NCAA Football News
As the crown jewel of Auburn's 2016 recruiting class, 4-star quarterback and current Tigers pledge Woody Barrett couldn't have pictured a better start to his senior season at West Orange (Florida) High School.
The 6'2", 225-pound Barrett amassed 308 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns in the Warriors' 45-0 season-opening win over Foundation, according to Christian Malone of the Orlando Sentinel.
Through the air, Barrett accounted for 178 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes to 3-star wide receiver Eddie McDoom. The nation's No. 6 dual-threat passer also carried the ball eight times for 128 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
It was exactly the type of performance that highlights why Barrett projects as a perfect fit in the offense of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
It's also a signal that he's getting more comfortable being the triggerman operating a high-octane, no-huddle attack.
As noted by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports, Barrett operates a system similar to what he will see on the Plains, and he has the physical tools to be a star at the next level.
He committed to Auburn in June over programs such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas.
Barrett was on the Auburn campus last month for a visit, and he told Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover that he's solid in his commitment. In fact, his arrival could come a little earlier than expected.
"The road I'm going on, I will graduate in December," Barrett told Niebuhr. "It's really important to me. The quicker I can come here, learn the plays, learn the offense, the better chance I have on the field."
Before he heads off to college, he has a little unfinished business at the prep level.
If the first act of his senior season is any indication, Barrett is primed to have a monster year.
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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Game week is upon us, and for the Tennessee football team and its fans, it couldn't come soon enough.
Maybe if the Vols get to beat up on another team, they'll quit beating up on each other (more on that in a minute).
Coach Butch Jones will carry his No. 25-ranked team to Nashville for a home game away from home this Saturday against Mid-American Conference upstart Bowling Green. While that may not be one of the marquee showdowns of Week 1, it will provide some challenges.
UT has spent most of preseason camp preparing itself rather than preparing for the Falcons.
From getting a huge class of freshmen prepared to mixing and matching players all over the field to finding the best personnel groupings for every situation, this fall has been about experimentation on Rocky Top.
It's also been about seeing how far this team's limits are—and there were times, as the injuries show, when they may have gone past the brink. As Volquest's John Brice wrote this week:
…[I]t's no secret Butch Jones prides himself in believing he constantly knows the pulse of his team. I give the coach credit, especially if the Vols find the success they believe possible this season, for pushing his team to the brink during a late-camp practice in which he forced a couple of restarts, from stadium to complex, and then got his squad's legs and minds back thereafter.
The Vols have a team full of talented players, but no matter how much the media wants to trumpet an upstart sleeping giant ready to wake up and start devouring opponents, this offseason showed chinks in the armor: particularly depth.
As deeper, more experienced teams pop up on Tennessee's schedule, it'll be interesting to see how the young product Jones has assembled stacks up.
We learned some things about the 2015 version of the Vols during the past month, but what we can't know until the season starts is how much headway they made toward closing the gap between themselves and legit contenders.
Let's take a look at some of the top takeaways from the past few weeks.
Plague of injury bugs swarm on Knoxville
By the end of fall camp, things got ridiculous.
Tennessee fans are at the point now where they're almost afraid to boot up the computer and go to message boards or news sites after practice for fear of hearing about the latest key contributor who was going to be lost for an extended period of time because of injury.
You'd be hard-pressed to name a handful of players on UT's roster who weren't held out at times throughout the past month because of some bump or bruise.
A lot of those, such as starting guard Jashon Robertson, who missed time with an ankle injury and a digestive issue, are at least back on the field.
Some were much more serious than that.
- Starting left guard Marcus Jackson was lost for the season with a torn biceps. He had more starts than any lineman on UT's roster and would have almost certainly played a prominent role.
- Then, in a bizarre case of deja vu, reserve guard Austin Sanders was lost for the year with the same injury.
- Surging sophomore Rashaan Gaulden—a sophomore nickelback who had impressed in the spring and again this fall and was poised to win the job—broke his foot and is also out for the season.
- Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Brown that starting safety LaDarrell McNeil will miss an "extended period of time" with a neck injury. If it's a lingering issue, it could end his UT career.
- Freshman slot receiver Vincent Perry tore the meniscus in his knee, will have surgery and is likely headed for a redshirt season.
- Finally, redshirt junior Jason Croom, who could be a very valuable receiving target for Dobbs, got his knee scoped this week and is expected to miss at least a month of the season.
When you throw in key cogs such as receiver Marquez North and cornerback Justin Martin, who have been gimpy throughout fall camp and still aren't practicing at full strength, it's been a really difficult month.
The Vols may wind up looking like a M.A.S.H. unit against Bowling Green, and it's essential that they wind up minimizing injuries from now until the season opener.
Considering injuries always happen throughout the course of a rigorous season, the Vols are a couple of bumps and bruises at vital positions away from being in dire straits. This isn't a great start for a team that may be talented but isn't deep all over the field.
They'll be tested.
Skill-position talent could be spectacular
Recruiting has been very good to Tennessee, and this is the year the Vols should really start seeing the fruits of their labor on the football field.
While the most noticeable areas of the talent upgrade may be on coordinator John Jancek's defense, the offense has its share of potential playmakers.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has made some strides since last season, and him taking the next step toward becoming a dual-threat star is essential to UT's success. The difference is in his accuracy, which offensive coordinator Mike DeBord told GoVols247's Wes Rucker was "really good" recently.
Can Dobbs take his game to another level against Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Alabama? If he doesn't, the Vols will have a hard time having a breakthrough season.
Even so, he won't have to do it alone.
Running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara have been lauded all spring and again during fall camp. They've shown the ability to get tough yards and run away from defenders.
If you can do that against UT's defense, unlike in years before, you should be able to do it against most others as well.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie is known for his tough-love approach to his players, but even he has been gushing over what he has in positional meetings.
The third player to which Gillespie was referring is a mystery, but after Hurd and Kamara, UT has senior transfer Ralph David Abernathy IV and the freshman tandem of John Kelly and Joe Young. All have shown flashes of brilliance this fall, so it's anybody's guess who the third is.
When you throw those guys in with a receiving corps that can still go eight or nine deep even with the injuries and add sophomore Ethan Wolf, who appears poised for a breakout season, and you see why there are so many weapons on that side of the ball.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that UT could score a lot of points this year, but in order for that to happen, one major area needs answers:
Offensive line is still a question mark
DeBord and offensive line coach Don Mahoney spent much of the past month trying linemen virtually everywhere across the front to find their best five, six and seven players.
They likely didn't do that because they're comfortable, either.
On one hand, UT doesn't know exactly what it has. On the other, at least all this mixing and matching will help UT be versatile.
"We try not to have any guys that are one-trick ponies," sophomore guard Jashon Robertson told Brown. "We try to have a group of versatile guys that can play in various positions. It don't matter who plays beside me, or who plays beside the next guy. We all know that we've all got each other's back."
Only redshirt senior left tackle Kyler Kerbyson stayed in his allotted position during the majority of camp. The Vols have switched out guards, replaced the right tackle and tried a veritable revolving door at center to see who is ready to play.
In the process, freshmen Jack Jones and Chance Hall have proven they belong in the mix of playing time. In Jones' case, that may be as a starter at guard.
Sophomore Coleman Thomas has played right tackle, guard and center at various times throughout camp as the coaching staff decides where his skills best match.
Coming off a forgettable season and with a mix of less talented upperclassmen and less experienced freshmen, this is simply the position in which the Vols find themselves.
Mid-state recruiting was strong again
Jones has made the corridor from Murfreesboro to Nashville a priority since coming on as Tennessee's head coach, and this spring is further evidence why.
