NCAA Football

Does Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh Have Harder QB Decision to Make?

Two of the top jobs in college football are head coach at Ohio State and Michigan. Frankly, though, you shouldn't envy Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh.

For completely opposite reasons, both coaches have a quarterback quandary on their hands.

Godspeed, gentlemen.

Not every quarterback battle is fought the same way, but Meyer and Harbaugh have compelling storylines in front of them.

Ohio State is fortunate enough to have three quarterbacks who can win it all. Michigan is trying to find one right now. It's been several years since the Wolverines have had a top-flight signal-caller. Is there one on the roster or will Michigan go another year struggling under center?

Both are tough decisions in their own right, but which coach—Meyer or Harbaugh—has the tougher challenge?

The case for each is made below.

 

The Case for Urban Meyer/Ohio State

Meyer might have the best problem of any coach in college football: He has too many good quarterbacks. How many other programs can say that right now?

Braxton Miller is a two-time Big Ten MVP and one of the most decorated players in conference history. JT Barrett went 11-1 as a redshirt freshman last season and actually surpassed Miller's numbers from 2013. Cardale Jones won a national championship as part of an unforgettable three-game stretch into the postseason.

Miller and Barrett are still nursing shoulder and foot injuries, respectively, so Jones has been getting a majority of the reps.

However, as Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod noted in last week's practice report, Barrett is further along in the recovery process.

"He’s doing more than I thought," Meyer told Axelrod.

Assuming all three quarterbacks stay at Ohio State past the spring, the competition will really heat up in preseason practice. While it's always possible more than one quarterback will see the field, Meyer is going to have to choose a starter eventually.

That decision may not come for several months, but even thinking about it is starting to weigh on him.

"That's the only thing that's starting to eat away at me a little bit," Meyer told Axelrod. "It didn't for a while because you're just so busy. But now that I'm seeing what I'm seeing, I have such great respect for all three guys."

Jones may have the momentum now, but it's possible that will change in a matter of months. What would Meyer do then? Trust the healthiest quarterback? Trust his most experienced player?

Sometimes, how a quarterback practices and how he plays when the lights are brightest are two different things.

Barrett, Jones and Miller all bring something different to the table. Barrett is a natural locker room leader, which is remarkable for someone as young as he is. Jones has a cannon for an arm and brings a bruising running style to the offense. Miller can beat anyone with his legs.

If you're Meyer, you don't want to wait too long before making a choice. Each quarterback demands the respect of his teammates. Coaches have to allow that chemistry to materialize.

 

The Case for Jim Harbaugh/Michigan

Unlike Meyer, Harbaugh is still getting to know his players and what they're capable of doing. He's been on the job for three months and has spent even less time with the quarterbacks in person.

Beyond that, Harbaugh has been filling in the gaps with tape study—and that's limited at best. Only junior-to-be Shane Morris has any sort of game experience (14-of-40 passing with three interceptions in 2014).

However, Harbaugh is starting anew. What happened last season matters little, if at all. What can each quarterback prove now?

"We're still trying to figure out who the best players are right now," Harbaugh told The Associated Press (h/t USA Today) in February. "And their best position. We don't know what everyone's best position is, or who the best players are at those positions. That'll be a process."

Morris has a great arm and all the talent in the world, but his development is still a work in progress. For what it's worth, MGoBlog's Bryan Fuller noted that early enrollee Alex Malzone—not Morris—was the first quarterback taken in Michigan's spring game draft last week:

Does that mean Malzone is the front-runner to start? Not necessarily, but it is an interesting development and something to keep an eye on.

Michigan's quarterback battle will hardly be solved by next month, however. As Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com writes, possibly two more quarterbacks will be joining the team this summer. One of them could be Iowa transfer Jake Rudock:

The team's working with three scholarship quarterbacks in spring, but those players know full well that another player (Zach Gentry) will join their room in the fall to begin competing, and if the coaching staff gets its way, a fifth eligible scholarship quarterback (Jake Rudock) will be there, too.

There are already plenty of new faces for Harbaugh. If he gets his way, he's going to add a couple more. This competition feels like it could go all the way down to a game-time, Week 1 decision.

 

The Verdict

Ohio State's quarterback competition will dominate the offseason headlines. It already has, in fact. But here's a guarantee regarding any position battle: Someone is going to be disappointed.

Yes, Meyer has a tough job ahead. Telling possibly as many as two players they won't be the No. 1 guy even though they've already proven themselves isn't something to be envied.

However, he knows what he has in each player. As last season proved, Meyer can legitimately be confident in any quarterback if there's an injury. Even if one of the three transfers, Meyer has a legitimate Plan B.

Harbaugh isn't so fortunate right now. For that reason, Harbaugh has the tougher task ahead of him.

It's true that Harbaugh is building up the Wolverines program to a level on which it once stood. For that, he's given some leeway. For all anyone knows, Michigan's quarterback of the future may not be on the roster yet.

But he has to choose someone, and with that decision comes expectations. The Wolverines are in bad enough shape that no one is realistically expecting them to compete for a divisional title—let alone anything else—in 2015.

With that said, fans should want to see some improvement at quarterback. This is, after all, Harbaugh's wheelhouse.

Choosing a starter isn't always easy, but Ohio State has virtually taken the guesswork out of it. There's far more of an unknown factor with the choices in front of Harbaugh.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Continues to Outshine the SEC Early on 2016 Recruiting Trail

A largely successful 2014 season at Ole Miss may have ended in disappointing fashion, but head coach Hugh Freeze and his Rebels haven't sacrificed an ounce of momentum on the recruiting trail.

Ole Miss is off to an outstanding start in the 2016 cycle, claiming 11 commitments from throughout the Southeast. Freeze further strengthened this haul Sunday when 4-star Georgia defensive end Charles Wiley announced his pledge :

The 6'2 ½", 234-pound prospect recorded 57 tackles—including 17 for loss—and 18 sacks as a junior at Stockbridge High School, per MaxPreps. He is rated 11th nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Ole Miss has developed a national reputation for its "Landshark" defensive attack. Wiley is the latest top-tier defender enthused about an opportunity to develop within the aggressive scheme.

