It's no secret that first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has a tough rebuilding project ahead of him. After going 5-7 a year ago under Brady Hoke, getting back to a bowl game would be considered a successful season. But even if that doesn't happen, Michigan could get some satisfaction if it beats either Michigan State or Ohio State—or both.
(Of course, defeating the Spartans and Buckeyes in the same season likely means Michigan is good enough to go bowling. In that case, it would be an added bonus.)
However, what are the odds of Michigan pulling off at least one of those upsets? Both games are at home, which is a plus, so let's set the early odds of beating Ohio State at 3-1, assuming as of today that the Buckeyes will be about a two-touchdown favorite at best. We'll put beating Michigan State at 2.5-1, assuming the Spartans will be a touchdown or so favorite. The odds to beat both? Let's put it at 8-1.
These odds are just opinion, of course, but they are based on what some early Vegas lines are saying (with an assist from B/R in-house betting guru Adam Kramer).
Still, the odds aren't great, and history alone tells you why.
Compounding the misery of Michigan football over the past several years is the fact that the program has fallen far behind not just Ohio State, but Michigan State as well. Things have certainly changed dramatically since 2007 when former Wolverines running back Mike Hart referred to the Spartans as "little brother."
At that time, Michigan had won its sixth straight game over its in-state rival. Since then, the Spartans have won six of the last seven meetings.
Things are even worse against the Buckeyes. Since 2003, which also happens to be the last time Michigan beat both teams, the Wolverines are 1-10 against Ohio State. Over the past eight seasons, Michigan is 3-13 against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Wolverines have lost to both teams in the same season five times.
Heading into 2015, Ohio State is a runaway favorite to make the College Football Playoff again and potentially repeat as national champions. Michigan State returns quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun and looks to play spoiler for the Buckeyes' Big Ten and national title hopes.
In other words, barring an unforeseen development, Michigan isn't catching either team in a down year. To beat even one of them, it's going to require an ugly, grind-it-out game. (For what it's worth, Michigan went 2-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less last year.)
That won't be easy. The Buckeyes and Spartans posted the top two scoring offenses in the Big Ten in 2014 at 44.8 and 43.0 points per game, respectively. Sure, both offenses lost some key contributors, especially at the skill positions. Tony Lippett and Jeremy Langford, the top receiver and rusher for the Spartans, are gone; Devin Smith, the Buckeyes' deep threat, is also no longer around. However, there are plenty of returning players to believe there won't be a major drop-off.
Michigan's not going to get into a shootout with these teams. That's not their game right now. The Wolverines' concerns lie on offense because of an unresolved quarterback competition, a running back unit that has underperformed and an offensive line that has never quite come together. Under Hoke, there was never any improvement on that side of the ball. In fact, scoring offense actually got worse from 2013 to '14, dropping about 11 points per game.
As Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com wrote in April following the spring game, Harbaugh's rebuilding job isn't impossible, but it has a long way to go:
There's a reality here, whether fans want to admit it to themselves or not. Michigan's offense was completely broken a year ago. Harbaugh has to rebuild it. Not quite from scratch, but in terms of fundamentals and mental toughness, it's pretty close. It'll take far more than 15 practices to accomplish this feat, but at the same time, he's got a pretty good track record.
Will the Wolverines offense go from a total mess to something serviceable or better by mid-October (vs. Michigan State) or late November (vs. Ohio State)? Possibly, but turning around three years of mediocrity takes practices and more practices. And then some more practices. It wasn't fixed in the spring, and it may not be fixed in preseason camp. For all anyone knows, the best players Harbaugh will coach at Michigan may not even be on the roster yet.
To upset Ohio State and/or Michigan State, Harbaugh's team will need to rely heavily on its defense—not to mention it'll need to catch some breaks as well. There's no denying the defense is ahead of the offense at the moment, but even then, that side of the ball has to be stingy.
In 2014, the Wolverines finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (18.4 points per game) against unranked teams; against three Associated Press-ranked teams, that number nearly doubled to 34.3 points per game.
But if there's one thing Michigan has on its side, it's experience. Seventeen starters are returning, according to Phil Steele. Another returning player is safety Jabrill Peppers, the former blue-chip recruit who had his '14 season cut short because of a leg injury.
Michigan hasn't been great in close games over the past couple of years—it's basically been a coin flip—but the important thing is that they've been in those situations. As former Wolverines lineman Jon Jansen said at a Michigan Alumni Alumni Association luncheon recently, per James Gensterblum of the Petoskey News-Review, that experience should pay off with Harbaugh's brand of mental toughness:
Regardless of who was coaching this team, we would be a much better team this year just because of the experience these guys have gained. There's no way to simulate what it's like being on the field, and when you're an 18 or 19-year old kid running out of the tunnel to face 110,000 screaming fans, it's overwhelming.