A year after stalwarts such as Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Jashon Robertson and Gaulden proved why that area is a region the Vols need to make a pipeline to Knoxville, this year's haul may even wind up stronger and deeper.
It all starts this season with Jauan Jennings, a converted quarterback-turned-receiver who is the story of the entire fall camp. Not only is he pushing to play a ton of football, he may just wind up starting.
Weeks before the preseason started, the former Blackman High School signal-caller sat down with coaches and discussed a position move. With Dobbs entrenched at quarterback and the way the Vols are recruiting at the position, it just seemed like the right thing to do to move to another spot.
It definitely has worked out for everyone. Jennings told GoVols247's Wes Rucker:
I thought I could play this year. Josh Dobbs, he's earned the position, so I didn't want to sit down on the sideline. I wanted to explore my talents and see what I could do. Playing receiver, I mean, I didn't really play it 'til I got here. I never played received before. But it's just something, with my talent and skill set, it kind of is natural.
He has elevated everybody's level of play at the position and may just become UT's next great pass-catcher.
Jennings isn't the only player from the area thriving. The talk of camp on the defensive side of the ball is former Hillsboro High standout defensive end Kyle Phillips.
He was an elite high school talent that was rated a 5-star by 247Sports. Though his path to start is supposedly blocked by UT's duo of talented pass-rushers Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, Phillips could find himself in line to start when Maggitt takes a step back to play linebacker.
Phillips is big and strong and can chase down ball-carriers with receiver-like speed. A kid that big shouldn't be able to run like that. He has star written all over him.
Offensive guard Jack Jones made the move inside from tackle where he was playing this spring, and he's right there in the mix to start right away for the Vols a week before the season starts.
The lifelong Vols fan had offers from many of the SEC's top teams but chose to come to Knoxville, and he may wind up being a four-year starter. He's a technician and very strong, and he's benefited from being in a college weight program since January. It looks like he's found a home at guard.
Throw in Martin (who is originally from Overton High School in Nashville) and Perry, who was impressing before he got injured, and that area is going to wind up producing the core to UT's recruiting class.
All those kids who are healthy will play a lot this year. Some of them will star.
Defensive line will be nasty
Last but not least, the offensive line may wind up having some deep-rooted issues, but one thing's for certain: They won't go against many defensive lines as deep and talented as their teammates this year.
Maybe Alabama and Georgia are going to be the only comparable units.
Everybody knows about Barnett and Maggitt, and they could be special when it comes to getting after the quarterback. The duo combined for more sacks than any returning tandem in the nation, and once Maggitt got fully healthy toward the end of the '14 season, he was unblockable.
Phillips has earned significant snaps with his freakish abilities, and he'll produce right away. That's not even mentioning players such as Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis, who've been valuable contributors and even starters in the past for UT. They're providing quality depth off the bench along with Dimarya Mixon.
Senior Chris Weatherd will do a nice job in "rabbit" packages designed to get after the quarterback, and he'll back up Maggitt, pin his ears back and speed rush.
When highly rated prospects Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor probably will redshirt after strong high school careers, you know you're loaded.
On the interior, UT isn't quite as deep, but there is plenty of talent. The trio of returning starter Danny O'Brien along with Kendal Vickers and Owen Williams enjoyed strong camps and will see plenty of action.
Vaunted freshmen Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle are living up to the hype, and while neither will likely start the season as starters, they'll be entrenched in the rotation and play a lot, especially against run-heavy teams. If UT needs another body in there, true freshman Quay Picou can help.
Defensive line depth is a luxury position coach Steve Stripling didn't have a season ago. It's one that UT has built through quality recruiting.
The unit has a chance to be a major strength along with the secondary and offensive skill players. If the Vols can find a stellar group of offensive lineman and a viable middle linebacker, and they can stay healthy from now on, 2015 may wind up being the year where the Vols make it all the way back.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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Are the Ohio State Buckeyes truly worthy of coronation as the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation at the start of the season?
That's where Urban Meyer's team finished in the preseason AP poll, something that none of the other legendary teams in college football history have ever achieved.
Miami (Florida), Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame and even previous Ohio State teams fell short of a unanimous vote at the top. Talk about high expectations.
The Buckeyes earned last year's national title in impressive fashion, beating Alabama and Oregon in college football's first postseason playoff. They are being glorified with an HBO-style inside look at the program as the team gets ready for its season on BTN, the Big Ten's own television network.
They have all the trappings of greatness, and they also have a favorable schedule. However, they are not infallible, and they just may struggle when they have to meet fifth-ranked Michigan State in November.
Ohio State football: Why it's OK that the Big Ten still isn't the SEC - Buck Dynasty, Part 2 http://t.co/wfn9GqFtoN— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) August 25, 2015
The Buckeyes have a potential Heisman candidate in running back Ezekiel Elliott and a dominating defensive lineman in Joey Bosa, who had 13.5 sacks during last year's 14-0 season.
While Meyer still has to figure out what he is going to do at quarterback with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, an argument can be made that the Buckeyes have the strongest position groupings at every spot among their competition in the Big Ten.
Since the nonconference competition includes Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan after an opening test at Virginia Tech, that ranking is significant.
They deserve the No. 1 ranking, and it would be a surprise if any opponent other than the Spartans can challenge them.
The second-ranked TCU Horned Frogs have the kind of explosive offense that should give head coach Gary Patterson many enjoyable Saturdays. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is the key to an offense that averaged 46.5 points per game a year ago and may be even more explosive this season.
The problem TCU could face is its end-of-season schedule. There's no reason it shouldn't run off and stay undefeated through October, but November will see the Horned Frogs confront Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and fourth-ranked Baylor.August 29, 2015
Patterson's teams have regularly been dominant on defense, but the Horned Frogs have just five starters back on that side of the ball. If there is any problem in the secondary, it could result in some very high point totals allowed and real vulnerability.
The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide are not used to taking a back seat behind two teams at the start of the season. Head coach Nick Saban only wants the top spot, and he is not the least bit satisfied.
The Tide won't have running back T.J. Yeldon or wideout Amari Cooper, and they lack experience at the starting quarterback position. Saban has won the national championship twice with first-year starters at quarterback, and he has a pounding running back in Derrick Henry, who can impose his will on opposing defenses.August 29, 2015
The Tide have an overpowering front seven on defense, and while they could get challenged by Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Georgia and Auburn, they have an excellent chance to end up in their second College Football Playoff.
The fifth-rated Michigan State Spartans control their own destiny this season. If they can get by Oregon at home in the second game of the season, head coach Mark Dantonio's team won't get tested again until they travel to Columbus November 21.
The Spartans have won 11 games or more in four of the last five seasons, and four straight bowl games. Despite that success, all the Spartans seem to hear is talk about the great Ohio State Buckeyes and the impact of Jim Harbaugh on Michigan.August 22, 2015
That has left them with a king-sized chip on their shoulders, and they have the right triggerman in Connor Cook to take them a long way again this season. He is coming off a season in which he threw 24 TD passes with just eight interceptions, and he should be ready to improve on those numbers this year.
Mark Richt could have one of the most dangerous teams in the country with his ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. He brought in new defensive coaches in 2014, and this year Brian Schottenheimer joins his coaching staff to upgrade the offensive coordinator position.
The Bulldogs have a running back in Nick Chubb who should be able to provide the same kind of thrills that Todd Gurley gave them prior to his knee injury last year. The sophomore rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he should be good for even more production this year.
Georgia has a brutal two-game stretch against Alabama and at Tennessee in early October, and a mid-November game at Auburn that could be its undoing.