“It played a part. It did. That shows that they’re a group of winners, a group of lions," he told David Johnson of 247Sports when asked if the "Landshark" attack attracted him to Ole Miss. "You’ve got to surround yourself with lions. You’ve got to. You have to be around people that want the same thing as you do.”

His statement echoes the sentiments of 5-star Alabama linebacker Ben Davis, who included Ole Miss among his favorites during a late February discussion with Bleacher Report.

"I've watched a lot of their games and I like the way they hit," Davis said. "A lot of those guys on defense have a mean streak. I like their style."

The Rebels are set to further enhance that defensive prowess with a 2016 recruiting class that currently rates third in 247Sports' national composite rankings, ahead of all SEC opponents.

Wiley joins a group that already includes top junior college linebacker David Luafatasaga and 4-star defensive tackle Benito Jones, an in-state talent who initially committed to Alabama last summer.

While Ole Miss continues to make strides on defense, it's what the Rebels have been able to accomplish offensively in this recruiting class that should really rev up fans. 

Freeze beat out LSU and USC for 5-star Louisiana quarterback Shea Patterson in February.

The 6'2", 195-pound passer posted staggering statistics since his sophomore season at Calvary Baptist Academy, collecting 5,400 total yards, 78 touchdowns and just seven interceptions during a two-year span.

His presence creates a potentially elite tandem in the passing game, as Patterson joins Ole Miss legacy and longtime commit DeKaylin Metcalf. He is among this cycle's premier receivers and caught 19 touchdowns in 2014, per MaxPreps.

Ole Miss also holds pledges from a pair of 4-star running backs—Justin Connor and Denzel Mitchell—and top-tier tight end prospect Octavious Cooley, who is rated fourth among players at the position.

With Patterson now entrenched as a class leader, expect more offensive weapons to elevate their interest in the program.

Rated third nationally among pro-style quarterbacks, he's the kind of recruit college programs have coveted since his earliest days as a starter. Ole Miss ultimately bested all others in a contested pursuit for his commitment. 

"I've been to all three [finalists] and to a game at each place," Patterson told B/R's Damon Sayles after his announcement. "Whenever I go to a game, I try to visualize myself in their uniform and with their fans. I try to get that sense of can I see myself playing there. I only saw it with one school."

In order to compete for conference and national titles, Ole Miss is attempting to make Oxford an SEC destination just as desirable as Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa.

“I’ve had people tell me Ole Miss was the place," Wiley told Johnson. "I had to go down and see for myself that Ole Miss was the place. It is the place.”

Freeze hopes his campus becomes "the place" for plenty more blue-chip prospects as things progress.

A strong start toward national signing day has the Rebels sitting atop recruiting rankings in a conference that annually draws more talent than all the rest. Sustained success in that department will set the stage for lofty expectations in Oxford for years to come.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Everything You Need to Know About NFL Draft Prospect Jameis Winston

He's a can't-miss, blue-chip prospect entering a league that's never been hungrier for signal-calling talent. He's about to become the face and foundation of an NFL franchise.

On March 31, Jameis Winston and his Florida State teammates will be put through their paces for NFL scouts, coaches and executives in desperate need of a quarterback with his skill set. He'll be measured and tested, go through drills and workouts.

Many athletes look at their pro day as a chance to show teams what they can do—but Winston knows the teams know what he can do. They know he'll be excellent. They'll watch him go through the motions, tick off the boxes, look calm and confident in the process.

More than anything, they're looking for reasons not to love him. They're looking for holes in his game, cracks in his facade, any indication whatsoever he might not play up to his sky-high draft status and attendant contract. Anything less than effortless perfection could theoretically cause his stock to tumble, as Teddy Bridgewater's did last year.

Per a Twitter post by quarterback guru George Whitfeld Jr., Winston's not taking any chances in his preparation:

In reality, if teams aren't already sold on Winston, no amount of shorts-and-compression-shirt excellence will win them over. If they haven't already written him off, no amount of practice-bubble disappointment will scare them away.

On the field, Winston's as close to a sure thing as there is in this draft.

 

Far and Away

His production was incredible: He threw for a whopping 7,964 yards and 65 touchdowns in just two years as a starter. He led Florida State to a 26-1 record over that span, including a national championship. He completed 66 percent of his passes, had a 2.3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 163.5 passer efficiency rating—ninth best in the country over that span, per Sports-Reference.com.

If there's any reason to doubt Winston's numbers, it's that he not only failed to improve from his first season to his second, he regressed:

In his redshirt freshman year, he finished first in both average yards per attempt and passer rating, threw touchdowns at an incredible 10.4 percent clip, and threw just one pick for every four. He won the Heisman Trophy, was a consensus All-American and took home essentially every college football award for which he was eligible.

As a sophomore, Winston was asked to do more by himself. He threw an average of 11 more times per game (a 44 percent increase!), and his efficiency numbers plummeted. Unlike 2014's top-rated passer, Marcus Mariota, Winston ran a pro-style system that required him to progress through multiple reads and pick apart defenses.

As Miller said, the regression shows Winston's field reading isn't quite as outstanding as last year's best rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater:

Unlike Bridgewater, or fellow 2014 first-rounder Johnny Manziel, there are no questions about whether Winston's got the body to survive and succeed at the highest level.

 

Top Gun

At 6'4", 230 pounds, he's got a classic NFL passer's frame. His "anticipation, arm strength and vision" caused Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller to declare Winston the No. 1 draft prospect of 2015.

Despite prodigious athletic talent that allowed him to star in two sports for Florida State, Winston didn't test well at the combine. He's far from a pocket statue, but he's not a serious running threat, either; his 4.97-second 40-yard dash time and lackluster explosion numbers bear that out, per NFL.com.

That combine disappointment didn't last long. His sparkling performance in passing drills caused Miller to gush Winston showed the world "how a franchise QB looks in workouts," per WGN Radio.

Off the field, Winston is bright, charming and well liked by his teammates. He's also destructive, reckless, a petty thief and accused rapist.

 

Collateral Damage

According to an article by Fox Sports' Kevin Vaughan (called "Jameis Winston Incidents Timeline," which should tell you something), Winston had a string of run-ins with the law at Florida State.

