’ injury (more below).
Notre Dame still lacks a premier pass rusher. The Irish ranked tied for 70th in the nation last season, per CFBStats.com, with 26 sacks. Okwara’s team-leading four sacks are an answer to a level-three trivia question.
The Irish are strong at linebacker, with Schmidt and Grace factoring in on the interior with sophomore Nyles Morgan, a “good problem” to have, according to Kelly.
Jaylon Smith, meanwhile, is an exceptional talent and, unsurprisingly yet still consistently, drew praise from Kelly throughout the fall.
“Jaylon Smith is remarkable in terms of what he’s doing on the field,” Kelly said earlier this month. “He is on his game.”
The secondary receives a major boost with Russell’s return. Interestingly, Kelly said Friday that Russell will shift into the nickelback role in certain packages, and junior Devin Butler will man the spot opposite Cole Luke on the perimeter. Sophomore Nick Watkins and freshman Nick Coleman are also options on the outside.
Safety is still an enigmatic spot for the Irish, though junior Max Redfield could be poised for a breakthrough campaign after two quiet seasons to begin his career in South Bend. Beside him, Notre Dame can turn to senior Elijah Shumate and graduate student transfer Avery Sebastian. While there have been promising signs since the end of the 2014 season, the growth at safety needs to be seen when it counts to be believed.
Martin, Schmidt and Grace are healthy. Jones and Crawford are not.
Nearing full health from a Lisfranc injury that prematurely ended his junior season in 2014, Jones suffered an MCL injury earlier this month, had surgery last Tuesday and is out for the season.
Jones was rolled up on during an 11-on-11 practice situation—“kind of a freak deal,” per Kelly. At 6’5”, 315 pounds, Jones was set to build on a junior season in which he tallied 40 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss.
So Notre Dame must turn to Tillery and Cage. An early enrollee from Louisiana, Tillery shined in the spring and has received first-team reps in the fall, too.
“Invaluable to have him here in the spring, given the fact that obviously he’s gonna have a pretty prominent role for us on the defensive side of the ball,” Kelly said of Tillery. “That obviously is a big plus for us. He knows the defense pretty well.”
At nickelback, Crawford, a true freshman, was earning praise this fall before he suffered a torn ACL during Wednesday morning’s practice. He’s out for the season.
The Irish have fifth-year senior Matthias Farley as a nickelback option, but Russell allows VanGorder enviable versatility in the slot, Kelly said.
It might sound too mainstream, but Zaire is an X-factor for Notre Dame in 2015. Sure, he brings an excitement to the position with both his running ability and his personality. But those 21 career completions are four fewer than the 25 consecutive completions Golson had in a couple quarters against Syracuse last season.
Zaire's potential is there. Will the production follow?
As for lower-profile picks, Hunter and Tillery are both wild cards. If Hunter can maintain his health, he certainly has the ability to produce consistently for Notre Dame, based on his work this fall, in particular.
Tillery, meanwhile, is a heralded freshman, but he’ll get a major bump in usage with Jones sidelined. How badly will the Irish miss Jones?
Notre Dame will again endure a challenging slate of games in 2015, with Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford headlining the 12 regular-season matchups.
The Irish start with three of their first four games at Notre Dame Stadium before traveling to South Carolina for a date with Clemson.
If we restrict our focus here to just a few games, the matchups with Clemson and USC—in a three-week span in October—stand out.
Notre Dame could conceivably be 4-0 when it travels to face the Tigers. A win there, and the Irish will have plenty of momentum two weeks later (following a home clash with Navy) when it hosts USC under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.
At No. 8 and No. 12 in the AP poll, respectively, USC and Clemson are the two highest-ranked opponents the Irish face. There are many other variables at play over the course of a 12-game season, but these two games can mightily change the tune of Notre Dame’s season.
We’ve analyzed the Irish schedule throughout the spring, summer and fall.
And while nothing is certain, of course, Notre Dame should take care of its business against UMass, Virginia, Wake Forest, Temple and, to a lesser degree, Boston College. Those are in our first tier of games.
