It’s one of the most talked about questions in college football: Who will replace Marcus Mariota as Oregon’s starting quarterback?
The answer to that question likely lies outside of Oregon’s current roster.
While the Ducks currently have five quarterbacks on their roster, the starting QB for Oregon on Sept. 5 isn’t yet enrolled at the university.
The most likely candidate, at this point, to be Oregon’s QB next season is Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams Jr. The other main transfer candidate is Ohio State’s Braxton Miller.
Adams, a three-year starter at Eastern Washington, is visiting Eugene this weekend, according to The Oregonian’s Jen Beyrle, and has a scholarship offer from Oregon, according to Jim Allen of the Spokesman-Review.
Meanwhile, Ohio State’s Miller has indicated he will remain at Ohio State, though it’s certainly possible he could change his mind given the fact that he’ll be competing with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones for the Buckeyes’ QB job.
It’s looking more and more like Adams will be the guy for the Ducks. But is Adams a better fit for the Ducks than Miller, and should the Ducks wait on Miller before committing to Adams?
First, let’s start with Miller. A couple of weeks back Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee explained that Miller could be the perfect fit in Eugene:
As a graduate, he can transfer now if he can find a home, and simply getting mental reps during spring practice would help not only him but also the younger players who get actual first-team reps.
Mariota stepped in as a redshirt freshman in place of Darron Thomas, and the offense didn't miss a beat. Thomas stepped in as a sophomore for Jeremiah Masoli and led the Ducks to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season.
It's a great system that's designed for simplicity, speed and efficiency—all of which would benefit Miller as he recovers from his shoulder injury.
While Miller’s shoulder injury is certainly a concern, his familiarity with the spread elements used at Ohio State would benefit him if he chose to transfer to Oregon.
Moreover, Miller is the most experience QB Oregon could bring into the program and has faced elite competition at Ohio State, something Adams lacks.
From 2011-2013, Miller played in 36 games as the Buckeyes quarterback. In those games, Miller completed 59.3 percent of his passes, threw 52 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and had a QB rating of 146.7, a rating which improved every season.
While Miller is certainly a solid passer, his best attribute is his running ability. Over his three seasons as QB, Miller ran for 3,054 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.
What can’t be overlooked here is how successful Miller was in terms of leading his team to victory. Over his past two seasons as QB for the Buckeyes—with Urban Meyer as his head coach—Miller led Ohio State to a 24-2 record and had a perfect regular-season record within the Big Ten.
There’s no doubt that Miller is a great player and, if healthy, would give the Ducks a fantastic chance of sustaining their recent string of success.
That being said, the other man in the race may be just as capable, even if he’s not a known commodity.
Vernon Adams Jr. first made national headlines in the first game of the 2013 when his FCS Eastern Washington team stunned Oregon State 49-46 in Corvallis.
In that game, Adams torched the Beavers for 411 yards passing, 107 yards rushing and six touchdowns—four passing, two rushing.
Despite the fact that Adams is only 6’0” and 200 pounds, the junior quarterback is a handful. Last season Adams was the MVP of the Big Sky Conference and Walter Payton Award runner-up—an award given to the top player in the FCS—despite the fact that he missed four games with a broken foot.
Adams is 28-6 as a starter for Eastern Washington and has completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 10,438 yards, 110 touchdowns and 31 interceptions in those 34 games. While Adams is an elusive rusher—he’s rushed for 1,232 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career—he’s not as dynamic as someone like Miller or Mariota.
While Adams’ performance against Oregon State was incredibly impressive, the game Oregon fans will want to look at took place against the Washington Huskies early in 2014.
Against a Washington defense that featured some of the best defenders in college football—Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson, Andrew Hudson and Hau’oli Kikaha to name a few—Adams was 31 of 46 for 475 yards and seven touchdown passes.
Yes, you read that correctly……seven!
For the sake of comparison, Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, went 24 of 33 for 336 yards and two touchdowns against the Huskies in a 45-20 victory.
Yes, Oregon beat Washington and Eastern Washington didn’t. That being said, Adams outperformed Mariota against a common opponent. More impressively, he did it on the road.
We know that Adams isn’t going to be a better college QB than Mariota. That’s nearly impossible. But given his performances against Pac-12 defenses, and Oregon rivals, it seems like the Adams-Oregon connection is a match made in heaven.
Bleacher Report’s Ben Kercheval believes Adams could succeed wildly in Eugene:
As a small-stature quarterback, Adams had to prove he can play at a high level despite his size. He's done just that; Adams is one of the few big names outside of the FBS level—or outside the Power Five conferences, for that matter.
Adams can play. Oregon is, at the very least, interested in what Adams can bring. This could be a beautiful marriage, even if it's the most unlikely kind.
While it could be a beautiful marriage, there are some slight concerns about bringing in Adams, most notably his arrival date.
Adams is set to graduate from Eastern Washington in June, meaning he wouldn’t be able to join Oregon until the summer. Oregon’s offensive system has similarities to the one Adams has run at Eastern Washington, but it’s definitely not identical. It’s going to take some time for Adams to catch up.
That being said, Adams would be walking into an offense with the best group of skill position players in the entire country. Moreover, Oregon’s offense is incredibly friendly to quarterbacks.
Both Adams and Miller would be an upgrade over Oregon’s current quarterbacks. No offense to Jeff Lockie, Morgan Mahalak, Travis Waller, Ty Griffin and Taylor Alie, but Adams and Miller have proved themselves to be dynamic quarterbacks over the past couple of seasons.
If Oregon wants to get back into a position to make a run at a College Football Playoff spot in 2015, the Ducks are going to need to bring in a quarterback from the outside.
Head coach Mark Helfrich told Stephen Alexander of the Portland Tribune earlier this month he would consider a transfer quarterback if it was the “right guy, right fit.”
Helfrich doesn’t need to look much further. The right guy will be in his office this weekend.
Braxton Miller is the bigger name, but Vernon Adams Jr. is the better fit.
Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.