There were two separate incidents of misusing pellet or BB guns, for which there were $4,000 in damages to his apartment building but no filed charges. Police were called to a Burger King where Winston had been filling a gratis water cup with unpaid-for pop. In 2014, he was cited for stealing crab legs from a Publix grocery store.

Even under increasing public scrutiny, and some scouts already calling him "radioactive," per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, Winston couldn't lay low. In fact, he jumped on a table in a student common area and shouted an obscenity-laden phrase.

In 2012, Winston was accused of rape. It took two years, and heavy public criticism of the university's investigation, for Winston to face charges of any kind. As detailed by Vice Sports' Jessica Luther, and the official transcript she obtained, the two-day Student Conduct Code hearing he eventually received was a full of mixed-up and improper procedure. As Luther wrote, given the evidence and testimony, it's "unclear" how the judge came to the decision to clear Winston.

Assuming justice was served in each of these incidents, none are enough to preclude Winston from starring in the NFL.

As a pattern of behavior, though, it's extremely troubling, especially for a would-be franchise quarterback. As we've seen recently, even superstars at other positions can be traded or released for egregious behavior.

Quarterbacks are different.

 

Risky Business

For whatever team drafts Winston, he'll be the only player who handles the ball on every play, the only player whose face we frequently see on camera, the player most likely to be tabbed for interviews and commercials. A No. 1 overall pick quarterback, as he's likely to be, will be synonymous with his franchise for years—for better or worse. 

Winston is skipping the NFL draft extravaganza, ostensibly preferring to be with friends and family. We can only surmise Winston and his handlers think avoiding the public scrutiny (and maybe boos) that will come with his selection as a bonus.

But the Jameis Winston Era of whatever franchise drafts him won't start with a flashy suit, a firm embrace of Roger Goodell and a hoisted team jersey with his name on the back. If he's willing to be pressured out of the moment most players dream of living, how will he handle the day-to-day pressure of the NFL?

"[I] use football as my sanctuary," Winston told reporters in his first media availability since being cleared of sexual misconduct charges, per Natalie Pierre of AL.com. "As long as I have football in my life and as long as I have a great family, what people say is never going to bother me."

We've already seen that football can shelter Winston from his off-field troubles. The scouts calling Winston "radioactive" last summer fell silent as he carried the Seminoles deep into the playoffs. Maybe some will be there at Winston's pro day, ooh-ing and ahh-ing along with the rest.

 

Tropical Thunder

If he does in his pro day what he did at the combine, he'll again squash any doubts about who the best quarterback in this class is. Winston's size and arm will be a sight for sore eyes. Like Blake Bortles, last year's No. 3 overall pick, Winston is blessed with the classic physical success markers evaluators go crazy for.

His high floor and high ceiling will tempt nearly every team; even if he somehow slips past No. 1 overall, teams will be frantically outbidding each other to get up to No. 2.

It won't take long for Winston to make an impact. He'll certainly step on the field and start from day one. As seen in this locker room video, he's a natural leader who knows how to get his teammates to play hard and stay loose.

It's easy to see Winston being quickly named a captain and ingratiating himself not just to his teammates and coaches, but the community where he plays. If, as expected, he goes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he'll be playing where all of his most ardent supporters already live.

The Buccaneers had Winston in for a visit, per the team's official site, and general manager Jason Licht was effusive in his praise.

"He's lively, he's engaging, he's incredibly smart. He confirmed all the things we thought about him going into this process," Licht said. "With an important pick we are non-stop still digging into everything about these players," he continued. "We're still going to utilize the time that we have and make sure that we're making the right decision."

The Buccaneers may yet decide the risk associated with drafting Winston outweighs the likelihood he'll be successful—but even if they do, another team will happily take that gamble.

As long as he stays on the path laid out ahead of him, Winston has the ability to leave all his problems behind.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami QB Brad Kaaya Greatly Improved After First Spring; Expect Huge Numbers

The Miami Hurricanes, coming off a disappointing 2014 season, are wrapping up spring practices. One major storyline from the spring has been the solid play of sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who is experiencing his first spring at Miami. 

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson was joined by CanesInSight.com co-owner Peter Ariz as they discussed Kaaya's ongoing development, the running back battle and the 'Canes defense. 

Where will the Hurricanes finish next season? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Hype Is Real: Defensive Duo Turning Heads in Camp Season

Out at the latest regional in New Orleans, LA., there were a bevy of highly touted recruits battling it out to get on the map and secure their spot in the top of the recruiting ranks. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder was there firsthand evaluating the talent, where he watched two recruits separate themselves from the pack. 

Where will these two studs land at the next level? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Insider Breakdown: LSU Poised to Land Stellar 2016 and 2017 Classes

LSU is never short of fantastic recruits, and its next two classes are no different. LSU is stacked for 2016, while the Tigers' 2017 class might be their best one in years. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder runs down his impact recruits for the LSU Tigers. 

What kind of class will LSU have? Check out the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Spring Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling?

It's hard to glean much insight from spring practice.

This far removed from the season, reports are overwhelmingly positive—every single player looks great!—which makes it hard to distinguish whose stock is truly rising. Conversely, because so few reports skew negative, it's rare to find a player whose stock is falling.

Despite this, certain players, coaches and teams alter their stocks during spring ball each year—and not just as a result of over-coverage. The key is reading reports with a discerning eye. An assistant coach raving about a freshman is encouraging, but when every assistant coach on every team is raving about every freshman, that praise must be taken for what it is: mostly hollow.

The following risers and fallers were deemed meaningful. The moves they've made this offseason do not feel like overreactions. Spring ball is still young, so a lot of this will change based on the rest of the camps and spring games, but for now, these figures stand out.

We'll reassess at the end of April, once most teams have completed their spring games.

Begin Slideshow

Oklahoma Football: How Keith Ford's Suspension Impacts Sooners' RB Depth

There may not be a deeper, more talented running back depth chart in the Big 12 than the one Oklahoma has. However, at any given time, it seems the Sooners only have a few of those running backs available. 

On Monday, head coach Bob Stoops announced that junior-to-be Keith Ford had been suspended indefinitely for academic reasons as well as a violation of team rules. According to Jon Shinn of the Norman Transcript, Ford is no longer on the team's online roster: 

Before suffering a foot injury early last season, Ford was the team's leading rusher and scored multiple touchdowns in the first three games. However, said injury ended up paving the way for freshman Samaje Perine to break out with 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia. Perine would go on to lead the Big 12 with 1,713 rushing yards as one of the true impact freshmen in college football. 

