NCAA Football

Georgia Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of a SEC Championship

The Georgia Bulldogs will come into the 2015 season as a favorite to win the SEC East. In fact, Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports predicted back in January that the Bulldogs will face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in December.

The Bulldogs do have the talent to win the SEC for the first time in 10 years. Nick Chubb returns at running back, the outside linebackers (Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd) could be the best in the country, and the offensive line, which was the reason the Bulldogs scored 500 points last year, returns four starters.

But just like any team, the Bulldogs do have some questions marks that will need to be addressed during fall camp. If they don't, it will be another disappointing season for the players, coaches and fans.

Here are four things standing in the way of a SEC Championship for the Bulldogs.

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Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs Emerging as True Leader in Spring Practice

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The smallest display of emotion told the biggest story.

As Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs watched himself on screen in a darkened Anderson Training Center meeting room with offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and his fellow signal-callers, he saw himself throw a touchdown pass in short-yardage action.

When Pig Howard crossed the goal line, the Dobbs on the practice video put his arms beside his helmet and raised them upward in celebration. He then sprinted to where his teammates congregated.

"Is that some emotion?" DeBord asked.

"A little bit," answered a chuckling Dobbs.

"Well," DeBord countered, "it's good to see."

Indeed, as the 6'3", 212-pound rising junior takes the next steps toward being a "CEO quarterback," as head coach Butch Jones calls it, the largest leap is loosening up.

For somebody such as Dobbs who already takes a business-like, almost robotic approach to the game, it's difficult sometimes to just unleash the emotions. 

In one sense, the even-keeled mentality is a strong quality for a quarterback. However, a team sometimes needs to see its leader get fired up. They need to see him lead so they can follow.

Dobbs' growth as a quarterback is evident from the moment the practice begins. You notice the muscle mass he's put on. The second he drops back, you see how much improved his footwork and mechanics are, positively affecting his throwing consistency and the zip on his passes.

But when Jones is asked where Dobbs has made his biggest strides, it's none of those exterior, aesthetic improvements.

"Being more vocal, more expression of himself," the head coach said. "As a quarterback, you're always going to be cool, calm and collected, but sometimes, they also need to see a little bit of energy in terms of really true excitement. That's what we've been on him about. We call it touchdown energy. When we score, we expect that quarterback to be the first in the end zone to congratulate that guy who got the ball in the checkerboards.

"I see Josh making tremendous strides in this."

 

From On-the-Job to Offseason Training

During the 2014 season, nobody expected Dobbs would be in a high-pressure situation. With senior Justin Worley winning the starting job and Nathan Peterman seemingly entrenched as a backup, it initially appeared last season would be a learning year for the sophomore.

But Worley went down for the season against Ole Miss, and Peterman was ineffective, so Dobbs took over a few series into the Alabama game.

He never looked back.

At times, he looked like a star…even if it was mostly sheer natural ability.

Ever since season's end, Dobbs' development has been all about polishing his natural ability as well as growing as a more vocal leader. For an aerospace engineering major who has to balance a ridiculous work load with everything it takes to be a major-college quarterback, it's not always an easy task.

Taking a calculated approach to his full slate of activities helps Dobbs to manage everything.

But those around UT who know leadership qualities best—such as rising senior and team spiritual cog Curt Maggitt—have seen the signal-caller make a monumental move.

He said Dobbs already leads by example, but now, he's doing so in other ways as well.

"I think Dobbs is a phenomenal leader, and that just comes off his influence," Maggitt said. "Dobbs doesn't even have to say anything. Everybody just looks at him like, 'What are we doing? What's up, Dobbs?' Looking to him for those answers. I think this offseason, he's taken that step to holding guys accountable, to being that vocal leader.

"I think his play, the way he carries himself off the field, the way he carries himself on the field and how he plays for his teammates and his work ethic, I think all that speaks for itself. Dobbs is not a bragging-type guy, a flashy guy. He wants to get the job done and do it for the team, and I think everyone knows it."

Those seeds were sown last year as ESPN cameras caught Dobbs rallying his team on the sideline during what eventually became a comeback win over South Carolina. He continued that maturation throughout the season's final stretch.

However, tight end Ethan Wolf has heard the difference in Dobbs much more this spring.

"He's going to tell you if you do something wrong, but he'll be the first to admit if he does something wrong," Wolf said. "If he throws a bad ball, he'll say, 'Hey, that's my bad.' So, we all respect Josh and want to play as hard as we can for him. That makes you want to play hard for him."

People are continually amazed by the non-football work load he takes on, a slate that this spring includes a Material Mechanics class as well as a Dynamics class and another engineering course.

Having a quarterback who's nearly always more intelligent than anybody in the room is a huge asset most of the time.

At one point during a recent quarterbacks meeting, DeBord tried to find a certain play to run back on the screen from his computer. After several fruitless attempts to find that exact play, Dobbs got up from his seat to help his coordinator locate it.

Dobbs double-clicked the play the coach was looking for right away. "It's great having a smart quarterback," DeBord said to the room, and the other QBs laughed.

"The curriculum he's in takes great effort, it takes great commitment and the ability to focus and learn," Jones said. "Everything is about being able to retain information. That's one thing about Josh, you only have to tell him once and he gets it.

"So, yeah, I think the academic courses, studying engineering and everything that he's going through, I do believe that helps him on the field."

This May, Dobbs will take a brief break from the gridiron, interning at Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace company in West Palm Beach, Florida. There, he'll work on testing and collecting data on various airplane engines from military to commercial jets.

Then, it's back to football. For now, it's balancing spring class loads with football and team meetings.

As Jones addressed the team recently, Dobbs sat in the front row in the very center seat, taking copious notes as if he were a mid-term freshman. A couple of hours later, he parked directly in front of the screen in the quarterback film room, watching practice footage and solving what he saw in coverage like a differential equation.

