NCAA Football

The SEC's Most Intriguing 2015 Quarterback Battle

Alabama has the most quarterback contenders, Georgia isn't too far behind, LSU is intriguing from a beautiful disaster standpoint and Ole Miss' quarterback battle is about as wide-open as they come.

None of those quarterback battles hold a candle to Florida—the most intriguing quarterback battle in the SEC thanks to the wild variables that exist following spring practice.

Florida wrapped up spring practice on Saturday about where many expected them to be. Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier—a pro-style passer—has a slight edge over sophomore and returning starter Treon Harris, who's more of a dual-threat weapon.

Harris doesn't really fit the pro-style pedigree of first-year head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Since he missed four practices in the middle of spring dealing with an unexpected death in his family, it shouldn't be that much of a shock to see Grier with a slight lead heading into summer workouts.

"That’ll be a really good competition moving forward," McElwain said following the spring game, according to Scott Carter of GatorZone.com.

What was impressive, though, was Harris' ability to move the offense late. During the third quarter of the spring game, he hit star wide receiver Demarcus Robinson on a beautiful back-shoulder pass deep down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain, and then cashed it in later in the drive on a five-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone to C'yontai Lewis.

It may have seemed like only one drive, but it was a very important one for Harris.

It proved that he can make the tough throws within the parameters of McElwain's pro-style system, has accuracy downfield, as well as the touch on shorter passes.

That's important, because the staff already knows how dynamic he is on the ground. Harris rushed for 332 yards and three touchdowns a year ago and has much more escapability than Grier.

It may not seem that important in a pro-style system, but for this particular pro-style system—given the circumstances—it could be huge.

Florida's struggles along the offensive line are well-chronicled.

The Gators entered the offseason with only eight healthy offensive linemen on scholarship, lost senior guard Trip Thurman to a shoulder injury before spring practice (which could keep him out for quite some time), lost sophomore tackle Rod Johnson for good to congenital cervical stenosis and two of the remaining six healthy offensive linemen—David Sharpe (eye) and Antonio Riles (sports hernia)—underwent minor surgery following spring practice, according to Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com.

How dire is the situation on the offensive line for Florida? Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun puts it into perspective:

Sure, 5-star stud Martez Ivey is one of the six on the way this summer. It's clear, though, that the offensive line is going to be a major issue for the 2015 Gators. Since that's the case, Harris' mobility is a huge luxury for the new staff.

McElwain, Nussmeier and the rest of the staff are almost forced to go back to the drawing board now that spring practice has wrapped up thanks to the issues up front. When they do, they'll likely focus on three or four things that the offensive line can do consistently in order to create some kind of identity for the offense as a whole. 

If that involves some zone read with a mobile quarterback, Harris could make a comeback and win the job.

Even if he doesn't and the 2015 Gator offense is more of a traditional pro style, Harris has to be part of the equation, even as a situational quarterback, in order to add a little bit of a wrinkle to the running game.

That's what makes this quarterback battle so interesting.

Grier is clearly the right fit for the new staff, but Harris might be the best fit for the new staff for this particular season given the issues up front. Watching how each of the quarterbacks handle their current positions on the depth chart, how the offensive line evolves and how the coaches evolve with it is going to be wildly fascinating not only during fall camp, but throughout the season.

Alabama's offense isn't going to change that much regardless of who wins the battle in Tuscaloosa, LSU's just has to get better no matter who wins between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, Ole Miss is going to get production because of the system and Georgia's contenders all looked solid in the spring game.

Florida's offense, based on quarterback, scheme and situation, can go in a wide variety of different ways between now and the end of the season.

It should be fun to watch.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Michigan vs. Michigan State Has Become the Big Ten's Most Heated Rivalry

The question was coming. That was never in doubt.

The only suspense was how Mark Dantonio would respond.

The Michigan State head coach was making his appearance on the Big Ten coaches spring teleconference, as all coaches in the conference's East Division were required to do on Thursday.

While Dantonio was asked several expected questions about the progress of his team and the shifting perception of the Big Ten, it was a question unrelated to football that had the media—and Twitter—waiting with bated breath.

What did the notoriously fiery coach think of the recently vandalized Spartan statue on the MSU campus?

For any other coach, the question may have never even be asked, with a "kids will be kids" answer expected—if not guaranteed. But this was the Spartan statue defaced with rival Michigan's colors and block 'M' logo, and this was Dantonio, who has a history of not putting up with nonsense from the Wolverines.

However, he didn't take the bait.

"I guess there's always little things that get to you one way or the other," he said. "We all have our issues to deal with."

For Dantonio, this answer was unexpected and somewhat deflating, as it was just six months ago that he both voiced and showed displeasure with Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden for planting a spear in Spartan Stadium in the moments leading up to the kickoff between the two teams on Oct. 25.

The Spartans went on to win by a score of 35-11, opting to score a touchdown with 28 seconds remaining when they just as easily could have run out the clock.

As its head coach explained, Michigan State's late touchdown wasn't coincidental.

"It just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said. "I can only be diplomatic for so long. The 'little brother' stuff, all the disrespect, it doesn't have to go in that direction. We try to handle ourselves with composure. That doesn't come from the coach. That comes from the program.

"Throwing the stake down here in our backyard and coming out here like they're all that, it got shoved up—it got shoved that last minute-and-a-half, and we were not gonna pull off of that."

Then-Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke issued an apology the following day but would go on to lose his job at the end of the year following his team's 5-7 season.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon resigned just a few days following the Wolverines' loss to Michigan State—their sixth defeat in seven years to their in-state rival—but despite Dantonio downplaying this week's vandalism, the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy has far from lost its luster lately.

In fact, the rivalry has only intensified recently, as most things do when Jim Harbaugh gets added to the mix.

