NCAA Football News

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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Surprises and Disappointments for Georgia's 2016 Recruiting Class

The Georgia Bulldogs, under head coach Mark Richt, have been hitting the recruiting trail with a vengeance.

What has Georgia done well in recruiting, and what does it still need?

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson to answer those questions.

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Insider Buzz: Can Alabama Steal the Top Two Recruits in the 2016 Class?

The Alabama Crimson Tide have been dominating the recruiting trail for years. 

Can they do the unthinkable and land the top two players in the Class of 2016?

Bleacher Report College Football Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue joined Adam Lefkoe to discuss the latest on Alabama's recruiting cycle. 

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Jake Allen Adds 'Dream Offer' from Florida, Still Planning 4 Other Visits

The recruitment of Jake Allen reached a new level Wednesday afternoon, when the 2017 quarterback prospect received what he refers to as a "dream offer" from the Florida Gators:

"I really wanted this and worked hard for it. It's cool to finally have it come to fruition," he told Bleacher Report.

The 6'3", 191-pound passer picked up the scholarship offer after working out in front of the entire Florida staff on campus in Gainesville. Head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier shared the decision with Allen and his father during the visit.

"They told me I 110 percent earned that offer," he said. "I visited Florida twice prior to this and definitely didn't want to leave Gainesville again without it."

Allen, a rising junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, admitted he sensed the gravity of his situation while initially warming up for the workout. 

"Oh man, I was so nervous" Allen said. "I was thinking, 'Jake, if you don't show up today, you're screwed.' But I did show up, and the coaching staff saw what they needed to see. They made me feel like I was wanted."

His recruitment process was already well underway prior to Thursday's development. Several offers arrived earlier this year, creating a list of options that includes Iowa, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Rutgers and Miami.

This latest opportunity certainly felt the sweetest.

"The biggest reason it's a dream offer for me is because my quarterback coach Eric Kresser—who played for the Gators—has been telling me since middle school that I was going to become the starting quarterback at the University of Florida someday," Allen said. "I've always looked up to Tim Tebow too, so it's surreal to have the same opportunity he had."

Allen credits Kresser, a member of the Florida program from 1992 to 1995, with keeping him motivated through moments of self-doubt. There was a time he considered abandoning his football aspirations altogether.

"It's a crazy story, but I wanted to quit football in the sixth grade. I didn't think I was any good," he said. "There's no way I thought I'd be doing what I'm doing. Coach Kresser was always in my ear trying to build up my confidence."

Now Allen is wholeheartedly devoted to the game he nearly walked away from.

"My mindset is completely different. I can't imagine my life without football," he said. "I believe God put me on Earth to play football, and I plan on staying in the sport as long as I can. After my playing career, I want to coach. I don't know what was going through my mind a few years ago, but something changed, and it's been a special journey ever since."

That journey seems likely to lead him to Florida for college. The phrase "dream school" is often a strong indicator of what's coming next, and recruiting analysts have taken notice, with 100 percent predicting he'll ultimately sign with the Gators in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

Still, the anticipated result isn't a foregone conclusion just yet.

"I love the University of Florida and feel like I could commit right now, but I feel I owe it to myself to see other schools before making a decision," Allen said.

His busy travel schedule includes trips to Stanford, Michigan and Notre Dame next week. He also aims to visit Alabama in July.

For Allen, it's a matter of due diligence.

"I need to see these universities because I need to be sure about my future," he said. "When I make that commitment, I want to be ready for it and stay loyal."

His latest glimpse at a college comes Thursday, when he attends camp at Florida State and throws for head coach Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles could be getting a look at a future rival in the process, though Allen expressed sincere interest in soaking in the experience in Tallahassee.

"It's a huge opportunity to see Florida State from a different standpoint, and I'm excited for that," he said. "The quarterback situation at Florida is way, way more open right now, so that's going to tie into things. But I'm going to FSU with an open mind."

Allen remains receptive to new opportunities on the recruiting trail but could envision himself making a final choice before his junior campaign.

"I might be committed after I take these visits, because I think I'm going to know," he said. "The Florida visit couldn't have turned out better, so I'm curious to see how it goes at these other schools. UF is definitely my leader right now."