While most of the attention in the Pac-12 is going to USC, don't sleep on 13th-ranked UCLA. Jim Mora has built a powerful team that returns 18 starters.
The running back position appears to be dominant with Paul Perkins and Jordan Payton, although the quarterback position is not set. The Bruins have a potential midseason pitfall at Stanford, and their end-of-season confrontation with USC comes right after a tough game at Utah.
If UCLA can win on the road against the Cardinal, the West Coast hype machine will go into overdrive, and the team may just deserve the high-level consideration that will come its way.
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I have spent the last seven minutes trying to entice Deshaun Watson into saying what the rest of us are thinking: that one year from now—maybe one month from now—Clemson’s blossoming quarterback will be the face of college football, reassembled knee and all.
He won't take the bait. He refuses to celebrate his record-setting, expectation-shaping high school career. He doesn’t puff about scoring four touchdowns against South Carolina on one leg as a true freshman. He doesn't predict the touchdowns still to come.
The soft-spoken sophomore walks me through his rehab and even breezes by his recently acquired passion for fashion. He doesn’t speak of individual greatness; he talks about his maturing sneaker collection.
Then, suddenly, a breakthrough.
“I am an all-around player,” Watson says, as his voice kicks up to the appropriate gear. “I’m like LeBron James.”
There it is. The most electrifying young quarterback in college football just compared himself to the greatest athlete of our generation. My goodness, the page views.
As I celebrate my efforts, laughter engulfs the air. And not just any laugh. A kind of deep belly laugh that exudes comfort and confidence, and I realize—he's not even talking about football.
“I can drive, I can shoot, I can pull up,” he continues, tactically keeping his skill sets in the present. “To be honest, you can't game-plan against me.”
Watson isn’t the least bit concerned with football for the time being; right now he wants to talk about his high school hardwood exploits.
A three-year starter for the Gainesville High School basketball team, Watson once scored 21 points in a single quarter—doing so on seven three pointers. His high school football coach was in the building that night and couldn’t believe that one of the greatest football players he has ever coached was doing these things in a different sport.
“The kid could have made it as a college basketball player,” Gainesville High School football coach Bruce Miller said. “He could shoot the eyes out of it.”
Talk to anyone who has worked with the young man, and they will tell you a Watson story: basketball, football or life in general. They will all rave about his physical gifts and then slip seamlessly into a deep appreciation for a young man mature beyond his years. Completely aware of the hype around him, yet unfazed by it.
As we continue our conversation, I move past the comparisons to LeBron, hoping to steer things closer to his upcoming coronation as the face of college football. Despite his unwillingness to embrace the title, at no time did he tell me I was wrong.
Brasher than Marcus Mariota but calmer than Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, the quietly confident Watson could be just the superstar college football needs.
There are two kinds of superstars in college football. There are those who develop into stars, and there are those whose talent overwhelms development and thrusts them into the spotlight immediately. Watson has always been the second kind.
After Gainesville senior Blake Sims exhausted his high school eligibility and took his talents to Alabama, Bruce Miller had his next quarterback figured out. It was practically etched in stone.
The spring after Sims left, however, a lanky eighth grader joined the Georgia high school program a few months ahead of schedule, giving Miller another option at quarterback. In his more than 40 years in coaching, only one freshman quarterback had ever started.
Then he watched Deshaun Watson throw. Then he watched the 14-year-old complete 22 of 25 passes in the team’s spring game.
“When I first saw him, I just couldn’t believe I would coach somebody that good for four years,” Miller said. “We had a quarterback in place, and Deshaun just flat came in here and beat him out. He never played a down for JV. Once he started, he started 48 straight games for us.”
In those 48 games, Watson accounted for 17,134 total yards—nearly 10 miles in football production—155 passing touchdowns and found the end zone 218 times in total. Setting the Georgia state record in all three categories.
He won a state championship his junior season. That same season the self-proclaimed 'LeBron James' came within a few points of a second state championship in basketball. And just like that, a legend began.
What happened next was predictable. Coaches flocked to Gainesville en masse hoping they could get Watson to reconsider his verbal commitment to Clemson, a decision he made as a sophomore. Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher knew it would be tough to convince him to look elsewhere, but each still came and delivered their finest pitches in person.
Ultimately, Watson stuck by the coach who saw him as the next Vince Young before anyone else—the coach who is no longer at Clemson.
The Coach Who Almost Couldn’t Say Goodbye
Offered an opportunity to go back home and coach a sleeping football giant, Chad Morris’ dream had come true.
When the SMU job opened, the former Clemson offensive coordinator was a natural fit given his Texas high school coaching roots. And as much as he knew he couldn’t possibly say no, he nearly didn’t pull the trigger on his dream position because of his young quarterback.
“It was almost to the point I didn’t take the job,” Morris said. “I was very, very close—even after the South Carolina game when all the stuff was starting to come out—to just saying that I can’t leave this kid. That’s how much he means to me and my family.”
For nearly his entire coaching tenure at Clemson, Morris was focused on landing one player—this player. He watched him play football extensively. He watched him play basketball. He got to know Watson and his family.
He saw flashes of Vince Young, something he reiterated to head coach Dabo Swinney when he saw him early on. Morris knew he had to have him.
“I basically took him over,” Morris said. “Everyone else was recruiting kids year in and year out and I was recruiting one kid for four years. Essentially it felt that way.”
Watson committed to Clemson in February 2012. It was up to Morris to ensure his verbal would be put on paper nearly two years later. Helping him along the way was a natural fit that was impossible to duplicate. When Watson visited Clemson, he didn’t want to leave.
“It was different and very unique,” Watson said. “It was close to home, but the supporting cast was amazing. I just loved everything about it and felt at home here.”
After his successful—albeit injury-plagued freshman season—Morris decided to take the SMU job after some deliberation.
While these situations are often delicate, this particular change in scenery was unique. There were no regrets; no ill will on Watson’s end. The two shared an emotional goodbye before he left. While Watson was sad to see his biggest supporter leave, he was happy for his friend.
“We knew what was best for each other,” Watson said. “I wish he could have stayed, but he had to take the next step to be a head coach. I am going to be his biggest fan out there.”
To Infinity and Beyond
His first collegiate touchdown pass was a masterpiece—a moment of magnificent, unaltered football physics.
Tossed into one of the nation’s most hostile environments, with the masses of his home state hoping to watch the prodigy who left them fall flat on his face, Watson uncorked a throw against Georgia that told a tremendous tale.
“My mindset was to show the world what I was about and what I could do at this level,” Watson said. “Just go out and dominate. And that’s what I did on my first drive. It was easier than I what expected. Just overall, I was ahead of the game.”
The confidence has started to crystallize. The superstar suddenly sounds the part—not arrogant or brash, but supremely at ease with who he is and what he can become. Given the turbulent nature of this past year, his mindset has had to be reworked.
On November 29 last year, having battled back from a broken finger that sidelined him earlier in the season, Watson scored four touchdowns against rival South Carolina with a torn ACL. On one leg, the true freshman completed 14 of 19 passes for 269 yards and those four touchdowns.
After toying with the idea of playing him in the bowl game, his season ended there. Even with extremely limited reps, Watson accounted for 19 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Back with a Vengeance
The days after his surgery, Watson locked himself inside with tight end Stanton Seckinger, who also had his knee repaired. “We laid around, played games and got fat,” Watson joked.
Since then, he’s done everything in his power to ensure he is ready for September 5.
His rehab included a solid dosage of film. Mike Vick, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are all regulars in the Watson film catalog. “They were and are successful at their jobs,” Watson said. “I try not basing my game off of theirs because I’m my own player, but I want to see what they did to be successful.”