Ever since he arrived as Michigan's new head coach at the end of 2014, most of the headlines about Harbaugh's addition to rivalries have pertained Ohio State.

While the dynamic between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer—two of the highest-profile football coaches of this generation—is certainly fascinating, it may not ultimately make as much noise as the Harbaugh-Dantonio battles to come.

Though Meyer typically handles disagreements with coaches diplomatically—at least publicly—Harbaugh, like Dantonio, isn't one to back down in any forum. In recent years, the former Stanford and San Francisco 49ers head coach has had public spats with Pete Carroll and Jim Schwartz, both of which instantly went viral:

Harbaugh, for his part, has steered clear of any controversy since joining the Big Ten, not even referring to Ohio State as just "Ohio" like Hoke used to. Dantonio, too, has yet to stoke any flames in the months since Harbaugh's hiring.

"It is as it is. It always has been, it always will be. It just didn't start today or a couple months ago. It's been an ongoing thing, so we approach it like that daily," he said when asked about the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry. "We didn't start this. This has been in existence for a long time."

Maybe so, but for the first time in its existence, the battle between the Spartans and Wolverines features the two most combustible coaches in the conference.

And although Thursday's teleconference may not have been worth the wait, make no mistake: The first meeting between Dantonio and Harbaugh on Oct. 17 will be.

 

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

Biggest Question Surrounding Miami's 2nd-Ranked 2016 Recruiting Class

The Miami Hurricanes are cleaning up on the recruiting trail, scooping up some of the best talent in the land. Sitting at No. 2 on 247Sports' team recruiting rankings, the question now remains: Can Al Golden keep these recruits in the boat?

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson as they discussed all things Miami recruiting and what other players Miami needs to land to really solidify this class.

Will Golden keep these recruits? Check out the video and let us know!

 *All 247Sports rankings as of 4/16/2014


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 College Football Players Who Could Wind Up Coaching One Day

The life of a college football coach isn’t easy. Sure, the multimillion-dollar salaries pulled down by FBS head coaches like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh look glamorous, but those coaches work hard and constantly for their money.

The climb to the top of the profession is the culmination of a grind that often begins with a lowly graduate assistant position and takes years to reach the ultimate goal.

And then there’s the matter of continuous work, recruiting and stress, but we digress. It’s a tough job that not everyone is suited for, but coaches and schools are always looking for the next generation of leaders.

The NCAA now runs the Future Football Coaches Academy for players interested in taking the next step. The school is looking for smart players with on-field talent who also have leadership skills.

These players might not find their way into the coaching profession after potential NFL careers but have potential to lead at a high level.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: 2014 Backups Ready to Break out This Season

Alabama is no stranger to the "next man up" philosophy, landing as many 4- and 5-star athletes as it does every single year on the recruiting trail. 

Stephen Nelson is joined by Bleacher Report Lead Alabama Writer Marc Torrence to discuss backups from last season that will have big seasons in 2015. 

Which backups do you think will break out this year for Alabama? Check out the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Breaking Down Where Wolverines WRs Stand, Post-Spring

Recently, the wide receiver position at Michigan has been a revolving door of guys who were supposed to become one thing but ended up as another.

That flow has gone both ways.

There have been under-the-radar talents who have bloomed, and there have been supposed stars who fizzled.

The same case will apply this season for the Wolverines, who are roughly two weeks removed from their first spring game under new coach Jim Harbaugh. As of now, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson appear to be the top options—they were among the exhibition’s top performers and return as the team’s most experienced receivers.

So it makes sense to project good things for them this fall.

But others could end up gaining ground as well.

Now that offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch are on board, wide-scale improvement could be around the bend for the Wolverines, who have a stable stacked with an array of guys who simply want to see the field.

During spring availability, Chesson said his teammates were “hungry” and eager to prove themselves as reliable wideouts.  

He wasn’t wrong about that. No exaggeration necessary, either. According to what coaches said during spring availability, competition is heated and guys are out for one thing, and one thing only: starting reps.

 

Tier I—the A-Team

At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Darboh is built for yards after contact. Typically, those types of receivers do well in the Big Ten, a league known for its physical style. Returning with a team-high 36 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns, the senior seems to be an obvious fit for No. 1. He also did well in the spring game, hauling in three catches for 63 yards.

Like Darboh, Chesson finished the spring scrimmage with a couple of nice catches and appears to be one of the Wolverines’ best receivers. In 2014, the junior had 14 catches for 154 yards. That’s not much, but it’s better than nothing at all.

While recently speaking with the media, Chesson expressed a great deal of optimism in regard to the upcoming season. Players are getting to know Drevno and Fisch, he said, and they’re intent on learning the new systems—the changes are mostly lingo—as quickly as possible so that they may see the field.

Why does that matter? Chesson spoke like a leader that day, not Joe Player. Production value is one thing, but having the ability to lead is another. Really, Chesson, a 6’3”, 207-pound senior, has both traits. He’ll be one of the quarterback’s favorite targets and could be a cornerstone of the locker room.

The words “speed” and “hands” come to mind when thinking of Freddy Canteen. The 6’1”, 185-pound sophomore brings versatility to the table. He’s not necessarily the best long-shot threat, but he could be a great slot receiver—his shifty shakes and reliable hands could shine at that position.

He didn’t do much during this past spring game, but he did in 2014—that’s when he was tabbed as “Freddy Footwork.”

Right now, he’s “Freddy Get to Work.” He has so much to prove in so little time. Experience is an issue at Michigan, but depth isn’t a concern. Canteen has demonstrated the ability to be a starter-caliber receiver, but Drevno and Fisch have more from which to choose. Lots more.