Notre Dame should also be favored against Texas, Navy and Pittsburgh, as well as Georgia Tech, though the Yellow Jackets are coming off an 11-win season and can look to the past success option teams like Navy and Air Force have had against Notre Dame.
That brings us to those Clemson and USC games, in addition to the regular-season finale against Stanford in Northern California. Taken individually, Notre Dame could have a slight edge at home against USC and against the Cardinal, who bring back just 13 starters from last year’s 8-5 team. A road date at Clemson, though, looms large.
Notre Dame can win every game on its schedule. It could also lose against Clemson, USC, Stanford and, to a lesser extent, Texas and Georgia Tech, without it being a major upset. Navy and Pittsburgh have threatened the Irish in recent years, too.
But with a veteran-laden team heavy on leadership, we’ll stick with last week’s prediction.
Overall Record: 11-1
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan burns deep within fans of both sides, so much so that a young Buckeyes supporter had qualms about going under the knife for heart surgery.
Huh? Let the 10-year-old's mother explain, courtesy of Michigan's Health System blog:
As pediatric cardiologist Dr. Ronald Grifka showed 10-year-old Ivan Applin the wire-framed device that would be used to fix the holes in his heart, the Toledo fourth grader had just one burning concern.
"He asked if the Michigan doctors were going to make his heart love University of Michigan instead of Ohio State," his mother Jennifer laughs.
For a fourth-grade kid—or anyone, really—that's some serious fanhood. Upon looking at an apparatus that will go on his heart, little Ivan's biggest worry was about his beloved Buckeyes.
A word of advice to Ivan, though: If OSU quarterback Cardale Jones visits you, don't challenge him to a video game.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
For the second time in five years, Oregon spent the offseason looking back on a successful campaign but one that came up just short of the ultimate goal: a national championship. The Ducks' 42-20 loss to Ohio State in the title game in January made for an unsatisfying finish to an otherwise stellar 13-2 season.
But unlike after losing in the final moments to Auburn in the 2011 BCS championship game, the Ducks have to try to move forward with a very different team.
"It’s no secret there is a leadership void that must be filled at Oregon this fall," Ryan Thornburn of the Eugene Register-Guard wrote, noting the loss of starters on the offensive and defensive line in the secondary and most notably Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Those departures have put an added emphasis on whether Oregon's "system" can continue to succeed even when so many significant pieces have changed from one year to the next. The offense has ranked in the top five every year since 2010, and during that span the defense has had 11 players taken in the NFL draft.
These losses, however, could be more significant than in the past.
Nevertheless, Oregon is still highly rated heading into the 2015 season, sitting at fifth in the Amway Coaches Poll and seventh in the Associated Press preseason ranking. The defending Pac-12 champions are also projected to win the North Division again, but conference media members have them losing to USC in the title game in December.
It will be far from a rebuilding year in Eugene, yet it also won't be one that's brimming with overconfidence.
Follow along as we take a detailed look at Oregon's 2015 team:
The exact same staff members who were on the sidelines for last season's national title game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be wearing their school-issued polo shirts and khakis again this fall.
That shouldn't be a surprise. Oregon has traditionally had one of the most consistent sets of coaches in FBS, with five entering at least their 13th year with the program and four having logged more than 20 seasons.
Head coach Mark Helfrich is entering his third season in charge of Oregon, but he's been on staff since 2009. That's the same year current offensive coordinator Scott Frost joined the Ducks as receivers coach.
That coaching consistency will go a long way toward handling any issues that come with putting new starters in key roles such as quarterback and in the secondary, because the coaches handling those positions have been through such turnover several times before.
What to watch for on offense
Oregon's spread offense is as good as it gets in college football, having averaged more than 540 yards and 47 points per game over the past five seasons. The run-pass balance is exceptional, having produced a 2,500-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher each year and having some of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks around.
The same is expected in 2015. We just don't know which quarterback will be putting up those numbers or whether it will be just one.