Ford didn't score a rushing touchdown for the rest of the season and served as a complementary back. 

As long as Perine is healthy, the Sooners are in good hands. Where Ford's absence is felt is in the depth chart. 

Available bodies can be at a premium in the spring anyway. Seniors and NFL-eligible underclassmen are gone, but not everyone from the incoming recruiting class is on campus. Plus, there's your usual attrition—injuries, transfers, suspensions and the like—and Oklahoma has hit the jackpot with all three in recent months. 

David Smith is transferring to Jacksonville State, according to an Instagram post. Early enrollee Rodney Anderson, a 4-star member of the '15 class according to 247Sports, sustained a sprained MCL and will miss the rest of spring practices. Anderson was getting "rave reviews" from the coaching staff and teammates, according to Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman

Still, the Sooners have options. Perine, Alex Ross, Joe Mixon and rarely-used backup Daniel Brooks are available. Mixon, a former blue-chip recruit in the '14 class, was suspended for all of last season after he was charged on a count of misdemeanor acts resulting in gross injury. He'll participate in practices but will not play in the spring game

New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley knows the backfield is his team's best position, and he's creative enough to use those players in a variety of ways. From an interview with Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman in February: 

We have five or six guys that can play. I think it's gonna be fun figuring out different ways to use those guys. This offense can look so many different ways. There's been years when we're right there at 50-50; there's been years when we've run it more than we've thrown it. I don't know how this one's gonna turn out. I do know we're gonna use all our skill guys and our best players are gonna touch the ball. I'm very aware of the talent that we have back there. They've done a great job recruiting running backs here, and that's arguably maybe the most talented room on the entire team. … That's the beauty of this thing; we can adapt to what our guys do well. You can make sure your best players are touching the ball and this offense can look however it needs to look.

That doesn't change even if Ford is absent. Assuming Anderson's timeline to return remains on schedule, Oklahoma's running back depth should be at or near 100 percent by the time preseason practices get underway. 

Ford is a veteran player who has at times been a key contributor. However, Oklahoma is more than capable of handling his absence, however long it may be. 

So long as the Sooners can weather the attrition in the spring, they should have one of the most formidable backfields in college football in the fall. Undoubtedly, Stoops is driving the point home to his running backs once the offseason hits: Take care of your body, take care of your school work and don't get into any trouble. 

Do that, and Oklahoma will be in good shape. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

There aren't many receivers in the 2016 class with an offer list as impressive as 4-star Atlanta area standout Josh Imatorbhebhe.

While powers such as Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Ohio State gave offers to the 6’2”, 205-pounder, in-state schools Georgia and Georgia Tech were conspicuously missing from his list of suitors. 

That changed last week as the Bulldogs extended an offer to the nation's No. 256 prospect overall.

It is one that is important for many reasons, one of which is the fact that Imatorbhebhe is part of a close-knit group of stud recruits from the Peach State who are seriously considering the Bulldogs.

“We're all really close because we all really want to see each other do well,” Imatorbhebhe told Bleacher Report at the Nike Atlanta Opening Regional camp. “I've known most of these guys since I've been in grade school. Me and Derrick Brown, we played on the same basketball team when we were 7 and 8 years old.”

While his brother, Daniel, signed with Florida last year, Imatorbhebhe noted that he will give serious consideration to each school that offers him. He also gave a hint as to one factor that will help him ultimately make his decision.

“I really want to go to a place, not where they want me, but where they need me,” Imatorbhebhe said. “A lot of places say they want you, but they want you to fill a slot if something happens. I want to go to a place that needs me. A place that needs my position so I can go in and play early.”

 

Oklahoma Offers 4-Star QB

Austin Kendall has become a hot commodity since backing off his initial commitment to Tennessee earlier this month.

The 4-star passer, who rates as the nation's No. 8 pro-style passer in the 2016 class, was offered by Oklahoma during his trip to Norman for an unofficial visit last weekend.

The Sooners didn't take a quarterback in their 2015 class, which makes signing a quarterback among the top priorities for Bob Stoops and his staff in the current cycle.

Kentucky is another school heavily involved with the North Carolina product, who threw for 4,461 yards and 49 touchdowns as a junior.

 

Ohio State Offers 4-Star Texas LB

Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes signed a trio of stud linebackers in the 2015 class, led by 5-star standout Justin Hilliard.

The Buckeyes are after another top linebacker in 4-star Texas product Dontavious Jackson, who earned an offer from Meyer and his staff last week. 

Jackson is the nation's fourth-best inside linebacker and the No. 124 prospect overall in the 2016 class.

Jackson—whose lengthy offer list includes tenders from suitors such as Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M, among others—racked up 165 tackles as a junior.

 

UCLA After USC LB Commit

UCLA picked up a huge commitment last week from in-state 4-star linebacker Lokeni Toailoa—who picked the Bruins over USC, Utah and Washington among others, as noted by Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

Jim Mora and his staff continued their pursuit of elite linebackers by offering 2016 4-star linebacker and current USC pledge Daelin Hayes.

The 6’4”, 250-pounder is the top prospect from the state of Michigan in 2016, and the nation's No. 82 player overall. 

Hayes told Scott Schrader of FightOn247 last month that he is solid in his pledge to the Trojans.

However, considering the linebacker class that UCLA is building with Toailoa and fellow 4-star pledge Krys Barnes, the Bruins will have an appealing pitch to make to Hayes in the coming months.

 

Best of the Rest

  • 2016 3-star offensive lineman Josh Ball picked up an offer from Miami.
  • 2016 4-star JUCO linebacker and current Florida State pledge Tyree Horton picked up an offer from Texas A&M

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Are Malik Zaire Brash Comments on QB Competition Good for Notre Dame Team?

Malik Zaire wants to be Notre Dame's starting quarterback. 

While most Irish fans are already theorizing on the best time-share arrangement for Zaire and Everett Golson, Zaire is trying his best to win the job outright. And he doesn't care who knows it. 