Once you've gotten a year or two under your belt, you're not overwhelmed anymore, you're thinking about your assignment and focused on taking on the guy across from you. The game starts to slow down for you, and when you're playing fast and everything around you is slow, then everything is going to go better for you.
That's it. That's how Michigan upsets Michigan State and/or Ohio State. It's not terribly complex, but that doesn't make it easy, either. The Buckeyes and Spartans are the Big Ten's best right now and either could be playoff-bound next season. Michigan is simply trying to get things turned around in the right direction.
Beating either one of those teams is about bringing them down to Michigan's level, not the other way around.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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Ahmir Mitchell is a 4-star athlete, per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is uncommitted. Mitchell is an explosive player who will make an immediate impact at the next level.
Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives his odds on where this 2016 stud will go to college.
Where do you think Mitchell will play at the next level? Check out the video and let us know!
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It's summertime and your team—yes, you, the fan of a team who lost everybody off of its depth chart—is a stone cold, lead pipe lock to win the SEC, correct?
Well, it's not that easy.
Upsets happen, major injuries occur and sometimes coaches forget the intricacies of proper clock management. We will account for all of those variables in our optimistic, pessimistic and realistic prediction slideshow for the SEC in 2015.
Over the past few years, college football has become an increasingly offensive-oriented game. Spread offenses like Auburn, Clemson, Oregon and TCU's have piled up points from coast to coast, making the game truly fun for fans to watch.
With that said, there’s still room for power rushers who chew up three yards and a cloud of dust (or 50 yards and paydirt) each time out and powerful passing games that feature dropback signal-callers who’ll fit right into any NFL offense. The point? Offenses rule the game, and having talented offensive players on your roster is paramount to sustained success.
Here’s a look at the best offensive players in each FBS conference. Players were selected for their on-field impact, as well as their potential to make a difference for their respective teams in 2015.
According to the Baton Rouge Advocate's Ross Dellenger, LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings was arrested on Thursday for unauthorized entry of a dwelling.
Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee explains what this means for the LSU QB battle.
Who will be the starting signal-caller for LSU in 2015? Check out the video and let us know!
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The Tennessee Volunteers' back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes probably won't have company in 2016.
When a program gets a complete makeover the way the Vols have in coach Butch Jones' first two classes—signing 62 players, which is more than two-thirds of a roster—the numbers game catches up eventually.
That's what is expected to happen this year.
With a monster class of in-state players and prospects the Vols coaching staff has established relationships with set for 2017, this year's haul may be slimmer than normal.
The final ranking could suffer because of that too.
Given the relatively slow start from a rankings standpoint (Tennessee is currently ranked 16th nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings and seventh in the SEC) and considering UT already has 12 commitments, the team can't make a massive jump up the charts.
While Jones recruits well enough that a top-20 class is virtually guaranteed, sneaking into the top 15 may be a tall task unless there's considerable turnover in the current class or several prospects receive ratings bumps.
GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan sees a sunnier outlook.
"It's hard to say where Tennessee might finish in the final rankings, at least in part because we don't know for sure how many players the Vols might end up signing," Callahan told B/R. "Their preference would be to sign a class of around 18 as of right now, but it's always possible that they could squeeze in a couple more guys if they feel they need to.
"If they stick with that plan and sign somewhere around 18, I would expect Tennessee to finish somewhere between 11 and 15 in the final team rankings. It's going to be tough for the Vols to sign a pretty small class that's still deep enough to finish in the top 10. That's just the reality of the situation.
"That doesn't mean they can't still sign 18 really good players and have a nice class. But it's going to be tough to crack the top 10 unless they decide to sign a class of 20-plus players."
Perhaps UT's ceiling for this class would be signing one comparable to what the UCLA Bruins did in the 2015 cycle.
Coach Jim Mora signed 19 players, but the class featured three 5-star prospects, 10 4-stars and six 3-stars and finished 12th.
A more logical comparison based on the Vols' current commits (four 4-stars and eight 3-stars) may be what Ole Miss and Oregon did last year in 22-player classes that wound up 16th and 17th, respectively.
Also, a glimpse of the 2014 rankings shows that Stanford, Clemson, UCLA and Michigan all finished ranked in the top 20 with 20 or fewer commitments.
It can be done, but the Vols need a big finish.
Considering there are at least a couple of players on the commitment list who likely won't be there on national signing day, there's some wiggle room. But another talk-of-national-signing-day finish like the last couple of years is not expected.