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With its first College Football Playoff Championship in hand, the Ohio State Buckeyes have suddenly gone from hunter to prey. Few took the Buckeyes seriously before the playoff. Now every team will be gunning for them.
Head coach Urban Meyer has built a culture of excellence partly rooted in adapting to change and overcoming adversity. These qualities were on full display this year.
Losing Braxton Miller before the season, Noah Spence declared permanently ineligible and J.T Barrett’s injury were torpedoes that could have brought down the ship. Instead, the team banded together and went on a magical run to capture the championship.
Next up is defending its title. Repeating is always difficult, but the Buckeyes are assembled to make a sustaining run over the next few years. Can the team maintain the intensity needed to do it?
If there is an issue, Meyer only has to point to his arch nemesis to fuel his players’ motivation. Alabama was the last team to repeat, winning back-to-back BCS Championships in 2011 and 2012. The initial chase might be accomplished, but repeating as champions will put Ohio State in rare company.
Meyer’s challenges in maintaining improvement with the team are significant despite the abundance of riches within the program. With core players returning and the coaching staff remaining the same outside of new co-offensive coordinator Tim Beck, the Buckeyes' continuity looks promising. To make it back to the playoff, here are four areas Ohio State must manage during the offseason.
Quality depth at quarterback saved the 2014 season. The team was fortunate to stay healthy in most other positions too, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. This is a testament to Assistant Athletic Director Mickey Marotti’s strength and conditioning program, but luck on injuries generally runs out.
Navigating through another 15-game season and facing a considerably stiffer Big Ten schedule requires building a two-deep roster where the drop-off is minimal between starters and backup players.
The good news is Meyer has another top-10 recruiting class coming in this summer. So the potential is there to have at least three elite-level players competing at every position. That’s an incredible advantage which should frighten the rest of the Big Ten.
Finding a Deep-Threat Receiver
Devin Smith’s graduation leaves a huge void in the vertical-passing game. His impact on Meyer’s offense cannot be overstated. Defenses had to account for Smith going deep that opened up highways for Ezekiel Elliott, Jalin Marshall, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett. The luxury of balance makes this offense lethal, and this is why Meyer’s top priority in the spring will be improving the receiving corps.
Replacing Smith won’t be easy. Having his speed is one thing. Having his unique ability to control his body in space and making split-second adjustments to catch passes is exceptional. There are plenty of receivers on the roster, most of them young and unproven. Someone needs to step up.
If healthy, expect freshmen Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell to be leading candidates. Dixon, a 5’11”, 200-pound receiver out of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has the tools, but his knees have not cooperated. He took a medical redshirt in September.
Campbell (6’0”, 180 lbs) was a football and track star at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. He redshirted this year while gaining experience playing on the scout team. His season ended in December with surgery on his shoulder. Campbell runs the 40 in 4.41 seconds, so he’s has Smith’s speed. Only question is whether or not he can use it to get open like Smith.
One off-the-wall idea might be to push Marshall out to receiver and slide Miller into the halfback role. This leaves Dontre Wilson out in the cold on offense, but he could become a full-time return man, which seems to be his natural role anyway. Having Miller, Marshall, Elliott and Jones on the field at the same time will cause nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
Whatever decision Meyer makes, he has plenty of options. It will be exciting to see how he utilizes all the talent.
Offseason investments pay off in the regular season. Players maintaining their hunger over the next eight months will be vital to their success in the fall. Complacency is the enemy. Getting to the top required an exhaustive amount of time and effort. Staying on top will take even more devotion.
All signs point in the right direction as Meyer’s determination and tireless work ethic are embedded in foundation of this team. When asked about 2015 after the Oregon game, Elliott said:
We've just got to stay a hungry team. We're losing some great seniors, but we have a lot of great young players that will step up, and this year was just a great year to learn a lot of things, and I think we'll be the same team next year, as long as we stay humble, we grind hard in the offseason, don't let our heads get too big, I think we'll be here next year.
Equally important is discipline off the field. The players must maintain their grades, stay out of trouble with the law and comply with NCAA rules. No coach is void of dealing with these issues, but a quiet offseason with no unnecessary distractions will go a long way in helping the team prepare for the upcoming season.
Ignoring the Hype
Playing at Ohio State already brings a tremendous amount of exposure to the players. The spotlight will be intense in the spring and summer. The players may want to turn off the TV and ignore social media because the attention, good and bad, will be plastered to the point of nausea.
There is little doubt that the line between buying into the hype and playing with confidence is thin. The team has to avoid entitlement while maintaining its swagger. Meyer is a master at pushing his team, and he has a lot of tricks in his bag to keep the team focused.
If there is concern, he should show them Florida’s 31-30 loss to Mississippi in 2008 in the Swamp. No team touched the Gators after the loss, but it showed even the best team is vulnerable if it does not play well every week.
At the very least, Meyer should remind his players that the team up north should be vastly improved under new coach Jim Harbaugh, and Michigan State is seeking revenge. That should keep them focused.
Beyond some of the clear priorities of getting bigger, stronger, faster and smarter this offseason, it will be interesting to see how Meyer 2.0 manages himself. Can he avoid the personal mistakes he made after the 2008 season by maintaining a healthy work/life balance?
For a man known for his tremendous attention to detail, there’s hope that he’ll remember the details in the agreement he made with his family before accepting the job at Ohio State. Otherwise burnout could derail the team’s progression.
Over the next eight months, the team is going to be under the microscope. The most obvious issue will be how Meyer works through the quarterback dilemma. He might buy some time with Barrett and Miller still rehabbing injuries, but the time will come when two players will have to deal with some level of disappointment.
Of course, the media will explode during this period, but more important is how the team responds. Will loyalties divide the locker room, or will the team maintain its cohesion? My bet is it bonds this team even tighter than it already is. The players trust Meyer and his staff to make the right decisions for the team. This is just part of the deal when you play at a school where there is elite-level talent at every position.