 

Tier II—on the Brink

Dennis Norfleet was supposed to evolve into an all-around threat. So far, he’s been a bit of a liability on the punt-return unit, and he’s not big enough to see a lot of time at running back. This year, the 5’7”, 168-pounder has been designated as a receiver, a position that will ultimately bring out the best in the senior.

That’s the plan, anyway.

Too fast to ignore, Norfleet gives Michigan a wild card on every down. Whether it’s a bubble screen or end-around, Norfleet has the means to do damage and assist the offense in scoring—something that it didn’t do much of in 2014.

Jaron Dukes has been on the radar for two years. Evidently, he’s ready to show that he wants to play during Saturdays in the fall, not just the one Saturday in early April. There isn’t much college film of Dukes to study. At this point, it’s more speculation than anything else.

It’d be difficult to use a 14-yard touchdown catch while being covered by Norfleet as the basis, but that’s all Dukes has right now. The fact that he stood out during the spring game puts him in the second tier. As part of Michigan’s celebrated 2013 class, the time is now for the 6’4”, 204-pound junior. He’ll either earn a role this season or get surpassed by the incoming talents.

Brian Cole is one such athlete. He’s not as big as Dukes, but at 6’2” and 200 pounds, he has enough size to fit nicely into a meaningful role. The early enrollee will probably have five to 10 extra pounds on his frame come fall, not to mention another summer of training. The former Saginaw Heritage star is considered one of the best athletes on the team, per players and coaches.

He may not emerge right away, but give Cole some time—he’s wowed during practice and isn't too far behind his “established” counterparts.

 

Tier III—the Potential Crew

Who knows what’ll happen with Drake Harris. Two years ago, he was the answer to Michigan’s prayers. He was the downfield threat who’d take the Wolverines to the next level. He was going to be Shane Morris’ (left)right-hand man.

However, injuries have sidelined progress since the day he arrived at Michigan. The 6’4”, 174-pound sophomore has to pack on the pounds. That’s a given. Rehabbing his hamstring is another priority—again, that’s a given. He’s been plagued by it for the past handful of months; if he doesn’t recover soon, he may not see the field at Michigan.

Maurice Ways looked decent during the spring game. Other than having a pass ripped from his hands by Brandon Watson, Ways appeared to be one of the stronger talents on offense, not just at receiver. But that was just one spring game. He needs to display something on game day.

The 6'4", 205-pound redshirt sophomore has the athleticism, hands (usually) and vertical to be a real threat this fall, but he faces the task of leapfrogging at least three others in order to get meaningful reps. 

At 6’2” and 199 pounds, Da’Mario Jones is another stout pass-catcher with potential. With just one 11-yard reception on his resume, Jones doesn’t have a track record from which to draw many conclusions. But he can play—that was clear when he was recruited.

Like Dukes, Jones was part of the Wolverines’ 2013 class and was once viewed as next in line.

Today, he’s behind a lot of people, and he could be behind a guy who’s yet to be tabbed as a receiver, Keith Washington, who arrives in May.

In all likelihood, Washington will find a home in the secondary. He runs a 4.3-second 40-yard dash and has quick hands—he’d do well as a corner. At 6’2”, he has the height. But at 170 pounds, he lacks the weight.

College conditioning programs can change that in a hurry.

And speaking of things changing in a hurry, don’t be shocked to see Washington flirt with reps at receiver. That’s why he’s included in this piece. If anything’s certain at Michigan, it’s that nothing is certain. Look at the way Norfleet has been shuttled around the lineup.

Washington is too good of an athlete to shelve for long. He may or may not play this season, and he may or may not see reps as a wideout. That bridge will be crossed later. For now, he’s being included in the potential bunch.

Grant Perry may be another candidate to monitor, especially if Alex Malzone wins the starting QB job—the true freshman started for the Maize Team during the spring game and won three state titles by hurling passes to Perry, a 6’0”, 185-pound incoming freshman.

Familiarity breeds success. Their high school connection could translate to something productive this fall. But Perry’s marked as a third-tier guy for a couple of reasons, with the main one being depth. Michigan has several waiting in the wings, so Perry may be asked to sit out this season and learn.

Doing that could bump him up a notch for 2016’s pre- and post-spring outlooks.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability. Recruiting information comes via 247Sports, and player stats/bio are from MGoBlue. 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Don't Expect Jake Coker to Win Alabama QB Battle During Spring Game

Alabama will hit the field on Saturday for the annual spring game, and for the second straight season, all eyes will be on the quarterback position.

Last year, fans left the gates of Bryant-Denny Stadium disappointed in the performance of Blake Sims, who has left the door wide open for incoming Florida State transfer Jake Coker. Instead, it was Sims winning the job during fall camp and maintaining all the way through the SEC title and national semifinal.

Don't expect any closure in this spring game either.

As Bleacher Report Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence notes, head coach Nick Saban hasn't settled on a first-team player through 14 spring practices.

He does, however, have A-Day rosters, and it appears that Coker is running with the first-team offense on the "white" team, with junior Alec Morris. Sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, who has emerged as Coker's top contender, and true freshman Blake Barnett are on the "crimson" team with what appears to be the second-team offense.

Saban may not have a first-team quarterback right now, but the spring game rosters indicate that he at least has a rough draft and that Coker is penciled in for now.

There's no chance he wins the job following the spring game.

With five quarterbacks vying for the job this spring, there simply haven't been enough first-team snaps to go around for the staff to truly have an idea of who deserves the job. Even if Coker (or Cornwell, or somebody else) goes out and lights up the defense on Saturday, Alabama is still best served to hold off on naming a starter until a couple of weeks of fall camp are in the books.

After all, it appears that Alabama's primary goal—narrowing the competition down this spring—has already been accomplished.