The study habits have him on the cusp of breaking out on the football field.

"I'm very comfortable," Dobbs said. "I feel like since I've arrived on campus, that's been my strong suit being a leader of this team, and I've definitely embraced that even more coming into this spring and in this offseason. So, it's definitely growing, and the team is definitely moving in the right direction.

"I've always been myself since I got on campus, so I feel like I was a leader before I got here, I've been ever since I've gotten here, and I will continue to."

 

The DeBord Factor

Dobbs attributes getting every meaningful repetition as aiding his development. Also, it can't be discounted how well he has hit it off with DeBord in the months since the new offensive coordinator came on board.

Dobbs sat in on the first weekend of DeBord's interviews when Jones was looking for a new offensive coordinator.

One night following a session, DeBord told Dobbs after film study of the quarterback that he needed to work on stabilizing his lead foot to keep it from pivoting when he throws. He also was standing too wide, causing him to false-step sometimes as he threw.

This was not yet his offensive coordinator, but it didn't matter. These were tips that could help him get better, so they were things he took to heart.

Like any good leader, Dobbs went to work on tweaks that would make him a better player.

"Coach DeBord had a plan right away how he was going to develop him through video study," Jones said. "The great thing is he gave it to Josh, and Josh went and worked on it on his own.

"Through these spring ball practices, we've really worked on his footwork, the overall accuracy, the ability to make the routine throw and the consistency. It's all based on fundamentals, footwork and especially lower-body position. We've worked exceptionally hard on that. Coach DeBord had a plan from Day 1, and I think that's part of that trust, too. I think Josh feels the improvement in the things Coach DeBord is telling him. So, that builds trust as well."

Dobbs concurred. Not only have he and DeBord built a strong relationship, Dobbs has seen the benefits of his mechanical adjustments produce on-field results.

"He's definitely helped me make improvements in my game this spring," the quarterback said. "[The footwork] was his big thing that he came in and focused on. That was his big focus point with me from Day 1. So, I took that and ran with it, and obviously I've improved it this spring."

With the improvement comes a greater self belief. He's always known he can play on this level, and the raw ability he's shown when he's on the field could be glimpses of the type of player he can be.

When it all comes together, the Vols could have a star behind center.

The difference in just a few short months is a reason to be excited for the offense's potential in 2015.

"Josh has really started to elevate his game," Jones said. "He's still not a finished product. But I see tremendous strides from Year 1 and even Year 2 in his leadership.

"He's Josh Dobbs. He's never too high, never too low, very, very consistent, very humble, very eager, very driven. I think the biggest difference in Josh is confidence. He's had some success now, the players believe in him, and I think he's getting more reps than he's ever received, so you can see the maturity, you can see the learning curve, you can see the growth continue to manifest each and every day."

 

Quotes and observations obtained firsthand. Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Texas Football: Projecting the Longhorns' Post-Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart

Following Texas' spring game, it's obvious that the defense still has talent, the offense still has a ways to go and both sides of the ball will need some help from freshmen.

There are still a lot of dominoes that need to fall before the depth chart shapes up. The Horns are replacing 10 starters and sat 11 scholarship players during Saturday's game.

Right now, all that's certain is that the defense's returning starters will hang onto their jobs and almost the entire offense will be competing with somebody. Based on what we know after a month of practice and the talent arriving in June, here's what we can expect the depth chart to look like in the fall.

 

Offense

Starting with quarterback, the simple answer is that Jerrod Heard played the better game on Saturday. He completed almost 70 percent of his passes despite going against the starting defense. On the other hand, Swoopes just cleared 50 percent against the twos.

Athletic quarterbacks tend to have the highest ceiling in spread offenses, and Heard's already close enough as a passer to infer he takes over this job in fall camp.

The controversy doesn't stop there. The wide receiver position is already crowded, and that's before the foursome of talented freshmen get thrown into the mix. For now, Dorian Leonard, Marcus Johnson and Armanti Foreman are your starters, with Jacorey Warrick seeing plenty of action in four-wide sets.

Because he's such a good route-runner, Lorenzo Joe will be first guy off the bench for both outside positions. He had a better spring game than Leonard, who had no trouble doing everything but catching the ball, and will battle his classmate all offseason. Theirs will be a fun battle to watch.

Alex De La Torre emerging as the top tight end also comes as a shock. The senior played fullback for his first three seasons, but he got first-team work because he can line up in the backfield as well.

If that's the versatility Texas wants from this spot, Andrew Beck makes the most sense to push for time, but keep an eye on freshman DeAndre McNeal. Per 247Sports' Jeff Howe, he's as versatile as they come and should be a much more dynamic option once he adjusts to the college game.

Up front, true freshman Connor Williams looks like the only tweak from last year's group. Transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson will be the first ones off the bench, with Hodges serving as the first option for all interior positions. This looks like the group, though Joe Wickline will surely give everyone his shot.

Lastly, running back has been the most predictable position on the team. Johnathan Gray will be the feature back, and D'Onta Foreman tightened his grip on power back duties with an 84-yard spring game, though he could still get pushed by freshman Chris Warren.

 

Defense

Yes, spring game standout Malik Jefferson begins next season as a backup. He lacks a defined position at this point because he can do a little bit of everything, as he proved by standing in at middle linebacker on Saturday.

Jefferson's a capable pass-rusher, so chances are Texas plays him all over the place. Until his specific role becomes more apparent, we'll put him behind Naashon Hughes, the other supremely versatile athlete along that front seven.

Opposite Hughes at defensive end will be Bryce Cottrell, who Charlie Strong called "the surprise of the spring," according to TexasSports.com. His pass-rushing ability will be a major asset to this team, which gives him the edge over Shiro Davis and Quincy Vasser.

Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson are each locked in to the inside spots, with the former being arguably the best defender on the roster. But there's also good depth behind them, with Paul Boyette and Poona Ford each growing into reliable players.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford raved about Ford's talents in the week leading up to the spring game, per TexasSports.com:

[Ford] gets down and he's a technician. He gets in a great stance, his first step is good. He uses his hands and enters the right spot. He does the little things right and he understands football. What made Malcom Brown a great football player was not just his athletic ability, he understood the game. Poona Ford has that in him; he has that kind of ability. He's not as big as Malcom, but as far as being a football player and understanding the game, he brings that to the table.

Joining Ford as a breakout candidate is classmate Edwin Freeman. The redshirt freshman linebacker is still squarely behind seniors Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, but his knack for playing in space means a starting role shouldn't be far off.

In the secondary, John Bonney is exactly what the doctor ordered at the nickel spot vacated by Quandre Diggs. Also a redshirt freshman, Bonney's ability to both cover and come downhill makes him a great fit for the position, and he played like he wants to man that spot for a long time.

Duke Thomas, Jason Hall and Dylan Haines are all sitting pretty as returning starters, leaving one corner spot open. Bryson Echols locked up in the spring game as the acting No. 1 corner in Thomas' place, so the job should be his.

However, cornerback Holton Hill and violent safety DeShon Elliott both have designs on starting as freshmen. There's no depth at either spot, so they'll crack the two-deep early in camp and get increased reps as their talent starts to stand out.

 

Special Teams

Nick Rose went 5-of-6 in the spring, with all of his attempts coming from outside 40 yards. It's a great sign for the senior who connected on just 14 of his 21 attempts last season.

Punting duties belong to Mitchell Becker by a wide margin, though that's hardly a comforting fact. The walk-on averaged less than 40 yards on his five total punts in the spring game, which is nowhere close to good enough.

Luckily, the return game should be far more entertaining in 2015. Armanti Foreman and Daje Johnson will see work in both phases, as will explosive newcomer Ryan Newsome. The freshman could have a monopoly on the return game by the end of the year.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.

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Michigan Football Recruiting: Breaking Down the Top 2016 Target at Each Position

With bold intent, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has hit the 2016 recruiting trails looking for the best players available.

So far, he has six commits, including 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters and 4-star running back Matthew Falcon. Harbaugh has roughly 19 to go before he signs his first “all mine” class in February, but he’s off to a quick start. As of Wednesday, the Wolverines have the No. 3-ranked class in the Big Ten, per 247Sports.

On the hunt for more than star-rankings and praise from recruiting sites, Harbaugh’s looking for youngsters who want to be part of rebuilding the Wolverines program, not just guys who want to tweet that they’re going to Michigan.

A seasoned vet with previous college and NFL experience, Harbaugh’s searching for the intangibles and “it” factors among the sea of recruits. He wants more than a simple pledge from players—he wants his men to be all-in, through and through. Those kinds of athletes are hard to find in this day and age of flips, decommitments and indecision.

Discussions about the future of Wolverines football revolve around Harbaugh and Harbaugh only. More specifically, they relate to just how he’ll recruit and develop the stars of tomorrow. The 2016 class will be a true testament to his methods. It’ll also serve as a baseline for the new era in Ann Arbor.

Using 247Sports as the go-to reference, this slideshow will break down the Wolverines’ top target at each position.

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Virginia Tech Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The theme of last week's scrimmage was offense for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Predictably, things trended back in favor of the defense in Tech's final scrimmage before the spring game this Saturday in Blacksburg.

However, it wasn't as if VT's offense struggled. Quarterback Michael Brewer did throw three touchdown passes in the scrimmage, per Tech's official website. For the day, the offense managed 278 total yards, although the first-team defense allowed just one score. 

Even better news for defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies allowed the offense just 53 yards on the ground and finished with 13 sacks.

It's important to note that the defense cannot hit the quarterback in scrimmages, but it was a positive development nonetheless. Foster has struggled to find depth at defensive end this spring with Ken Ekanem out, so getting in the backfield on so many occasions has to make Foster happy. 

Head coach Frank Beamer certainly felt last week's defensive performance had Foster and his troops fired up, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times:

“I think they got their pride hurt a little bit last week,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “I think probably coach Foster visited with them about that and I think they played with a better effort and their technique was better for the most part.”

While things were a bit more even in the final scrimmage, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has to be pleased with his side of the ball. When was the last time a Virginia Tech offense looked this good in spring practice?

Yep, it's been awhile.

 

Secondary Still a Question Mark

The best thing about spring practice is you don't have to have your best players out there in practice everyday. It presents a great opportunity for coaches to work younger players into the lineup. Coaches can move guys around to see where certain players fit the best. Foster and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray have been doing it for years. 

Foster and Gray's latest project is junior cornerback Chuck Clark. Originally, coaches wanted to see Clark at safety this spring. But, with projected starters Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson out all spring, Clark has primarily played cornerback.

Clark has delivered, but some of his younger teammates have had their fair share of struggles.  

Specifically, freshmen Terrell Edmunds, Shawn Payne and Mook Reynolds have taken their turns getting beat. The younger players aren't getting beat because they lack the physical talent but because they are either out of position or biting too easily on double moves. Fortunately for Foster, this is the best time of the year for the young guys to get their feet wet. 

Clark has taken more of a leadership role this spring with Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner no longer on campus. On Saturday, Clark prodded some of his younger teammates to step up, per Bitter.

"Somebody in the group has got to pep us up, get us ready," Clark said. "I used to be the one on the outside of the circle, rocking around with everybody else, but now that the older guys from last year are gone, it’s my turn now."

Clark's ascension into more of a leadership role is great news for Hokie fans. Fuller and Facyson—hopefully—will be ready this fall. Clark gives the secondary more flexibility, as he can play either cornerback spot or—perhaps his most natural position—free safety.