"It's not the ideal situation," Zaire said when asked about splitting snaps. "At the end of the day, there’s only one Captain Jack Sparrow of the offense."

Zaire is a product of his generation, picking Johnny Deep's boozy, makeup-wearing pirate captain over Christopher Lambert's time-traveling Highlander ("There can be only one"). But whatever movie reference you choose, the confident rising redshirt sophomore has good reason to believe he can lead this offense. 

Zaire made the most of his chances after a frustrating 2014 season spent glued to the sideline. After head coach Brian Kelly finally pulled Golson in the second quarter of the regular-season finale against USC, Zaire ran the offense (albeit in garbage time) with a renewed energy.

That led to Zaire getting the start in the Music City Bowl against LSU. And the young quarterback responded by leading a power running attack as the Irish sprung the upset.

That victory turned the tide of the offseason and also turned the focus of spring practice onto the quarterbacks, one of the more intriguing position battles to hit South Bend in years. 

But don't tell that to anybody inside the program. Any Golson vs. Zaire showdown we had hoped for this spring isn't happening.  

With new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford getting his first look at his quarterbacks and returning the focus to the fundamentals, Sanford and Kelly have taken the oxygen out of a fiery situation—likely by design. 

That's kept both Zaire and Golson from focusing on their competition and instead elevating their play at a position critical to Notre Dame's success. 

"I'm not really competing with anybody but myself at this point or moving forward," Zaire said over the weekend. "I need to continue to focus on getting better as a leader and as a communicator of the offense. And I think we're doing a good job of that in the spring and moving forward." 

But spend even a few seconds watching Zaire as a quarterback, and you see a player with the confidence and belief that this team will succeed if he's in charge of it. And that self-belief and natural leadership ability could be distracting inside a program that could find itself divided between quarterbacks. 

But Zaire's attitude is exactly what Notre Dame needs this spring. After Kelly continued to play Golson even after the mistakes piled up, Zaire's late-season performance sent a message to Kelly, the offensive coaching staff and his teammates that he was ready to perform if Golson wasn't. 

That competitive spirit is driving spring practice. After a 1-5 swoon imploded the Irish's hopes in 2014, there isn't a position on this roster that's safe, and Zaire is the face of the much-needed uprising. 

Every coach preaches competition. But when your backup quarterback does it, you can't help but see a roster improve. 

"Every day, you've got to bring it. And I think that's important within the team and at every position," Zaire said. "Coach Kelly says is best, he looks for people with production. It's not about the name any more, it's not about what you say in interviews, it's about production. And that's what I'm focusing on, producing and making plays and doing what it takes to win championships."

Zaire still has work to do. As a passer, he's far less polished than Golson. That was on display over the weekend, as multiplereports pointed to Golson's superiority throwing the football. 

He also needs to continue to focus on practicing better, with Zaire sounding like he took these words from his head coach to heart. 

"I think Malik has to continue to lead," Kelly said. “He has to continue to show that he has not only game-day skills, but the practice skills necessary to lead our football team.

"We may have gotten to Malik a little bit sooner if we had seen some of the natural leadership abilities that he showed on the sideline during the LSU game, if we had seen those things during practice. He showed he has that in him. Now, it has to be on display both in practice and not just in games."

As we've seen this spring, that message has been received. And while Zaire's confidence is drawing headlines, why should we expect anything different? Exactly one year ago today, Zaire essentially said the same thing

So while his eyes are locked in on the starting job, Zaire is all about the team and reaching the lofty goals the Irish have set for themselves in 2015. 

"Whoever gets the opportunity...I want them to do well," Zaire said. "Because we're all trying to get the same thing, and that's the national championship." 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

CFB Bracketology: Who Is the New Face of College Football?

Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston are gone. Who is going to fill the void left by those superstars as the next face of college football?

Adam Lefkoe is joined by Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer to give his bracketology answer to who he thinks will be the face of CFB. 

Who do you think is the next face? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Keith Ford Suspended Indefinitely: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Oklahoma running back Keith Ford has been suspended indefinitely by the school for an undisclosed violation of team rules and academic issues, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops confirmed Monday (via Oklahoma Football's Twitter account):  

Ford, who is heading into his junior season, rushed for 392 yards and five touchdowns last season. He was widely expected to compete with Alex Ross, Joe Mixon and a cabal of others for carries behind breakout star Samaje Perine. 

Stoops did not give any additional information for the reasoning behind Ford's suspension. The school is bound by student-athlete privacy, so any additional details will likely take some time to be released.

Ford was one of the nation's best prep running backs in the 2013 class, ranking fourth in 247Sports' composite rankings. Given the depth the Sooners have at running back, it's unlikely their offense fades too much in Ford's absence. Perine and Ross combined for more than 2,000 yards in 2014, and Mixon was the top overall running back in last year's class.

With five months between now and Oklahoma's season opener against Akron, it's also very possible Ford's off-the-field troubles will be resolved.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With his proclamation that several of his more experienced players will sit out the majority of practice, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer knew he might be in for a sloppy spring.

But while Meyer may not have been thrilled with the effort the Buckeyes gave on their first day back from spring break last week, there still wasn't any shortage of excitement to be found inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during OSU's second week of spring practice.

 

Sloppy Start

Meyer didn't mince words when it came to describing the Buckeyes' third practice of the spring session last Tuesday, admitting that spring break may have gotten the best of his players. Then again, part of Meyer's message sounded like one of his typical motivational tools, a reminder complacency won't be tolerated following Ohio State's national title season.

“Discomfort is good. And there’s a little discomfort right now. That was not a good day,” Meyer said. “Complacency is comfort. I equate the two. Discomfort is a learning opportunity. Our coaches know that. So there’s going to be discomfort right now."

One reasonable explanation for the Buckeyes' lackluster third practice was the head coach's decision to rest the majority of his players who have nothing left to prove this spring. Deemed the "2,000 club," the fourth-year Ohio State head coach said that players who have accumulated close to 2,000 combined competitive reps in practices and games will be rested in an effort to preserve their health for the fall.

"We’re on the cutting edge of just being smart about the wear and tear the student-athlete goes through,” Meyer said.