There's at least a rough draft of the pecking order, with Coker and Cornwell leading the way.

Coker has the experience—particularly in practice with many of the second-teamers from last year who are being counted on to be starters this year. But he and Cornwell are very similar in many regards. Coker (6'5", 232 lbs) and Cornwell (6'4", 221 lbs) are both big bodies with big arms who aren't exactly dual-threat quarterbacks, but they are more mobile than they appear simply by looking at them.

With the battle narrowing, the presence of two similar quarterbacks allows the coaching staff to take some time picking one since they both essentially can run the same playbook. That will be a huge benefit to the entire offense this summer, as they adjust to a more wide-open passing attack under second-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

That rough draft gives the players a good idea of how to organize and operate offseason workouts, the quarterbacks a good idea of where they are and what they need to work on, and the entire program a defined offseason direction.

Alabama has to replace nine starters off of last year's record-setting offense, including Sims, veteran running back T.J. Yeldon, Heisman Trophy finalist wide receiver Amari Cooper and three starting offensive linemen. With so many holes, spring was a time of experimentation in Tuscaloosa, and for the most part, that part is over. 

The spring game is when the rubber meets the road in a four-month race to earn playing time.

If Coker struggles, that's fine. Sims did last spring, and all he did was lead the Tide to the conference title. If Cornwell or one of the other contenders looks like the next Heisman Trophy winner, it doesn't mean much—especially if it's against the second- or third-team defense. After all, the spring game is just one practice.

A-Day is the biggest stage of the spring, but performing well in it is kind of like being the best football player on your little brother's pickup football team. It doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Alabama's quarterback battle will rage on until at least the midway point of fall camp. If you're an Alabama fan, that's good news. The next phase is about to begin, with Coker, Cornwell and perhaps one other contender still in the mix.

Baby steps.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Day 12 Gauge Beat Superman and the Cardale Jones You Don't Know

Four days before he became a football immortal, Cardale Jones met Superman.

With the national championship game on the horizon, Ohio State’s "third-string" quarterback and college football's sudden superstar—appropriately nicknamed 12 Gauge—could feel the weight of the world resting on his enormous shoulders.

But for one night, January 8, he holstered his extraordinary right arm. He took a break from marathon film sessions, press conferences and the burden that comes with greatness. He stepped out of the spotlight and back into his comfort zone, putting smiles on faces on Floor 4B of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

This was not by chance. In fact, unlike his swirling football fate, this all made perfect sense. It’s where Jared Foley, a 16-year-old recovering after his seventh open-heart surgery, was resting only days after being cut open yet again. It’s where Jones wanted to be.

“That time was hectic,” Jones told Bleacher Report. “I was getting ready for a playoff game. For him to ask me to come see him, it meant a lot. That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

They talked Ohio State football. They talked life. They played what would soon become the most discussed game of EA’s NCAA Football 14 in the history of the franchise. And yes, they talked some trash.

Over the hours and days that followed, this moment would become national news. It was featured on CNN. It made SportsCenter. It became a T-shirt. It was discussed on sports talk radio airwaves from coast to coast.

Let's be clear.  This isn't a Famous Athlete Visits Children’s Hospital, Wallops Sick Child 91-35 in Video Game story. Those headlines have already been written. They tell a story, but they fall short of telling the story.

“It means a lot to me.  These are things I was doing before the spotlight ever came,” Jones said. “It means a little more to people now because they see a guy with some influence, but this has always been me. I don’t want people to think that because I’m in the spotlight I’m doing outreaches. These are things I really enjoy doing. This is my passion.” 

 

Underdogs 

This is a story about heart. Not the ball of muscle and membrane that ultimately brought Jones and the Foleys together. This is a story about heart in the way football coaches use the word.

It's about how two young men who, at face value, have nothing in common, but, at the root of it all, have everything in common.

In one corner sits the unexpected face of college football, a 6’5” battering ram with a mortar for a right arm and dreams of NFL stardom that seemed far-fetched at best just a month before. In the other corner rests a resilient 16-year-old standing tall at 5'0" and 96 pounds—his latest heart surgery scar still fresh across the chest. It's his seventh one.

One of them is nicknamed Superman. The other is a football player.

Jared Foley was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that impacts blood flow throughout the organ. As a result, hospitals and surgeries have become an unavoidable fact of life.

However, no matter the procedure or circumstances, Foley has always recovered quicker and come back stronger than his surgeon's forecast. It’s why his heart surgeon gave him the nickname in the first place.

On January 5, Superman had his tricuspid valve replaced. It was not a surgery the family anticipated or one Jared’s mother gave much thought when it was first discussed. More drastic measures were being considered.

“It was a surgery we debated, so we kind of put it off for a while,” Stacey Foley, Jared’s mother, said. “But we decided to go for it, and it turned out better than any of us could expect. We were contemplating putting him on the transplant list or trying this one last surgery.”

This surgery proved to be an overwhelming success. Jared left the hospital only five days after having his chest cut open once again. The original plan was that he would still be recovering in the ICU after this point.

Superman.

Before the Foleys returned to their Pataskala, Ohio, home, a game was played. Headlines were made. An unanticipated bond was formed.

 

Superman vs. 12 Gauge

Zach Smith, Johnnie Dixon and Cardale Jones entered Nationwide Children's Hospital on January 5 with the intention of staying no more than 20 minutes. The plan was to make an appearance and then head back to campus. They didn't walk out the front doors until nearly three hours later.

They entered the hospital, and buzz resonated through each floor as they made their way upward. When they entered Jared’s room, his eyes lit up. A crowded room of family and friends erupted.

Smith, Ohio State’s wide receivers coach, is also married to Stacey Foley’s niece. He set the table for the game when he grabbed Dixon—the Buckeyes’ promising young wideout—and Jones to make a surprise visit to Jared’s room.