Allen, who claimed MVP honors last weekend at the inaugural Rivals Quarterback Challenge in Baltimore, believes he's performing more effectively than ever heading into a pivotal summer for his collegiate outlook. 

"I'm a confident kid, and I know I can get the job done," Allen said. "I think I'm one of the top quarterbacks and players in the 2017 class. I feel my film and the things I do at camps will show that. Accuracy helps set me apart from the pack. I can put the ball where I want against defenses."

 

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

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Auburn Football: Position-by-Position Preview of Tigers' 2015 Roster

Auburn's offseason of recruiting and transfers—both into and out of the Plains—has calmed down, and head coach Gus Malzahn appears to have his roster set for the 2015 campaign.

The Tigers are looking to rebound from a disappointing 8-5 year that started with dreams of returning to the national championship race but ended in heartbreak at the Outback Bowl.

There are plenty of new faces who dot the depth chart this spring as Auburn returns the fifth-fewest lettermen in all of college football, according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview.

Still, there is plenty of hope for new stars to break out alongside returning veterans in Auburn's explosive offense and new-look defense.

Here is a position-by-position look at the major names on Auburn's roster for the 2015 season. Let us hear your thoughts on this roster and your expectations for the upcoming schedule in the comments below.

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Surprises and Disappointments for Florida's 2016 Recruiting Class

The Florida Gators, under head coach Jim McElwain, have been hitting the recruiting trail with a vengeance.

What has Florida done well in recruiting, and what does it still need?

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson to answer those questions.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Surprises and Disappointments for Texas' 2016 Recruiting Class

The Texas Longhorns, under Charlie Strong, have been hitting the recruiting trail with a vengeance.

What has Texas done well in recruiting, and what does it still need? 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder joins Stephen Nelson to answer those questions.

Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Who Will Be USC's Offensive MVP for 2015 Season?

The USC Trojans have excelled on both sides of the ball over their long, storied history. But in 2015, who will step up and become the team's offensive MVP?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder joins Stephen Nelson to answer that question.

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Big 12 Football: Who Is the Ultimate Dark Horse for 2015?

The Big 12 could have the most intriguing dark-horse candidate for conference champion in 2015: Oklahoma. If for no other reason, the Sooners aren't used to being in this position.

Consider first that Oklahoma has won eight Big 12 titles under head coach Bob Stoops, the most recent of which came in 2012 when the Sooners shared the conference trophy with Kansas State. Only four times in Stoops' 16 years as a head coach has OU finished with fewer than 10 wins.

One of those four times came last year, when OU lost four of its last seven games to finish 8-5. The 40-6 blowout at the hands of Clemson, which didn't even have starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, in the Russell Athletic Bowl was the period on a massively disappointing season.

OU, after all, was hyped as an early College Football Playoff front-runner.

But as athletic director Joe Castiglione told Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports in April, the bowl loss wasn't just a loss on the scoreboard—it was a true low point for the program:

The struggles we had last year were confounding, but the outcome of the bowl game was something we've never experienced before. I'm not talking about the score. I'm talking about the way the game evolved. Just the feel of that game, I can't say I've seen that before in all the years we've been together. It just didn't look like Oklahoma.

Suffice to say, expectations are dramatically more tempered this time around, which is why the Sooners are a perfect dark-horse candidate.

There's a case to be made for Oklahoma's Bedlam rival, Oklahoma State, as a dark horse as well. The Cowboys return 17 starters from last year's team and finally seem to have found a steady quarterback in Mason Rudolph.

There's some buzz around the Cowboys for sure, but the Sooners make for an interesting option behind runaway Big 12 favorites Baylor and TCU.

Let's go back to Oklahoma's 8-5 record from a year ago. As mentioned above, dipping under 10 wins a season isn't something Stoops has done often during his time in Norman. In fact, in the years following a seven- or eight-win season, the Sooners are 13-0 (2000), 11-3 (2006) and 12-2 (2010).

In each one of those years, Oklahoma won the Big 12 title.

But past success isn't always indicative of the future, right?