Mariota's jump to the NFL created a big opening for a new star to step in, and the Ducks have two great options: junior Jeff Lockie and senior Vernon Adams. Lockie served as Mariota's backup last season, while Adams starred for three years at Eastern Washington before joining the Ducks this summer.
Adams announced in February he was coming to Oregon, but because of unfinished classwork he didn't complete his degree (and thus wasn't able to immediately play as a graduate transfer) until Aug. 12 after passing a final class exam that had much of the college football world on the edge of its seat.
Many declared Adams the successor to Mariota months ago, based on the 5'11", 201-pounder's great numbers at the FCS level that included throwing for seven touchdowns in 2014 against Washington and accounted for 518 yards of total offense and six TDs in a 2013 upset of Oregon State. But Lockie took advantage of getting all of the first-team snaps during spring practice and showed he wasn't going to let Adams take the job without a fight.
As a result, Lockie appears to be the leader in the QB competition and in line to start Oregon's Sept. 5 opener against Adams' old team. No official decision has been made, however.
The rest of Oregon's offense also features an abundance of options, with the exception possibly being at running back. Sophomore Royce Freeman is firmly entrenched as the starter after setting a freshman school rushing record with 1,365 yards and 18 TDs a year ago, but after him there's uncertainty.
Thomas Tyner, who has run for 1,284 yards and 14 TDs in two seasons, is out for the year after needing shoulder surgery. This could lead to returning Byron Marshall (1,038 rushing yards, 14 TDs in 2013) to the backfield after he was Oregon's leading receiver last year, while freshmen Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin could also see significant action.
Oregon's receiving corps is also dealing with injuries to some key players from a year ago, but there are no shortage of weapons. That includes some first-year players from the Ducks' 16th-ranked recruiting class such as Malik Lovette, Kirk Merritt and Alex Ofodile, as well as junior Bralon Addison, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.
"Even with Darren Carrington facing a half-season suspension from the NCAA and both Devon Allen and tight end Pharaoh Brown recovering from knee surgeries, the Ducks are deepest at receiver," Andrew Greif of the Oregonian wrote.
The Ducks line battled through numerous injuries in 2014 but should still be this season, despite losing three starters. A healthy Tyler Johnstone at left tackle and the veteran play of Notre Dame grad transfer Matt Hegarty at center are huge boosts up front.
What to watch for on defense
Options abound all over for Oregon on the defensive side of the ball, but in most cases these are made up of mostly players who are getting rave reviews about their potential and promise rather than past performance. Six starters either graduated or turned pro, and many of those openings figure to be filled by players who didn't see much time in 2014.
There's thankfully at least one veteran returning at each level of the defense, led by defensive end DeForest Buckner. The 6'7", 290-pound senior led Oregon with 13 tackles for loss along with four sacks and 81 total tackles.
The linebacker corps is the most veteran unit on the Ducks' defense, with the quartet of seniors Tyson Coleman, Christian French, Rodney Hardrick combining for 40 starts a year ago. French, who was a reserve all year, led Oregon with 6.5 sacks.
It's a completely different story in the secondary, where safety Reggie Daniels stands. The junior had one interception last year—while departees Erick Dargan and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had nine—and he'll be the veteran of a unit that might end up starting freshmen and sophomores at the other three spots.
What to watch for on special teams
Special teams haven't been a major strength for Oregon in recent years, though last season a solid punt return unit produced two touchdowns from Charles Nelson and a 12.89-yard average that ranked 12th in the country. Nelson should be back in that role again, as well as on kickoffs, while fellow receiver Bralon Addison figures to get a look as well.
The Ducks were one of the worst punting teams in the country in 2014, ranking 101st behind Ian Wheeler's 39.15 average. Then again, they only kicked it 47 times in 15 games, and with a tendency to go for it on fourth down, quite often there's not been much of a need for a great punting game.
Place kicking saw a major improvement last year in the form of freshman Aidan Schneider and sophomore Matt Wogan. The pair combined to make 18 of 21 field goals, the most for Oregon since 2008 when it required 27 attempts.