“Unbelievable family,” Jones said. “They were in such great spirits. They were so uplifting and there were so many people in the room supporting him making sure they would do any and everything they could to make him feel better. I love his family.”

As the initial shock and jubilation of the visit subsided, Jones took note of the Xbox controllers looking lonely and bored near Foley's hospital bed. With a copy of NCAA Football 14 in the room and football on the brain, the system powered on.

Although Foley is a massive Ohio State fan, he gave Jones the honor of playing as the Buckeyes. Given the timing, it seemed appropriate. Jared settled on Georgia.

“One of my cousins went there,” Foley explained the decision.

The game began, and the first notable development did not actually take place on the field. Jones decided to make a change at quarterback.

“I had Braxton in for a minute. Then I decided to put myself in,” Jones said. “I think my overall rating in the game was a 78 or 79. Once I got in, I started doing things like I would have if it were a real game.”

 

98-35 

Although an avalanche of points would soon overwhelm Superman, Foley had an early lead. Forget about not getting blown out; Foley could taste victory.

And then the second half began.

“My offense decided to be horrible,” Foley said. “I just kept throwing interceptions. I don’t remember how many I threw, but I know it was a lot.”

After returning the opening kickoff in the second half for a touchdown, Jones dug deep into his defensive playbook. Knowing precisely what would bother him in the same position, he flipped the script entirely.

“I tried to take advantage of him not being a quarterback,” Jones joked. “I disguised defenses as much as possible. And I blitzed a lot.”

It was right around this moment that the first verbal jab was unleashed. As the game started to slip away—and as Jones started to unleash his virtual fury—the back-and-forth between the two started in earnest.

“There was a little bit of [trash talk],” Foley said. “It was him. Well, it was mostly him.”

The touchdowns did not stop, and they came from predominantly one source: virtual Cardale Jones.

Although Jared leaned on his 20-year-old brother Jake for some football guidance—serving in an impromptu consulting/coordinator role—his presence did not slow down the inevitable. The deficit grew.

“We just kept blaming it on Georgia,” Stacey said.

With less than one minute remaining and the score sitting comfortably at 91-35, Jones did not slow down. He did not take a knee or even consider the most unpopular play in the playbook. With the game firmly won and then some and then some more, the idea of halting the onslaught never once crossed his mind.

He scored the game’s final touchdown as the seconds ticked away.

98-35.

“I knew I was winning and crushing him,” Jones said. “But I was more excited that I was playing as myself.”

Jones finished the game with a stat line that was absurd, even in the video game realm. He completed 17 of 19 passes for 395 yards. He added 209 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns.

“We were teasing Cardale not to waste it all on a video game,” Stacey said. “We had a national championship coming up.”

 

The Aftermath

We are prisoners to the box score. It tells a story, although it often leaves out the key ingredients. Numbers can be contagious, emotionless ways to bottle up talent. Rarely do these figures stretch beyond surface level.

In the instance of Foley vs. Jones, the scoreboard served as a backdrop. It also did not lie. The 98-35 score was real and not a fluke by any means, even if Foley might argue otherwise.

But if anything, the lopsided nature of the game only made the love and atmosphere even more palpable.

“We were all having a lot of fun with it. The whole room was laughing and carrying on the whole time,” Stacey said. “Jared was sitting in his hospital bed, and Cardale was just sitting right by his side.”

Two underdogs, both searching for some kind of normalcy, found just that in a game. Between touchdowns and the occasional lip service, Jared and Cardale got to know each other. 

“He’s really strong and just a competitor. He just has that fight about him,” Jones said of Jared. “There was just something about him; you just knew this kid was special. The Foleys were some of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met.”

As the game got out of hand, Smith’s scoreboard updates began to get traction through social media. When he delivered the final score—or what many thought was the final score—it all seemed to go viral.

“When we were in the hospital, people were blowing up our phones,” Stacey said. “We had no idea what was going on.”

Inside the hospital walls, the buzz from Jared's room began to spread quickly. As laughter poured out of the recovery room and into the hallways, those in the vicinity were drawn to the commotion. A crowd of nurses and children huddled outside the room, hoping to get a glimpse of the Buckeyes' new superstar.

“They ended up visiting almost all of the kids on the floor that night,” Stacey said. “As they were leaving, the kids who could get out of their beds came out to the hallway, shook their hands, and they took pictures with everyone. It was such a nice experience. They were so polite.”

As they made the rounds, a doctor's eyes welled up with tears as the quarterback greeted her. He embraced her right back. The madness of the outside world subsided, even for a short while.

Stacey Foley received a text message from Smith just a few days later. The coach wanted to thank her on behalf of his players who were just honored to have made the trip. They were still thinking about the night, even with a national championship closing in.

“Thank me?” she replied. 

Since that night on 4B, Foley had another surgery. This particular procedure had nothing to do with his heart, but rather a hernia that demanded repairing. He returned home the very next day in true Superman fashion. 

The prognosis following his seventh open-heart surgery has remained exceedingly positive. When I reached out to speak with him not long after the procedure, Foley was unavailable to talk. He was busy playing hockey with friends.  

Superman.

"Things are going amazing," Stacey added.

This is a story about resiliency. This is a story about heart.

After nearly bottoming out at Ohio State early in his collegiate career, Jones didn’t just rally; he put himself in a position where he was able to turn down the NFL draft and the possibility of millions of dollars. He did so for another shot at another national championship and to earn his degree.

Foley bounced back from another life-threatening procedure, coming out the other side stronger and more optimistic than ever before. It has never been easy, but you wouldn’t know it. It's not hard to see why the Foleys made such an impression on Jones. It's who they are.