 

Vinny Mihota Is Now a Defensive End—Sort Of

Virginia Tech's depth chart, released at the beginning of spring practice, listed redshirt freshman Vinny Mihota as the backup at nose tackle. 

Now, the 6'5", 270-pound Mihota may not be playing nose tackle at all in 2015. In fact, Mihota may crack the two-deep at defensive end this fall. 

Mihota, who originally came to Tech as a defensive end in 2014, moved to defensive tackle last year and redshirted. His move to defensive tackle was due in large part to his size. VT generally likes smaller, quicker defensive ends, and Mihota—a good athlete himself—was much bigger than the traditional Hokie defensive end. So, coaches moved Mihota inside to tackle to take advantage of his athleticism.

Now, with depth a major concern at end, Mihota is getting a shot to get on the field at his original position.

Defensive line coach Charley Wiles doesn't see this is a permanent move for Mihota but more of a way to get his best eight players on the field, per Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

We're not moving Vinny. We're looking to get our eight best football players on the field. That's what we're going to do. Vinny, we got him in the right spot. Can he be as productive as a defensive end? We'll see, I know he's one of our eight best football players. 

This likely isn't a permanent move, and Wiles is right: Mihota is definitely one of VT's top eight defensive linemen. However, it's the lack of depth that is precipitating this move whether coaches admit it or not. 

Mihota seems to agree with Wiles on the switch.

"That's kind of the reason for the move, to get me in the top eight," Mihota said, per Barber. "I feel like that's kind of the idea, I can play both."

Expect Mihota's future in Blacksburg to be at defensive tackle. But whatever he can do to increase his versatility and help the Hokies win, it's a good move for everyone. 

 

Offensive Line Setting the Tone

Tech's offense has been a major surprise this spring. But all everyone wants to talk about is Michael Brewer, Brenden Motley, Bucky Hodges or Isaiah Ford. 

It's actually the offensive line that has improved the most.

Stacy Searels is entering his second season in charge of the Hokies offensive line. He has a year under his belt to see who can play and who can't. One of Searels' best moves last year was inserting former defensive lineman Wyatt Teller into the starting lineup at guard.

The rest is history.

Teller took to his new position better than expected and looks the part of a future All-American entering his sophomore season. A good athlete, Teller is still learning the proper pass-blocking techniques. However, he has already proved to be a dominant run-blocker.

Eric Gallo has stepped in at center and given that position some stability.

Junior Augie Conte, the starter at right guard, feels like he and fellow classmate Jonathan McLaughlin—the starting left tackle—have given this group a new attitude being the two elder statesmen of the unit, according to David Teel of the Daily Press:

Jon and I, we've kind of had it with the whole mentality of the last couple years. The offensive line, I think the whole mentality was just to get by. Jon and I kind of made a decision during the offseason to pretty much say we're not going to just get by. We're going to dominate. I think all the guys have really bought into that. I definitely think we're making the steps to go in that direction. We need to make a couple more, but I think we're on our way. I think the offensive line has definitely been a weak point the last couple years.

If Conte is right and this group can become dominant in 2015, the Hokies stand a really good chance of returning to the ACC Championship Game once again. 

The annual spring game takes place in Lane Stadium this Saturday at 2 p.m. ET. That will wrap up spring practice for the Hokies. Admission is free. 

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Insider Buzz: Chances Ohio State QB Braxton Miller Transfers to Alabama

According to Paul Finebaum's radio show, rumors are abound that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller may be on the move. The talented signal-caller who missed the entire 2014 season is rumored to be transferring to Alabama. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee addresses the rumors and the idea of Miller in the Crimson Tide offense. 

How would Miller fit into the Crimson Tide offense? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Odds on How Long 'Clinically Insane' Jim Harbaugh Will Stay at Michigan

Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of the University of Michigan at the end of 2014, and he immediately made an impact on and off the field. 

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer, who gives his odds for how long Harbaugh will remain at Michigan. 

How long will Harbaugh last at Michigan? Check out the video and let us know!

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2015 Is Make-or-Break for Penn State's Pseudo-Superstar QB Christian Hackenberg

In a way, Penn State's spring game showed how far the Nittany Lions have come. In another, it painted a picture of a team that still has a long way to go.

But no matter how you look at it, the weight of Penn State's second season under head coach James Franklin rests on the shoulders of Christian Hackenberg, whose play has turned into the predominant pulse of the program.

On the one hand, the junior quarterback's play in last Saturday's spring game showed plenty of progress. His 17-for-29, 180-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception performance saw him evenly distribute the ball to an array of receivers.

According to Franklin, Hackenberg actually wasn't supposed to play more than a series or two in the team's annual exhibition, but the absence of backup Todd McSorley for an undisclosed reason forced the Nittany Lions' starter to play well into the third quarter.

"I enjoyed it," Hackenberg said after the game. "I got to work with these guys and go through the ups and the downs of the game with the team as a unit."

Overall, Hackenberg's showing was solid, but there was one alarming number that stood out more than anything else.

Spring games can be tough to judge for a variety of reasons, but the five sacks recorded against the Palmyra, Virginia, native brought back painful memories of a 2014 season during which opponents reached the Penn State backfield on an all-too-consistent basis.

After a 2013 that saw him burst onto the scene as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Hackenberg was sacked an NCAA-high 44 times, as the Nittany Lions' scholarship reductions appeared to be finally catching up to them.

The regular pressure from opponents led to a dip in his completion percentage, touchdown total and passer rating from his freshman season, and his interception total rose from 10 picks in 2013 to 15 in 2014.

Adjusting from Bill O'Brien's pro-style offense to Franklin's more spread-friendly system also likely didn't help Hackenberg's cause during what was an apparent sophomore slump. The 6'4", 236-pounder was never benched, but the pressure in Happy Valley got so immense that he had to dispel rumors that he'd look into transferring in the offseason.