His name isn’t parallel to those who he’s trying to emulate to a point—not yet, at least. But expectations for the young man have started to reach a point of no return, even with such a limited sample size.
“I embrace it all. I embrace and really enjoy everything that comes with the business that I am in,” Watson said on living up to such immense expectations. “I have seen guys take bad steps and good steps from it. Going through the recruiting process, I knew what was coming. This is the position I wanted to be in and I knew I was going to be in. I want to take full advantage of it.”
Given the plethora of gifted skill position talent he will have to work with—wideouts Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, for starters—Watson will not go at it alone. Pencil in last year’s production over the course of a full season with so many other pieces and place, and a spectacular opportunity comes into focus.
The momentum has reached a point where we can talk about Clemson as a title contender and actually mean it. We can put to bed all tired talks of "Clemsoning," that this power will never be able to soar beyond this elevated plateau.
“The ceiling is winning the opener, of course. Then it’s about taking that next step,” Watson said. “Not just winning 10 games like the last four years, but winning it all. Winning every game, winning a conference championship and going to the Playoff.”
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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It’s finally here. At long last, the 2015 college football season is upon us. We’ve survived recruiting, spring practice and summer workouts, and across the nation, programs are making final preparations for their season openers.
Every team is full of optimism, and with good reason: They haven’t played a single game yet. It’s easy to be in a good mood when you’re undefeated, but that won’t be the case for half of the nation’s programs by this time next week.
Every season brings upsets, some more seismic than others. Who can forget Appalachian State marching into the Big House and stunning Michigan in 2007? It was an indelible moment for college football, one that fans will always remember. We’re not suggesting that an upset of that scale will happen this week, but surprises will occur. Here’s a look at the seven teams with the best chance to pull an opening-week upset.
Defending national champion Ohio State has made history by becoming the first unanimous preseason No. 1 ever in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. That's quite an achievement for the Buckeyes, who are once again loaded with talent and considered by many to be strong favorites to repeat as champs.
OSU sits atop pretty much every preseason ranking, so there's not much suspense to that part of Bleacher Report's Top 25 (other than to see if it landed all the first-place votes). The rest of the poll, though, might be a little more surprising when we see where some teams ended up.
Bleacher Report's Top 25 was voted on by 21 of members of our college football staff: writers Ben Axelrod, Greg Couch, Ed Feng, Justin Ferguson, Bryan Fischer, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Mike Monaco, Brian Pedersen, David Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Greg Wallace and Christopher Walsh, video experts Michael Felder and Sean McManus and editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.
First-place votes were worth 25 points, with each subsequent point worth one fewer point all the way down to one for 25th place. The 25 teams with the most poll points make our list, with the rest falling into the "others receiving votes" category.
Some of our writers have also weighed in on why they feel a certain team was deserving of its preseason ranking.
We will release a new poll each week, immediately after the final games are played that weekend, all the way through the national championship game in January.
Check out where everyone stands entering the 2015 season, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top Dual Threat Quarterbacks.
Other CFB 250 Positions
- Pro-Style QBs
- Offensive Linemen
- Running Backs
- Defensive Ends
- Defensive Tackles
- Tight Ends
- Wide Receivers
A quarterback is traditionally judged first and foremost by his arm and what he can do with it. But college football is nothing if not a progressive sport, and that starts with how the position has evolved into one that is now often home to a team's best athlete.
The rise of the dual-threat quarterback has coincided with a move toward uptempo offenses, which makes sense if you think about it. These passers are known as much for their mobility as their throwing prowess, and the ability to quick decide whether to throw or run is essential in a fast-paced attack.
Some of the top-ranked dual-threat quarterbacks from last year's list have moved on, though many are back for another year to give defensive coordinators fits.
The following rankings are based on players' skills at the college level, rather than how they'd fare in the NFL. Though they may be using this time to develop their game for the pros, first and foremost their goals are to help their teams succeed.
The grades are based on a tabulation of six categories (accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, mobility, football IQ and leadership), which come from evaluations made by our writers in conjunction with Bleacher Report football experts.
Note: All ties in overall grades were broken by deciding which player would give a hypothetical college all-star team the best chance to win.
The age of the cupcake opener is no more in college football. While there are still plenty of Associated Press Top 25 squads facing totally overmatched opponents—we're looking at you, Baylor Bears, Michigan State Spartans and Clemson Tigers—a number of the top teams have elected to go with tougher competition, making Week 1 highly intriguing.
Despite the lack of Top 25 matchups in Week 1—there is just one between the No. 3-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and No. 20-ranked Wisconsin Badgers—there is still plenty of intrigue for the top teams, with each of the top three facing a tough test from a Power Five opponent.
Here’s a look at all of the Top 25 games and a deeper inspection of three of the week’s top matchups.
Week 1 Schedule, Odds and Predictions
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark. Multiple game lines are still to be determined.
No. 2 TCU at Minnesota
Last season, TCU obliterated Minnesota at home 30-7, a win that was heavily used as an argument for why the Horned Frogs deserved a spot in the College Football Playoff ahead of eventual national champion Ohio State—a largely futile effort in the end.
Heading into this season, expectations for TCU are sky-high, and the team gets started with a rematch against the Golden Gophers on the road. But despite what happened last year, this isn’t going to be an easy win for the Horned Frogs in their quest for a title.
Trevone Boykin is a bona fide superstar surrounded by a number of elite weapons and a defense that should be great once again—it’s what head coach Gary Patterson is known for—but Minnesota isn’t going to lie down at the first sign of adversity this time.
Even without star running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, the Gophers have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and a distinct home-field advantage. It will take a herculean effort from reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Jerry Kill's team to pull off the upset, but the game should be a lot closer than it was in 2014.
If TCU isn’t careful, it could be in for a rough start to a season that feels like a national championship-or-bust campaign.
Prediction: TCU wins 42-28.
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 20 Wisconsin
In any other year, this game would be a walkover for the Crimson Tide. Over several seasons, Alabama had built a reputation for having one of the staunchest run defenses every year—which wouldn’t bode well for a run-heavy Wisconsin offense—but then the Sugar Bowl happened.
The Crimson Tide gave up 281 rushing yards in the loss to Ohio State, 230 of which Ezekiel Elliott gained, and the once-impregnable Alabama defensive front was exposed, something the Badgers were more than happy to see heading into the season opener.
Wisconsin lost superstar Melvin Gordon III to the NFL after his record-breaking season in 2014, but the Badgers' running back factory line is still running, and Corey Clement looks primed for his turn to be the star. Despite backing up the Heisman Trophy runner-up, Clement finished the year with 949 rushing yards of his own, the 87th-best total in the country.
Even if the Badgers can create holes against Alabama’s front seven—which is loaded with talent and size once again—the Tide should come out on top. Without a legitimate passing game to threaten a questionable secondary, Wisconsin doesn’t have enough to overcome head coach Nick Saban’s squad.
Alabama might struggle early while breaking in a new quarterback and a new group of receivers, but in the end, the Tide have too much talent and should emerge victorious.
Prediction: Alabama wins 31-21.
No. 1 Ohio State at Virginia Tech
What had been perceived as an easy win—albeit the hardest of their laughable early-season slate—for the Buckeyes took a turn in favor of Virginia Tech at Big Ten media days when Ohio State announced that four big contributors were suspended for the Labor Day matchup.
The suspensions of Corey Smith, Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson and Joey Bosa, coupled with a recent leg injury to Noah Brown, leave the Buckeyes surprisingly thin at wide receiver and on the defensive line, arguably the two positions where they need to be the strongest against Virginia Tech.