That's true, but understand this about Stoops: He's only two years removed from arguably his best coaching job ever at Oklahoma—2013, when the Sooners won 11 games and surprised Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He's taken teams that weren't the best talent-wise and squeezed double-digit-win seasons out of them.

Additionally, last year's disappointment finally paved way to something Sooner fans have been demanding for a while: a much-needed staff shakeup.

Gone are co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. In is former East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. It wasn't an easy decision for Stoops, who was tremendously loyal to Heupel and Norvell, but it was likely the right one in the end.

In all, there are four new assistants for Oklahoma in 2015 who have come from places like Stanford (defensive line coach Diron Reynolds), Notre Dame (defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks) and Washington State (outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons). Those assistants have worked for David Shaw, Brian Kelly and Mike Leach, respectively.

Those are some fine resumes for coaches who hope to inject some new energy into the program.

Sometimes, that's just what a team needs, especially when the head coach has been around for the better part of two decades. That kind of tenure doesn't happen much anymore in college football.

Mandel's key point in his April column was an accurate one: If Oklahoma flops again, it's on Stoops. But, certainly, you can't say he isn't trying. There's talent on the roster—it's more of a matter of development and finishing. Recall that three of Oklahoma's five losses came by a combined eight points.

Already, some key areas look improved.

Last season, Oklahoma's wide receiver group was made up of Sterling Shepard and, well, that's about it. If the spring game was any indication, Shepard will have help with redshirt freshman tight end Mark Andrews and junior college transfer wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Both of those players were named potential breakout newcomers by Ryan Gerbosi of the Dallas Morning News.

The running back depth chart is loaded with Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Alex Ross. Defensively, pass-rushers Charles Tapper and Eric Striker return, along with key linebackers Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander.

There are concerns, to be sure. What would a dark horse be if they were perfect?

The defensive secondary is young and lacks depth, and the quarterback question hasn't been answered yet. Will Trevor Knight win the job for the third year in a row or will it be Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield?

Whoever wins the quarterback job, the opportunity is there to get off to a hot start. It's entirely possible that Oklahoma enters mid-November undefeated. An early-season road game at Tennessee will be a huge test to see if there's been any improvement from last season.

Oklahoma's final three games are at Baylor (Nov. 14), vs. TCU (Nov. 21) and at Oklahoma State (Nov. 28).

By then, we should find out if the Sooners have enough confidence, momentum and chemistry to push through that final stretch—or whether they're still a tier behind the Big 12's best.

Oklahoma has serious questions to answer—there's no doubt about that.

Can Riley make an immediate impact with the new offense in his first year? Can the defense go from good to great under Stoops' brother, Mike Stoops? Can the program stop being outclassed by Baylor? The Bears have won the past two meetings by an average score of 45-13.

But Stoops has earned the chance to answer those questions, and history indicates he'll be able to do so. Will Oklahoma win a ninth Big 12 title this year? Baylor and TCU are awfully good—playoff-bound, perhaps. There's a reason for that.

Still, the Sooners should be able to improve on last year's effort if the roster talent meets development. The outcome of the season could come down to a game or two in November.

 

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

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Alabama Football: Projecting Who Will Win Crimson Tide's Open Starting Positions

While Alabama’s roster is just about settled with the enrollment of the rest of its 2015 recruiting class, its depth chart can’t quite say the same.

During spring practice, a largely steady lineup emerged and culminated at A-Day, when players were split into teams based on first- or second-team status, the closest we’ll get to a depth chart until fall camp.

But a small handful of positions remain up in the air and could further be disrupted by the arrival of several top recruits to campus.

With a month to ago until SEC media days and less than two months until fall camp, here are predictions for who will emerge victorious in the Crimson Tide’s remaining position battles.

 

Middle linebacker

Reggie Ragland will be a major leader on the Alabama defense but still needs a steady inside linebacker partner.

Junior Reuben Foster and sophomore Shaun Dion Hamilton got about equal work in at that spot during the spring, both showing they’re capable of handling that role.

Nick Saban said the two played situationally, with the bigger Hamilton used during running situations and the more athletic Foster playing against the pass. But who will be the one in late against LSU? The fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl with the SEC West on the line?