Despite the buzz circling the quarterbacks, the team has 219 days to devote to getting healthier and better. Building depth, finding some receivers and avoiding any off-the-field issues are priorities. Meyer just pulled off a minor miracle in willing this team to a championship. If the offseason goes as planned, the Buckeyes will repeat.
Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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With just days to go before national signing day, Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are making their final moves before returning to South Bend, Indiana, and waiting for the fax machine to ring.
Years of work identifying and building relationships with recruits will come down to Wednesday, when Kelly will announce a 2015 recruiting class that—almost by accident—grew to become one of the best groups in the country.
Right now, Notre Dame has 22 verbal commitments, with four early enrollees already on campus. If all goes according to the plan on Wednesday, it should end the day with a full 25.
But before we get there, let's look at the five signing-day priorities for Notre Dame as it moves into the 2015 season.
When it comes to Charlie Strong, the old adage remains true: Defense wins championships.
The defensive side of the ball was a consistent issue with the Texas Longhorns during the 2014 season, but Strong, preparing for his second season as head coach, is making defense a priority in the 2015 class. He already has 5-star linebacker Malik Jefferson on campus as an early enrollee, and Friday afternoon, Strong received two 4-star cornerback commitments from Holton Hill and Kris Boyd.
The two made their commitments public on a local Time Warner Cable show in Austin.
The in-state prospects, commits Nos. 25 and 26, give the Longhorns an impressive secondary class. Hill, No. 80 in the 247Sports Composite ratings, and Boyd, No. 98, join 4-star cornerback Davante Davis, 4-star safety DeShon Elliott and 3-star safety Jamile Johnson Jr.
Both athletes had long lists of schools to choose from. Boyd chose the Longhorns over offers from Texas A&M, Baylor, Florida State and Alabama. Hill chose the Longhorns over offers from Texas A&M, Alabama, LSU, Florida State and Baylor.
Hill and Boyd are similar in that they are cover cornerbacks. Both are physical off the ball and make it difficult for receivers to get off the line. Boyd, at 6'0" and 185 pounds, plays with a mean streak at times, and Hill, at 6'2" and 184 pounds, has the size and versatility to play either cornerback or safety.
Texas' 2014 depth chart, courtesy of OurLads, included two seniors in the secondary in Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson. Hill and Boyd are talented enough—as are Davis, Elliott and Johnson—to see playing time early in their college careers.
Both Hill and Boyd showed their talents at The Opening, an invite-only camp for the nation's top recruits, last summer in Oregon.
Strong has high expectations for his defense in 2015. This past season, the Longhorns allowed an average of 23.8 points (2.4 points more than their offense) and 348.5 yards per game (11.2 yards more than their offense). Part of the lack of success involved fourth-quarter play. Texas allowed nearly 40 percent of its cumulative points in the final quarter.
Hill and Boyd are sure to not only add depth to the secondary but also help the defense keep those numbers low with solid play. Both are talented enough to compete for a starting spot next season.
Texas currently has a solid balance with its class—13 defensive commits and 13 offensive commits. Of the Longhorns' defensive pledges, seven are classified as at least 4-star prospects.
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Running back Bryce Love is one of the fastest recruits in the country, and he will bring his blazing speed to Stanford after committing today, per Rivals.com's Adam Friedman.
Love is a four-star prospect from Wake Forest, North Carolina, and 247Sports rates him as the No. 233 overall recruit and sixth-best all-purpose back in the nation.
While Love can do a little bit of everything, there is no question that his jets represent his greatest asset. He runs the 40-yard dash as fast as almost anyone and compares favorably to current Cincinnati Bengals star Giovani Bernard to boot, according to Ross Martin of 247Sports:
Love is certainly an eye-catching prospect, which is why so many teams were hoping to land him.
Per Chad Simmons of Scout.com, he already had in excess of 20 offers in the early stages of 2014:
The interest only grew from that point forward with Tennessee, Stanford, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, East Carolina and NC State emerging as the top options, according to 247Sports.
Despite having such a varied list of suitors, Love was still very much undecided in early January, per Tim Stevens of the News & Observer.
"All of them are about even right now," Love said.
Love was eventually able to sift through the offers and settle on a final choice. He certainly can't be faulted for taking as long as he did since the running back position is often difficult to gauge at the collegiate level in terms of playing time.
Many schools carry large stables of rushers, and it can be tough to break into the rotation.
Love has an advantage, though, since he possesses speed that few others can match. He is a true change-of-pace guy who will undoubtedly be a weapon.
With that said, it is fair to question if he can be a bell-cow back in college. He is very slight for his position at just 5'10" and 180 pounds, according to 247Sports.
He figures to take a beating, and it is unknown if he has the mass needed to remain durable.
Love may very well view that as a challenge, though, and his high school track record suggests that he is up to it.
No matter how Love is ultimately utilized, he is a rare talent who will keep opposing defenses on their heels.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — In today's day and age of 24/7 recruiting and scholarship offers going out before a player's freshman year, it's not unique for a prospect to arrive on campus with his own nickname already.
What is rare, however, is for that player to have earned it.
But that's exactly what Eric Glover-Williams will do in four months when he finally makes his way to Ohio State after nearly a two-year commitment to the Buckeyes. The Canton (Ohio) McKinley product first made headlines at Ohio State's annual Friday Night Lights camp in the summer of 2013, donning a Superman t-shirt that would give him his moniker among the OSU fanbase.
It wasn't just Glover-Williams' apparel that created his alias though, as his play on that night inside of Ohio Stadium backed up the hype. The 5'11", 165-pound athlete stole the show at the Buckeyes' yearly recruiting showcase, routinely matching up with—and getting the better of—2014 Ohio State commit Damon Webb.
Glover-Williams had already been on the Buckeyes' radar, with Urban Meyer offering the Hall of Fame City native a scholarship following the conclusion of his sophomore season. But from that point forward, landing "Superman" became a priority for the Ohio State coaching staff, even though he wouldn't be able to sign his national letter of intent for nearly another two years.