Kendall Fuller could have a field day against an inexperienced receiving corps, and Ohio State will need Adolphus Washington and Darron Lee to generate a huge pass rush in the absence of Bosa to prevent the Hokies from repeating their success on third down from last season.
Outside of the suspensions, it is hard to ignore the environment the Buckeyes will be walking into. Some fans have called this the biggest game in Virginia Tech’s history. It's tough to argue against that sentiment despite the success the Hokies had in the early 2000s, and the Lane Stadium crowd will be a huge factor.
But Ohio State is used to playing in hostile environments and coming away victorious, even if it isn’t always convincing. The suspensions, injuries and atmosphere will give the Hokies a chance to pull off the huge upset for a second straight season, but the Buckeyes are too skilled to get caught in the trap.
Even if Virginia Tech gets up early, the Buckeyes will likely battle back and come out on top, avenging their lone loss from the 2014 season.
Prediction: Ohio State wins 27-21.
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College football gets underway with a bang in just a few days.
Between Sept. 3 and 7, all AP Top 25 teams will be in action. The highlight of the opening week will be the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers taking on the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Get ready to see two dominant running games in action. Despite the fact that the Badgers lost leading rusher Melvin Gordon to the NFL, the offense that ranked fourth in the nation in rushing will again be tough on the ground.
The offensive line features three upperclassmen led by left tackle Tyler Marz. The issue for Wisconsin will be handling the speed and versatility of Alabama's defense. Junior defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson can wreak havoc on the inside or outside.
The Crimson Tide defense could be one of the best units in years, as every projected starter except sophomore cornerback Tony Brown is an upperclassman, per Ourlads.com. With more dynamic players on both sides of the ball, Alabama will prove to be the better team.
Look for 'Bama to make a major statement with a blowout win to begin the season. Its big win will help it move ahead of the TCU Horned Frogs into No. 2 in the polls.
Here's a prediction for the Top 25 rankings after the Week 1 games.
Northwestern Will Knock Off No. 21 Stanford
Pat Fitzgerald has done a decent job with the Northwestern Wildcats football program. His coaching record is 60-53, but the Wildcats are coming off 5-7 records in two straight seasons. Despite some uncertainty at quarterback, Northwestern is in position to take strides this year. In the video below from BTN.com, Fitzgerald talks about the upcoming season.
The head coach can't afford another season without a bowl game. Tom Dienhart of BTN.com knows this game will be a big one for Northwestern, as it needs as many nonconference wins as possible. He wrote: "Stanford typically is a tough, physical team that doesn’t beat itself. The offense is loaded with vets, while the defense is retooling. This will be a great measuring stick for Northwestern."
Fitzgerald and his players will come out focused in their home opener, and Stanford is a beatable ranked opponent.
The Cardinal lost eight players off their defense from last season. A relatively new cast of players opens the season on the road against a team hungry and desperate for a season-opening win. This is the perfect setup for an upset, and the Wildcats will vault themselves into the Top 25 with a win.
Trevone Boykin's Heisman Trophy Run Begins
Despite the fact that we have the Crimson Tide leapfrogging TCU after Week 1, Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin is going to put on a show on the road against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota finished 8-4 last season, but its defense won't be able to contain Boykin and the high-powered Horned Frogs offense. TCU averaged 46.5 points per game last season, and it's hard to imagine Minnesota slowing it down or keeping pace.
Boykin will show off his dynamic arm and legs in a game that stays close enough for him to remain in to put up huge numbers.
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Yeah, Texas Longhorns fall camp went a little differently than we expected.
What did go as planned was the effort level. As a collective, the Longhorns turned in three weeks of a highly competitive environment that saw unexpected talent emerge across the board.
Out of that fray, these storylines came out as the most significant.
Swoopes Is a Different Guy
Watching Swoopes melt down at the end of the 2014 season, you got the sense he might never play quarterback again. Neither he nor his teammates seemed like they believed he could lead them to victory.
But Swoopes has responded with vigor. The junior has dominated work with the first team since fall camp started, ending any competition that began with Jerrod Heard in the spring. He's a completely different player, and his teammates have taken notice.
"He’s really brought the offense an edge,” cornerback Duke Thomas told 247Sports' Chris Hummer. “I’m talking trash, and he’s getting into it with me. He’s really bringing that approach to the game we need on offense."
We still need to see how Swoopes handles a real game. He's always had the potential to be a good player, but the pressure has worn him down in games where he's struggled.
If he shows well against Notre Dame, the Longhorns could be in good shape at the position for the first time in a long while.
The 2015 Class Is the Real Deal
Texas' 2015 recruiting class is more than Malik Jefferson.
The Longhorns' 5-star linebacker, per 247Sports, set the standard in April's spring game, and his newly arrived classmates have picked up where he left off. Along with the "other" spring standout, tackle Connor Williams, three more 2015 signees have busted into the starting lineup. Five others should also factor into the two-deep.
Surprisingly, it's the offense that's been the most influenced by the freshmen. John Burt, originally considered a raw prospect, has busted into the "X" wide receiver role after a strong start to camp. Then, in the last couple of weeks, guard Patrick Vahe has pushed senior Marcus Hutchins to the bench.
Right now, Jefferson's the lone dog on defense, but there's plenty of time for that to change. Cornerbacks Davante Davis and Kris Boyd have been great throughout camp, and Holton Hill is getting up to speed after dealing with an injury. There's no doubt three of these guys will factor into the rotation.
The Offensive Line Has Picked It Up
Swoopes took most of the blame for what happened on offense last season, but the guys in front of him were just as much to blame. That shouldn't be a problem this year.
Adding vengeful maulers Williams and Vahe, the arrow is pointing up with Texas' offensive line. 247Sports' Jeff Howe considers the entire group the top performer from fall camp, and that's saying something considering how many guys showed out.
With three returning starters and upgrades at two of its weakest positions, this group has the right mix of talent and chemistry to significantly improve. All signs point to that heading into the first game.
It All Starts with the Defensive Line
The offense has received a bulk of the attention this offseason, but head coach Charlie Strong's calling card will remain his defense. His success on that side of the ball will be built around a stacked front four.
Even after losing Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed, the Longhorn front boasts a ton of depth. Tackle Hassan Ridgeway will anchor this group with help from talented Poona Ford, Paul Boyette and senior Desmond Jackson.
At defensive end, Naashon Hughes returns as a starter with plenty of depth behind him. Shiro Davis finally looks ready to make an impact on the strong side, with capable backups behind him in Bryce Cottrell and Quincy Vasser.
The biggest development is behind Hughes, who emerged as the "Fox" end last season. The sophomore entered camp without any real backup, then watched both Derick Roberson and Charles Omenihu develop behind him. In fact, these two were so good, Horns Digest's Chip Brown reports that Strong has considered making Hughes a full-time linebacker again while moving Caleb Bluiett back to tight end.
Expect Hughes to stay put, giving Strong a massive arsenal of talent to deploy along the front line. This group will get the job done while the back end sorts itself out.
Daje Johnson Isn't Done
You can't say enough about what Johnson did in fall camp.
An obvious attrition candidate, the senior wide receiver has turned in the best three weeks of practice since he arrived on campus. He ran with the ones throughout camp, and 247Sports' Howe considers him the best individual performer of the preseason workouts.
To hear Strong tell it, per TexasSports.com, Johnson's been one of the hardest-working players as well.