That's especially led to issues on the Buckeyes offensive line, where Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein and Jacoby Boren all qualify for the 2,000 club. Meyer admitted that Ohio State is losing some chemistry on the unit by pulling back three starters, but doesn't anticipate it being an issue come fall.

The good news, however, is that not only are younger Buckeyes getting important reps they wouldn't be getting otherwise, but Ohio State seemed to respond to the criticism from its head coach. Talking to players on Thursday, practice appeared to go much better than it did on Tuesday, giving the Buckeyes positive momentum as they enter the portion of their practice schedule in which they'll be wearing pads.

"Today was a lot better," linebacker Darron Lee said on Thursday. "Tuesday was not great. A little spring break was still in everybody, but today was a lot better. A lot more energy and a better tempo."

 

Quarterback Conundrum

Aside from Ohio State's Thursday bounce-back, one of the main reasons for optimism in Columbus right now is that the most-talked-about quarterback competition in college football is already in under way.

While it was originally anticipated the battle between Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller wouldn't take place until the fall, the rapid recovery of Barrett from his fractured ankle has allowed him to compete with Jones in seven-on-seven drills.

“He’s doing more than I thought,” Meyer said of Barrett, who is still not 100 percent.

During the first hour of practice on Thursday, which the media allowed to watch, reporters were treated to Jones and Barrett constantly one-upping each other with precision passes that have the college football world wondering what Meyer will do.

As for Miller, the two-time Big Ten MVP has been pulled back from activity as he continues to recover from the torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that ended his 2014 season before it ever began, according to Meyer.

If Thursday's practice is any indication, Miller will have plenty of catching up to do if he's healthy in time for the start of fall camp, as both Jones and Barrett looked especially sharp.

Meyer will obviously have a tough choice on his hands when picking between the national championship-winning Jones and Barrett, the reigning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and Freshman of the Year—and that's before even adding Miller to the mix.

"That's the only thing that's starting to eat away at me a little bit," said Meyer. "It didn't for a while because you're just so busy. But now that I'm seeing what I'm seeing, I have such great respect for all three guys."

For now, Meyer will continue to delay that decision, with Jones taking first-team reps by default as the only fully healthy player in the trio. But eventually, he'll have to pick one, as it seems he would prefer not to use a quarterback-by-committee approach.

"The only negative is two people are going to have to watch," Meyer said.

  

The Race for Right Tackle

Outside of quarterback, perhaps the most intriguing position battle on the OSU offense is right tackle, a void that the Buckeyes have successfully managed to fill in each of the past three seasons. For the fourth consecutive year, Ohio State finds itself looking for a new starter at the position, but it seems an early front-runner has emerged.

According to offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner, Chase Farris was good enough to start for the Buckeyes a year ago, but Darryl Baldwin's steady play made it unnecessary. Now on his last call as Baldwin was a year ago, the fifth-year senior seems to be making the most of his opportunity through Ohio State's first four practices of the spring.

“I’ve been really impressed with Chase. He had a great offseason," Decker said. "He knows he’s got a big opportunity and I think he’s going to do everything he can to seize it.”

The other competitor for the right tackle spot would be sophomore Jamarco Jones, who has been manning the left tackle position in Decker's absence. The battle could carry into fall camp, but right now, all indications are that Farris has a firm grasp on the starting spot.

As for why the Buckeyes always seem to be breaking in a new right tackle, Warinner offered an explanation. As opposed to left tackle, which is viewed as the cornerstone of the offensive line, right tackle is a position that's easier to plug a guy in year-to-year, which is why Ohio State will have had a different one in each of the past five seasons.

“You try to solidify your left tackle and have a guy locked in there for at least a couple of years," Warinner said. "The new guy you’re kind of breaking in as the right tackle the way I see it."

 

Extra Points

  • After backing up Ezekiel Elliott at running back last year, sophomore Curtis Samuel has been seen working out with Ohio State's wide receivers. A wideout in high school, Samuel could play the wide receiver-running back hybrid position that Percy Harvin excelled in under Meyer at Florida.
  • Meyer revealed that in his first year as OSU's offensive coordinator, Warinner will remain on the field. Tom Herman, who left the Buckeyes to become the head coach at Houston, had previously served as offensive coordinator from the press box.
  • The Buckeyes' starters at linebacker appear to be set, with Lee and Joshua Perry returning and sophomore Raekwon McMillan replacing Curtis Grant.
  • Aside from Decker, Elflein and Boren, other members of the 2,000-rep club include Nick Vannett, Perry, Joey Bosa and Tyvis Powell.
  • Joel Hale, who served as a reserve offensive lineman last season, is back with the defensive line this year after receiving a medical redshirt for 2014.
  • Ohio State still has no comment on the potential NCAA violation committed by Miller when he promoted the workout supplement line AdvoCare on his Instagram account last week.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star QB Tristen Wallace on Ohio State Visit: 'I'll Give It a 10'

Texas 4-star quarterback Tristen Wallace is using the next few days of spring football at DeSoto High School to better himself as a leader and an athlete. This past weekend, however, was a time for him to make some moves in regard to his college future—one that Ohio State hopes to be a part of.

Wallace made a 15-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio, to take in Ohio State for a two-day unofficial visit. The Buckeyes are one of five schools he currently has high on his list, the others being Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. He is a former Texas Tech pledge—he decommitted from the Red Raiders on March 5—but said the team is still one he's considering.

As he left Columbus, one thing was clear to the 6'3", 228-pound recruit: Ohio State was a place he could see himself calling home when it's time to make a decision.

"I'll give it a 10," Wallace said of Ohio State, a campus he visited for the first time. "It was a good experience. Columbus is a college city more than anything. All of the people were cool there. It was good."

The nation's No. 3 dual-threat quarterback, Wallace said he took a tour of the campus and added that he woke up early Saturday to meet with coaches and take in Ohio State's scrimmage. Time spent with head coach Urban Meyer, Wallace said, was valuable, and while discussing the program's national championship run came up in discussion, he and his parents had a chance to speak with him about everything football and non-football related.

"He was telling us about what it takes to be a Buckeye and why it's important to do things the right way," Wallace said of Meyer. "He said he wants to make me into a man after football is over. Basically, when I'm done with football, he wants me to graduate from there, move on with my life and continue to do great things outside of football. That was probably the most important thing he said."