That didn't deter Meyer from putting a full-court press on Glover-Williams (also known as "EGW), selling him on becoming the face of the Buckeyes' program. On Aug. 25, 2013, the consensus 4-star prospect took Meyer up on his offer, becoming OSU's first commitment of its 2015 class.
There's been some bumps along the way for Glover-Williams leading up to his long-awaited signing day, most notably a fight that led to a school suspension and left his scholarship offer from OSU in doubt. As he prepares to sign his national letter of intent on Wednesday, questions about EGW remain—most of which pertain to his presence on the football field.
But it's not a matter of if Glover-Williams will make an instant impact in his college career, as opposed to where?
During his career at storied Canton McKinley, Glover-Williams was a jack of all trades, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back for the Bulldogs. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on what position Glover-Williams will start his college career at, with 247Sports.com listing him as a cornerback, Rivals.com calling him an athlete and Scout.com projecting him to play running back.
Given the plethora of playmakers Ohio State already possesses for the upcoming season, defensive back may seem to make the most sense for Glover-Williams—at least for now.
Glover-Williams proved that throughout his senior season, primarily playing running back and totaling 1,149 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. He also added another two scores on a 100-yard interception return and punt return—a feat he'd duplicate in the Under Armour All-American Game.
As evidenced above, Glover-Williams possesses the "quick twitch" that Meyer so desperately covets in his athletes. Given his versatility, it's not hard to imagine Glover-Williams fitting right in at the Buckeyes' H-Back position, the same role Percy Harvin starred in at Florida and Jalin Marshall is thriving in now.
And while Glover-Williams still has some bulking up to do before potentially taking a pounding in the Big Ten, his scat-back like ability could still add a new dynamic to the Ohio State offense. Meyer has long been a fan of using both power and speed at his skill positions, and Glover-Williams certainly possesses plenty of the latter.
"He's small, but strong. He rarely gets his squarely because he's so elusive and has great vision," Birmingham said. "If I had to pick one player he reminds me of with the ball in his hands, it would be [former Kansas City Chief kick-returner] Dante Hall."
Whether the Buckeyes coaching staff agrees remains to be seen, but it won't be too long until Ohio State has its new Superman on the field. And regardless of what position he ends up at, it's already easy to see where his powers will ultimately take him.
"He could stay at corner and be an amazing kick or punt returner," Birmingham admitted. "At some point, he'll make an impact in a position to score points."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Friday marked the first major tentpole of the college football offseason: the release of next year's Heisman Trophy odds.
Updates to these odds will arrive in spring and summer, but for now we have the first official look at how the top players in the country are valued, per online betting outpost Bovada.
David Hale of ESPN.com tweeted the full list, which can also be seen below, along with four major takeaways.
Note: Bovada erroneously listed Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson at 22-to-1. Robinson declared early for the NFL draft and has thus been excluded from our list.
Handicapping Ohio State
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, the MVP of the College Football Playoff, was deemed the early favorite at 6-to-1. He rushed for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in the final three games of the season behind a line that returns all five starters.
But Elliott is not a heavy favorite. Last year's January Heisman odds had five players at 6-to-1 or better: Jameis Winston (2/1), Marcus Mariota (3/1), Braxton Miller (11/2), T.J. Yeldon (5/1) and Bryce Petty (6/1). Elliott would have placed outside the top four.
Also of note from Columbus: Cardale Jones (14/1) and J.T. Barrett (16/1) both appear high on the list, although Jones has the slight edge. They and the aforementioned Miller, who is 18-to-1 after missing last season with a shoulder injury, will compete for the job this offseason.
Does this mean sportsbooks value Jones as the favorite to start? Not exactly. Odds are made to draw even, high-money action on as many sides as possible. Doing that requires pandering to public perspective. Jones is not necessarily who sportsbooks think will start; he's who sportsbooks think most people think will start.
Barrett beat Jones out of fall camp last season and won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He fractured his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan, opening the door for Jones to play hero against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.
They and Miller, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 and 2012, are all worthy options, although Jones is the only one healthy enough to participate in spring practice.
Expect these odds to shift based on how he looks in camp.
Year of the Running Back?
Thirteen of the past 15, eight of the past nine and each of the past five Heisman winners have been quarterbacks. Statistically, they have a far greater chance of winning the award than running backs.
And yet, six of the top 10 listed players are running backs: Elliott, Leonard Fournette (LSU), Nick Chubb (Georgia), Paul Perkins (UCLA), Derrick Henry (Alabama) and Samaje Perine (Oklahoma).
Three more running backs—Corey Clement (Wisconsin), D.J. Foster (Arizona State) and Royce Freeman (Oregon)—cracked the top 16, while Dalvin Cook (Florida State), James Conner (Pittsburgh), Nick Wilson (Arizona) and Jalen Hurd (Tennessee) appeared further down the list.
In short, 2015 looks like the year of the running back...which is scary since, by all indications, 2016 will be better.
Of the 13 listed running backs, only Foster is a rising senior. Five are rising juniors and seven (!!!) are rising sophomores.
Where's the Value?
Scoop up Baylor quarterback Seth Russell at 33-to-1 while you can; it won't be long before his odds shrink to 20-to-1 or lower.
There are two reasons Russell fell as low as he did: (1) because he hasn't proved himself as a full-time starter, and (2) because blue-chip incoming freshman Jarrett Stidham is after his job.
To that first point: Yeah...but so what? Nick Florence backed up Robert Griffin III before leading the country in passing yards in 2012, and Bryce Petty backed up Florence before finishing No. 2 in the country in passer rating in 2013. Baylor backups learn the system for multiple seasons, and then they come in and post huge numbers.
To that second point: Refer to the previous sentence. Art Briles wants to start a seasoned backup, not a true freshman. No matter how much talent Stidham, the No. 38 overall player on the 247Sports composite rankings, possesses, starting a teenager under center is not Briles' M.O. Russell would have to implode for that to happen.
On 85 throws last season, Russell averaged 9.5 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and one interception. The competition wasn't great, but this offense is basically quarterback-proof.