I tell you, it's been fun watching Daje. He comes out there and doesn't say a word, and every day, even after practice, he's standing out in practice catching balls. Him and Heard out there throwing balls after practice. Before practice, he picks up a rubber ball and tells the receiver, they're going down the field playing catch back and forth. I said to him, I said, "Wow, is this the guy I knew?"
A focused Johnson can be a lethal weapon for Shawn Watson and his offense. He's an absolute game-breaker who can swing a contest as a runner, returner and receiver, which he's done in spurts over his career.
Thanks to more consistent hands and route running, Johnson will open the season as one of Texas' top options out of the slot. And whenever he's on the field, look for the coaches to scheme him into space.
As long as he keeps up what he did in camp, Johnson will win Texas a game or two.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.
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With 19 verbal commitments already in the fold, Urban Meyer and Ohio State's 2016 recruiting class has almost reached full capacity. But the Buckeyes still have a number of highly rated targets on their board, and they're looking to make their No. 1 class even stronger as the football season kicks off.
With needs to fill at receiver, in the secondary and along the interior of the defensive line, there are three targets that are imperative to Meyer and the coaching staff. And as the recruiting class continues to fill up, these prospects will certainly get the Buckeyes' full attention until national signing day this February.
Binjimen Victor, 4-Star Wide Receiver
When Meyer took over in Columbus in 2012, he made it his top priority to upgrade the Buckeyes' receiver unit. He called the position group a "clown show" during his first spring with the team, and since then, he's signed nine 4-star wide receivers.
But the Buckeyes only took two receivers overall during last year's recruiting cycle, and with only 4-star wide receiver Austin Mack committed for 2016, Meyer is working hard to secure another top-flight pass-catcher.
That's why the Buckeyes have made Binjimen Victor their top priority.
Standing at 6'4", Victor is a lethal and almost unguardable receiver in the red zone, but he pairs great speed and crisp route-running to his incredible leaping ability. He's rated the No. 9 receiver and the No. 79 prospect overall for the class of 2016, and his stock will only rise as he puts together a solid senior season.
The Buckeyes will have to work very hard to pull the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, prospect away from the home-state Gators, but it's clear that Meyer has a good shot. Last Friday, he wore Ohio State gloves during his high school's season opener.
Getting Victor up for a visit this season will make or break the Buckeyes' recruitment.
Antwuan Jackson, 4-Star Defensive Tackle
The Buckeyes have a big need at wideout, but they're absolutely desperate for a big-time defensive tackle. They're in that situation thanks to a combination of attrition and recruiting misses.
Ohio State is currently working to replace All-Big Ten defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and after this year, they'll lose senior Tommy Schutt, and if things go as expected, Adolphus Washington to the NFL draft. The depth chart is thin along the interior as well after the Buckeyes missed out on their top targets last year—Terry Beckner Jr., Christian Wilkins and Neville Gallimore.
That's why Antwuan Jackson is such an important recruit for the Buckeyes.
Rated the No. 8 defensive tackle and the No. 54 prospect nationally, Jackson holds offers from most of the top programs in the country, including Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and USC. But Jackson's recruitment is winding down as a two-horse race between Auburn and Ohio State, and he told Jeff Sentell of Dawg Nation that he'll make his final decision within a few weeks.
The Tigers have the best chance of landing the 4-star lineman, via 247 Sports, but because the Buckeyes can offer him a great chance at early playing time, they have a good shot at landing his commitment.
Jordan Fuller, 4-Star Cornerback
Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has completely overhauled Ohio State's defense, and that process has created a big need for big, athletic defensive backs who can cover a lot of ground. And there aren't many players who fit that description better than Jordan Fuller, a 4-star prospect out of Westwood, New Jersey.
The Buckeyes already have a pair of cornerback prospects in Wayne Davis and Kareem Felder for their '16 class, but they're pursuing Fuller so hard because he's versatile enough to play either cornerback or safety at the next level.
Fuller recently visited Ohio State and came away very impressed.
"They're real cool. I loved my visit there," Fuller said, according to Todderick Hunt of NJ Advance Media. "All the coaches were cool. I wasn't able to spend the night with a player there, but the players seemed cool. And practice was very intense even though they were only in helmets and shoulder pads, so I liked that. Pretty much from top to bottom, it was really awesome at Ohio State."
The Buckeyes have a commanding lead in the race for Fuller's commitment. According to 247 Sports, Ohio State has a 77 percent chance of landing the standout athlete.
All recruiting information via 247Sports.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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The Ohio State Buckeyes, TCU Horned Frogs and Alabama Crimson Tide are the top three teams in the AP Top 25 heading into the season, but they're also just relatively modest favorites at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark for their Week 1 matchups as the college football campaign gets underway.
And Ohio State, a unanimous first in the poll, will be last out of the gate this week as it takes on Virginia Tech on the road Monday night. The Buckeyes rolled through the College Football Playoff last season en route to a national championship, and the sportsbooks have them listed as 11-point favorites against the Hokies for Monday's matchup.
However, the last team to beat Ohio State was Virginia Tech, with the Buckeyes falling to the Hokies by a score of 35-21 at home last September as a 10-point favorite. Since that defeat Ohio State is 13-0 straight up and 9-4 against the spread, with the over paying off for totals bettors at the sportsbooks in 15 of its last 18 games.
While Ohio State has to wait until next Monday night to hit the gridiron, the TCU Horned Frogs are in action Thursday night as they play on the road at TCF Bank Stadium against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Second behind Ohio State in the AP Top 25, the Horned Frogs are 14.5-point road favorites against the Gophers while paying off on the betting lines in 14 of their last 16 games, according to the OddsShark College Football Database.
And the Alabama Crimson Tide, third in the poll, then play a traditional Saturday game this week, although they'll be at a neutral location as they take on the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide vs. Badgers betting matchup has Alabama set as a 10-point favorite at the sportsbooks, although bettors are likely wary of the Tide since they've gone just 4-11-1 ATS in their last 16 games.
No. 4 Baylor and No. 5 Michigan State are in action Friday night, with the Spartans 18.5-point road favorites at Western Michigan and the Bears huge 35-point road favorites at SMU. Baylor actually opened as just a 20-point favorite against the Mustangs, but that line has steadily grown. The Bears are 5-0 both SU and ATS in their last five games against the Mustangs, who are 0-20 SU and 4-15-1 ATS in their last 20 games against Big 12 teams.
Elsewhere Friday, Boise State is a 12-point home favorite on the early odds against Washington, while Saturday has Stanford as a 12-point road favorite against Northwestern, Georgia as a 35-point home favorite against Louisiana-Monroe, UCLA as a 17-point home favorite against Virginia, Florida State as a 30-point home favorite against Texas State and Auburn as a 10.5-point favorite against Louisville at the Georgia Dome.
And Notre Dame, starting the season at No. 11 in the AP Top 25, is listed as an early 9.5-point home favorite for its game on Saturday against Texas. The Fighting Irish are 1-5 ATS in their last six games with the over having gone 7-0-1 in their last eight contests for totals bettors.
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Odell Beckham Jr.'s one-handed catch has become synonymous with his name, but it might need to make room for Notre Dame's Alize Jones.
The 6'5" freshman tight end made an incredible one-handed catch while falling backward during Saturday's practice that could give Beckham a run for his money.
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According to Ross Dellenger and Scott Rabalais of the Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will remain in his role with the team despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com provided some comments from Cameron during his press conference. The 54-year-old told the assembled press members he has a "clean bill of health":
Cameron is in his third year with the Tigers. He arrived in Baton Rouge after working as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2012. Cameron was fired midway through the season as the Ravens were en route to their second Super Bowl win.