Heart is what made this moment so extraordinary. A 16-year-old patient and a quarterback on the brink of stardom came together as equals at the most important and chaotic moments of their lives.

They came together and played a game that was never about the score despite our eagerness to embrace a catchy headline. On the surface, 98-35 was the story.

Dig deeper, below each layer of muscle and membrane, below a box score unsuited for the football realm, up the stairs and onto 4B, and you will find a bond that transcends hospitals, stadiums and the virtual world.

Perhaps their paths will cross again. Perhaps a rematch is in order. Foley believes the outcome will be far different this time around with a different team at his fingertips; he wants to make that perfectly clear. He’s ready to create his own headlines and get his virtual revenge.

He's ready to erase the memories of 98-35 while keeping the rest with him for eternity.

“Tell him I don’t care who he picks,” Jones said. “I’ll crush him.”

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

Week two of spring ball has been an interesting one for the UCLA football team. 

A few minor injuries have tested the wide receiver corps depth (as reported by Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News). Multiple position changes have also taken place.

Quarterback Aaron Sharp is now a receiver. Offensive guard Najee Toran has moved to defensive tackle, and fellow offensive lineman Colby Cyburt is now a tight end. Lastly, linebacker Dwight Williams has transitioned to safety. 

Outside of the minor injuries, it's been a positive week of practice. Three players in particular have been performing very well. Two of the athletes in question are pushing for a starting spot. A third has potentially put himself in poll position for arguably the most significant position on the field. 

Here's a look at three Bruins making a push during the second week of spring practice. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Week 2 Spring Practice Stock Report

Week two of spring ball has been an interesting one for the UCLA football team. A few minor injuries have tested the wide receiver corps depth ( as reported by Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News)...

Begin Slideshow

Clemson Football: Will Defense Be an Issue for the Tigers in 2015?

After a shaky performance in last Saturday’s spring game, some of the high hopes for the Clemson Tigers defense have dwindled. With so much star power and experience missing from last year’s roster, some of the criticisms are valid. The notion that this unit will take a huge step back in 2015 is flat out ridiculous, though.

The Tigers defense will have another productive season because they have more experience than people realize. Also, the guys that have to step up and prove themselves this season have a lot of potential. This unit will not put up the same kind of numbers as last year, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables will not allow this unit to have a big drop-off in production.

 

More Experience Than People Give Them Credit For

I get it. The Tigers lost a lot of experience on the front seven. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony are all gone, but this unit still returns experienced players. At least more than people are giving them credit for.

The secondary looks largely the same, headlined by Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. Jadar Johnson, T.J. Green, Cordrea Tankersley and Korrin Wiggins are all young guys that benefited from playing significant snaps last season.

Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson are the projected starters at the weak side and middle linebacker positions, and that duo combined for 582 snaps and eight starts last season. Bleacher Report analyst Michael Felder thinks Boulware could be a breakout star this fall.

The Tigers have a lot of bodies to possibly throw in on the defensive line. Carlos Watkins, D.J. Reader and Shaq Lawson all played over 130 snaps in 2014, so they are not your typical first-year starters. Venables rotated his defensive linemen enough last year to give them meaningful playing time.

The one thing that differs from last season is the amount of depth the Tigers have up front, but solid recruiting makes that transition much easier.

 

Good Recruiting Makes the Turnover Easier

Head coach Dabo Swinney had the fourth-best recruiting class in 2015 according to ESPN, and that influx of talent is going to start paying off.

Stars graduate and must be replaced. That’s the nature of college football. Beasley can’t hang around at defensive end forever, so the goal is to find the next guy that can contribute. The Tigers have brought in plenty of defensive line talent with the last two recruiting cycles, so the next Beasley or Jarrett could be there just waiting for an opportunity.

Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Richard Yeargin, Albert Huggins and Christian Wilkins were all highly touted high school recruits that have been brought in the last two years.

Experience is undeniably a huge asset to have when it comes to college football, but at the end of the day the players still have to play. And those players that will have the opportunity to contribute for Clemson this season are very talented.

 

Venables….Enough Said

Forgive me for bringing back this memory, but remember that empty feeling in your stomach after the 2012 Orange Bowl? After West Virginia hung 70 points on a depleted Clemson defense?

The unit that played that game and the defense that has been on the field since Venables’ arrival are complete opposites. They are more fundamentally sound, and they play with much more intensity.

That’s another reason why you shouldn’t be worried about the Clemson defense in 2015. Venables is one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, and he is more than capable of getting a productive season out of this group.

Per David Hood of TigerNet.com, Venables was happy with the way the spring practices went. “There are a bunch of thing that you can nitpick about today, (Saturday’s spring game) but overall I thought we had a really strong spring. We will have an opportunity to have a strong defense.”

 

Not a Top-Ranked Unit, But Not a Liability

The thing that we can take away from last Saturday’s spring game is to not take much away from it. As fans we put a lot of stock into the game, but in reality it’s just another spring practice. Jumping to the conclusion that the Tigers defense is going to be a liability this year and basing that assumption off a scrimmage in April is foolish.

Clemson’s defense will be just fine in 2015. New guys will have to step up and prove themselves, but those guys are either experienced from backup roles a year ago, or they’re 4-star recruits just waiting to get on the field. It won’t be a top-ranked unit again, but this group will be better than expected.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Grading Cornhuskers' Position Groups in Spring 2015

Nebraska football fans have put 2015’s spring practice in the rearview mirror, settling in for a long summer of barbecues, baseball and an absence of football. So before we let spring practice go, let’s take a look back and see how Nebraska under new head coach Mike Riley did this spring.

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football Recruiting: Assessing the Quarterback Position

The UCLA football team is in a bit of a precarious spot when it comes to recruiting the quarterback position. 