Foster has been on campus longer and was the 5-star, can’t-miss recruit, but injuries stemming from poor tackling technique have cost him valuable playing time. Hamilton, meanwhile, doesn’t have the raw athletic ability, but his military-family background gave him incredible smarts, instincts and discipline needed to thrive as a middle linebacker in Saban’s system.

Foster and Hamilton should both get healthy amounts of playing time, but when the rubber meets the road, it’ll be Hamilton.

Prediction: Shaun Dion Hamilton

 

Right guard

The offensive line stayed largely the same through the spring, but that doesn’t mean that it’s totally set in stone.

Saban consistently mentioned during the spring that he felt he had four offensive linemen who could play “winning football.” He was referring to Cam Robinson, Ross Pierschbacher, Ryan Kelly and Dominick Jackson.

That leaves right guard, where Bradley Bozeman’s job isn’t totally secure.

Alphonse Taylor has seemingly always been on the cusp of a starting role for the last year or so. He rotated in at right guard last year with Leon Brown, with neither player grabbing solid playing time.

In a more extreme scenario, the staff could decide Jackson’s pass-blocking isn’t where it needs to be and slide him inside, creating an open position at right tackle.

But Bozeman has been a solid player since coming to Alabama, and Taylor’s window seems to have closed. He’ll be the one to complete an offensive line that should be its best since the vaunted 2012 group.

Prediction: Bradley Bozeman

 

Quarterback

And now, the million dollar question.

Predicting the quarterback here could mean a few things. Who starts against Wisconsin and who starts against Auburn are two very different propositions.

But this prediction is for the long-term—the guy the Crimson Tide live or die with late in the season with everything on the line.

Jake Coker and David Cornwell are the two front-runners, with Coker having a slight edge in seniority and playing time (the only quarterback on the roster, actually, who has thrown a pass in a game).

If the race continues to be this tight, which it likely will, it’s hard to see Saban not going with the younger guy who has room to grow. Do you really think he wants to do this all over again for the third year in a row next offseason?

Coker is probably the odds-on favorite to take the first snap in Arlington.

But for the long run, it’s going to be The David Cornwell Show.

Prediction: David Cornwell

 

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

Follow on Twitter@marctorrence.

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Who Will Be LSU's Defensive MVP for 2015 Season?

The LSU Tigers have always been known for their defense. 

Who will step up in 2015 and become the team's defensive MVP? 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder joined Stephen Nelson to answer that very question. 

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Who Will Lead the SEC in Receiving in 2015?

Crack open one of those preseason magazines, and you'll undoubtedly see that this is the "year of the running back" in the SEC.

The combination of several talented, established running backs with a quarterback crop that's relatively inexperienced has created a narrative that seemingly puts the SEC back in the dark ages of the "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense.

Wide receivers inside the SEC hope to change that narrative.

There are several top-tier pass-catchers who not only are talented enough to be superstars but also play for teams who will count on them to ease new starting quarterbacks into the fold.

Players such as Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell, Auburn's D'haquille Williams, South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper and Tennessee's Marquez North are all established downfield threats who have either brand-new starting quarterbacks or signal-callers who are getting their first offseason as the starter under their belts. 

Who will lead the SEC in receiving in 2015?

I'll take Cooper and watch him work his magic.

No, South Carolina doesn't have a quarterback set in stone, and yes, true freshman dual-threat QB Lorenzo Nunez could factor into the equation and take away from some of the Gamecocks' 2015 passing attack.

I don't care, because when South Carolina does let it fly, it'll likely be headed in Cooper's direction.

He caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. Had it not been for Alabama stud and Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper, the South Carolina superstar would have led the conference—and every "Cooper"—in receiving as a sophomore.

At 5'11", 208 pounds, he doesn't possess the size of Treadwell, Williams or North, and he won't have the benefit of having a quarterback with starting experience like North or Texas A&M's Josh Reynolds.

He also doesn't have the supporting cast in his wide receiving corps like the rest of those stars have, which means he'll be targeted early and often in head coach Steve Spurrier's system. 

He does, however, have the experience of being the go-to receiver in a system during a season in which his team is breaking in a new quarterback when he became Dylan Thompson's primary target a year ago. That was with Mike Davis, Shaq Roland and other established options around him.

