NCAA Football News

How Ohio State's Offense Will Change with JT Barrett Instead of Braxton Miller

Speaking about his plans to minimize Braxton Miller's rushing attempts this season, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman conceded that the two-time Big Ten MVP's legs would always be a part of the Buckeyes' arsenal.

"Whatever it takes to win," Herman said of Miller's designed runs. "We know that they'll always be there in our back pocket."

That, however, is no longer the case in Columbus, as Herman and head coach Urban Meyer find themselves searching for new plays to fill their pockets. Out is Miller, who will miss the entirety of the 2014 season with a reported torn labrum, and in is redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who brings a different skill set to Ohio State's quarterback position.

Just how much will the OSU offense change with Barrett behind center for the Buckeyes? We won't know for sure until Aug. 30. But we've seen enough in select practices and picked up as many clues from coaches to know to expect a different approach from the Ohio State offense when it takes the field for its season opener against Navy in 10 days.

 

More Runs From The Runners, Less Designed Runs

When Miller's status was still unclear a week ago, Meyer admitted that the Buckeyes would need to rely on their run game more if their star signal-caller wasn't yet full-go. And with a quarterback who's yet to take a single snap in his college career, one would imagine that mindset won't change, as Ohio State's passing game is anything but proven at this point.

That could prove to be problematic, however, as the Buckeyes' rushing attack isn't exactly experienced either. Gone are Big Ten Running Back of the Year Carlos Hyde and four multi-year starters on the offensive line, replaced by a stable of talented—albeit unproven—young players.

As far as the quarterback's role in running the ball, Barrett is hardly the home-run threat that Miller's been for the past three seasons, but an efficient runner nonetheless. He's also been the Buckeyes' most impressive decision-maker in the zone-read game this offseason, a skill that Miller has struggled with as he's shown a propensity for telegraphing his runs.

What Barrett makes up for in decision-making he loses in designed runs, as Miller's signature quarterback counters will likely disappear from the Buckeyes' playbook in the coming year. For that reason alone, the running backs should shoulder the load of the OSU run game, although opposing defenses could make Barrett prove what he's capable of on the ground.

Nevertheless, expect to hear names like Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Curtis Samuel early and often for the Buckeyes this season—especially in their debut against the Midshipmen. Both facets of the Ohio State offense may be unproven, but like legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes once said, there are three things that can happen when you throw the ball—and two of them are bad.

 

Shorter Passes 

When it comes to arm strength, Barrett is no Miller, nor is he even fellow signal-caller Cardale Jones. But that's no secret to Herman, who's well aware of his new starting quarterback's physical shortcomings.

"We've gotta work on strengthening his arm," Herman admitted. "He's a distant third behind Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall."

So gone will be deep balls from the Buckeyes quarterback, perhaps attempts that would have predominately been targeted for senior speedster Devin Smith. But what Barrett lacks in power, he makes up for in accuracy, which could ultimately prove for a more well-rounded attack in the OSU passing game.

"He gets the ball out quickly, is very efficient. Smooth release. Very accurate," Herman said of Barrett. "Extremely cerebral."

One player in particular who could benefit from Barrett's insertion into the starting lineup is wide receiver/running back Dontre Wilson, who came to Ohio State expected to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Meyer's offense. With dinks and dunks expected to be in the new bread and butter of the Buckeyes offensive approach, look for a lot of them to land in the arms of Wilson, as well as senior tight end Jeff Heuerman.

"We're a little bit better than we were the past two years in terms of skill," Meyer told ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show. "We have a handful of guys where if you make one mistake, that could be a big play for the Buckeyes."

 

A More Systematic Approach

Truth be told, Ohio State's offense may look more like what Meyer envisions for his spread attack with Barrett calling the shots rather than Miller. Sure, Miller is one of the most unique players in college football, but his talents have made the Buckeyes look one-dimensional at times as they've often relied too heavily on his legs and big-play ability.

That shouldn't be the case with Barrett, with Meyer conceding that his top priority will be to spread the ball around. Asked on Mike & Mike how the OSU offense would be different without Miller in the lineup, Meyer pointed to the approach that the Buckeyes took when Kenny Guiton replaced Miller for the better part of three games a season ago.

"We changed a little bit like we did when Kenny Guiton was in there. Kenny Guiton was distributor," Meyer said. "We do a lot of the management throws, especially with a young quarterback."

That's not necessarily a bad thing, as evidenced by the combined 643 yards and 12 touchdowns that Guiton threw for in the three games where he took the majority of Ohio State's snaps. And while Herman isn't ready to put Barrett on Guiton's level just yet, he has confidence in his new starter's ability, which is one reason while Columbus hasn't been all doom and gloom over the last 48 hours.