Various projected starters and contributors have missed time here and there during training camp, but none of those injuries has risen to the level of where they will hinder a player from being ready for the regular season. All of Oregon's most notable injuries happened long ago and have lingered.
A shoulder injury sustained midway through the 2014 season caused running back Tyner to miss time, but he ended up starting the national title game against Ohio State. However, pain from that ailment never went away, and in early August he had surgery that put him on the shelf until 2016.
Allen injured his knee on a kickoff return in the Rose Bowl, and the receiver hasn't played since. Tight end Brown was hurt in a November win at Utah and almost needed to have his leg amputated as a result. Both hope to return at some point in 2015, though exactly when hasn't been determined.
Even with uncertainty remaining at quarterback, Oregon's offense shouldn't pose a concern for anyone. Last year that unit showed that injuries on the offensive line and youth at the receiving corps couldn't slow it down, and similar questions to the 2015 offense figure to be answered with another set of scoreboard-abusing performances.
It's the Ducks' defense that might ultimately determine if they can return to the playoffs or have what would amount to a down year, which for Oregon might still result in 10 wins.
With that in mind, Helfrich recently labeled senior defensive end Buckner as the key to every positive that will happen for Oregon on that side of the ball.
"Ten guys can do their job perfectly, but DeForest Buckner is the ‘X’ factor and can just wreck shop and make a play," Helfrich said, per Ryan Kostecka of the Daily Emerald. "When one of your best guys is one of your best practice players, it means a ton."
Much like Mariota was to last year's team, Buckner is the player who will make or break this season for the Ducks.
Oregon will again be involved in one of the biggest early-season nonconference games, making the return trip to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team it rallied to beat at home last September.
MSU is one of the most veteran teams in the country, with fifth-year senior starts at quarterback and on both the offensive and defensive line. The Spartans will serve as the first real test for whoever wins the Ducks' QB job.
After that, Oregon's schedule eases up for a long stretch, to the point that the team we see playing in various different uniform combinations over the final month of the season should be far more cohesive than the unit that's out there during the first month. From Sept. 19 through Oct. 17, the Ducks play five teams that combined to win 23 games last season, with the toughest foe (Utah) coming to Eugene for the Pac-12 opener Sept. 26.
Barring unexpected slip-ups in the middle of the year, the Ducks' season will come down to those final five games, a gauntlet that starts with a Thursday night trip to Arizona State and also includes a trip to Stanford for the annual de facto Pac-12 North title game. Oregon then finishes with a potential conference final preview against visiting USC before hosting Oregon State in the Civil War.
Oregon has a streak of seven consecutive years with at least 10 victories, tied with Alabama for the longest active streak in FBS. This team is more than capable of added to that run, but it might require a bowl win to get there.
The early test at Michigan State will set the stage for the rest of the Ducks' season, particularly if the quarterback play in that game is uneven, but it won't dictate if they're playoff-worthy. Getting the defense to come together and improve on last year's No. 89 ranking will, though—they don't want to have to win shootouts all season.
If the light midsection of the 2015 schedule allows for growth and development, Oregon will be one of the most dangerous teams in the country down the stretch. But that doesn't necessarily mean it'll be able to beat everyone in the Pac-12, and winning the North Division isn't a certainty without a victory over Stanford.
Overall record: 9-3
Conference record: 6-2
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The University of Michigan football program is working to regain contender status, and the school believes new coach Jim Harbaugh is the man to guide the team back.
Following a disappointing 5-7 season, Michigan fired Brady Hoke and replaced him with Harbaugh, who played quarterback for the maize and blue in the mid-1980s. Harbaugh swiftly assembled an experienced and well-traveled staff, one that boasts 40 years of NFL coaching experience.
A strong returning defense gives the Wolverines hope to rebound in a big way after missing a bowl game for only the third time in the last four decades. However, Michigan's lackluster offense must improve dramatically while adapting to a new scheme.