This year, he'll be counted on even more.

Connor Mitch, the front-runner to start the season as South Carolina's starting quarterback, only has six career passing attempts. That puts more pressure on Cooper to keep defenses off Mitch and running backs Brandon Wilds and David Williams.

Despite the pressure on Cooper—and his success from a year ago—he's still flying under the radar, as Heath Cline of 107.5 in Columbia, South Carolina, notes:

Despite Cooper's success, teams will undoubtedly key on Wilds and Williams due to the inexperience of the eventual winner of the quarterback battle and the track record of running-game success for Spurrier's South Carolina's teams.

The lack of established wide receivers will force attention of defenses on Cooper as well. But the coaching staff has shown tremendous creativity using Cooper in a variety of ways, which will keep defenses honest and open up passing lanes when the Gamecocks decide to stretch the field.

Cooper will be to this South Carolina team what Amari Cooper was to last year's SEC champs.

In a year with a major unknown at quarterback, a go-to receiver has to step up.

That receiver will be Pharoh Cooper, and he'll ride it all the way to the SEC lead in receiving yards in 2015.

 

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

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

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Vandarius Cowan Commits to Florida State: Noles Land 2017 4-Star DE

Florida State currently has the top-rated recruiting class for 2016, based on 247Sports' composite rankings, and is already making headway on being first overall in 2017 with Thursday's commitment from 4-star in-state prospect Vandarius Cowan.

The 6'5", 220-pound Cowan is ranked 167th overall in the 2017 class and is considered the ninth-best weak-side defensive end, though much of his highlight film shows him playing middle and outside linebacker.

"He has some of the best defensive front-seven range in the 2017 class," Bleacher Report recruiting expert Tyler Donohue said. "Several teams project him as a defensive end but he's expected to line up at outside linebacker in Tallahassee. He has a chance to become a feared pass-rusher from the stand-up position."

Cowan made his decision a day after attending the Jimbo Fisher Football Camp in Tallahassee. He had been offered by the Seminoles on April 30, and has since picked up offers from Auburn, Florida and Georgia. Louisville, Miami (Florida), Michigan State and Notre Dame were among the others who had previously offered the Palm Beach Gardens prospect.

"I always grew up a Florida State fan," Cowan told Chris Nee of 247Sports. "It is just one of those things. It made it better when they offered me. I wasn't expecting it, at so young in high school."

Being able to have contact with Fisher and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly while at the camp helped "push me over the edge" to make the commitment early, Cowan told Nee. He was also able to spend more time with linebackers coach Bill Miller, who has been Cowan's primary recruiter.

More than 350 high school athletes participated in the camp on Wednesday, per Safid Deen of theTallahassee Democrat. Additional camp sessions are scheduled through Saturday, with current FSU players expected to attend or help with instruction.

Cowan is FSU's fourth commitment for the 2017 class, all of which are Florida prospects ranked in the top 175 nationally. Zaquandre White, a 4-star running back, committed in February, while 4-star defensive tackle Ja'len Parks and 5-star wide receiver D.J. Matthews have been pledged to the Seminoles since July.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Insider Buzz: Where Will These Top Uncommitted 2016 Stud Quarterbacks Land?

In the Class of 2016, two top quarterbacks have yet to sign their letters of intent to play at the next level. 

Bleacher Report College Football Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles joined Stephen Nelson to discuss where these players will land. 

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Which Conference Is Likely to Have Most Coaching Changes in 2015-16 Season?

Sometimes, El Nino hits college football's coaching carousel, and it just pours. In these instances, which come around every so often, it's not uncommon to see half of a conference (or more) experience coaching turnover within a year or two. 

Which conference is most likely to experience that kind of upheaval in 2015-16? It could be the ACC's turn. 

That prediction stems from the fact that the ACC could experience the two different kinds of coaching turnover—voluntary and involuntary—at the same time.

Coaches change jobs all the time, either by accepting positions at other universities or moving up to the NFL. Then, there are coaches on the hot seat who can't survive the year because of poor on-field performances or other factors, like NCAA violations or scandals. 