"This is where I want to be," Hackenberg said following the Nittany Lions' regular-season finale, a 34-10 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 29. "This is the team I love, the guys I love, the university I love. I wouldn't rather be anywhere else."

The former 5-star prospect stuck to his word, but much was still made of his relationship with Franklin.

Despite each saying all the right things, the fact of the matter remained that Hackenberg came to Penn State in a time of trouble to play for O'Brien, who wound up in the NFL after just one season.

This offseason, however, Franklin and Hackenberg appear to be fully on the same page, with the head coach making a concerted effort to defend the play of his quarterback.

At his opening press conference before the start of spring practice, Franklin admitted that maybe even he didn't appreciate all that Hackenberg had to go through as a sophomore.

"Last year, Christian spent most of his time solving problems, running from problems, taking a lot of criticism, which I'm really, really defensive about. To be honest with you, looking back at it, a little angry that he faced some of the criticism he did. I don't know if it was fair, just or realistic," Franklin said.

"I think in the long run, the adversity that he went through physically and emotionally in getting through those things is really going to help him," he said. "He earned a lot of people's respect inside our program with how he handled things."

Whether it's an excuse or an explanation, Franklin pointed to Penn State's unstable offensive line situation as the primary reason for his struggles. The second-year Nittany Lions head coach expects this year to be different, however, with his team back at the full capacity of 85 scholarships.

"There's nobody that is happier about this group returning and the strides they've made than Mr. and Mrs. Hackenberg," Franklin said. "I'm excited about them. I know [offensive line coach] Herb [Hand] is excited about working with him. I know they're so much more confident mentally and physically, all those things."

Hackenberg will need those words to ring true in order to prove that he's closer to the 2013 version of himself that had him projected as a future No. 1 overall pick than the 2014 signal-caller who helped eke out a 7-6 record thanks to an overtime win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl.

The spring game may not have been promising in that regard, but Hackenberg himself was adamant that he's comfortable with his protection.

"I think those guys will continue to get better and work extremely hard," he said of his offensive line. "I am not worried about [the five sacks]."

He might not be now, but for Penn State to have any chance of making some noise in a suddenly competitive Big Ten East Division, Hackenberg is going to have to be standing upright in order to prove that he's the star he appeared to be just two years ago.

 

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.

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What Are Notre Dame's Best Selling Points to Attract Top Talent to South Bend?

Long established as college football's premier program, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have become a recruiting powerhouse. From their television deal with NBC Sports to their coast-to-coast schedule, they have been able to lure top talent to South Bend, Indiana, for years.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down why recruits sign on the dotted line to attend Notre Dame.

What are the reasons Notre Dame lands so many top recruits? Check out the video and let us know!

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Ranking the Top 25 Seniors Heading into the 2015 College Football Season

Give a college football coach the choice of having star power or senior leadership, and the vast majority are going to go with experience over talent. Having players who have been there before, who have been through the fire and are now taking their final journey, is a resource that no team can have enough of.

When those seniors are also among the best players in the country is icing on the cake.

Because players can enter the NFL draft following their third season in college, the senior class tends to have its talent level knocked. But plenty of standouts choose to return for their senior seasons, while other late bloomers don't reach their full potential until that last year of school.

Here's our list of the top 25 seniors heading into the 2015 season ranked based on their overall abilities and how much their teams will count on their skills and experience this fall.

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Naseir Upshur Releases Top 13: Which Schools Hold Edge for 4-Star?

One might think a football player with the nickname of "Pop" earned it delivering the vicious hit on the football field.

That's not so much the case for 4-star tight end Naseir Upshur, a North Philadelphia prospect with 40 offers. He said his nickname came from his mother, with a slight remix from his late uncle.

"My mom used to call me Poppy Seed, but my uncle didn't like it," Upshur said. "He called me Pop, and I just ran with it."

Watch Upshur's highlight film, and the nickname, when defining him as a bruiser on the football field, would make sense. The 6'3", 233-pounder is an aggressive athlete who, at the next level, can be either a punishing blocker or a flex option lined up wide to create passing mismatches against smaller defenders.

Upshur earned the 40 offers because of his versatility, but on Tuesday, the 4-star athlete announced via social media that he has trimmed his list to 13.

Those schools, in alphabetical order: Alabama, Arizona State, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Temple, USC and Wisconsin.

"Basically, [I] talked it over with my parents and friends, and they are the schools I am in contact with the most," Upshur said.

For those keeping score, Upshur's top 13 includes six Big Ten schools and two representatives each from the SEC, Pac-12 and ACC. Temple, a school he lives blocks away from, represents the American Athletic Conference and is the lone non-Power Five school to make the cut.

It's been a busy 2015 for Upshur, as he's made unofficial visits to Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland and Miami since the start of the new year. He was at Penn State's annual Blue-White scrimmage on Saturday.

In fact, of the 13 schools, only Florida State, Wisconsin and USC have yet to receive a visit from Upshur. He hopes to take in those three schools before the end of the summer.

So which school is the best fit? Let Upshur tell it—that answer may be too early to determine. He said he would like for his mother to visit all of the schools before he decides.

Upshur, however, also said that if he feels comfortable with a school before visiting all 13, he wouldn't be against shutting down his recruiting process prematurely. Currently, Miami leads the race in his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.

A place such as Miami would make sense for Upshur, as the Hurricanes have a rich tradition of producing versatile tight ends. Jimmy Graham, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Jeremy Shockey are three former Hurricanes who are well-known names around Miami and around the NFL.

Upshur was at Miami for a junior day in January. And while Penn State received the latest visit, schools such as Rutgers and Maryland have received multiple visits from Upshur during his recruiting process. Both schools have to like where they are in the race. 

A winning school will have a specific combination he's looking for.