Bleacher Report broke down everything worth knowing about the 2015 Wolverines in a complete season preview, capped by win-loss predictions from a collection of B/R analysts.
Save for Greg Mattison, every single coach is occupying his position with the university for the first time. With that being said, there are a few ties to the school. Jim Harbaugh and Tyrone Wheatley donned the winged helmet, while Mattison, Kevin Tolbert and T.J. Weist have previously coached at Michigan.
Harbaugh helped San Diego become a respectable program, built Stanford into a powerhouse and coached the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance before returning to his alma mater.
The 51-year-old added longtime assistant Tim Drevno—who most recently coached at USC for one season—to help the Wolverines return to a run-focused system and Jedd Fisch, a terrific quarterbacks coach.
Tyrone Wheatley, the No. 5 rusher in Michigan history, Jay Harbaugh (tight ends) and Weist (senior analyst) round out the offensive staff.
Harbaugh retained defensive coordinator Mattison but shifted him to the D-line—a coaching job he held at U-of-M from 1992-96—and hired Florida's D.J. Durkin to replace Mattison. Greg Jackson and Michael Zordich lead the defensive backs.
John Baxter and Jay Harbaugh organize the special teams, while Tolbert handles strength and conditioning duties.
What to Watch for: Offense
Harbaugh and Co. have plenty to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, Michigan ranked 111th in scoring (20.9 PPG), 64th in rushing (162.8 YPG), 112th in passing (170.2 YPG) and 115th in total offense (333.0 YPG).
Fortunately for the new staff, barring injury, the O-line is set. From left to right, Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson will block for to-be-determined athletes. They combined for 47 starts in 2014.
At quarterback, it's a two-man battle between Iowa transfer Jake Rudock and junior Shane Morris, whose Michigan tenure hasn't exactly been sterling. Rudock seems to hold the edge since he protects the football, but Morris is still in contention for the job.
Rudock or Morris will hand off to a talented group of running backs, led by Derrick Green and returning leading rusher De'Veon Smith. USC transfer Ty Isaac is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules, while Drake Johnson could emerge as a No. 1 or 2 now that he's nearly recovered from an ACL injury.
Smith was the only one of the four who didn't miss offseason work due to injury, so he might have a small edge heading into the 2015 campaign. However, Green will likely overtake Smith in short order, and Johnson might cut into Green's carries later on this year.
Tight end Jake Butt and wide receiver Amara Darboh have locked up starting jobs, but two wideout spots remain up for grabs. Jehu Chesson figures to nail down the No. 2 wide receiver job, though Drake Harris is challenging, too. Freddy Canteen, Grant Perry and—to a lesser degree—Brian Cole are competing for the opening in the slot.
What to Watch for: Defense
Highlighted by a strong contingent of linebackers and defensive backs, the Wolverines' key to producing a surprising final record rests on their defense, the strength of the 2015 roster.
Michigan must replace leading tackler Jake Ryan, but linebacker Desmond Morgan is back after missing last season due to injury. Morgan joins Joe Bolden—who racked up 102 tackles—and James Ross III.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis and safety Jarrod Wilson return, and highly touted 2014 recruit Jabrill Peppers will enter the lineup at free safety. Channing Stribling, Jeremy Clark and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons are battling for the other cornerback slot.
When the Wolverines switch from Durkin's base 3-4 defense to the nickel, Peppers will slide into the Star position. Delano Hill is the favorite to replace Peppers at free safety in that situation.
"Every guy has certain strengths, and we don't try to fit everyone into one hole," Durkin said, per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. "Guys have their own way of doing things, and it's our job as coaches to evaluate what their strengths are and play to it, whether it's multiple in scheme or multiple in personnel."
Bryan Mone, a sophomore defensive tackle who was expected to occupy a sizable role on the defensive line, sustained a broken ankle, per Scout.com's Andrew Gorringe.
According to Max Bultman on MLive.com, Darboh had a splint on his left pinky finger during Michigan's scrimmage last Saturday. Lewis, Canteen, Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Patrick Kugler did not participate, either. Wilson and Mike McCray wore no-contact red jerseys.