Russell has an All-American left tackle (Spencer Drango), a pair of All-Big 12-caliber receivers (KD Cannon and Corey Coleman) and plays for a team that returns 17 starters and ranked No. 3 on the offseason rankings at Bleacher Report, ESPN and Fox Sports.
Team Success plus Huge Numbers is a winning Heisman formula.
Russell is in a good spot for both.
Three notable omissions who are sure to gain hype this offseason:
- QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
- QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
- QB Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
Johnson in particular strikes a chord. Like Russell, he has backed up a Heisman candidate the past two seasons but has always shown well when he's played. Unlike Russell, that sample of playing time includes a start against a conference opponent.
Johnson played the first half of the 2014 opener against Arkansas when Nick Marshall was suspended for a marijuana citation. He led the Tigers to touchdowns on their first three possessions, each drive going for 75 yards or more (and the third going for 98). He finished 12-of-16 passing with 243 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We feel like he could start for most teams in college football," head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters after the game. "I think everybody saw that tonight."
Hackenberg and Dobbs are prodigious talents who ended last season with big bowl performances. Hackenberg had 371 passing yards and four touchdowns in a win over Boston College, and Dobbs posted an adjusted QBR of 92.5 (out of 100) in a win over Iowa, per ESPN.com.
Any or all of them could crack the odds board this summer.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35
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Defense doesn't win championships anymore. "Just enough" defense does. Finding the next superstar on defense is the first step for teams to find enough to get into the College Football Playoff mix.
Defensive stars like former Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson and Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers have moved on, but there's a new crop of defenders just waiting to make a mark in the SEC.
Who will step up and become the breakout star defenders in the SEC in 2015? Our top seven based on talent and opportunity are in this slideshow.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Barring any last-minute changes, Alabama’s staff turnover for this offseason is complete.
It was fairly painless and, outside of a nervous week or two waiting on Lane Kiffin, not as apocalyptic as some thought after Alabama was bounced from the College Football Playoff in a convincing Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.
So what do these hires bring to the table? Will they work out in the long term? Let’s grade each staff hire and break them down.
Tosh Lupoi: Outside Linebackers
Of all of Alabama’s staff moves, this one seemed to be the most obvious.
Lupoi has proven himself to be an ace recruiter who has experience coaching the position.
He was only technically an “intern” at Alabama because Washington was paying him $300,000 this year as part of a settlement involving NCAA infractions that Lupoi was cleared of. That freed him up to work for Alabama at no charge.
"He's got to be the most qualified recruiting intern in the history of recruiting interns," Brandon Huffman, director of recruiting at Scout.com, told AL.com’s John Talty.
According to Talty, Lupoi played a role in the recruitment of 2015 commitments like quarterback Blake Barnett and Keaton Anderson. He gives Saban another West Coast presence, along with Lane Kiffin.
Lupoi was named Rivals’ Recruiter of the Year in 2010 and was a force during his time at Cal and Washington. Incidentally, he played a big role in swaying wide receiver Keenan Allen away from Alabama in 2010.
On the field, Lupoi helped develop some successful defenses at Cal, mentoring eventual first-rounders Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu.
Lupoi hits every mark in what Saban looks for in a position coach.
Mel Tucker: Defensive Backs
It was easy for Alabama’s fanbase to have a knee-jerk reaction to Tucker’s hiring and immediately dismiss it. After all, Tucker’s defenses with the Bears were ranked No. 30 in the NFL in both of his years as defensive coordinator.
But a deeper look at Tucker shows that there is potential for success at the college level.
In 2002, he was defensive backs coach on a defense that was second nationally in points allowed, as the Buckeyes won a national championship. Otherwise, during his four years there, Ohio State’s pass defense was never higher than No. 33 nationally.
Individually, he had success mentoring defensive backs. Notably, Chris Gamble turned into a first-round NFL draft pick, while players like Dustin Fox and Donnie Nickey were also selected.
He’s also worked with Saban as a defensive backs coach for one year at LSU and two years as a graduate assistant at Michigan State.
He faces a tall task, rebuilding a defensive backfield that gave up more passing yards than any defense in Saban’s time at Alabama. Defensive backs like Geno Smith and Hootie Jones have to take the next step in their development for the Crimson Tide to be successful.
This also means that Kirby Smart will move back to coaching inside linebackers after a yearlong stint in the secondary.
Jody Wright: Director of Player Personnel
Like Tucker, Wright is a hire that won’t immediately have fans jumping out of their seats. That’s mostly because Wright has never really been in the spotlight to be a guy that people would know off the top of their head.
But Wright has deep ties to Alabama and should be able to navigate the challenges that come with running a recruiting effort the size of the Crimson Tide’s.
He spent the last two years as recruiting coordinator at Jacksonville State and then the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
Before that, he was a graduate assistant and offensive analyst for Saban at Alabama. Before that, he was a graduate assistant and then director of football operations at Mississippi State.
Wright will “be responsible for the organization of all recruiting efforts,” per a UA release. “Wright will also work with compliance regarding initial eligibility and assist with coaching clinics, camps and other on-campus events.”
It’s a tall task at Alabama, where Saban micromanages everything to a tee for a program that recruits nationwide. But Wright has a track record of doing just that. He shouldn’t be intimidated by a big stage like that.
Saban got a guy he is familiar with and has plenty of experience running recruiting operations.
Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.
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Holton Hill has committed to play college football at Texas. The talented cornerback, who was recruited by many of the nation's top programs, should make an impact on the Longhorns' defense before too long.
Hill announced his decision on Twitter on Jan. 30:
Hill is a 4-star prospect who ranks just inside the top 100 nationally for the Class of 2015, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He also rates very highly among players at his position and other players from the state of Texas.
In fact, Mike Roach of Horn Sports noted back in November he felt the Lamar High School star was the top corner in the state:
The most intriguing thing about Hill is his size. In an era where teams are looking for corners who are bigger, stronger and willing to play more physical on the outside, he fits the mold at 6'2''. And he should continue to fill out his frame in the coming years.