"A great education and me being very comfortable where I am at," he said. "I'm the type of person that feels as though every [recruiting] class is not for me if I'm not comfortable.

"I also want to go somewhere where I have a good opportunity of playing. I'm not trying to redshirt anywhere, because at the end of the day, I'm trying to get to the next level."

Upshur added that he wants to be in a program that utilizes tight ends in the passing game. He caught 22 passes for 640 yards as a junior, but it was his reliability that made him such a favorite passing target. Of his 22 catches, 11 went for touchdowns.

Trimming his list down from 13 is his next step. He said he doesn't have a timetable set, but he's hoping to make strides with his process at a respectable pace.

 

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

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LSU Insider: No End in Sight for QB Battle, Fournette Set for Sophomore Encore

LSU is coming off a bit of a disappointing season by SEC standards, but the Tigers absolutely killed it on the recruiting trail. 

LSU beat writer T-Bob Hebert joins Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson to discuss his takeaways from the Tigers' spring game. 

How good can LSU be next season? Check out the video, and let us know!

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Texas Football: Will QB Decision Make or Break Charlie Strong's Second Season?

Texas head coach Charlie Strong doesn't sound too worried about his quarterback situation. Whether he actually is or not is probably something only he and a select few know, but to the masses, he sounds confident. 

Following the Longhorns' spring game on April 18, Strong said junior and incumbent starter Tyrone Swoopes has the edge over redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard in the quarterback battle. That competition has been ongoing throughout spring and will continue into preseason camp. Though Swoopes is the No. 1 guy for now, word from Strong last week was that Heard was "closing the gap" on Swoopes, per 247Sports' Jeff Howe. 

During a Tuesday teleconference with reporters, Strong noted that he wasn't exactly losing sleep over the lack of a surefire starter. 

In some ways, that's to be expected. Plenty of other programs are in similar situations with no starting quarterback named exiting spring. That does not, however, mean Strong doesn't have a crucial decision ahead of him. 

Put simply, the importance of having a quality quarterback in the Big 12 can't be stressed enough. Yes, quarterbacks often get more praise and blame than they deserve, but there is an influence the position has on team success in the conference. 

Let's start inward and work our way out. The Longhorns can't be as inefficient as they were a year ago on offense. The results could be even worse than 6-7 if that happens again. 

Texas has moved to a more wide-open offense that should appeal to in-state recruits and put players in open-field situations in which they can make plays. While a solid running game can be part of that philosophy, good quarterback play is important as well. That's something Texas hasn't had in almost six years. 

It's bad enough that the flagship program in one of the most talent-rich areas in the country can't produce on offense, but it's even worse that Texas has missed out on several quarterback recruits who have gone on to have success elsewhere. All the while, the Horns have never quite recovered from putting all their eggs in the Garrett Gilbert basket.  

It's no secret that Texas won six games and became bowl-eligible last year because of its defense. Guys like defensive end Cedric Reed, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Quandre Diggs always had talent, but now they had a coaching staff that put them in positions to be successful.

Those impact players are gone, which means a new crop of defenders will have to pick up the slack. If Swoopes or Heard still can't move the sticks, trying to recover is going to be brutal for the defense. Three times last year—against BYU, Baylor and Oklahoma—Texas entered halftime down by no more than seven points. And lost all three games.

Another loss, to Kansas State, was a 13-point halftime deficit. That's not great but not insurmountable either. A fifth loss against UCLA actually saw the Horns up at halftime. 

The defense did the best it could, but even the best players can only do so much in bad situations. It's tough to imagine putting up the same fight for as long. 

At this point in time, Strong feels his team could achieve a greater level of success if either Swoopes or Heard improves to game manager status. The concern is whether Swoopes or Heard can be more. 

To be fair, the term "game manager" has taken on a negative connotation. It conjures up visions of someone who hands the ball off 40 times a game, doesn't put up flashy numbers but doesn't make a lot of mistakes either. 

That certainly can be the case, but it doesn't have to be either. A game manager can move the offense effectively with his arm and legs, make great throws and protect the football. It doesn't have to be a detriment. 

The latter description is probably more along the lines of what Strong meant. There's still an important question, though: Is having a game manager as a quarterback enough to win the Big 12, let alone a shot at a national championship?

Sweeping narratives can be tired and out-of-date. The idea that the SEC is the only conference with fast athletes isn't true, just as it's true that the Big Ten isn't full of players running a five-second 40-yard dash. 

That said, there's some truth to the notion that the Big 12 is a quarterback conference. At the very least, history shows that if you want to have a shot at winning the Big 12, you need a top-end quarterback starting. 

Below is a list of every Big 12 champion (and divisional champion back in the day when the conference had, you know, 12 teams) since 2008 and all their respective starting quarterbacks. 

(*Note: Collin Klein also had 925 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing in 2012.) 

As you can see, game managers are nowhere to be found. In 2006, Oklahoma's Paul Thompson, who went back and forth between quarterback and receiver, was the closest thing a Big 12 conference champion has come to a game manager in a long time. 

Having a game manager as a quarterback just isn't going to get the job done.  

To be clear, Strong is a smart, outstanding coach, and there's still plenty of time for him to turn Texas back into a national contender. However, one of the knocks on him was whether Texas could succeed with his style of football. 

After all, some of the best defensive minds in the Big 12, namely TCU head coach Gary Patterson and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, found success through innovative offensive hires and great quarterback play. There's nothing to say Strong can't do the same. 

If history is to repeat itself, a game manager might get Texas back to bowl game and maybe upset a better team. One won't, however, win the Longhorns a Big 12 title or get them to the playoff. 

And that's what Strong was hired to do. That might not happen in Year 2, but it will have to happen eventually. 

 

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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Watch Football Ricochet off Defender's Head and Go Through Uprights for Crazy FG

In addition to physical strength and athleticism, in football, you must also use your head. But sometimes, that can come back to bite you.