Josh Rosen represents the future—and most likely the present—as the team's signal-caller. Based upon his strong spring-practice performance, it'd be a bit of shock if he isn't named as the starting quarterback this season. 

Theoretically, Rosen would start for the next three years. If he's able to live up to his potential (while avoiding injury), a departure after his junior season would seem likely. While the Bruins should be set in the interim, depth behind Rosen is troublesome. 

The only other scholarship options on the roster include Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard. A third in Aaron Sharp has since switched from quarterback to receiver.

It's unlikely Neuheisel would ever transfer, should Rosen get the starting nod. Neuheisel grew up in a UCLA family, is from Los Angeles and is a valuable member of the team from a leadership standpoint. In essence, he's the perfect backup quarterback. 

Woulard is a more interesting case. Hailing from Florida, the former 4-star prospect hasn't quite put it all together in terms of the mental part of the game. Woulard's physical ability has never been a question. The redshirt sophomore possesses a strong arm and has above-average athleticism.

Regardless, he could opt to transfer closer to home if he isn't named the starting quarterback (Note: This is the author's opinion and is in no way based on tangible evidence). 

What does this all mean? Well, it signals the need for signing a quarterback in the 2016 class. 

UCLA's purported top target—4-star prospect Devon Modster—surprisingly opted for Arizona earlier this week. The Bruins appeared to be the favorites to land his services initially, but a late push by Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats sealed the deal. 

As it stands, there are a few options in which UCLA can pivot to. 

Ian Book, Matt Fink, Armani Rogers and Max Gilliam all hail from the state of California. The latter three all reside in the southern portion of the state. 

Book is a current commitment to Washington State. Both Gilliam and Rogers have committed to Cal, leaving Fink as the lone prospect undecided. 

Gilliam is potentially a good fit for the Bruins. Although committed to Cal, his mother went to UCLA. He also lives in Thousand Oaks—an upscale suburb outside of Los Angeles. Gilliam is a heady player with good arm strength and underrated athleticism. A UCLA offer could make things interesting. 

Of the four, the potential best bet to become a Bruin is Rogers. A native of Los Angeles, the Hamilton High School product is oozing with upside. At 6'5", he's got very good athleticism and strong arm strength. Rogers is also thought to be a good leader. 

Rogers committed to Cal a few months before Gilliam pulled the trigger. The Golden Bears also have a relatively deep depth chart, with Ross Bowers, Chase Forrest and Luke Rubenzer all waiting in the wings behind current starter Jared Goff.

With Cal taking yet another quarterback in this 2016 class, could this impact Rogers' decision? 

On Thursday morning, Rogers was on the UCLA campus watching practice. Per Rivals.com reporter Adam Gorney, the Bruins extended an offer to Rogers. Of the four prospects mentioned above, Rogers is the only one with an offer. 

The other potential quarterback target is Texas prospect Dillon Sterling-Cole. He was recently offered by UCLA and apparently has some interest. Like Rogers, he's an athletic quarterback with playmaking ability. Due to his smaller size, he's likely more apt to running zone-read plays when compared to Rogers. 

Rogers makes the most sense when looking at the entire situation. He's a high-upside player, residing right down the street from the UCLA campus. A more college-ready quarterback likely wouldn't want to sit behind Rosen for a few years. In Rogers' case, taking time to learn the nuances and intricacies of the position would likely serve him well down the line. 

For all of the reasons above, Rogers seems like the ideal target for the Bruins in the 2016 class. 

 

Unless noted otherwise, all recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football Recruiting: Assessing the Quarterback Position

The UCLA football team is in a bit of a precarious spot when it comes to recruiting the quarterback position. Josh Rosen represents the future—and most likely the present —as the team's signal-caller...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Alabama Football: Breaking Down Crimson Tide's 2015 A-Day Rosters

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s A-Day rosters are officially here.

While head coach Nick Saban likes to say that the practice groupings are for “organizational purposes” only, it’s fair to say that these groupings mean a little bit more.

The format hasn’t changed during Saban’s time at Alabama. The Crimson team is comprised of the first-team defense and second-team offense, while the White team gets the first-team offense and second-team defense.

So without further ado, here are your 2015 Alabama A-Day rosters (walk-ons not included), with a couple of takeaways and observations.

 

Crimson Roster

 

White Roster

 

Quarterback Hierarchy?

As we reported on Tuesday, redshirt freshman David Cornwell was a starting quarterback at Alabama’s second scrimmage on Saturday, with Jake Coker leading the other team.

It looks like it’ll be the same format for A-Day.

Coker will lead the White team along with Alec Morris, while Cornwell, Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett make up the Crimson signal-callers. Expect Morris and Bateman to be the second-team quarterbacks for each unit, with Barnett playing sparingly toward the end of the day.

Cornwell starting would confirm some suspicions from the last few days of spring practice: He is moving up the depth chart and has a very real shot at the starting job come September.

It will be hard to judge the quarterbacks solely on their A-Day performance—the defense very much has a built-in advantage given the way the game is set up.

The quarterback playing time and ordering will tell much more about where they stand in the race than how they actually perform once they’re out on the field.

 

Reuben Foster Closing in on MLB Starting Role?

One big difference between the first and second teams is at middle linebacker, where Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton have gone back and forth for much of the spring.

But at least for A-Day, Foster will be lined up with the first team alongside stalwarts like Reggie Ragland and A’Shawn Robinson.

At last year’s A-Day, Foster’s biggest weakness was put on display. He went in for a big hit on Kenyan Drake but lowered his head too far and had to be helped off the field to the locker room. Saban later disclosed that he had suffered a minor concussion.

Foster will get his chance again as a first-teamer on Saturday. If he can stay healthy, he appears to have a great shot at a starting role in the fall.

 

Secondary Shuffle

Alabama has done a lot of moving around in the secondary this spring, both out of necessity and in the spirit of experimentation.

With Cyrus Jones out (hip injury) at cornerback, younger players have gotten some more opportunities. Meanwhile, Eddie Jackson was moved to safety.

The first-team secondary looks like it will be made up of Tony Brown and Bradley Sylve at corner, with Geno Smith, Maurice Smith and Jackson at safety in some form or fashion.

That moves players like Hootie Jones, Jabriel Washington and Ronnie Harrison to the second team.

 

Offensive Line Set

Alabama’s starting five on the offensive line from spring practice is listed on the White roster, indicating that the Crimson Tide have their first five pretty much set for right now.

From left to right, Cam Robinson, Ross Pierschbacher, Ryan Kelly, Bradley Bozeman and Dominick Jackson are expected to play in front of Coker with the offense at A-Day.

It appears that Pierschbacher and Jackson have the best chance to be in the starting lineup for the first game of the season. Right guard, though, could play out like it did last season.

“We’re really pleased with the two tackles,” Saban said last week. “Cam and Dominick have really done a nice job this spring. Ryan Kelly has done a really good job this spring. Pierschbacher has really done a good job this spring. I think those four guys have really made progress. Then we’ve got another four or five guys in a pile that are kind of competing for the rest of the positions. (Bozeman) probably has the most experience. I think depth there is critical.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Odds Where Evander Holyfield's Beast RB Son, Elijah, Plays College Football

Elijah Holyfield is a 4-star running back, as per 247Sports Composite Rankings, who is uncommitted. Holyfield is a physical runner with a body already built for the college game. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives his odds on where Elijah will play his college ball.

Where do you think Elijah Holyfield will play in 2016? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Frank Martin II on USC Commitment: 'A Dream Come True'

If you're keeping score, it took Santa Ana, California's Frank Martin II mere hours to go from having a top 10 to announcing his future college home.

Wednesday evening, USC stood the tallest of the 10 finalists for the 4-star offensive tackle, as the Mater Dei High School standout gave the program his verbal commitment. Martin, who formally announced the decision via Twitter Thursday morning, became USC's fifth pledge of the 2016 class and also the Trojans' highest-ranked offensive pledge.

"Being a Trojan is a dream come true," said Martin, ranked No. 121 overall in the nation per 247Sports' composite rankings.

The commitment comes shortly after Martin announced a top 10, which included six Pac-12 schools—USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA and Washington—as well as Michigan, LSU, TCU and Texas A&M.

Martin said his decision was easy. He defined USC with two words: "Dream school."

Martin has been a fan of the Trojans for as long as he can remember. He now will get the opportunity to live out his dream playing for the team he's always admired. More importantly, he'll get a chance to shine for head coach Steve Sarkisian, someone who is expecting Martin to be an impact player.

USC began the week without a committed offensive lineman. The Trojans now have two of the top five tackles from the Golden State. Martin joins Murrieta, California, tackle and fellow 4-star prospect Nathan Smith as the offensive commitments for USC. Smith committed to the Trojans on Wednesday.

USC's class also features 4-star outside linebackers Mique Juarez and Daelin Hayes, as well as 4-star defensive end Isaac Garcia

Martin on Wednesday told Bleacher Report his top 10 all had the same qualities he was looking for. He wanted a school with "the prestigious academics and football tradition, and [the] opportunity to showcase my skills at the highest level no matter where they might be."

Academically, USC is well-respected. On the football field, USC is one of the storied programs of college football. To Martin, it was a win-win.

And when Martin on Wednesday said committing before taking an official visit was "definitely a possibility," he meant it.

At 6'5" and 301 pounds, Martin is ranked No. 13 among offensive tackles nationally. Offensive line coach Bob Connelly recruited him, and Martin is expected to compete for immediate playing time upon arrival.

Martin became the second Mater Dei football player from the 2016 class to give his commitment. He joined 4-star linebacker Curtis Robinson, who chose Stanford on Monday.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: Players to Watch in Irish's 2015 Spring Game

With nearly its entire starting lineup back for another year, Notre Dame is as set as any team in FBS for the upcoming season. This has made this year's spring practice one that's been less about competition and more about tweaking and tinkering—there are almost as many position changes as position battles.

But that doesn't mean Saturday's Blue-Gold scrimmage won't have any less value than in years past. The offense vs. defense competition will give Fighting Irish fans an idea of how this year's team is going to look under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and how it's coming along in its second season with coordinator Brian VanGorder running the defense.

There will also be a handful of players whose performances on Saturday will go a long way toward determining their roles in the fall. Some are in line to be starters, while others are looking to fill spots as backups or get into the mix in other ways.

Here's a look at some players who warrant the most attention on Saturday.

Begin Slideshow

Which Coach with a New Team Will Have the Best 2015?

There are plenty of new coaches exploring brand-new scenery around the college football world. These coaches are looking to make big impacts right away for their respective teams.

Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss which new head coach will have the best season next year. 

Which new head coach will have the most success next year? Check out the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Top SEC Players to Watch in Saturday's Spring Games

Five SEC teams will open their doors this weekend to fans looking to get a preview of what the 2015 season will look like.

Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri will all host their annual spring games, with all five schools looking to make noise in college football in 2015.

Alabama and Missouri met in last year's SEC Championship Game, Auburn played in the national title game two years ago and was in a playoff spot in November of last year, Mississippi State is fresh off a 10-win season, and LSU is still a potential power despite last year's struggles.

What players should you watch in this weekend's SEC spring games? Our picks for offense and defense based on skill, scheme and depth charts are in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Pages