Along with the ideal height, he's also displayed a good feel for the position with effortless movement and good instincts when the ball is thrown his direction.
What Hill doesn't have is elite speed. That's where the questions come in as he gets prepared to make the jump to the collegiate level. All of his other skills must make up for the fact he might not be as quick as some of the wideouts he matches up against on Saturdays.
One guarantee is that he's enjoyed the process that's got him to this point. He explained to VYPE that it's something he's thought about for a long time.
"This is a dream come true," Hill said. "When I was back in Little League, I saw myself playing college football, getting all the offers and maybe getting to the NFL. I love to watch and pick up stuff from guys like Patrick Peterson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman and put it into my game."
Those are certainly some good defensive backs to learn from.
Ultimately, Hill isn't a lock to become a star at the next level, but there's enough upside to consider this a very good signing. As long as he continues to make further progress with his technique, especially against quicker receivers, the future is bright.
It may take a couple seasons before he works himself into a prominent role. Once it happens, however, there's a strong chance he'll never look back.
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Kris Boyd enjoyed a steady rise to become one of the most coveted cornerback recruits in the nation. Now he's made the decision to continue his football career with Texas.
Boyd announced the news himself on Twitter.
Boyd is a 4-star prospect who ranks No. 98 overall for the Class of 2015, based on 247Sports' composite rankings. He's rated as the 11th-best cornerback recruit in the nation and the 14th-best player out of Texas.
The Gilmer High School product also has experience on the offensive side of the ball, mostly as a running back. Despite that versatility, he's excelled as a corner, and the defensive backfield is where he projects at the collegiate level.
His stock rose following his junior campaign of high school. With that came increased attention and offers from top programs around the country. Jason Higdon of Scout talked with him about being pursued by big-name schools.
"It's an honor and I am blessed to have this chance," Boyd said. "I have this once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm just taking advantage of it."
He's a corner with good speed and strong ball skills who thrives when playing a physical brand of football. His tackling ability also ranks right up there with any other corner in the class, suggesting he'll also be an asset in run support.
Mike Roach of HornSports sees him as the complete package:
Boyd still needs to refine his technique, which should come with experience, coaching and making a full-time transition to defense. The skill set is in place; now he just needs to build off it to reach his sky-high potential.
At the outset, his tackling ability could make him an asset on special teams while receiving limited snaps on defense. If his progress continues as expected, he should be ready to make a serious defensive impact by the end of his second season at the latest.
He represents a fine addition to the 2015 class.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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Whether it's right away or a few seasons from now, some of the SEC's top incoming recruits have "future star" written all over them.
The conference that routinely dominates the recruiting game has another bumper crop of talent coming to campuses this spring and summer, with five schools currently among the top 10 classes in 247Sports' composite rankings and nine in the top 20. Many of those schools figure to land some of the best uncommitted players on national signing day on Feb. 5 as well.
Just looking at the ones already pledged or signed to SEC schools, though, there's enough star power to put together a darn good all-star team. Some stand out more than others and already have the look of players who will go down among the best in conference history.
Scroll through to see our pick for 10 players who are currently committed to SEC schools and are most likely to end up being future stars.
The Texas Longhorns have the same question heading into the 2015 season as they've had for the past four years: Who's going to be the starting quarterback?
There are a number of reasons why Texas is eyeballs-deep in a rebuilding project, but that question tells you most of what you need to know. It could also tell you next year is redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard's best shot at earning that job over junior and incumbent starter Tyrone Swoopes.
Second-year head coach Charlie Strong struggled to win six games in 2014 largely because of offensive woes. The Longhorns could be in a position to finish with an even worse record next season since their best players, many of whom were on the defensive side, are now gone.
Ideally for Strong, though, Texas will show some improvement on offense. In theory, that shouldn't be too difficult, as the Horns were downright dreadful at times last year. Texas finished ninth in the Big 12 in total offense and points per game, and it finished dead last in passing yards per game.
With a year to learn without the pressures of playing and athleticism to spare, Heard is in a great spot to take control of the offense by Week 1 against Notre Dame. Here are the other factors that play into that:
No Kyler Murray (or Zach Gentry)
Barring a late push and signing-day surprise, there won't be a true freshman in a position to compete for, let alone win, the starting job. (3-star quarterback Matthew Merrick is on track to grayshirt—meaning he won't play in 2015—according to Max Olson of ESPN.com. Whether that changes remains to be seen.)
One option Texas can cross off its list is 5-star quarterback prospect Kyler Murray. According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Murray quickly became the center of the most heated recruiting battle in the country. The longtime Texas A&M verbal commit recently visited Texas, sparking panic in College Station, brief optimism in Austin and Twitter feuds between recruiting beat guys.
In the end, though, Murray stuck with his commitment to A&M.
Murray's decision is a tough blow for Texas in light of 4-star quarterback Zach Gentry's flip from the Longhorns to Michigan. As B/R recruiting guru Damon Sayles notes, Florida State commit Kai Locksley is the last hope Texas has of landing a big-name quarterback prospect:
If Locksley wants to compete for immediate playing time, entering a 2015 class with no quarterbacks would make sense. Locksley loves Florida State, but he took an official visit to Texas and had a great experience. And when 4-star receiver John Burt, Locksley's good friend, recommitted to Texas on Monday, he made it known that he wanted Locksley as a teammate.
Still, even if Locksley were to commit to Texas, he wouldn't arrive until the summer and would have a lot of ground to cover. If there was a 2015 prospect with the best chance to start on Day 1, it was Murray.
A potentially quarterback-less 2015 class leaves Texas with two realistic options: Heard and Swoopes.
With Swoopes, who passed for 2,409 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 picks last year, progress has been two steps forward, two steps back. Just when it looks like he's turned a corner, like it did during a three-game stretch in November, Swoopes throws four picks in a season-ending game against TCU.
The lasting impression of Swoopes was a 57-yard passing performance in an overall abysmal showing in the Texas Bowl against Arkansas.