Cameron's coaching career spans well over 30 years. He started as a graduate assistant with Michigan in 1984 before moving up to be the Wolverines' wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. From there, he made stops with the Washington Redskins, Indiana Hoosiers, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers before landing in Baltimore.
Although LSU's offense ranked 80th in yards per game last year, Tigers fans are right to expect the unit to make strides under Cameron's stewardship in 2015. Quarterback Brandon Harris should improve in his sophomore season, and his top three leading receivers—Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse—are all back. In addition, running back Leonard Fournette is on some experts' preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.
Should Cameron's situation worsen and he be forced to take a leave of absence at any point this season, head coach Les Miles could be in serious trouble. It would leave Miles without both of his top coordinators from last year after John Chavis left to lead Texas A&M's defense.
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Oregon Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams officially completed his graduate transfer to the seventh-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 two weeks ago, and it appears that was all the time he needed to seize a starting gig.
Adams wasn't able to join the team until he passed his final math class at Eastern Washington University, but he finally graduated Aug. 14, as his Instagram post indicated at the time:
Adams has been competing with junior Jeff Lockie for the starting job, and as Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval noted, it looked like Lockie had a good shot at nabbing the No. 1 spot prior to Friday's announcement:
Playing for an FCS program at Eastern Washington, Adams turned heads by tossing 55 touchdowns during the 2013 campaign before throwing for 35 scores and rushing for six last season.
As Oregon’s Andy McNamara noted, the transition to Pac-12 play shouldn’t be a particularly difficult one for Adams:
"Vernon is doing a great job," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Aug. 18, according to ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings. "I can see why he has been a great player at the lower level. I can see why he has won a lot of games. Whoever was coaching him before did a great job with him."
Considering Adams is entering his final season of collegiate eligibility, it isn't a surprise that Oregon is opting to trust his talent in the starting role right away. Once Adams' career in Eugene is done, the door could open for Lockie to grab control of the starting job after playing the role of understudy behind Adams and Marcus Mariota.
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In eight days, Auburn will begin its 2015 season in a venue that it wants to return to in December—the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Tigers are the preseason pick by the SEC media to return to the Dome and capture their second conference championship in three seasons.
But Auburn will enter next Saturday's season opener against Louisville with a handful of question marks that need to be answered before a push for a title.
What do the Tigers need to accomplish in order to claim another championship in the nation's toughest conference? Here's the blueprint for success in 2015.
Establish consistent receivers not named Duke Williams
The hype surrounding Jeremy Johnson is real, and it is unstoppable.
Johnson could be the next Cam Newton or the best pure passer in Auburn football history, but it's going to be hard for him to prove that—and for the Tigers offense to hit the next level—with just one successful receiver.
Duke Williams lived up to his reputation as a physical receiver with a seemingly infinite catch radius last season. While his surprise return to the team has featured some bumps in the road, Williams will be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on the Plains this season.
Part of what made Williams such a breakout star for Auburn last season was the presence of Sammie Coates, who is now in the NFL. Coates could stretch the field with his impressive speed, which left Williams to dominate the intermediate routes.
Auburn needs to find that secondary threat to line up with Williams, or teams will be able to lock down the senior star. Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray have shown flashes of becoming that vertical threat in their first few seasons with the team.
"Melvin is probably as steady a guy as we've had in the first two years," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "He's not flashy, but every time you watch film, he's always doing right... Ricardo has loads of talent. He's made a lot of plays in the last two years; it's can he do it at a consistent rate."
One of the most underrated losses in the offseason was Quan Bray, a departed senior who was the team's No. 3 receiver over the last two seasons. He had five more receptions than Coates last year and just as many touchdowns.
Having Williams back is fantastic for the Tigers, but if Johnson is going to be the pass-first player who will change the way Auburn attacks opponents, he can't do it with just one star.
The 2013 run-first Tigers used multiple rushers—Nick Marshall, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant—to pave the way for a championship. Finding that vertical threat and an established No. 3 in what is a deep group of receivers is paramount for this year's offense, which is looking to get to the next level through the air.
Bring back the pass rush
Auburn's depth in the secondary is what it is. Malzahn called it one of his two biggest concerns heading into the season, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com, and new defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson has plainly stated that true freshmen will have to play at corner this fall.
Even with the addition of Blake Countess in the offseason, a secondary that has struggled with limiting big plays through the air over the last two years will be the Tigers' weakest link in 2015. And while the young corners could rise up and become better than expected this fall, it's hard to put a lot of faith in guys who were playing high school ball less than a year ago.
How far Auburn's defense improves under Muschamp in year one is what the team's championship campaign hinges on in the eyes of many experts across the country. The Tigers should be improved in run defense with the return of veteran defensive tackles and linebackers—the passing game is the biggest concern.
The lack of a pass rush was part of Auburn's undoing last season, and its return could mask the flaws of a thin secondary this fall. Auburn can't magically add new players to the defensive backfield, but it can ease the pressure by wreaking havoc in the opponent's backfield.
The return of the "unblockable" Carl Lawson should fix some of those woes. Per the team website, the former 5-star had four sacks and seven quarterback hurries in his true freshman campaign, but he missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury.
But, like Williams in the receiving game, Lawson can't do it alone. Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com nailed it with his take on the position battle opposite Lawson, who will take the stand-up "Buck" role in Muschamp's new defensive scheme.
"Yes, the secondary has depth questions, but Auburn has to find a consistent pass rush, and you know offenses will be keying on Lawson," Aschoff wrote. "He will need help if the Tigers are going to get to the quarterback better than they did last season."
Senior DaVonte Lambert, who led Auburn with just 3.5 sacks last season, is back at practice after an ACL injury of his own. The Tigers will need improvement from returning faces such as Lambert and possibly a breakout year from 5-star true freshman Byron Cowart in order to reach full potential in the pass rush.
Without it, this defense will be chasing receivers game after game this season.
If you lose, don't do it at the end
With several question marks heading into the season, it's hard to see a team like Auburn running the table in the brutal SEC West this season. Each team has a legitimate claim as a contender.
But one of the best aspects of Auburn's preseason resume is the end of the season, when it gets the "Amen Corner" duo of Georgia and Alabama inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Those two teams are Auburn's biggest competition for the SEC title this season, according to the preseason polls, and the Tigers will have an advantage for each matchup.
As the Tigers showed in 2013, having those home games is quite beneficial, especially if they lose a conference game early in the season. Two years ago, Auburn had time to rebound from a loss to LSU and start its run to the national championship.
Two losses probably won't cut it in the race for the SEC West, and winning the head-to-head against Alabama is important—it's hard to visualize a scenario where the Crimson Tide have two losses heading into the Iron Bowl against an unbeaten Auburn.
LSU could be a tricky matchup in Week 3, especially if the Tigers can find a quarterback and some momentum in Death Valley. Arkansas' ground-and-pound style will challenge the strength of the Muschamp defense.
And if Auburn can make it to College Station unscathed, a loss to air-it-out Texas A&M won't eliminate the Tigers from championship contention. A loss to Georgia might be the most acceptable—if there is such a thing as an acceptable defeat in Auburn—because it wouldn't damage a tiebreaker in the West.
Auburn's path to winning the SEC West and eventually the SEC championship is simply more than just "beat Alabama." The Tigers have to fight through a rigorous schedule with one loss at the most and then win another winner-take-all matchup with the Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The 2013 Tigers drew up the blueprint—have multiple weapons on offense, use the pass rush to cover any major flaws on defense and rally back from an early loss to sweep an all-home "Amen Corner."