Of course, there are always coaches who retire, either expectedly or unexpectedly. 

It takes a perfect storm for a conference to experience so much turnover at once, but the conditions are in place for the ACC. Below is a list of coaches who could lose their jobs in 2015 if they fail to turn their programs around. Additionally, two coaches have been identified as potential candidates for other jobs. 

If all of those factors come together at once, here are the coaches that could be gone, for one reason or another, this time next year: 

 

Coaches on (or Near) the Hot Seat

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: To be clear, Fedora's "hot seat" talk is more of a whisper. As of June 11, 2015, Fedora's probably not in any immediate danger. But it's worth noting that the Tar Heels' win total has gone down in each of Fedora's three years—from eight to seven to six. A losing season would make things interesting regarding Fedora's future.

It seems like every year is "UNC's year," but 2015 might actually be it, according to Bill Connelly of SB Nation. Maybe. Possibly. With that in mind, another letdown could dramatically change Fedora's future. 

 

Al Golden, Miami (FL): The return of "The U" as the college football world knew it 20-plus years ago is a little bit like waiting for Godot. Golden's reputation as a program-builder was based on his excellent turnaround at Temple. To this day, in fact, the Owls are in a good spot and are even a trendy American Athletic Conference title pick.

The Hurricanes, however, haven't experienced any resurgence under Golden. In fact, the 'Canes had more players drafted (seven) into the NFL this year than total wins (six) in 2014. Golden has hit the recruiting trail hard for 2016, but it might take a divisional or conference championship to save his job. 

 

Mike London, Virginia: Last season, it looked at like London was finally turning things around for Virginia early on. Then, the Cavaliers lost five of their final six games and finished 5-7. London has had one winning season in five years with Virginia.

In this day and age, regardless of program expectations, that's a generous timetable for a head coach. There's no way London survives another losing season, and it's possible he won't survive a .500 one, either. 

 

Scott Shafer, Syracuse: Putting Shafer on the hot seat in Year 3 might be a touch too soon, but there was a pretty dramatic decline from Year 1 to Year 2. In 2013, the Orange went bowling and won seven games. Last year, that win total dropped to three. What does 2015 hold?

According to Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com, the Orange defense faces "the biggest rebuild in college football over the last six seasons." So there's that. If things go from bad to worse, it wouldn't be surprising to see Syracuse go in another direction.

 

Coaches Who Could Leave on Their Own

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: Back in April, during an interview with Mike Florio of PFT Live, Fisher said he recently "had people inquire" about his interest in joining the pro ranks. So far, Fisher hasn't actively pursued any of those opportunities. However, Fisher did add, "I never say never." 

Fisher has a deep history in the college ranks and seems to enjoy the teaching process for 18- to 22-year-olds. That drives some coaches more than the bright lights of the NFL. But Fisher has won a national championship with the Seminoles. He certainly knows a thing or two about player development as well. There could be a day when he finds himself ready for another challenge. 

 

Bobby Petrino, Louisville: The Cardinals are in a far better place than when Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Additionally, dozens of articles have been written over the past year about whether Petrino, whose reputation as a job-hopper with questionable ethics is well-documented, is a changed person. Ultimately, though, those two things might not matter.  

Petrino won nine games with Louisville last season and could match or surpass that total again in 2015. Two solid years with the Cardinals and Petrino could again be a name circulating through the coaching carousel. Would he leave Louisville again? It wouldn't surprise a lot of people if he did, especially if it's for a job in the SEC. 

 

For what it's worth, the Big Ten could see numerous firings if Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers have bad seasons.

The key factor is coaches leaving. Who are the candidates? Mark Dantonio at Michigan State? Urban Meyer at Ohio State? Would Jim Harbaugh dare leave Michigan after one year, perhaps to return to the NFL? Meanwhile, the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC don't have nearly as many coaches on the hot seat for 2015. 

The thing about the coaching carousel is that it is unpredictable. Who would have ever envisioned Bret Bielema ending up at Arkansas or Mike Riley going to Nebraska? 

But there are also indications that can lead us to believe a coach's shelf life at a school is more limited. That's all any of us can go off of during the month of June, anyway. 

 

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

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