That hasn't kept analysts from raving about what Jones has done with limited space thus far:
Here are a few targets Tennessee could sign who would send it surging up the rankings.
The top-ranked running back in the nation and 4-star Ohio State commitment from New Jersey is good friends with UT quarterback commit Jarrett Guarantano. He plans on visiting the Vols soon, and as OSU has two other potential running backs already committed in this class, it's not outside the realm of possibility that Jones could steal him. Still, at this point, it's wishful thinking.
Like Walker, Gary hails from New Jersey. Like Walker, he's a long shot to commit to Tennessee (nobody has picked the Vols on the Crystal Ball). But he also has ties to Guarantano, and he's expected to visit UT. If the Vols could somehow convince the nation's top-ranked player to come to Knoxville, they'd surge up the rankings.
After the 4-star running back recently decommitted from Georgia, 100 percent of the Crystal Ball projections have him heading to Knoxville. Tennessee desperately needs a running back (or two) in this class, and the staff loves him. If he can qualify, he'd be a perfect fit for this class. He is a power back who also possesses breakaway speed and elite all-around ability. Alabama is also interested.
Brown is monstrous defensive tackle prospect from the Peach State who is big and athletic and somewhat comparable to Trent Thompson from a season ago. He had Georgia out front early, and the Bulldogs are still in the top group with usual suspects Alabama and Auburn. But after visiting Knoxville this past weekend, the 5-star told Callahan he "definitely" wants to get back up there soon, so UT is in this race.
One of the three most realistic huge targets on this list, Warrior is a Tennessee legacy (his father, Dale Carter, is a UT legend) who once referred to the Vols as his leader. Like Brown with Georgia, the star safety has since backed off that statement, but the Vols are in his lead group with teams such as Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and others. UT should be in this battle until the end.
Williams is another prospect many SEC teams have offered, and Jones seems to have the Vols positioned well for the defensive back's signature early in the process. The UT head coach has a strong track record of keeping coveted stars in state, and Williams fits both of those categories. He'd help Tennessee's final ranking, and he's a must-get for the staff.
Toss this cluster of targets into a group of many more, and you see that Tennessee could make a positive move between now and national signing day. And that list doesn't include the 10 or so 4-star receivers who include UT in their lists of favorites.
You have to figure the Vols will land at least a couple of them.
During the past couple of recruiting cycles, Tennessee heated up with the weather. The Vols are about to run a stretch of camps that was productive for them a year ago, starting with this weekend's "Orange Carpet Day."
UT has experienced a strong past couple of weeks with commitments from two JUCO targets who were high on the want list. Receiver Jeff George and defensive tackle Alexis Johnson committed to the Vols, giving Jones important targets at positions where immediate assistance will be needed in 2016.
Local tight end Austin Pope, whose stock has risen recently with offers from teams such as Missouri, Arkansas and Nebraska, pledged less than a week after receiving an offer from UT. The Christian Academy of Knoxville produced Vols Josh Smith and Brett Kendrick in recent years, and now Pope will make a third.
All three of those players are 3-star prospects, but UT didn't hesitate in taking them, regardless of the shortage of spots in the class. So, that should tell you all you need to know about how concerned coaches are with rankings.
The past two years, the Vols were the talk of college football, seemingly rising from the ashes to become a major name in recruiting again. They may go about it more quietly this year, but that doesn't mean they're struggling to promote their brand.
They're just facing the reality of having a young roster loaded with underclassmen and limited spots for players in this class.
The end result may not cause the gurus to gush, but the Vols are putting together a solid class.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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Now roughly 11 weeks from the start of the 2015 college football season, we can begin to see the horizon. And it's dotted with stadiums, tailgating and pre- and postgame shows—all there to entertain us and carry us through the fall.
There's nothing left to do but wait, at least for the fans. College coaches, however, still have plenty left to do.
Coaches are making the final arrangements to ensure the next crop of incoming recruits arrive without incident. They're tinkering with the playbook and drawing up early depth charts. And that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as what coaches still have to worry about this offseason.
Each coach and team has its own specific concerns and challenges to deal with over the summer. We've identified the biggest one for every power-conference team (and Notre Dame) and explain what impact this issue could have on the 2015 season.
It's been a period of transition throughout this offseason for head coach Jim Mora and the UCLA football team.
The program has bid adieu to integral members of the roster (Brett Hundley, Eric Kendricks, Owa Odighizuwa). Dually, there's been a change at one of the coordinator spots.
There have also been some problems surfacing—which include a suspension of a coach and legal problems for a highly prized recruit.
Accordingly, this piece will delve into the biggest offseason news for the UCLA Bruins.