Currently, it's unclear if anyone other than Mone will miss a significant portion of the season.
Michigan lacks playmakers on offense, so the best option might be utilizing a defender on occasion. That versatile player, of course, is Peppers.
The 6'2" talent spent time as a running back and receiver in high school, amassing 1,889 total yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Paramus Catholic (New Jersey). So, Harbaugh could utilize Peppers in a variety of fashions, which is exactly what Durkin can do on the opposite side of the ball, too.
According to Snyder, Durkin said he's communicating with defensive assistants about the places Peppers—who has questioned nothing—can be used.
"It's an ongoing discussion amongst the staff," Durkin said. "He's great about it. Whatever you ask him to do, he goes and does it, 100 miles an hour. Doesn't ask why or how or what about this. He just goes and does it and is very talented."
Additionally, Peppers can return kicks. It's safe to say that Peppers is the most important player to Michigan since he can impact the game in so many ways.
After opening the 2015 season at Utah, the Wolverines return to the Big House for three consecutive games that can set the tone for their year.
Oregon State shouldn't pose a massive problem, but the Beavers boast a few talented players at skill positions who will certainly test the Michigan defense. Dropping that matchup could open the floodgates for a dismal season.
Following a matchup with UNLV, the last outing of the homestand is opposite BYU. Taysom Hill, a dual-threat quarterback and Heisman hopeful, leads the Cougars. It's imperative the Wolverines topple both Oregon State and BYU, lest they enter Big Ten play needing to avoid a letdown simply to reach a bowl game.
After all, in addition to Maryland and Rutgers—two teams U-of-M fell to in 2014—Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State remain on the schedule.
First and foremost, Harbaugh needs to settle on a quarterback. That choice—whether it's Rudock or Morris—will dictate the course of the 2015 campaign.
Michigan heads to Utah for the season opener, which sets the tone for the brutal schedule Team 136 is preparing to face. Opening the year with a victory would be tremendously beneficial for the Wolverines, but make no mistake, the Utes are a difficult opponent.
Really, Harbaugh and Co. are only locked into a pair of victories against UNLV and Indiana. They'll likely be favored against Oregon State, Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers—perhaps BYU and Penn State as well, depending on the direction the season takes.
- Barrett Sallee: 8-4
- Adam Kramer: 7-5
- David Kenyon: 7-5
- Michael Felder: 6-6
After 12 games, Michigan will be headed back to postseason play for a late-December bowl appearance.
Prediction: 7-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Now that the dust has settled on the gridiron, it appears Connor Mitch has emerged as starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Bleacher Report's college football analyst Barrett Sallee discusses if Mitch can be an X-factor for the Gamecocks to go on a run in the SEC.
Should Connor Mitch be the starter for the Gamecocks? Tell us what you think in the comment section.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Danville, Kentucky-based Centre College Colonels (Division III) know when it's time to play and when it's time to play around.
During a recent practice, the Colonels pulled the old "fall down at the snap" prank on quarterback Heath Haden. When everyone around him hit the ground, there was nothing Haden could do—so he punted the football.
This prank wasn't the only tomfoolery that the Centre College football team has been involved in recently. Colonels defensive line coach Jeff Collett got tased in front of the team to "boost morale."
The Colonels are the reigning Southern Athletic Association champions, so they know what they are doing.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
While the barrage of watch lists and all-conference squads ended last month, the coaches of the SEC play by their own rules.
On Tuesday, the conference unveiled its three coaches' All-SEC teams, which were voted on by the league's 14 head men.
Alabama and LSU led the way with 10 selections each, while every team in the SEC boasted at least a pair of players on the trio of squads.
The coaches' teams, as usual, differed in a few ways from the ones those who cover the conference put out at SEC media days. Most of the conference's stars made the first team, but a few who were higher up in the eyes of the media slid down a few spots—or out of the three teams altogether.
Here are some notable hits and misses from the coaches All-SEC teams. Sound off on how the ones in the headsets voted in the comments below.