That was the case for a Milbank High School defender, as Keegan Hemeway, a kicker from Dell Rapids High School in Dell Rapids, South Dakota, sent a field-goal attempt booming off the defender's head and through the uprights for an improbable conversion.

Was this the craziest field goal you've ever seen? Check out the video and let us know!

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QB Dominoes Leave Dwayne Haskins as Most Coveted Uncommitted 2016 Passer

The quarterback carousel continues to gain momentum in the 2016 recruiting class—including three 4-star commitments at the position last week—and no prospect currently commands more attention than Dwayne Haskins.

The 6'3", 198-pound Maryland passer claims nearly 40 scholarship offers. He is still considering several college programs while working his way toward an announcement.

Haskins told Bleacher Report he expects to reveal a decision this spring. He is targeting late May/early June as a time frame to declare his pivotal pledge.

"I definitely want to be committed before I go out to the Elite 11 finals," Haskins said.

He qualified for the event on Sunday by performing well at The Opening Washington, D.C. regional. Haskins became the fifth quarterback invited to the Elite 11 finals, which begin on July 5 at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

Past competitors include Andrew Luck, Teddy Bridgewater, Tim Tebow, Matt Stafford and Jameis Winston.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "I didn't think I was going to get invited at first, to be honest. It's a great opportunity to join the people who have gone out to the Elite 11 and the people who are going there now. It's great to go out there and compete."

Haskins claimed quarterback MVP honors at the regional camp. He separated himself from the pack of contenders with consistency throughout the day.

"Dwayne is very smooth. He's got a great stroke," Nike coach Matt James said. "The ball comes out of his hand very nicely. It finishes down the field and doesn't get hung up. They're catchable passes that are on kids in a hurry. He's very knowledgeable as far as defensive reads and understanding where to go with the ball. He didn't force things and just made smart decisions all day long."

Haskins, rated fifth nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in 247Sports, threw for 3,066 yards and 36 touchdowns during the past two seasons. He tossed just 11 interceptions on 387 pass attempts during that span, per MaxPreps.

Haskins will command quite a spotlight this fall as a senior at The Bullis School.

"I'm a game-changer whenever I have the ball in my hands, whether it's first down or third down," he said. "I'm going to get the job done. I don't make too many mistakes, and if I do make a mistake, there won't be one the next play. It's about making sure I capitalize on everything around me."

That skill set has led plenty of collegiate coaching staffs to pursue him during the course of his recruitment. Haskins understands he's now considered one of the top 2016 recruits who remains uncommitted.

Three coveted quarterbacks—Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee), Tristen Wallace (Ohio State) and Devon Modster (Arizona)—announced their respective commitments on April 15.

However, Haskins isn't allowing other players' pledges to dictate his decision or put pressure on him.

"It's crazy to think that people are committing like flies. Every day, there's something new going on," he said. "I'm just taking my time with it. I'm not too worried about who commits now or who commits later. The spots are definitely filling up, but the schools I'm interested in don't have a quarterback."

The final stretch of this frenzied recruitment is likely to feature at least four more campus visits. Haskins shared plans to attend spring games at Virginia Tech and Rutgers this upcoming weekend.

He also aims to spend time at Notre Dame and Florida before determining which university is the right fit. Haskins previously visited both schools and likes them enough to return for another look.

"Those will be the last few schools I'm visiting before a decision," he said.

Maryland has continuously shown Haskins immense interest. The Terrapins know a commitment from a quarterback of his caliber could create a rewarding chain reaction for in-state recruiting efforts.

Although he made a name for himself in Maryland, Haskins grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey—just minutes away from Rutgers. His choice could ultimately center on the pair of Big Ten newcomers.

Other teams to keep an eye on include Alabama and LSU, though the Tigers already hold a commitment from top-rated dual-threat quarterback Feleipe Franks.

Another intriguing element of Haskins' recruitment is his close relationship with third-rated Maryland wide receiver Trevon Diggs.

The 4-star athlete also earned an invitation to The Opening on Sunday after coming up big on both sides of the ball. Diggs recently trimmed his list of college options to a top 12.

Alabama, LSU, Florida, Rutgers and Maryland are programs of interest that overlap with Haskins' potential landing spots. Diggs named the Crimson Tide his leader at this point and wore Alabama gloves during the regional camp:

Haskins confirmed he considers himself and Diggs a "package deal" when it comes to college. They could form a dangerous duo for years to come.

"He's just a playmaker," he said. "Tre and I go way back since freshman year. We definitely learned how to play with each other. I feel like I know when he's open and when he's looking for me to throw him the ball. The relationship I've built with him at receiver, I want to continue that in college."

Haskins admits he's likely to commit before Diggs, so that decision could tip off the receiver's ultimate intentions. We've seen "package deals" disintegrate on the recruiting trail in years past, but this pair seems rather adamant about its plans.

We'll learn more about the quarterback's possible destinations in upcoming weeks, as visits and final sales pitches should shape the outcome.

Expect the fun-loving Haskins to head to the Elite 11 finals representing a school's recruiting class, ready to encourage fellow elite talents to join him.

"It's an exciting time right now," he said.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Hurricanes Release Hype Tape for Sun Life Stadium Renovations

The Miami Hurricanes are preparing for all of the insanely expensive and awesome things that will soon be added to Sun Life Stadium as part of a $400 million renovation funded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

For the first time, the public is now seeing the proposed digs in three-dimensional glory thanks to a new hype tape released Monday by The U.

The video features 3D mockup footage of what the venue will look like come 2016 once pumped to the gills with giant flat screens, leather-appointed bars and more flat screens.

However the final product shakes out, I pray they preserve Kellen Winslow II's locker for posterity.

Keep that part exactly the same, Miami—out of respect for a soldier.