Currently, Ohio State leads Wallace's 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, ahead of Texas, Baylor and Nebraska. Wallace has an older sister, Leilani, who attends Texas now, but there's also a player at Ohio State who may not be an immediate family member but is someone he considers an older brother.

Wallace is extremely close with Buckeyes running back Dontre Wilson. The two were teammates at DeSoto when Wilson was a senior and Wallace was a freshman on varsity. The two grew up playing for the same youth football organization, the DeSoto Texans.

Wallace had the chance to spend some time with Wilson during the visit, but he added that Wilson wasn't playing the role of player recruiter.

"He's like my big brother; I've known him roughly all my life," Wallace said of Wilson. "He graduated high school with my sister, and they were real close. He basically told me just to make the best decision for me. There was no pressuring me to come to Ohio State. He wants me to do what's best for me, and if that means coming to Ohio State, then that's what's best."

Wallace said he doesn't have any other unofficial visits scheduled this spring, as his focus is to fine-tune his game during spring ball. The dual-threat standout is a high priority for several schools, but a decision timeline hasn't been established.

Wallace said that he "could commit any day," but that doesn't mean it will happen soon. As much as he likes the Buckeyes, he also likes the four other schools high on his list.

Expect the race for Wallace to be competitive, but the Buckeyes have to feel good about where they stand after this visit.

"I don't have a [decision] date set or anything like that right now," he said, "but we'll see how it goes."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

South Carolina Offers 8th Grader Dominick Blaylock, Son of Mookie Blaylock

Add another name to the list of college football prospects who've picked up their first verbal scholarship offer before graduating from middle school—Georgia playmaker Dominick Blaylock. 

The young standout is an eighth-grade student at Dickerson Middle School in Cobb County. He secured an offer from South Carolina on Saturday during a campus visit:

Blaylock, the son of former New Jersey Nets first-round draft pick and eventual Atlanta Hawks All-Star Mookie Blaylock, was as stunned to receive the news as many of you may be.

“I was shocked that when I met the coaches, they went straight to the point with the offer," he told Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I had no words. I didn't know what to say. All I could say was ‘Thanks, coach.’”

Though it's difficult to predict how a 14-year-old will physically develop during his high school career, Blaylock projects as an offensive prospect. He's gained an early reputation as a dangerous threat at wide receiver and out of the backfield.

Blaylock was named a top-10 performer at the Adidas Middle School and Elite Talent Football showcase last month. 

"Blaylock really shined during 1-on-1’s and 7-on-7’s, releasing off his routes and catching passes time and time again," observed Alan Popadines of Youth1.com. "At the showcase Blaylock took reps exclusively at wide receiver, as he hopes to see varsity time as a freshman in the slot or wing position next year."

He lives in an area that sends students to Walton High School. Blaylock is already well built for his age, standing 5'11", 165 pounds, per the Journal-Constitution. 

This level of collegiate interest for a player closer to elementary school than his senior season has become more expected during recent years. Blaylock could accumulate several more scholarship offers before recording his first high school reception.

"Dominick got invited to five Junior Days, so I think other offers are coming," his stepfather, John Woods, told the Journal-Constitution. 

Blaylock has a pair of brothers—Zack and Daron—who currently play football at Kentucky. SEC opportunities are now suddenly opening for him.

He joins a collection of promising young athletes who landed on the national recruiting radar incredibly early.

Middle school wide receiver Blake Hinson added an offer from Florida earlier this month. Top-rated 2017 prospect Dylan Moses became a hot commodity in SEC territory before high school and pledged to LSU midway through his freshman season.

2015 4-star New Jersey quarterback Jarrett Guarantano received the first of more than 40 scholarship offers well before making his first varsity start. Tyreke Johnson, a freshman at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, claimed a dozen offers before last fall.

The way things are trending, Blaylock assuredly won't be the last player among his peers to gain college opportunities this spring.

Like it or not, the Class of 2019 has suddenly stepped up to steal its share of the spotlight.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch Tiny, 5'4" DT Sneak Through Line and Wreak Havoc on Offenses

Size isn't everything.

Reginald Jefferies, a senior at Sheffield High School (Memphis, Tennessee), may be small, but he is making a big impact on the field. 

Watch Jefferies light up some offenses in high school football games. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds on Where 'Electric' 5-Star CB Levonta Taylor Commits April 3

Levonta Taylor, a 5-star cornerback, per 247Sports' composite rankings, is preparing to make his college commitment on April 3. The talented cornerback has several big-time offers on the table, making his decision a tough one. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Adam Kramer breaks down the odds, handicapping which program has the best chances of landing Taylor. 

Where will Taylor play his college ball? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With spring football in full swing, the Notre Dame football staff has had the opportunity to host visitors, including those with recent offers.

Each week, we'll be keeping tabs on the new scholarship offers sent out by the Notre Dame coaches and tracking the recruiting process as the Irish focus their attention toward the classes of 2016, 2017 and maybe even 2018.

This week, the Irish stayed busy in the trenches with the class of 2016.

 

McTelvin Agim

Class of 2016 strong-side defensive end McTelvin Agim received an offer from Notre Dame on Tuesday.

The No. 7 player at his position and the No. 105 player overall, Agim has visited TCU, Arkansas and LSU over the past few months. The Hope, Arkansas, product camped at Arkansas last summer and returned for an unofficial visit in mid-October.

Other offers include Texas, LSU, Stanford, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Clemson.

Agim told Irish Sports Daily he doesn't have other visits planned right now.

 

Jordan Elliott

Class of 2016 defensive tackle and Baylor commit Jordan Elliott landed a Notre Dame offer Monday.

Elliott gave the Bears his verbal commitment at the end of January. Since then, the 6’3” 305-pounder has added offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Oregon, Texas A&M, Michigan and Florida State. A Houston native, Elliott attended a Texas A&M junior day earlier this month and checked out Texas on Saturday.

Elliott is ranked as the No. 12 defensive tackle and the No. 92 overall player in the nation, and he piled up 78 tackles, 31 tackles for loss and 12 sacks as a junior in 2014.

 

Xavier Kelly

Notre Dame stayed on the defensive line last week, offering Class of 2016 weak-side defensive end Xavier Kelly on Tuesday.