This year's team may do things a little differently, but the pieces are in place for another run.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eight days from Notre Dame football’s season opener against Texas, the Irish depth chart is sharpening in focus. There’s still one position, however, with uncertainty and flexibility: tight end.
As quick as Notre Dame is to bill itself as “Tight End U,” and rightfully so, the Irish only bring back one reception for seven yards at the position—a first-quarter grab by Durham Smythe against Arizona State. Despite the lack of past production and clarity, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is confident in his five tight ends and the different strengths they bring onto the field.
“We’ve got some really good flexibility,” Kelly said last week. “I think at the end of the day we can really do some things with those tight ends to keep teams off balance.”
Smythe, a redshirt sophomore, stood out as the top tight end throughout the spring. However, the Belton, Texas, native tweaked his hamstring during Notre Dame’s fourth fall practice.
Until Smythe returned to full contact last week, second-year tight ends Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua received more first-team reps in practices open to the media. Smythe said the hamstring hasn’t bothered him at all since returning to full strength.
“I think there is that sense of competition, but I think that helps all of us,” Smythe said. “And you know there are guys who come in and have strengths in certain areas of the game. And if those strengths are strong enough and you can play and help the team, sure, we’ll find a role for that.”
Smythe still figures to headline the position. Now in his third year on campus, he has bulked up to roughly 245-250 pounds, the result of a winter and spring spent focusing on weight gain and strength progression. Smythe admitted he edged toward pass-catching on the receiving-blocking spectrum of tight ends coming out of high school.
“Now that I’ve established some weight gain, some strength gain and stuff, if I really had to put one strength above everything else, I think it’s starting to become the knowledge of the offense,” Smythe said.
“I think over the past couple years, I guess I’m technically the oldest tight end with experience,” said Smythe with a laugh.
Luatua, meanwhile, has dropped down to 255 pounds, and the quiet sophomore mostly factored into Notre Dame’s offense as a blocker in 2014.
“Coming into camp, I feel like I’ve improved in the passing game a lot more than during the spring,” Luatua said. “I lost weight. I’m gaining back more muscle.”
While Luatua has dropped extra weight, Weishar continues to pack on pounds. A 220-pound wide receiver in high school, Weishar said he’s now up to 245 pounds. The Midlothian, Illinois, native flashed in the fall as a red-zone target, shielding defenders along the goal line.
“I think as a tight end that’s one of the main things we need to focus on, is being viable threats in the red zone,” Weishar said.
Speaking of pass-catching threats, Kelly said freshman Alize Jones could even line up at wide receiver for Notre Dame and called him “a matchup nightmare.”
Fifth-year senior Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, rounds out the group. Hounshell admitted he thought his Irish career was over after Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU in December. After dropping 20 pounds, Hounshell gives the Irish depth as a blocking option.
“Every single one of the tight ends brings something different to the table,” Hounshell said. “We all have different strengths.”
Kelly said Notre Dame can deploy those strengths situationally.
“We’ve really recognized—especially this spring leading into this fall camp—that we have a lot of guys who can make plays in every facet of the game,” Smythe said. “So if there’s an opportunity to get three, three-plus tight ends on the field, I think as a group we’re really in support of that.”
“We could go 0-5 personnel,” Smythe joked. “We could just put one of us at quarterback.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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The 2015 college football season kicks off in less than a week, but we always keep an eye on national signing day here at Bleacher Report. Plenty of premier prospects enter their final high school campaigns uncommitted, creating opportunities for programs to make a push in their respective recruitments.
While surveying an array of available young talent, it quickly becomes apparent how much teams covet particular targeted athletes. Ongoing communication with coaching staffs and official visits will eventually determine who ends up where next year.
We examined every squad in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, determining which prized prospects present the most intrigue for each team. Here's a look at the players programs must focus on in the coming months and how they could make an impact at these universities as early as 2016.
Based on the wording—and more importantly, the timing—of Tim Beckman's firing Friday, it was clear that Illinois could no longer continue with him as its head coach.
With a mere week remaining until the Fighting Illini's season opener against Kent State, Illinois announced it had relieved Beckman of his duties citing "preliminary results of an external review into allegations involving the program." That review was the byproduct of claims of mistreatment from former Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic.
Several ex-Illinois players backed up Cvijanovic's claims in a July report in the Chicago Tribune by Jared S. Hopkins and Shannon Ryan.
"The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly," Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said in a statement. "During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program."
Make no mistake, Illinois' firing of Beckman is a move that comes better late than never. If the school felt so strongly that it opted to remove its head coach just seven days out from the start of the season, that's a pretty clear indication of the severity of the findings of its investigation.
The Fighting Illini have essentially sacrificed their 2015 season in favor of dealing with the mess that accompanies a head coach's firing on such short notice. But it's a mess that should have been avoided altogether.
Because while Illinois can now claim just cause in firing Beckman—the school says he won't receive the final $3.1 million remaining on the final two years of his contract—the reality is that his dismissal should have come much sooner.
While the details of the findings of the investigation still remain unclear—and unfinished—perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Beckman's ability as a college football coach came at the end of the school's statement announcing his firing, when it listed the results of each of his three seasons in Champaign.
Over the course of his time in charge of the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 record, including a disastrous 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. One could have argued he should've been fired after Illinois' 4-8 season in 2013, where the Illini lost seven of their final eight games, their lone win in that stretch being a 20-16 victory over lowly Purdue.
It may have even made sense to let him go after his debut season in 2012, a 2-10 campaign that offered plenty of signs of the rocky nature that would be omnipresent throughout his Illinois tenure.
After a third consecutive losing season in 2014, however, there seemed to be no reasons left for the Illini to enter Year 4 of the Beckman era, his lone saving grace being an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Louisiana Tech, which Illinois would lose, 35-18.
But despite the dwindling attendance at Memorial Stadium and a recruiting resume that offered no better than a No. 47 nationally ranked class in four cycles, Illinois opted to stick with Beckman, seemingly based on a backdoor Big Ten finish that allowed it to meet he minimum total of wins for a bowl appearance.
That kept the Illini standing on the sideline for the hirings of hot head coaching candidates like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who wound up as the head coaches at Pitt and Houston, respectively.
Instead of hiring such replacements, Illinois spent the offseason with a head coach on the hot seat and will enter the 2015 campaign under the direction of interim coach Bill Cubit, who went 51-47 as the head coach of Western Michigan from 2005 to 2012 before joining Beckman's staff as the offensive coordinator in 2013.
That's not to say Illinois won't wind up with a suitable long-term successor, as Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck and Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash are already names that come to mind as potential replacements. The Fighting Illini likely would have been looking for a new head coach next offseason anyway, considering Beckman's lack of an extension this offseason, and can now spend 2015 getting a head start on their search.
That head start, however, will come at least eight months too late.
On the one hand, Illinois should be commended for being willing to take this disaster head on, knowing the ripple effect that making this move at this time will create.
On the other hand, it's a disaster that should have never come to fruition in the first place.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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College football players come in all shapes and sizes, but some are bigger, or smaller, than others. Much bigger or smaller.
Offensive linemen are built to be big, but some manage to grow to such gargantuan sizes they break the mold for the position. Some are so humongous and yet so athletic that limiting them to just blocking and pulling isn't enough.
And on the smaller side, the tiniest players often have a distinct advantage over their bigger brethren because they can slip through tight spaces and sidestep troublesome tacklers.
As we move within a week of the start of the 2015 season, it's time to turn the spotlight on some of the game's most notable players who fall to one extreme side or the other of the big/small spectrum. Here's our look at college football's smallest and tallest players, highlighting how they and their teams hope to maximize their size (or lack thereof) this fall.