 

Dan is on Twitter. It’s about this U, man.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Programs Poised to Surprise on 2016 College Football Recruiting Trail

A few days are left until the beginning of May, which means college football coaches should be in full swing with their recruiting big boards for the 2016 class. And while some classes are revved up, others are still in first gear—and some are stuck in neutral.

Florida State is a team that doesn't seem to have any troubles for now. The Seminoles are sitting atop the 2016 team rankings with 14 commits, including two 5-star and nine 4-star players. Miami is ranked No. 2, and the Hurricanes surprised many with their lightning-fast start. Miami is hoping to remain a top-five program once national signing day comes.

There's still plenty of time remaining for teams to turn things around. Keep an eye out for these seven programs—in alphabetical order—that could make surprising splashes in the 2016 recruiting cycle in the remaining time frame.

 

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Should Auburn Be Concerned About the Defense Following 2015 Spring Game?

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, "just enough defense" does.

Will Muschamp was hired as Auburn's defensive coordinator to help head coach Gus Malzahn break through that glass ceiling and find "just enough."

The Tigers were 13 seconds away from a title two seasons ago despite posting the SEC's third-worst defense (420.7 yards per game), and then stumbled last year when they finished the season with just 21 sacks—fourth-worst in the conference.

Muschamp got his first chance to show fans the new-look defense during Saturday's A-Day game, and the reviews were mixed.

The Tigers second-team defense gave up 252 passing yards to starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson in the first half, and running back "Roc" Thomas sliced and diced the front seven, which suggests that the depth isn't there yet for Muschamp's Tigers.

Spring-game success is always a double-edged sword, because when one unit succeeds, it could be used as an indictment of another.

As Cole Cubelic of the SEC Network and WUMP 730 in Huntsville noted during the game, Muschamp was getting after it up front despite the success of the offense.

That's not the most concerning thing in the world, though.

Muschamp was without stud defensive end Carl Lawson and coaches second-team All-SEC cornerback Jonathan Jones for the spring game, which impacted the depth of both the first- and second-team defenses.

There were still plenty of bright spots for Auburn's defense—particularly up front.

Each unit managed three sacks on the afternoon. Sure, quarterbacks aren't live and sometimes sacks are called when the breeze of a passing defensive lineman hits the quarterback. But defensive end Gimel President and defensive tackle Montravius Adams routinely moved second-string quarterback Sean White off of his point and impacted the pocket.

That's important news for Auburn and will only help once Lawson is at full speed after suffering an ACL injury last year, and stud defensive end Byron Cowart arrives on campus. Great defenses can rotate eight or nine players up front, and Auburn looks like it can do that in 2015.

At the back end, Auburn desperately needs to find a ball-hawking safety that can take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

Enter: Tray Matthews.

The transfer from Georgia is now eligible after sitting out last year and made his presence felt in the spring game. The Newnan, Georgia, native had five tackles, a forced fumble and an interception in the end zone for the first-team defense, according to stats released by Auburn, earning defensive MVP honors in the process.

Matthews commented on the potential of the 2015 Tigers defense after the game: "It’s scary how much potential this team has. I can’t stress enough the potential of this team. People ask me all the time how I’m doing, and I say, ‘I’m doing great, but I have so many good players around me.’ Our defensive line is awesome. The linebackers have great communication with us."

Auburn's defensive performance in the spring game is best described as either a "work in progress" or "incomplete."

There were plenty of positives that went along with the negatives, and the return of Lawson and Jones—two bona fide stars—certainly will give Muschamp's group a boost during fall camp.

Plus, it's not like Auburn needs to lead the conference in defense. In fact, that's not a goal at all.

"Defensive-wise, I just expect us to be a top-5 defense in the SEC and the nation," Adams said in quotes released by Auburn.

The nation may be a stretch, but the SEC would certainly be "just enough" defense. Auburn hasn't finished in the top half of the conference in total defense since Muschamp's final season of his first stint as defensive coordinator in 2007.

It certainly looks capable of doing that in 2015 once its best players get healthy, and that might be all Auburn needs to reach the College Football Playoff.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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The 10 Most Impressive Freshmen Performances in Spring Games so Far

Experience matters? Tell that to the standout freshmen in college football. 

Spring games are a good way to get a snapshot into where things stand with a team. It doesn't tell the whole story of what has happened so far and won't necessarily determine the final depth chart. However, it can show which freshmen are on their way to being impact players. 

There can be a variety of reasons a freshman plays well (or a lot) during a spring game. Injuries can play a role, but sometimes, young players are simply ready for the challenge. However it works out, here are 10 freshmen who impressed in their spring game performances. 

This list includes early enrollee freshmen and redshirt freshmen. The only thing that really matters is that they played in the spring game, and they maintain that classification. How that player stood out during regular spring practices was taken into consideration, as well. 

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Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer's 5 Biggest Concerns Post-Spring Practice

COLUMBUS, Ohio — After Ohio State held its annual spring game in front of a national record crowd of 99,391 fans on Saturday, Urban Meyer had a surprising assessment of his team's spring session.

"That was not a good team out there," Meyer said. "We did not improve as a team."

That may seem strange for a team that's not just the defending national champion, but one that will bring back a combined 14 starters on offense and defense from a season ago. With so many experienced players returning, the fourth-year Buckeyes head coach opted to rest many of his veterans throughout the spring, in favor of getting quality reps for his less-established players.

The result was not necessarily unexpected for Meyer, but one that left him troubled nonetheless.

"How do we get better as a team after we get them out here for a couple of weeks?" Meyer asked rhetorically. "This is a critical offseason for us. This is really critical."

Ohio State possesses talent aplenty and will likely enter the season as the nation's No. 1 ranked team, but that doesn't mean the Buckeyes aren't without their issues. Not the least of which is who will play quarterback in Columbus, as Meyer embarks on an offseason unlike any other in college football.

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