To be fair to Swoopes, he was thrown into a tough situation. His redshirt was burned midway through his freshman season against TCU, but Texas' previous coaching staff never did much with him after that. Then, he was asked to become the full-time starter early last year once David Ash went out with what would be a career-ending concussion.
The reality is, Swoopes hasn't had great development. Part of that problem could be on him, but he's been incorrectly utilized and then had to learn a new system on the fly. That kind of stuff can hurt a quarterback. Plus, Swoopes never proved that he has the edge heading into spring ball.
At least one of the reasons why Gentry decommitted from Texas was that the coaching staff planned to changed its offensive philosophy.
"You know what, they’re changing the offense at Texas, and I wasn't totally comfortable with that," Gentry told James Yodice of the Albuquerque Journal.
The reported move to the spread offense cost the Horns a verbal pledge. However, it caters to what Heard is more familiar with from his days at Denton Guyer High School—and to what high school quarterbacks around the state of Texas are comfortable with, too.
Texas is making a commitment to running an offense that in-state high school skill players love and understand. Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State and now TCU have all experienced the fruits of what a spread offense can do for a program.
In the long run, Strong hopes this move will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. For 2015, it means Heard and his skill set have the best chance to see the field.
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Continue to be absorbed, avoiding work and life responsibilities at all costs. Fake sick harder than you have ever faked sick before, maybe even tossing in a fever to match that “really bad cough” you developed in a matter of 12 hours. No one will ever know.
Do everything possible to embrace the absurdity and delight of national signing day, coming your way Wednesday, February 4. But do so knowing that this day—Christmas for the degenerate fan and message board enthusiast—won’t be this intoxicating much longer.
Please don’t view this as a melancholy forecast. It’s not. In fact, the reason national signing day will soon lose its luster is because of how far it’s come. Mr. Recruiting is trading in his spacious two-bedroom condo for a house with a three-car garage. They even left the treadmill.
National signing day hasn’t peaked; it’s simply evolved. And it’s poised to follow this upward rise even more, although it will do so at a different pace and on different terms.
It’s part business and part protocol, and soon, a mere 24 hours will no longer suffice.
Welcome to the Era of Early Enrollees
After securing yet another No. 1 recruiting class, Alabama head coach Nick Saban provided a bit of recruiting wisdom when he was asked about another suspense-less national signing day.
“The recruiting calendar has accelerated itself,” Saban said, offering up a cryptic ingredient of Alabama’s secret recruiting recipe.
What’s most notable about the statement is actually the timing. Saban made that remark while appearing on ESPN back in 2012. Those are your AOL and pager years when it comes to college football’s rapid progression, although the sentiments are most certainly still applicable. They’ve simply expanded.
More teams have caught on. More players have, too. The accelerated calendar no longer applies to a select few; it now involves schools in all conferences and players on all coasts. No longer a ritual reserved for a select few, this has become common practice.
Over the past two years, Alabama has welcomed 15 players to campus in January. Hop on the highway and take the scenic drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, and you’ll find a similar state of affairs. Butch Jones had 13 early enrollees in 2014 and added 10 more this year. Florida State has welcomed 13 players on campus early over this two-year span. Ohio State welcomed 11.
Arriving early doesn’t make or break a player’s potential playing career, although it does come with perks.
By arriving in January, recruits are able to benefit from extra time with the strength coach, the playbook and, of course, spring practice. It doesn’t guarantee that they will start as true freshmen, but coaches have more time to evaluate (and develop) their games.
If a player can swing it, it’s hard to find any real disadvantage. Because of this, some of the nation’s best players are choosing to forgo the drama of national signing day and take this route. Forget about waiting for a letter of intent; many elite players will spend that morning with their strength coach.
Pushing this trend forward will be a means to make this marriage official earlier than ever before.
An Early Signing Period (of Some Kind) Is Imminent
It’s not a matter of if, but when. And then, when the when finally gets here, it will be about the when once more.
An early national signing day is coming. This much we know. When it becomes official is still up in the air, as is the date of this pre-signing day that appears to be gaining steam.
ESPN reported in early January that the Conference Commissioners Association—a group formed to explore this very topic—was leaning toward a mid-December signing period that would coincide with the junior college transfer date.
Director of National Letter of Intent, Susan Peal, explained why mid-December would be ideal while speaking with ESPN.com.
I'm not saying that's the only option out there, but it is the most favorable. The reason I'm saying that period is the most favorable is that coaches like their recruiting calendar. They like all the work that has been done so far by every subcommittee to get the recruiting calendar to where it is today, and they don't want to mess with that. A December date would have the most minimal impact to that recruiting calendar, so that's why that has been the one date that has come out.
This is not an NCAA matter. It’s essentially up to the conferences to decide what best suits them. The ACC has publicly campaigned for an August national signing day, while other conferences have chimed in, piggybacking off its thoughts.
The timing and details are still to be worked out, but an early signing period is brewing. In fact, it could come as early as this year, impacting the next recruiting class.
Essentially, an early signing period would allow early enrollees—or other players simply looking to put a halt to the recruiting process—a means to do so. It would also give head and assistant coaches a way to perhaps lessen the grind of the final few weeks before the traditional signing period.
In terms of its impact on national signing day, this would likely be a knockout blow. It wouldn’t kill the February tradition altogether—there would still be plenty of prospects that exhaust the visits, phone calls and meetings in order to gather as much information as possible—but it would change the way an already accelerated recruiting calendar is viewed.
The Coverage Has Simply Gotten Too Good
Take away the latest trends and the legislation poised to alter recruiting for good, and you’d still be left with a business that has mastered its craft.
Look at 247Sports.com, for example. This is no longer just a niche website reserved for a handful of ravenous fanbases or conferences: 247Sports, much like the other recruiting outlets, staffs recruiters for various regions—sometimes grouping them to one specific team—and they focus exclusively on college football recruiting year-round.
Not long ago, this very notion would have been preposterous. There simply wasn’t a market. But as recruiting’s popularity has soared year after year, more websites have decided to stake a claim in this business. There are ads to sell, teams to cover and news to break as it pertains to recruiting 365 days out of the year.