A 4-star prospect from Wichita, Kansas, Kelly is the No. 20 weak-side defensive end and the No. 322 prospect in the country. The 6’5” 230-pounder decommitted from Kansas State on March 21.

Kelly’s other offers include Alabama, Ole Miss, Clemson, Michigan and Nebraska, among others.

“I know a little bit about them,” Kelly told 247Sports’ Steve Wiltfong regarding Notre Dame. “I know they’re a Catholic school and they have a great football program and they have a historical program.”

Kelly told Wiltfong he’ll “probably” visit Notre Dame.

 

Taylor Rapp

At the end of the week, Notre Dame extended an offer to Class of 2016 safety and Washington pledge Taylor Rapp.

The Bellingham, Washington, native committed to Washington on March 13, two days after landing an offer from Stanford. Rapp’s growing offer list includes Nebraska and Boise State too. The 6’0” 195-pounder took unofficial visits to Oregon in November and January and visited Washington, at which time he pledged to the Huskies.

Rapp is pegged as the No. 23 safety in the country and the No. 427 prospect overall.

 

Nathan Smith

Notre Dame’s emphasis on the trenches wasn’t limited to the current spring roster, as the Irish kept the offers rolling, touching base with Class of 2016 offensive tackle Nathan Smith on Monday.

The No. 25 offensive tackle and the No. 244 player in the class, Smith has earned a slew of recent offers in the past month, including Kansas State, Utah, Boston College, Syracuse and Penn State.

The 6’7” 264-pounder from Murrieta, California, visited Nebraska on Saturday and took an unofficial visit to UCLA two weekends ago.

 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information courtesy of 247Sports and all quotes obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports' composite rankings. 

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Top-Performing Quarterback Recruits from 2015 New Orleans Elite 11 Regional

NEW ORLEANS — The "Pressure Chamber," the Elite 11's popular challenge determining the quarterback MVPs of the Nike-based regional competitions, saw familiar faces in its New Orleans regional Saturday. Of the five quarterbacks who made it to the finals, four participated in previous Elite 11 regional events this year.

Jett Duffey was one of those four, as he participated in the Elite 11 Dallas regional two weeks ago. Duffey made a vow competing last year as a sophomore that he would win MVP honors before he graduated, and he cashed in with an impressive performance at Joe Brown Park.

The quarterback competition featured more than 50 participants, and here are the five who stood out to the Elite 11 coaches. Also included are comments about each of the five players, courtesy of Brian Stumpf, vice president of football events for Student Sports and one of the leaders of both the Elite 11 and The Opening.

Begin Slideshow

Which Texas QB Needs a Bigger Spring, Jerrod Heard or Tyrone Swoopes?

If there was any question that Texas' quarterback job would be an open competition this spring, consider it answered once and for all. 

When the Longhorns kicked off spring practices last week, head coach Charlie Strong noted that redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard would be receiving equal reps with incumbent starter Tyrone Swoopes.

On the surface, that doesn't look like good news for Swoopes. The junior-to-be had his ups and downs as a starter in 12 games last season, but he really struggled in his final two appearances. He threw four interceptions in the regular-season finale against TCU (a 48-10 loss) and for just 57 yards plus another pick in the Texas Bowl loss to Arkansas. 

Without a doubt, Swoopes, not Heard, has the most to prove under center this spring. It wouldn't be surprising to see the quarterback battle extend into the fall, but Swoopes can make a strong impression over the next several practices. 

Development has been an issue since Swoopes had to learn two offenses in two years. His redshirt was mismanaged as a freshman, and he was thrust into a starting role unexpectedly as a sophomore. Those two things can have damaging effects.

All the same, Swoopes is entering year three, and it's getting to the point where he's either going to thrive or fall behind. Saying every position is up for grabs is an offseason coachspeak favorite, but in Texas' case, it's the truth.

"Don’t ever think because a guy started last year means he can’t be unseated. If you work hard enough, you will beat him out. I don’t play favorites," Strong said, per CBS DFW.

But that leads to what could be a good thing. Competition is supposed to bring out the best in players. So far, being pushed looks like it has helped Swoopes early on, according to Jeff Howe of 247Sports

Swoopes seemed able to make his reads more efficiently, and the added bonus with him is he can make the NFL-style throws Heard simply can't. One of the routes that was a staple of the first day was Swoopes' ability to hit the 10-12 yard comeback outside the numbers, which is a throw Heard isn't able to make.

In terms of reads, Swoopes was able to find windows within the defense during live periods more often than Heard, who often settled for check-down passes or pulled the ball down and ran with it. That's really where Heard has to grow; Swoopes didn't always complete his passes, but he was able to test the defense more due to his ability to go through his progressions.

Just because Swoopes is a more polished passer at the moment doesn't guarantee he'll be the starter, but it is a promising sign. Swoopes has always had physical gifts; it's a matter of channeling them in a way that moves the chains. He simply wasn't able to do that last season, at least not on a consistent basis. 

Of course, Texas' offensive woes—the Horns finished last in the Big 12 in passing offense and ninth in points per game—weren't all on Swoopes, as Strong explained to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports

In short: Texas' offensive line was in such bad shape, and there were so few playmakers to get the ball to, that Swoopes was put in an almost impossible situation. 

"I don't care if you had Teddy Bridgewater standing back there last year, people wouldn't have thought he was very good either," said Strong, referring to his former standout QB at Louisville who was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

There is something to be said for learning from the heat of the moment, though. While interceptions and bad decisions are costly at the time, they can pay dividends down the line. Swoopes has been through a lot, and this is the time in his career when he's either going to grow from those mistakes and come out a better player or be ruined by them.  

Heard is a talented young player who could still be the future face of the offense. Right now, though, it sounds like he's a click or two behind Swoopes. Whether that means Texas has a healthy one-two punch at quarterback, or still no answers at all, remains to be seen. We'll know for sure once the season gets underway. 

Swoopes' leash is short, though. If he eventually wins the starting job but underperforms early, there's no way he remains Texas' only option. It's approaching now-or-never time for Swoopes and Texas. By the sounds of it, Swoopes is responding to that urgency. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages