NCAA Football News

4-Star David Long Jr. Opens Up on Top 10, Making Move from WR to CB

David Long Jr. has several years of experience playing wide receiver. The idea of playing cornerback shouldn't have come so easily for him.

Not that easy, anyway.

But it did. And now, the 4-star cornerback from Los Angeles' Loyola High School boasts 23 offers from coast to coast. Thursday afternoon, Long announced his top 10, which includes five schools from the Pac-12, two from the Big Ten, an independent in Notre Dame and one each from the Big 12 and ACC.

"They are the schools that I've built the best relationships with early," Long said of the 10. "The relationships built really have been set in stone for me; plus, with some of the local schools, I know a lot of the players and the atmospheres.

"The schools I haven't visited, I like what they are doing right now. I'm trying to make some visits this summer."

Long is the nation's No. 6 cornerback and the No. 64 overall player. He put on an impressive showing at The Opening Oakland regional last month, running the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, throwing the power ball 36 feet and recording a vertical jump of 35.9 inches.

After measuring at 5'10" and 176 pounds, Long recorded a SPARQ rating of 114.36 and then dominated the secondary drills to claim the defensive back MVP honor and an invitation to The Opening finals next month in Beaverton, Oregon.

For someone fresh off one year of playing cornerback, Long looks like a cagey veteran in the secondary. Long credited the smooth transition from playing receiver to working on foot placement and advanced techniques to improve speed, lateral movement and acceleration.

Playing receiver helped, as well.

"I love the move. Before you guard a route, you have to be able to run a route," Long said. "I can look at a receiver now and tell what type of route he's going to run."

Long's talents as someone who can play both sides of the ball will benefit one lucky school. His 247Sports Crystal Ball points to predictions for Washington (50 percent), USC (33 percent) and Stanford (17 percent).

Before he makes a choice, however, Long said he wants to see the schools he's yet to visit. So far, Long has visited USC, UCLA, Stanford and Washington. He's hoping trips to Notre Dame and Michigan are in his immediate future.

"A lot of schools said they would take me as an athlete, and I'm fine with that, but I've been exclusively working as a cornerback," Long said. "If I can get out to a few schools, maybe I'll commit then, and there won't be a need for official visits.

"If I can't get out to those schools, I'll take them on officials before signing day."

Long has a top 10 but doesn't have an order of schools. He said he'll look to trim the list possibly later in the summer.

 

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

Will Ohio State's Week 1 QB Starter Be Same as Bowl Game Starter?

By now, you're likely familiar with the unique competition between Ohio State Buckeyes quarterbacks J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes have started all three with incredible results and could win another national title with any of them.

The primary question to date has revolved around which one of the three will start in Week 1. We likely won't know that answer until deep into preseason camp.

The question that hasn't been asked as often is whether that same player will start in the bowl game (assuming, of course, that things don't go awry and Ohio State makes it to the postseason).

To answer that, let's revisit what led to Ohio State's improbable national championship run last year.

Barrett replaced Miller, the incumbent starter who was lost for the season because of a lingering shoulder injury, and went on to win 10 of his first 11 games. Barrett then sustained a season-ending ankle injury against Michigan, putting Jones at the top of the depth chart. All Jones did was help lead Ohio State to a Big Ten title, Sugar Bowl win and national championship.

The irony of it all is that we found out just how fortunate the Buckeyes were through a series of misfortunes. In no other way would head coach Urban Meyer have known that he had three quarterbacks who could play at that level.

So for 2015, we ask ourselves this: Will Ohio State experience the same level of injury-related bad luck as it did a year ago? Because that's the way two separate quarterbacks start in Week 1 and the bowl game.

The other possible way is if someone—say, for the sake of conversation, Jones—starts in Week 1 and gets benched at some point through the season.

Do you see that happening? Me neither. Additionally, as of March, Meyer has all but officially ruled out playing two quarterbacks. That would take care of any loophole in which one quarterback technically "starts" in Week 1 and the other "starts" the bowl game.

This brings us back to the more probable situation. Can Ohio State's starting quarterback, whoever it may be, stay healthy for the whole year? Or, at least, could the injured player return for the postseason?

Otherwise, there's a legitimate case to be made that the Buckeyes quarterbacks are snakebitten, even if it's not in the traditional sense. To lose even one quarterback to yet another season-ending injury would be unreal.

It wasn't on display in 2014 because Miller and Barrett were unable to return, but there is a pecking order to the quarterback depth chart that Meyer stands by. In an interview with Austin Ward of ESPN.com, Jones explains that, in some ways, he still feels like the No. 3 guy:

We as a team and me as an individual get a lot of praise for how well we did in those games, but I didn’t even grade out as a champion as far as coach’s standards. I haven’t proven anything yet. I haven’t proven anything to myself, my teammates, my coaches to label myself as a starter. That’s my opinion, my personal opinion.

I’m kind of harder on myself than the coaches, but I was thrown into that position. I didn’t beat out J.T. [Barrett] going into the Michigan game. I didn’t beat out Braxton [Miller]. Unfortunately both guys got hurt, and luckily enough I was prepared to try to take advantage of the situation.

If Miller was able to return from injury, he would have. The same thing applies to Barrett. Thus, if any starting quarterback for Ohio State is able to return from injury in 2015, you'd have to think he would.

Speaking of which, Alex Gleitman of 247Sports reports that Miller has been "fully cleared to throw the football as of this past Monday (June 8) with no limitations on his surgically repaired shoulder." This marks the first time in well over a year that Miller has been 100 percent.

Interestingly, the report also states "sources contributing to this report believe that the job is 'Miller's to lose' granted he is fully healthy and performing as expected."

With Barrett expected to be a full go in time for preseason camp as well, all three of Ohio State's primary quarterbacks will be healthy for the first time in a long while. Can whoever wins the job stay that way? 

The odds of the Buckeyes being that unlucky again seem low.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Alabama's Secondary Will Transform from Pushover to Power in 2015

Alabama used to be known as a program that not only sent members of its secondary to the NFL but also produced a top-tier pass defense while those players were on the Crimson Tide roster.

Over the last two seasons, the second half of that equation has been more myth than reality.

The Crimson Tide secondary finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense last year after it gave up 226 yards per game, more passing plays of 10 or more yards (133) than any team in the SEC and the second-most first downs (15) in obvious passing situations (3rd-and-10 or more) in the conference.

The year before, Alabama got picked apart by teams that could actually throw the ball and finished eighth in the SEC in third-down passing conversions of 10 or more yards (eight).

What seemed like an anomaly has become a trend under head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart—both of whom were hands-on with their defensive backs in practice.

Will Alabama's secondary go from pushover to power in 2015? 

Yep. Here's why.

 

An Established Leader

The secondary seemed more like the punchline to a bad joke in 2014, but it wasn't Cyrus Jones' fault.

The 5'10", 196-pounder from Baltimore earned a starting nod at corner before the season and steadily transformed into a star as the season progressed. He finished the year with three picks, a team-high 13 pass breakups and second-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press (via USA Today). Not bad for a guy who, as Matt Zenitz of AL.com notes, put off hip surgery and played through the pain.

He missed spring practice recovering from surgery for that torn labrum in his hip but should be 100 percent this fall. 

As Zenitz noted in April, he has the confidence from last season's personal success and the motivation to fix the perception of the Alabama defense.

"Now I know what I can do, and I know my abilities, and I know the defense," Jones told Zenitz. "Now it's just up to me to just go out there and play and prove everyone wrong who has something bad to say about it."

His presence and established success at corner will help stabilize the secondary and give Saban and his staff  a nice foundation as they fill out the rest of the depth chart during fall camp.

 

A Fresh Face

Whatever Saban and Smart were doing over the last few years was clearly not working the way that it should. That doesn't fall squarely on the coaching staff, although it should shoulder some of the blame.

New secondary coach Mel Tucker was brought in as a fresh set of eyes to try to fix the glitch.

Tucker was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 2013 to 2014 and served in the same capacity for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-2012) and Cleveland Browns (2008). He has also served as the defensive backs coach for the Browns (2005-2007), Ohio State (2001-2004)—where he won a national title in 2002—LSU (2000) and Miami-Ohio (1999).

"I've known Mel for almost 20 years going back to Michigan State when I hired him as a graduate assistant," said Saban, according to Alabama's official site. "He is an outstanding coach all the way around and really does an excellent job in terms of teaching the players. When you look at his college and NFL experience, his resume is very impressive."

His presence takes pressure off Saban and allows Smart to move back down to coaching inside linebackers. Basically, Saban and Smart recognized the problem and brought in Tucker as the elixir. 

How much will things change under Tucker? Saban and Smart will still have their hands in the cookie jar to an extent, but it's Tucker's show for the most part, and that new set of eyes couldn't hurt.

 

A Blessing in Disguise

Jones' absence this spring could be a blessing in disguise for the cornerbacks, because it allowed even more first-team snaps for players who are vying for the top spot on the depth chart.

Who took advantage the most? Sophomore Tony Brown seems like the big winner.

The 6'0", 195-pounder from Beaumont, Texas, played with the first team in the spring game and had three tackles, one for a loss and one quarterback hurry, according to stats released by Alabama. As Marc Torrence noted on Bleacher Report following the spring game, Brown should start alongside Jones barring something crazy happening this summer.

Jones' absence also allowed more reps for Bradley Sylve, Anthony Averett and Marlon Humphrey, all of whom will see time either as reserves or at nickel.

What's more, the move of former cornerback and part-time starter Eddie Jackson to safety indicates that Tucker has already put together some pieces of the puzzle.

Geno Smith will join Jackson at safety after spending the majority of his career at nickel, sophomore Hootie Jones has boat loads of potential, and early enrollee Ronnie Harrison was the talk of spring practice in the defensive backfield.

"The freshman is impressing me a lot. He’s just showing a lot of instinctiveness out there on the field,” Jones said, according to Alex Byington of the Times Daily. "He’s still getting it mentally, and that’s going to take time, but he’s definitely a football player. So he’s one of the guys that’s impressed me a lot."

In 15 short practices, Tucker already has made tremendous progress in getting the secondary shuffle sorted out.

That bodes well for the future. 

 

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

Best Offensive and Defensive Coordinator Duos in College Football

In the fast-moving coaching carousel of college football, great coordinators are hard to keep around.

Just ask Ohio State's Urban Meyer or Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who saw their star offensive assistants move on to head coaching jobs this offseason. The same goes for Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Missouri's Gary Pinkel, two coaches who had to replace their excellent defensive coordinators.

Top coordinators are always prime candidates to make the move up the coaching ladder at another school, which makes having a successful set of top assistants a constant challenge for head coaches. Building and then keeping a dynamic one-two punch of coordinators is a luxury.

Here are the top 10 coordinator duos in college football for the 2015 season, judged by their experience, longevity and, most importantly, their on-field success either at their current school or their previous stops. Duos that have a coordinator who has never served in that role before were not considered for these rankings.

Sound off on these rankings and nominate your own favorite duos in the comments below.

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Jim Harbaugh and Michigan Setting Summer Recruiting Trail on Fire

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Say what you want about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, but hate him or love him, his energy cannot be denied. Particularly when it's infectious.

Harbaugh loves the game of football, and his level of excitement can rival any coach's. College recruits around the country are noticing that, as he and his Michigan coaching staff continue their satellite-camp tour from coast to coast.

Harbaugh stopped in Dallas suburb Grand Prairie, Texas, on Tuesday as part of the Showtyme Elite Football Camp and not only watched roughly 250 athletes perform, but also gave demonstrations—in 90-plus-degree heat—on how to do drills, shouted words of encouragement for hours and, when the camp was over, stayed late to take pictures with eager athletes—many of those pictures of him wearing a Texas-sized cowboy hat.

Harbaugh, the former San Francisco 49ers coach, even took pictures with younger fans wearing jerseys of current 49ers.

"I now have a different perception of him," said Gerald Smith, Showtyme Elite Football Camp director. "When you see Jim Harbaugh, you think of what you saw with him and the 49ers—always intense. My attitude has changed. He's a really good coach who wants to help the kids and know them personally.

"He said he was really humbled about me reaching out to him. After he left, I knew I liked him a lot. I saw how the kids were posting about him on Twitter. Some think he's arrogant; he's not. He's very laid-back."

The personality always has been there for Harbaugh, but his nationwide run of satellite camps has many SEC and ACC coaches and supporters unhappy. The SEC and ACC do not allow guest coaching at satellite camps.

There's an NCAA rule limiting programs to hosting camps within 50 miles of campus. The loophole: There isn't an NCAA rule against a coaching staff volunteering at other camps or attending as a guest.

It's through this loophole that Harbaugh and his team have visited Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania and, most recently, California.

"Michigan is a far school to get in a car to drive and then come back," Texas 5-star 2017 safety Jeffrey Okudah said. For them to come [to the Dallas area], that means I get a chance to meet the coaches and not just talk to them on the phone. I can actually talk to them in person and get to feel how they really are."

Rising 2016 running back Peytton Pickett added: "He's an awesome coach, first and foremost. He was real positive towards everybody. As far as meeting him, it was like meeting a celebrity. I think he'll be very succesful on the college level just like he was at the pro level.

Athletes hear about coaches all the time, and Harbaugh's reputation fit everything that many athletes expected. He's a fiery, no-nonsense coach who wants to get the best out of his players. Harbaugh also has a level of charisma and passion for his work that earns him respect.

His presence was enough to bring out Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland for a couple of hours.

It's that energy that's made the satellite campers want to work with him—particularly when a camper is hours away from the Michigan campus.

"It was great to get to work with them up close. We got to talk to them out there. They were energetic and were teaching," said Florida 2017 tight end Tre McKitty, who has a dozen reported offers. "We have a lot of talented athletes around here in Florida, so it was cool that they came to watch us. I think everyone was excited to see them."

Harbaugh's presence provided more than the after-camp photo opportunities and handshakes. Recruiting targets who hadn't made it to Ann Arbor, Michigan, saw the kind of people he and his staff were. The satellite camps have been a chance for recruits to put names with faces.

For someone like Texas 4-star cornerback Eric Cuffee, face-to-face meetings are key. Cuffee has 30-plus offers and said Michigan's appearance in the Dallas area gave him a newfound respect for the program.

Cuffee, who lives in Waco, Texas—roughly 90 minutes from where the Grand Prairie camp took place—made the trek to meet the staff. He didn't participate in the camp drills, but as someone with a Michigan offer, he felt making the drive was the right thing to do.

"It was a great experience. I never would have thought Michigan would have come down this far," Cuffee said. "I think that's great that the coaching staff was able to come, as well. That's one of the major factors that played a part in me coming."

Smith said Harbaugh's presence, although not liked by some, is a valuable tool which could not only help Michigan's national recruiting reputation, but also the view of the Big Ten altogether. Smith said Harbaugh's a guy who "really set the tone by getting guys motivated" at the Showtyme camp. That seems to be the consensus with the other locations where Harbaugh and his staff have ventured.

Whether this will get the Wolverines a few out-of-state pledges for the 2016 class is still to be determined. The groundwork, however, has been set. Younger recruits in attendance will remember the aura Harbaugh brought, and Michigan could be a finalist for a lot of athletes it once thought it couldn't have landed.

"I learned a lot from the coaches that I can use when I start working in summer ball," Florida 4-star 2017 defensive end Zachary Carter said. "I spoke with coach Harbaugh; I really like him. He's enthusiastic about the game."

Emphasis on "enthusiastic."

 

National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani contributed to this report.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will College Football Ever Have Another Realignment Craze?

Thursday marked the five-year anniversary of Nebraska announcing it was leaving the Big 12 and joining the Big Ten. In turn, this week marked the five-year anniversary of "realignment-palooza" as it was unofficially known. 

In the height of the frenzy, the Pac-10 was going to expand to 16, forming the first of four superconferences. The Big 12 was on its deathbed and likely to be absorbed by...wait for it...the now-defunct Big East. 

“This part of the country, all of its significant institutions would have belonged to conferences somewhere else,” former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe told Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated about the possibility of the conference disintegrating. “If it all fell apart, the sad part is the ‘Flyover Zone’ would have been a true flyover zone.”

No other time in college football's history was more chaotic, as noted by Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports

Today, 43 FBS schools -- 33.6 percent of the current membership -- compete in a different conference than they did five years ago. Along the way, one league (the WAC) died, while another (the former Big East) lost its name (it's now the American Athletic Conference) and its privileged postseason status. All 10 remaining conferences include at least one team they did not claim in 2010.

The effects of realignment were felt even further down the ladder. Grand Canyon University—yes, there is such a thing—became a Division 1 member in the WAC, which still fields basketball, in 2013-14

The term "back-channel discussions" became a realignment buzz word. Articles claimed a supposed "gentleman's agreement" for SEC expansion and message boards blew up about the location of the nearest airport to West Virginia University.

Everyone was on crazy pills

Naturally, the question is: Could it all happen again?

Yes, but likely not for some time. Television contracts for the five power conferences won't start to expire until next decade at the earliest; an example of an exception would be the SEC's contract with ESPN, which runs through 2034

As Staples recently tweeted, conferences wouldn't even start exploring ideas like pooling television contracts until their current deals run out. 

In the meantime, everything is in a standstill. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has his East Coast presence. The SEC has its network on ESPN and the Pac-12 has Pac-12 Networks. The ACC and Big 12 are, well, alive. Notre Dame kept its Independent status, but has a stronger presence in ACC territory thanks to its partial membership. The Big 12 has no imminent plans to expand because of the lack of viable options. 

And Texas, the program at the heart of the '10 realignment craze, is still ironically in the same spot it was. 

How long will things stay that way? It could be years—a decade or more even—before we see anything that would potentially rival what began in 2010. Once those grant-of-rights and TV contracts expire, though, a new round of conference shuffling could commence.

The question then would be: What sets it off? Dissatisfaction with previous conference acquisitions? Not forming the superconferences the first time? Lessons learned from the first time around? It's hard to tell for sure.

When the realignment craze of 2010 began, it was fueled by deep-rooted issues within the Big 12 and ignited by the desire to rake in more television money. Whatever drives the next round of realignment internally—the "why" factor—the more pertinent question is whether media rights contracts are still the focal point of how it gets done. 

But here's what one can say definitively: We have about another decade for those frustrations to build. Long-standing rivalries and history be damned, major college athletics wants the next best thing before it enjoys what it has in front of it. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the 10 True Freshmen Who Will Light Up 2015

National signing day was a day of celebration across the West Coast, as many of the country’s top high school players committed to play Pac-12 football. Now that 39 Pac-12 players have been picked in the 2015 NFL draft, there are plenty of spots to fill in the upcoming season. But which true freshmen will make the biggest impact in 2015?

In ranking the top 10 true freshmen for next season, there were a number of factors to consider.

This is not just a regurgitation of the recruiting services’ rankings. Talent, of course, plays a big part in where a player ends up on the list, but so does the opportunity for immediate playing time.

With the departure of Brett Hundley, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has a clear path to a starting job, which bodes well for his ranking. But Oregon running back Taj Griffin, the Ducks’ top-ranked offensive recruit, has Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall blocking his path, which will hurt his ranking on this list.

Where most recruiting services take a player’s ceiling or potential into account, these rankings are focused on the here and now. Players that will need more time to develop (typically offensive linemen) will not be featured heavily.

Lastly, positions will also be taken into consideration. No single player impacts a team more than the quarterback, so any freshman signal-callers who could earn starting jobs will be ranked higher than, say, freshmen defensive backs who will be rotated in and out throughout the season.

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Bailey Hockman Commits to Georgia: How 4-Star QB Fits Bulldogs Offense

The Georgia Bulldogs bagged another big-time quarterback recruit Friday morning, as in-state standout Bailey Hockman announced his intentions to play for the program:

Hockman, a rising junior at McEachern High School, becomes the first member of head coach Mark Richt's 2017 class. Rated second nationally among pro-style passers in his grade, per 247Sports' Composite rankings, Hockman is exactly the kind of talent coaches attempt to build around on an annual basis.

The Bulldogs aim to repeat the ensuing success that followed a similarly early commitment from top-ranked 2016 quarterback Jacob Eason. The Washington product pledged last summer, setting the stage for Georgia to develop a foundation that's helped the class elevate to seventh in 2016 Composite rankings.

Eason initially bought into the vision of former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who now serves as head coach at Colorado State. He's remained loyal to the team as its transitioned to veteran NFL coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Now the first-year Bulldogs assistant has his grips on another coveted quarterback.

Hockman, a 6'2", 210-pound passer, is currently a composite 4-star recruit and could certainly leap into the 5-star tier with further progress. He threw for 3,597 yards and 42 touchdowns last season as a sophomore, per Jeff Sentell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Those efforts helped him emerge as a prized prospect, garnering offers from several Power Five programs. Hockman holds scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Stanford, Michigan State and Miami, among others.

Georgia extended an offer in January.

"They have great coaches and coach Schottenheimer, I was the first person he called and offered (when hired in January)," Hockman told Drew Champlin of AL.com. "That was a big deal to me."

Hockman has the arm strength and physical frame to effectively orchestrate a dangerous collegiate aerial attack. The lefty shined during significant early experience in a McEachern offense that featured USC offensive lineman Chuma Edoga, Oregon running back Taj Griffin, Duke wide receiver T.J. Rahming and fellow 2017 4-star Tyler Smith.

The Bulldogs landed his high school teammate, 5-star defensive tackle Julian Rochester, two weeks ago. Hockman's presence could also provide a push in Georgia's pursuit of Smith, who should serve as his primary target during the next two seasons.

It's easy to understand why college coaches have become enamored with Hockman, who spent Friday morning attending camp on campus:

He exhibits excellent footwork for a young quarterback and spins the ball well with an impressively quick release that places passes on his receivers in a hurry. If Eason lives up to his high-profile status in Athens, there won't be much of a drop-off, if any, at the position when he departs.

Hockman may sacrifice the opportunity to play quickly by heading to Georgia. Immense expectations are in place for Eason, who could compete for snaps as a true freshman and become entrenched as the Bulldogs' full-time starter through 2019. 

Patience will be imperative for Hockman if that's the case.

Based on impressions from his underclassman performances, an opportunity to lead Georgia will be worth the wait for him and Bulldogs fans alike.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tray Matthews Could Be the Key to Auburn's Secondary Success

How many guesses would you need to correctly pick which team tied with Ole Miss for the SEC lead in interceptions in 2014 before you landed on Auburn?

Ten?

All 13? 

But there the Tigers are, atop the SEC's interception chart with the Ole Miss Rebels at 22. Despite that, Auburn finished 12th in the SEC in pass defense (230.1 yards per game), while that vaunted "landshark" defense chimed in at third (191.2). As far as total defense goes, the difference was as wide as the Grand Canyon, as Ole Miss finished the season having given up 329 yards per game with Auburn nestled in the ninth spot in the SEC at 398.8.

So different, yet so the same.

If Auburn is going to become more consistent in the back end of the defense under first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, it's going to have to be more consistent against the pass and give up fewer big plays on the ground.

Tray Matthews is the man for the job.

The 6'1", 213-pound redshirt sophomore will likely step in for part-time starter Jermaine Whitehead at field (free) safety, whose suspension and subsequent time in the doghouse played a big part in Auburn's struggles. 

Auburn gave up 24 rushing plays of 20 or more yards in 2014, the second-most in the conference. Whitehead's prolonged absence played a part in that, and Matthews will be counted on to cut down on that number in 2015.

The last time Auburn fans saw Matthews up close and personal in a real game, he was wearing the red and black of the Georgia Bulldogs in 2013, lying on the turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium watching current Tiger wide receiver Ricardo Louis stroll into the end zone during the "Miracle at Jordan-Hare." After being dismissed from Georgia following the season, Matthews sat out his transfer year at Auburn before immediately being inserted into the starting lineup this spring.

It paid immediate dividends.

Matthews had five tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in Auburn's spring game, earning defensive MVP honors in the process.

"I can't stress enough the potential of this team," Matthews said after the game, according to quotes released by Auburn. "People ask me all the time how I'm doing, and I say 'I'm doing great, but I have so many great players around me.' Our defensive line is awesome. The linebackers have great communication with us."

As this photo of from Jason Caldwell of Inside the Auburn Tigers shows, athleticism isn't an issue for Matthews:

He is the key to Auburn's defensive success.

Auburn needs a talented, ball-hawking safety who's not afraid to stick his nose in and help out against the run, and Matthews is that guy.

He had 36 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups as a part-time starter for the 2013 Bulldogs, including 12 tackles in the "Miracle at Jordan-Hare" before being in frozen time on that batted ball to Louis. 

Now he's in a system under Muschamp that's known for producing hard-hitting safeties like former Florida star Matt Elam and versatile corner/safety Jaylen Watkins. Matthews has bought into playing in Muschamp's scheme.

"He wants everything done his way," Matthews said following the spring game, according to James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "He wants the defense done his way. He wants every technique done his way. If we buy into what he got going on, we're going to be all right."

He'll bring some stability to an Auburn secondary that can use some.

Cornerback Jonathan Jones, when healthy, is an All-SEC-caliber player, and junior Johnathan "Rudy" Ford will likely start at boundary safety while filling in at cornerback alongside Jones and senior Josh Holsey when needed.

That's a relatively experienced group that has endured a lot of highs and lows throughout their careers.

Matthews is the key.

He has the skills and is in the right system to become a star, and now's his time to shine for a defense that desperately needs a player exactly like him to fill a gaping hole.

 

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

Power Ranking College Football Conferences by Coaching Stability

By its very nature, college football coaching is a peripatetic pursuit. The ever-increasing amounts of money and pressure rolling into the game give athletic directors across the nation a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude with the leaders of their programs. Per a 2014 USA Today survey, 72 head coaches made at least $1 million annually, with Alabama’s Nick Saban leading the way at $7.16 million.

Of the 128 current FBS programs, only 11 coaches have spent at least 10 full seasons at their teams' helms. Only three (Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz) have spent more than 14 seasons leading their teams, with Beamer holding a 12-season edge on Ferentz and Stoops as the longest-tenured coach in FBS.

In other words, it’s hard to stay in the same place for an extended period of time. How tough is it, and which leagues make life hardest? We decided to take a look. We surveyed every college football league for coaching stability, using an excellent account from FootballScoop.com’s Zach Barnett as our guide.

We averaged the number of full seasons coached in every league, giving all winter 2014 hires zero seasons coached. Realignment makes this less than an exact science, but it’s the best way to examine which leagues are currently the most stable for college football coaches.

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Notre Dame Football: Recapping the Biggest 2015 Offseason News so Far

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We’re five-and-a-half months removed from Notre Dame football’s win over LSU in the Music City Bowl and barreling toward the 2015 campaign.

Since the start of the year, players and coaches have come and gone, and positions have changed. So what has been the biggest offseason news thus far?

Let’s have a look back.

 

Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks were going to headline the Notre Dame offseason one way or another, whether with a position battle or a departure. The Irish had both.

Everett Golson and Malik Zaire duked it out throughout the spring for the starting quarterback job, though Irish head coach Brian Kelly indicated the competition would carry into the fall. That, of course, won’t be the case any longer after Golson announced last month he’d be transferring from Notre Dame.

“After much thought, prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interest to graduate from Notre Dame and transfer to another school effective immediately,” Golson said to FOX Sports in a statement.

Less than two weeks later, Golson announced he’d transfer to Florida State.

“We, of course, have approached our preparations for the upcoming season with this possibility in mind,” Kelly said in a statement at the time of the initial transfer announcement. “The emergence of Malik Zaire, based on his performance in the Music City Bowl win over LSU, and throughout spring practice, has given our staff supreme confidence that he can lead our team to great success in 2015.”

So there it is. Zaire will quarterback the Irish in 2015. He’s only attempted 35 career passes, but the redshirt sophomore did claim Music City Bowl MVP honors.

“I think anytime that you’re sharing a position versus going out there, you can sense in the meetings there’s a confidence and you’re always looking to him for the answers,” Kelly said of Zaire earlier this week. “So he’s obviously feeling as though he needs to live up to that expectation too.”

Zaire will make his second career start in 85 days against Texas.

 

KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams

After missing all of last season during and after Notre Dame’s investigation of suspected academic dishonesty, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive lineman Ishaq Williams are back—to varying degrees.

Russell, who started 26 games in his first two seasons at cornerback, is expected to return to the squad in the coming days. The senior announced on his Facebook page at the end of May that his expected return had become official.

“Love my school and my teammates,” Russell wrote on May 29. “Excited to go help lead this team to success. Officially accepted back at Notre Dame!! Back on campus in [two] weeks!”

Russell then posted the following note Thursday.

Russell’s return is a major addition to a potentially budding secondary. Fellow corner Cole Luke posted a strong sophomore season, and safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate showed growth during the spring.

“He’s an alpha player,” Kelly said of Russell on Tuesday. “He’s got that warrior personality where he will hold others accountable. You add him to the mix with a Joe Schmidt. And you add him to a Jarrett Grace. That changes the personality of our defense from what it was late in the year when we really didn’t have those personalities on the field.

“And we all know what he has from an athletic standpoint.”

Williams’ situation is less defined. Kelly said Tuesday that the big-bodied defensive end from New York is back in school at Notre Dame and is participating in team workouts. Kelly said confidently that Williams will receive his degree from the university. The head coach said the football component for Williams is “a lot more complicated” and deals with “NCAA eligibility.”

Williams will be on scholarship even if he’s ruled ineligible to play, Kelly said. In that case, Kelly said it’s possible the scholarship could be counted differently.

 

Coaches

While it doesn’t exactly parallel last season’s coaching carousel, in which offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco both left for head coaching jobs, this offseason featured similar movement on the coaching staff.

Assistant coaches Tony Alford (Ohio State), Kerry Cooks (Oklahoma) and Matt LaFleur (Atlanta Falcons) all moved elsewhere. Kelly brought in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, running backs coach Autry Denson, defensive line coach Keith Gilmore and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght to replace them.

In Sanford, Notre Dame adds a 32-year-old coach who has already made stops at Boise State, Stanford, Western Kentucky and Yale.

“Mike Denbrock and I had a long conversation about this,” Kelly said during the spring. “We agreed at the end that what we were looking for was somebody that could turn the room upside down. We didn’t want somebody to be equal.”

Kelly and Sanford agreed the new coach’s primary job is to develop the quarterbacks.

“Whether it was this year or any other year, there’s a great amount of scrutiny on the quarterback position,” Kelly said when announcing the new coaches. “Mike understands that. He welcomes that challenge.”

Meanwhile, Alford and Cooks were widely regarded as top recruiters, and their presence could be difficult to duplicate, at least in the short term. With roughly eight months until national signing day, Notre Dame’s class of 2016 sits at just six members.

 

Roster Movement

Golson, Russell and Williams drew the bulk of the in-and-out attention during the spring and early summer, but Notre Dame also lost versatile offensive lineman Matt Hegarty, who started 11 games in 2014.

With one year of eligibility remaining, Hegarty decided to spend it at Oregon. He announced his intention to leave Notre Dame in March.

“Unfortunately, I have already had to miss a precious amount of football battling back from my stroke, and I value every rep and opportunity going into my final year of college ball that much more,” Hegarty said in a statement to ESPN.com’s Matt Fortuna. “My goal is to contribute this season, continue to develop my skills and pursue my dream of playing in the NFL. Because of this goal, I have asked for a transfer to play at another school where I can contribute more on the field.”

Kelly left spring ball very high on his offensive line, both in terms of the first unit’s ability and the overall depth. The Irish bring back three linemen—Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Steve Elmer—with multiple career starts.

On the other side of the trench, second-year defensive lineman Jhonny Williams will transfer, according to multiple reports Thursday. Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune first reported the news.

Williams, viewed as a raw defensive lineman with pass-rushing potential, redshirted as a freshman in 2014. His departure brings Notre Dame closer to the scholarship limit.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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Tennessee Football: Projecting Who Will Win Volunteers' Open Starting Positions

The most talented Tennessee football team in at least a decade will trot onto the field in 2015, but that doesn't mean every starting spot is locked up.

As a matter of fact, there are several wide-open races ongoing that will heat up once practice begins. Even more could emerge once UT gets all its highly touted recruits on campus and thrown into the fray.

For instance, the Vols return starting defensive tackle Danny O'Brien. But with potential stars such as Kahlil McKenzie joining freshman Shy Tuttle on campus, nobody's job is safe.

The same situation applies to sophomore Emmanuel Moseley, who must hold off JUCO transfer Justin Martin, freshman Darrell Miller and others to keep his starting spot.

Still others, such as left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, left guard Marcus Jackson, safety LaDarrell McNeil and receiver Marquez North, who appear to have firm holds on starting jobs, aren't guaranteed to lead their respective units onto the field.

Even running back Jalen Hurd could see stiff competition from Alvin Kamara, though both will receive plenty of carries.

It's going to be a free-for-all for several spots, but a few position battles are setting up to be particularly interesting. Let's take a look at some open competitions and who should emerge as starters by the time UT travels to Nashville to take on Bowling Green on Sept. 5.

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Ohio State Football: Projecting Who Will Win Buckeyes' Open Starting Positions

Ohio State is set to return 15 starters for its national title defense this fall, but the departure of numerous veterans has Urban Meyer looking for replacements at wide receiver, defensive end and a pivotal cornerback spot. 

There's also a pretty intriguing quarterback quandary you may have heard about. 

A couple of the Buckeyes' openings were filled during spring practice. Raekwon McMillan secured the middle linebacker position that was vacated by Curtis Grant, and on offense, Nick Vannett stepped up as the lead tight end in place of Jeff Heuerman.

But fall camp will be a proving ground for a handful of important position battles. Which Buckeyes will rise up and secure a starting spot this fall? 

 

Quarterback

After leading Ohio State on an incredible postseason run through Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to close out the 2015 season, and as the only healthy quarterback among Ohio State's three elite options this spring, many pegged Cardale Jones as the favorite to win the unprecedented quarterback battle. 

But if you ask Jones, he's not the one leading the race. The 6'5", 250-pound gunslinger told Austin Ward of ESPN.com that he still views himself as a third-stringer, and that he still has a ways to go before securing the starting spot.

"I’m working harder than ever," Jones said, via Ward. "I understand that I want to be the starting quarterback of this team, but I know I have two guys in front of me who are working just as hard."

That quote falls in line with a culture Meyer has built at Ohio State—that everything you get is earned, not given. Meyer also revealed during spring practice that he plans on naming the starter midway through fall camp.

Jones certainly won't be the third-stringer he views himself as now.

 

Winner: Cardale Jones

 

Right Tackle

With four starters returning to a unit that dominated down the stretch of the 2014 season, Ohio State's offensive line has the potential to be the best in the country this fall.

But that potential will only be reached if the Buckeyes can effectively replace the sole deflection of right tackle Darryl Baldwin.

The leader for that vacated spot coming out of spring is Chase Farris, a converted defensive lineman who backed Baldwin up during the 2014 season. He gained the edge over talented underclassman Jamarco Jones, who has bounced between right and left tackle as a Buckeye.

"Chase Farris will start if he continues to progress," Meyer said this spring, according to Ari Wasserman of the Plain Dealer.

 

Winner: Chase Farris

 

Wide Receiver

Perhaps the biggest loss the Buckeyes need to overcome is the departure of senior wideouts Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. 

Smith spent the previous four seasons as Ohio State's elite deep threat, while Spencer emerged as the Buckeyes' best perimeter blocker (a hugely important role in Meyer's offense) and one of the team's unquestioned leaders.

In their absence, the two players who stepped up this spring were Corey Smith and Noah Brown.

Corey Smith played sparingly in 2014, ranking fifth on the team with 220 receiving yards. He flashed in the CFP National Championship against Oregon, though, leading the team with 76 receiving yards on two catches, and three months later in the spring game, he broke out for 176 receiving yards and two touchdowns on just six catches.

Brown, though, made a bigger impression throughout spring practice. At 6'2" and 222 pounds, he has the size to be an effective blocker on the perimeter, but he also adds legitimate playmaking ability to the field as well.

"Noah Brown has had probably as good of a spring as I could've wanted," receivers coach Zach Smith said, according to Bill Landis of the Plain Dealer. "He's at a different level than he was in the fall. He's come a long way and still has a lot to do, but he looks like a guy who's going to contribute in the fall."

And while the Buckeyes are loaded at receiver with players such as Curtis Samuel, Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell and Jeff Greene, Corey Smith and Brown should rise to the occasion.

 

Corey Smith, Noah Brown

 

Defensive End

One of the things Ohio State lacked in 2014 was an effective counterpunch along the defensive line to complement Joey Bosa.

Noah Spence was supposed to be that guy, but a year-long suspension left the Buckeyes shorthanded at weak-side defensive end. And while Rashad Frazier and Steve Miller formed a suitable pair at the position, they didn't possess the pass-rushing ability that would've made Ohio State's defense elite.

Tyquan Lewis is trying to change that.

The redshirt sophomore had a fantastic spring, edging ahead of redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard for the starting spot. The competition is still open, according to Meyer, but Lewis flashed the ability that Ohio State desperately needed last season.

“Tyquan is having a great spring, really great spring,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said, according to Tim Moody of the Lantern.

 

Winner: Tyquan Lewis

 

Nose Tackle

When defensive tackle Michael Bennett hit his stride last year, it changed the trajectory of Ohio State's season.

Bennett actually played the beginning of the season out of position, slotted as the nose tackle to allow Adolphus Washington to play the 3-technique. But when the two switched positions, Bennett dominated, finishing the final seven games with a team-high 11 tackles for loss.

His departure allowed Washington to slide back to his natural role at the 3-tech position, opening up a spot at nose tackle. And throughout spring practice, senior Tommy Schutt showed that he's ready for a starting role.

“(Schutt) has had a good spring, his best spring since he’s been here,” Meyer said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "As of right now, he’d be the — him and Adolphus starting inside. As of right now. I’m not ready to say he’s the guy yet.”

Schutt will have to hold off guys such as Donovan Munger and Joel Hale, but he's definitely in the driver's seat heading into fall camp.

 

Winner: Tommy Schutt

 

Cornerback

One of Ohio State's most heated position battles came in the secondary for the open cornerback spot. 

The Buckeyes have good depth at the position, but for most of spring practice, it was a two-horse race between Gareon Conley and Damon Webb. 

Conley, who struggled at times during the '14 season—most notably on the road against Michigan State—brought a renewed confidence to the field this spring. 

“Last year, I’d go out there thinking about messing up,” Conley said, according to Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch. “Now it’s just going out there being confident that you won’t mess up. Not thinking about messing up, that’s what helps you be a good corner.”

That confidence gave him a lead over Webb and Marshon Lattimore, who surged as he got healthy during spring practice, but this will be a battle that wages well into fall camp. 

But in the end, expect Conley to be on top.

 

Winner: Gareon Conley

 

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: What Losing Tolbert, Alexander and Santos Means for Huskers

Nebraska football fans were jolted out of a sleepy June afternoon to learn that the Huskers lost three players from the 2015 roster. According to Husker Online, wide receiver Jariah Tolbert and defensive back LeRoy Alexander will be transferring, and linebacker David Santos has left the team.

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley gave no reasons for the departures of the three players. And while we don’t know why these three left the team, we can take a look at the impact their departure will have on Nebraska in 2015.

 

Jariah Tolbert

Of the three, Tolbert’s loss should have the least-immediate impact. While Tolbert did look promising in this year’s spring game (three catches for 55 yards and one touchdown), it did not look likely that he would press for a starter’s position.

Likely behind Jamal Turner, Jordan Westerkamp, and De’Mornay Pierson-El, Tolbert would have been a rotation player in the wide receiver corps. While losing Tolbert certainly isn’t good news, of the three his loss should be the least noticeable next season.

We know, per Husker Online, that Tolbert had a drug charge on April 30 and that university police caught him with marijuana in February. Whether those incidents were part of the reason for Tolbert’s transfer is unknown at this time.

 

LeRoy Alexander

Alexander’s departure from the team has the potential to make a bigger difference for Nebraska in 2015. Some people (including this dope) thought that Alexander had a good chance to win one of the starting jobs at safety this year.

Former head coach Bo Pelini suspended Alexander for the 2014 season, although Nebraska never made the specific reasons for the suspension public. While Alexander only started one game in 2013, he was a regular contributor, playing in 13 games with 34 total tackles.

According to 247Sports' Michael Bruntz, Alexander was working out primarily with the second-team defense this spring. But Nebraska’s secondary is one of the deepest units on the squad. So even though Alexander had the potential to be a major player in Nebraska’s defense, the depth of the secondary makes his transfer easier to absorb.

 

David Santos

Of the three, Santos’ departure is by far the most concerning. Other than the true freshmen coming in, before Santos left, Nebraska only had five scholarship linebackers. Now, with Santos leaving, that total drops to four.

And considering that Luke Gifford redshirted last year, there are only three (!) linebackers on Nebraska’s roster with any playing experience. One of those three, Marcus Newby, has only played in nine games, making three tackles, and was rotated between linebacker and defensive end.

That’s a big problem and raises huge question marks for Nebraska’s defense.

It forces Nebraska to now rely on untested players—perhaps some true freshmen—to contribute at linebacker in 2015. As an early enrollee, Daishon Neal is hoping to have a leg up on the other true freshmen in earning playing time. His offseason workout, according to the Omaha World-Herald's Jon Nyatawa, has been designed to help him achieve that goal.

But it’s a big ask for a true freshman to come in and succeed at linebacker. Still, given Nebraska’s dangerous lack of depth at linebacker with Santos’ departure, Riley may be left with little choice other than to throw the kids on the field and hope for the best.

 

Solving the Scholarship Problem

If there is a silver lining from this three-player exodus, it’s that Nebraska is now at the 85-scholarship limit for 2015. Although there was never much doubt, it did seem a little odd that we would be in June with Nebraska still three scholarships over the 85 limit. Now, with the departures of Tolbert, Alexander and Santos, at least we will have some certainty as to the composition of Nebraska’s roster in 2015.

 

This column first appeared at the Double Extra Point, which you can follow on Twitter @DblExtraPoint.

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Odds on Who Will Be Michigan's Starting QB in 2015

By now, it’s pretty clear that Jake Rudock will be the Michigan Wolverines’ starting quarterback in 2015. There really isn’t a sane-minded person out there who feels otherwise. The senior transfer from Iowa was once recruited by passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch and was essentially hand-picked to get the show on the road this fall in Ann Arbor.

"I am excited for Jake to get here and compete with the quarterbacks that we already have in the program," Fisch said through a team release in April. "I've known Jake for a long time, since 2011, and I am excited to be a part of the staff that is now coaching him."

The relationship stems back to Fisch’s days with the Miami Hurricanes. In 2011, Fisch, then Miami’s offensive coordinator, targeted Rudock, a former star at St. Thomas Aquinas, a nationally recognized Floridian prep powerhouse.

"I think that Jake brings great maturity and experience to the program,” Fisch said in the release. “He has 25 starts under his belt in the Big Ten and a winning record of 15-10. All of that, combined with the quarterbacks we currently have in the program and all the skill we are surrounding him with, we are excited about the things that Jake can do for our program."

So yeah, with all of that said, odds are certainly in favor for Rudock, who, barring wild and unforeseen events, is all but a lock for the No. 1 position come opening day—a clash Sept. 3 versus the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

In 2014, he guided the Hawkeyes to a 6-2 start. Things got rough, though. The Hawkeyes finished 7-6 after losing the TaxSlayer Bowl to the Tennessee Volunteers, 45-28. Nonetheless, Rudock is Michigan’s only proven option. There isn’t one quarterback on coach Jim Harbaugh’s roster who boasts anything close to Rudock’s track record.

Rudock is a standard 6’3” and 208 pounds. He has an average arm and slightly decent wheels—again, nothing groundbreaking by any means. But as Fisch mentioned, Rudock’s experience and maturity make him a prime candidate for the starting role.

Call your bookie and put the house, car(s) and kids’ college funds on Rudock as soon as humanly possible. You. Can’t. Lose. Kidding. Don’t do that. And to make things clear, the following odds are for entertainment purposes only.

 

Morris Lands at 3-1

Unfortunately for Shane Morris, the road to starting looks like it’s getting longer and longer each day. The onetime golden boy of Michigan high school football probably didn’t plan on sitting for years on end, but that’s the scenario he faces today as he enters his junior year.

He’s had two starts, and neither one was great. A so-so spring game didn’t help his cause either. However, that didn’t stop Harbaugh from tabbing his former Warren De La Salle star as the No. 1 guy after the exhibition.  

"If I looked at it over all of spring ball, Shane would be ahead, and the competition will rage on, though, starting tomorrow—through April, into May, June, July and August,” Harbaugh said.

Of course, that was just was probably just a move for the sake of making a move. At that point on April 4, Harbaugh had limited options: Morris, Alex Malzone, who’ll be covered later, and Wilton Speight, who’ll also be examined, were the only choices available.

As explained before in earlier articles, there was no way that Michigan would enter summer without a publicly named No. 1, especially not under Harbaugh, a former Wolverines star signal-caller and 1986 Heisman Trophy finalist under coach Bo Schembechler.

There is plenty of upside for Morris, though. Well, at least perceived upside, something for which eternal optimists to cling: Morris still has a bit of the unknown factor going for him.

To date, Wolverines fans have yet to see him go a full Saturday on his own. In theory, it’d be nice for him to get that shot, as a spring game and two starts under shaky circumstances just aren’t enough to fully gauge the 6’3”, 209-pounder.

But it’s unlikely. Rudock would have to get injured or play beyond poorly in order for Morris to end up as the starter, at least as things stand today. However, camp has its way of deciding position battles, and the quarterback spot is the most important for a Jim Harbaugh-coached team.

Morris will compete. You can bet on that.

 

Tab Gentry as a 4-1

Technically speaking, Zach Gentry was Harbaugh’s first quarterback target. Harbaugh immediately chased 4-star Brandon Peters for 2016, but his last-minute move to sign Gentry, a 4-star from Albuquerque, New Mexico, certainly sent a message: He wasn’t completely satisfied with what he had, so he had to pick up groceries on the way.

That point of view is based on the idea of Alex Malzone being the only quarterback of the 2015 class—that was the plan under former coach Brady Hoke.

At 6’7” and 230 pounds, Gentry is big, big, big. Big arm, big body. He runs a 4.68-second 40-yard dash too. Imagine an impromptu dash to the sidelines and a 60-yard toss to a wide-open Amara Darboh or Jehu Chesson.

That could happen this fall. Most likely during a relief appearance, though. Morris would have to hit rock bottom before Gentry got a shot. Rudock would have to be M.I.A.

Don’t count on Gentry being the starter come opening day.

 

Put Malzone at 7-1

Alex Malzone could end up redshirting this season, especially if Gentry performs well during camp. There’d be no sense in carrying any more QBs than needed and needlessly burning a year of Malzone’s eligibility.

Starting opposite of Morris during the spring game, Malzone made his debut at The Big House in front of at least 50,000 eager fans. Everyone wanted to see the former Birmingham Brother Rice star. Three state championships, All-American qualities—he was “it,” even if for a brief moment.

But everyone found out that he needed more work before becoming a serious candidate for the job in 2015.

"Anything's good for him. He's so young. He should be in high school right now and he's out there competing in an 11-on-11 football game," Harbaugh said on April 4. "That's valuable, valuable type of experience. He did good things. He managed the game, controlled the huddle, made some plays and got great experience for him. Anything he gets right now [benefits], and to play in an entire, full spring game as a true freshman, that's money in the bank.

"He has a place to go from now and to improve from—it’s a start for him. So yeah, we’re pleased [with his work thus far].”

 

Speight's 10-1

If Hoke were still the coach, Wilton Speight would probably have a realistic chance of at least being the Wolverines’ No. 2 guy this season—right behind Morris. But Hoke isn’t the coach, and since it released him, Michigan has gone out of its way to find more arms.

At 6’6” and 234 pounds, Speight has the prototypical size that most coaches love—Harbaugh included. Speight could have jumped into the race this past spring, but he wasn’t physically able to play during the April scrimmage.

His clock is ticking—and fast. If he doesn’t cement himself as a top-two or –three contender this fall, he may never see the field as a starter in Ann Arbor.

You will get struck by lightning and win the Mega Millions lottery (on the same day) before Garrett Moores, Brian Cleary, Joe Hewlett or Matt Thompson starts a Saturday for Harbaugh.

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer via press conference, press release or other media availability.

Recruiting information was obtained from 247Sports. Current player info was obtained from MGoBlue.

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25 Best Overall Position Groups for 2015 College Football Season

Star power is a big part of success in college football, but any coach will tell you he'd prefer to have several good players at a position than just one great performer.

Being deep and balanced makes it possible to overcome injuries and to spread the work around, thus lessening the chance of fatigue as the year goes on. It also makes it harder for opponents to key in on one particular player, since those around him can pick up the slack.

Having a great left tackle is fine, but if the rest of the offensive line is suspect, then that negates his greatness. The same goes for having just one go-to receiver or a single defensive player who handles most of the workload. Teams that can avoid depending on individuals and instead rely on groups have the best chance to win in the long run.

We've ranked the top 25 overall position groups in the FBS ranks heading into the 2015 season, taking into account how their past performance and expected role this season has and will contribute to their team's success. Check out who made the list and where they ended up and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Notre Dame Legend Jerome Bettis Imparts Wisdom to 4-Star RB Tony Jones Jr.

Tony Jones Jr. didn't have to show up at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp.

He could have chosen to stay home and prepare for The Opening next month, but he told his father, Tony Sr., that he felt like competing against some of the nation's best this weekend. 

The 4-star running back and Notre Dame pledge and U.S Army All-American's desire to attend at the last minute paid off when he met former Irish legend and recent NFL Hall of Fame inductee Jerome Bettis.

For the second consecutive year, Bettis, a Detroit native, was in town to speak with the throng of recruits during the camp's leadership sessions. 

"It was a great feeling to meet one of the greats to play at Notre Dame," Jones told Bleacher Report. "It was cool to hear all of the things he spoke about in his time at the school. 

Jones, who is also a standout baseball player at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, committed to Irish head coach Brian Kelly back in March while on a visit to South Bend.

On that visit, Tony Sr. noted that his son paid close attention when he saw Bettis' portion of the highlight reel the staff showed him. 

"I think it is because he was a big back with great feet," the younger Jones remarked on his affinity for The Bus. "He would run over people but he would shake them too. He got extra yardage after contact all the time. He was a true workhorse and I definitely admire that."

Bettis took the time to offer some words of wisdom and encouragement to the talented back who will now follow in his footsteps.  

"He told me to keep grinding and never give up because you never know when your time in the game will end," Jones said. "His main message to me was just to keep working harder on the field and in the classroom."

 

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

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USC Football: The 1 Thing That Could Derail Trojans' Playoff Hopes

If all goes according to plan for USC in 2015, the Trojans will be playoff-bound, and quarterback Cody Kessler will be in New York for the Heisman finalist ceremony. 

But if we know anything about plans, it's that they're meant to go off the rails. What could derail USC's playoff hopes? One place to look is how Kessler has played in major games against ranked teams. 

Kessler was hailed as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football last season. Technically, that's true. Only Oregon's Marcus Mariota had a higher passer rating in the Pac-12 (181.75), and he won the Heisman Trophy. Few quarterbacks in the country had Kessler's 39-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Those are the kinds of numbers that warrant offseason Heisman chatter, which Kessler is deservedly getting. However, there's a portion of Kessler's game that needs improving in 2015: performances against Associated Press Top 25 teams. To put it one way, Kessler was average in four of those games a year ago. 

To break down what Kessler was facing even further, here are the four teams USC played in 2014 that were ranked in the AP poll at the time of the game, according to ESPN.com. Additionally, here are the passing defense and scoring defense numbers for each of those teams: 

Opponents' defensive stats were adjusted for the time of year when they played the Trojans. For reference, middle-of-the-pack college football defenses allowed about seven yards per pass attempt and just under 27 points per game in 2014. 

There are also nuances to these games in which the outcome isn't always reflected by Kessler's stats. For instance, his best game against a ranked opponent, Utah, resulted in a loss because the Utes scored a go-ahead touchdown with eight seconds left.

Meanwhile, the win over Arizona, in which Kessler was average statistically speaking, came in dramatic fashion. The Wildcats staged a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback and would have won had it not been for a missed 37-yard field goal. 

As such, recording "wins" as a quarterback stat is dangerous territory. It's OK for context, but it doesn't tell the whole story. That said, the numbers are what they are, and they say Kessler was so-so last year against ranked teams. Yet only one of those teams had a truly stout defense: Stanford. 

Kessler is fully aware that he hasn't been at his best when he needed to be. 

"That’s something I take personally because those games I didn’t perform well, those are the games we lost," Kessler told Ted Miller of ESPN.com. "I’m very hard on myself. I’ve been watching those games this offseason. The one thing I want to do is be consistent in every game."

Why is all of this important? The road to the playoff doesn't get much easier for the Trojans in 2015. Three of the five key games listed below are on the road. Additionally, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated has USC listed in "pivot-point games" against Stanford and Notre Dame. 

It's also pertinent to note that USC plays in the Pac-12 South, which could very well be the more powerful division in the conference at the top. Plus, USC gets Oregon, Stanford and Washington—the teams that finished one through three in the North Division a year ago. 

As Phil Steele tweeted last month, USC has one of the hardest schedules of any school in the country: 

So it's not just that Kessler has to improve against AP-ranked teams; he could be put to the test several times depending on how the opposing defenses stack up. Also, USC's defensive line depth was a major concern during the spring. If there's one position that could cause headaches for the Trojans this season, it's the D-line. 

If USC finds itself in late-night #Pac12AfterDark shootouts regularly, that puts more pressure on Kessler to be even better than he was a year ago. 

 

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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4-Star Eric Cuffee 'Wide Open' for Now, Will Narrow Down Choices at The Opening

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Deep down, Eric Cuffee has an idea of where he wants to play college football.

Good luck in getting him to spill the beans, though.

"I do," Cuffee said, with a pregnant pause and a slight chuckle following.

When it comes to poker faces in the recruiting world, Cuffee has one of the better ones. There's never a favorite, never a contender, never a team that isn't considered with the 4-star cornerback from Waco, Texas. For some schools, that's a good thing; for others, it can work a nerve as the summer approaches.

For now, the world will have to try to guess the schools Cuffee is interested in. Some questions will be answered the second week of July when Cuffee, a top-25 cornerback nationally, announces his first major top list.

"Right now, I'm still wide open," Cuffee said, "but I'm going to make a top 13 at The Opening."

A 5'11 ½", 188-pound defensive back, Cuffee said he's looking for a place that will challenge him on and off the field. He said he's strongly considering getting a degree in the field of either business or corporate law. He's added that he's thought about being a lawyer after his football days are over.

"I might change my mind later on in the future," he said, "but I like being a leader, and being a lawyer, you can be a really good leader. I like the power of it, too."

One of the schools that Cuffee admitted potentially has a shot is Michigan. Cuffee was in attendance for the Showtyme Elite Football Camp, which included the Michigan coaching staff and head coach Jim Harbaugh. Cuffee said he was impressed with the fact that the majority of the staff made the trip to Texas. He also liked the intensity and enthusiasm that Harbaugh brought to the camp.

"I've talked to him over the phone, but this was the first time I spoke to [Harbaugh] in person," Cuffee said. "He's a great coach. It says a lot about him coaching in the NFL and contending in the Super Bowl."

Ask Cuffee about his characteristics of a winning program, and he won't give much. He admits that he has a short list of things that his future list of schools will have.

"I'm looking for a family type of environment and a great coaching staff," Cuffee said. "I want stability in a coaching staff, too. That's pretty much it. I know academics are going to be there regardless of where I go."

The prognosticators participating in Cuffee's 247Sports Crystal Ball are leaning toward TCU ultimately winning him over. While TCU has 50 percent of the predictions, Baylor has 42 percent, and Texas has eight. Among the out-of-state schools to watch are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Stanford and West Virginia, to name a few.

The world will have to wait until Cuffee arrives at The Opening, an event he calls "a tremendous blessing," to gauge his true interest in a school. Expect it to be a race that will have its fair share of fans tuned in.

 

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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How Well Do Ohio State Commits Know Urban Meyer?

Urban Meyer is one of college football's most well-recognized figures. Meyer has racked up three national titles, and his Ohio State Buckeyes are poised for another championship run. 

With a new class of recruits on the way in, Bleacher Report caught up with the youngsters to see just how well they know their future head coach. 

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