“It will always be a kind of fresh start for college football fans, but I definitely think that it's on the decline,” 247Sports’ director of scouting Barton Simmons said on national signing day. “The oversaturation of coverage year round, the increase in visibility of high school prospects and the continued acceleration of the recruiting calendar all have made signing day a little bit of an afterthought. I think some people are tired of recruiting by national signing day. There was a time when signing day was the one day of the year they'd care.”
Everything has improved. Access to the players has increased. Film is easier to find and of much higher quality. The scouting is more sophisticated. The intelligence is more accurate.
Playing a role in this information evolution, of course, is social media. It’s sitting in the sidecar. Without it, the news doesn’t funnel through as quickly as it does. Not only that, but players are now partaking in the exercise—driving this medium—creating further interest simply by keeping the masses current.
That's precisely what the nation's top dual-threat quarterback, Kyler Murray, did as he contemplated offers from other places.
Following my heart... #GigEm— Kyler Murray (@TheKylerMurray) January 30, 2015
And when an individual player doesn’t post his current leaders to Twitter, someone will likely grab the scoop and post them for him. It's an endless cycle.
As a result, there are far fewer surprises on a day that once revolved around suspense. It doesn’t mean that the occasional flip or unexpected commitment will vanish, but that these delicious moments will soon be more of a rarity. So much is working for recruiting, but it's working in favor of the year-round process rather than its culmination.
National signing day’s demise is a product of its growth. It’s outgrown its digs, which is precisely why it will find a new home soon enough, one with more space, nicer tiling and perhaps even an eight-person hot tub. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?
Chin up, avid football fan. There will still be a day to fake sick in its new form. Heck, you might even have two.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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With one late-night tweet, Texas 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray did his part in silencing the college football recruiting world.
Murray, the nation's top-rated dual-threat quarterback, announced that he is sticking with his commitment to Texas A&M after taking a visit to Texas last week. The tweet, which happened mere minutes before midnight in Texas, gave Aggies fans life, crushed the dreams of overly optimistic Longhorns fans and, more importantly, set the record straight as national signing day rapidly approaches.
And now that Murray's future is set, what's next? Or who's next?
Murray's decision has a direct (or indirect, depending on the player) effect on a few players still making final decisions before Feb. 4. Those considering Texas A&M have to be happy that Murray will sign with the Aggies. But there are other options for several of the Aggies' top targets.
Murray went 42-0 as a high school quarterback. He won three consecutive state championships at Texas high school football's highest level. Is he enough of a reason for some to choose the Aggies on signing day? And for other recruits, what does his decision mean in an effort to help Texas with other targets?
Here are five athletes who may be impacted by Murray's decision in one way or another.
For all the questions Florida State faces in 2015—and there are many—the Seminoles benefit from a fairly favorable schedule. Or, as favorable as it can be.
If there's anything that will help Florida State get back to the College Football Playoff, it's that.
On Thursday, the ACC released all 14 schedules for next season. The defending ACC champs will have a tough stretch in the month of October extending into the first week of November. In that span, Florida State will face rival Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech and Clemson, with the latter two games coming on the road.
That's when we'll find out just how good (or bad) the Noles really are.
Therein lies the uncertainty with Florida State. Quarterback Jameis Winston is off to the NFL, but this team loses so much more than him. Among those who must be replaced are: Tight end Nick O'Leary, receiver Rashad Greene, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback P.J. Williams and most of the offensive line.
With the way head coach Jimbo Fisher has been (and is) recruiting, talent shouldn't be the problem next year. "They’ve done a spectacular job of putting together really good classes," Chris Nee, recruiting analyst for 247Sports, told Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat. "They do a really good job of going after needs. They narrow their focus and they don’t settle. They truly go after the best."
Experience could be an issue, however—at least at first.
In Week 1, Florida State will basically look like a different team than the ones from the past two years. With new-look teams, especially with a new quarterback, you're never sure what you're going to get out of them.
But the silver lining is that the Seminoles will have a month to figure themselves out. The toughest game between Week 1 and Week 6 is a road game at Boston College on a short week. The Eagles have traditionally played Florida State tough; last year, the Seminoles needed a game-winning field goal against BC.
However, Florida State doesn't have to face Clemson, its primary competition for the ACC Atlantic Division title, right away. It doesn't have to travel to Georgia Tech in September.
Those are two huge breaks. Sean Maguire, or whoever will start at quarterback, will have some starting experience barring injuries. The offensive line, under the direction of position coach Rick Trickett, will have come together. The defense should have leaders emerging.
In short, new starters won't be thrown to the fire too early.
The midseason stretch will make or break Florida State's season and playoff hopes, but fans should be happy it's not an early-season stretch, as Paul Myerberg of USA Today tweets:
Scheduling in general, but specifically conference scheduling, is a puzzle that's either 100 pieces or 1,000. Sometimes, the draw is unfavorable. Alabama's schedule in 2010 was filled with opponents who faced the Tide immediately following a bye week. (Whether bye weeks help or hurt a team is up for debate, but the scheduling fact remains.)
Other times, especially with conference divisions, a team gets a favorable slate. Consider the 2007 Kansas Jayhawks, which went 11-1 in the regular season and eventually won the Orange Bowl over Virginia Tech. Kansas, then of the Big 12 North Division, didn't have to play Oklahoma or Texas from the Big 12 South that year.
Florida State's schedule isn't soft by any means, but there's no game against partial ACC member Notre Dame, and Florida is by far the toughest nonconference opponent. The point being, if Florida State can navigate through its midseason stretch, it sets up for double-digit wins. Without knowing who else will be in the playoff running 10 months from now, that's a good place to start.
The development at quarterback and offensive line, as well as defensive improvement, will be the major concerns for this team next season. They could eventually be reasons that the Seminoles don't make the playoffs again.
If those questions are answered, and if the answers are good, then the schedule will be the reason Florida State does make the playoffs.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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