"At the end of the day, the offense moves when he’s in," Herman said of Barrett. "That's the sign of a good one."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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LSU's Season Riding on Les Miles' Ability to Pick a Quarterback

If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. 

LSU is on the verge of having no quarterbacks.

Head coach Les Miles said after Tuesday's scrimmage that sophomore Anthony Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris could both play in the season opener vs. Wisconsin.

“There’s an opportunity to see both quarterbacks play,” Miles said in quotes released by LSU. “We still have several practices left. I think I’ll wait (to name a starter) until I see how I want to play the guys. We’ll tell the starter on Thursday (of game week) when we put together the final (play call) list.”

Good move? Hardly.

Each situation is unique, and while it's fine if Alabama's quarterback battle wages on into the season, LSU really doesn't have that luxury.

With so much roster turnover on the offensive side of the ball, including the absence of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Hill and 1,000-yard receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., LSU's offense needs continuity, and that continuity begins with Miles settling on a signal-caller.

Wisconsin isn't the team to conduct an audition with. Sure, there are some questions in the front seven for the Badgers to answer, and LSU can play ground-and-pound football with backs Terrence Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette and get out of there with a win.

But does that solve the quarterback issue? Nope. It would mask it.

In most cases, if all things are equal, a team should go with the veteran—especially if the season opener is a big game that could potentially make or break its national title hopes. The word "veteran," in this case, is a relative term.

Jennings saw spot duty as Zach Mettenberger's reserve leading up to the season finale last year and then led the Tigers on a 99-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes to beat Arkansas 31-27. The future looked bright.

In his first start—a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl—Jennings was inconsistent, completed only 36.8 percent of his passes (7-for-19), looked apprehensive in the pocket and took four sacks. That trend continued in LSU's spring game when Jennings threw two picks and was sacked four times, according to stats released by LSU.

All the while, Harris looked sharp throwing for 195 yards, rushing for 77 and totaling four touchdowns.

In this case, going with youth is the best approach if all things are equal.

LSU's leading returning receiver is Travin Dural, who had seven catches last year. Not 17 or 70, seven. It's imperative for LSU's young wide receivers, including Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn, to develop chemistry with their quarterback. Rotating guys in throughout the duration of fall camp and into the season makes that much more difficult.

Yes, LSU has rotated quarterbacks in the past, including Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson in the SEC championship year of 2011. But those players had experience and familiarity with their teammates.

Jennings and Harris don't, and if Miles doesn't on settle on one soon, LSU is destined for a rebuilding year.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

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JT Barrett Holds Key to Ohio State's Title Hopes After Braxton Miller's Injury

From unassuming backup to the starting quarterback of a national-title contender. Such is the life of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who suddenly finds himself in the enviable position of being the Buckeyes' starting signal-caller and the unenviable (read: and terrifying) position of replacing a Heisman favorite.

Braxton Miller, entering his senior season on the shortest of shortlists for college football's top trophy, suffered a torn labrum in practice Monday and will miss the entire 2014 season.

"I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever," Miller said in a statement, per the team's official website.

"I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season."

Miller will take a redshirt this season and plans on returning in 2015. While he's not yet become the world-beating superstar many expected during his freshman ascent, Miller seemed to be on the precipice of a real breakout as a senior.

He has gradually improved every season, setting career bests in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and quarterback rating in 2013. He's even improved his yards per carry every season.

Ranked fifth by The Associated Press and sixth by the coaches, Ohio State opened camp with designs on being invited to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Michigan State and Wisconsin are the only major threats in another watered-down Big Ten, and the Buckeyes and Badgers will only go head-to-head if they win their respective divisions.

When assessing the title picture, I'd already penciled Ohio State into my "obligatory undefeated Big Ten team" slot. Gone were the likes of Carlos Hyde, Bradley Roby, Ryan Shazier and basically every lineman on the damn roster.

But there were enough returning starters defensively to give hope that the leaky unit from last season would improve, and Miller was there to hit Devin Smith downfield and atone for the departure of the steady stalwart Hyde.

Now? Yikes.

The Buckeyes go from title contender to third-best team in their conference in the blink of an eye. After being 10-1 or 12-1 at most sportsbooks throughout the preseason, Ohio State sits at odds anywhere from 30-1 all the way to 50-1 after news of Miller's injury was confirmed, per OddsShark

Urban Meyer, who has compiled a 24-2 record in two seasons in Columbus, basically has one hope: He's brilliant enough to mold Barrett into a worthy Miller successor within the next 11 days.

The bad news: Barrett has never played a collegiate snap. The redshirt freshman sat out all of last season while recovering from a knee injury that cost him his senior season in high school. He is basically the Derrick Rose of football players, having appeared in only five games combined over the last two seasons.

Unfortunately, the NCAA does not accept self-made vouchers for one free year of Troy Smith eligibility. 

The good news: Barrett might not be terrible at football! Listed at 6'1" and 225 pounds, Barrett has an almost identical build to Miller. He was considered the third-best dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2013 by 247Sports' composite rankings and was the No. 137 player nationally. In five games prior to his knee injury, Barrett had averaged 263.4 total yards per game and scored 12 touchdowns.

With more than a full year of recovery under his belt, Barrett seemed to be picking up where he left off in camp. While he fell behind in the backup quarterback race during the spring, Barrett has since usurped third-year sophomore Cardale Jones.

"The offense moves better when he's in there," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters Monday. "You can throw all the completion percentages – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game.

"But at the end of the day, the offense moves when he's in and sometimes it doesn't as much, not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one."

From a skill set standpoint, he's much farther along as a passer than Miller was arriving at Ohio State. He is a natural quarterback—not an athlete forced into the position who can throw.

While Miller's lightning-quick speed is typically the first thing that stands out, for Barrett, it's about his stellar mechanics. Working in Meyer's spread offense will be a perfect fit; Barrett loves getting the ball out of his hands in short, quick-read throws. 

And it's not as if Barrett is Peyton Manning in the pocket. He is a very good athlete, able to beat linebackers and rushers around the edge on scrambles and smart enough as a rusher to handle designed carries. It's doubtful we'll see him bust off the 70-yard runs fans in Columbus have been accustomed to from Miller, but he has fine top-end speed as well.

That said, there's a sense losing Miller is one blow too many for Ohio State.

Not only is Barrett entering the fire nearly two calendar years away from his last competitive game, he's doing so behind an inexperienced offensive line. The Buckeyes are replacing four starters from last year's team.

Though graduate transfer Chad Lindsay brings some stability at center, Meyer will basically be banking on years of seasoning as a backup turning the likes of Darryl Baldwin and Antonio Underwood into solid contributors.

Offensive line was already seen as one of the Buckeyes' biggest concerns. Throwing a green unit out on the field to protect an even greener quarterback is a recipe for trouble. Ohio State doesn't have long to build chemistry on a cupcake trail either. After opening the season with Navy, Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer's consistently ferocious defense pays the Horseshoe a visit.

Even if the Buckeyes are able to retain home-field advantage—after all, the Hokies remain fatally allergic to scoring those point things—trips to Penn State and Michigan State become infinitely harder.

The Spartans bring back stars Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford and are consistently among the nation's best defenses. If the Rose Bowl champs weren't already the favorite in that game, they certainly are now.

That, when boiling it down to its core, is kind of the problem. Barrett can and—I suspect—will be pretty good this season. Miller was preparing for an invited-to-New York City-level great season. 

Ohio State's margin for error is not big enough to withstand a drop from superstar Heisman contender to above-average freshman. For the Buckeyes to win the national championship, they need Barrett to be Braxton Miller—not a decent facsimile.

As Ohio State fans know all too well and are preparing to find out, there's unfortunately only one Braxton Miller. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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2014 Heisman Odds: How Braxton Miller's Injury Shakes Up Race for Coveted Award

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller was regarded as one of the top Heisman Trophy contenders ahead of the 2014 college football season. Now Miller has been lost for the year when he re-injured his right throwing shoulder in practice on Monday.

NFL.com's Gil Brandt reported the ominous news:

Last week's edition of ESPN.com's "Heisman Watch" list had Miller as the No. 4 candidate to take home the prestigious award at season's end.

Although Miller's injury makes a big impact on how the rest of the running order shapes up, there are still two clear-cut favorites to land the game's most coveted individual hardware.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota and Florida State signal-caller Jameis Winston are at the top, while dynamic running backs in Todd Gurley (Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) are also commanding some deserved hype.

Sportscaster Kenny Roda documented the results of another prominent poll prior to Miller's injury:

Here is a look at the updated odds, courtesy of OddsShark.com

Based on the fact that 11 of the past 13 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, though, those whose outlooks improved the most after Miller's injury are UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor senior Bryce Petty.

Both could have declared for the most recent NFL draft, yet they opted to stay, and now have an even better chance to string together a respectable Heisman campaign.

This detail from NFL Network scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah shows how Hundley may translate well to the pros, but he may not be in the proper situation to secure the Heisman:

A pro-style offense under former NFL coach Jim Mora and more time in the pocket will likely lend to efficiency over explosiveness despite his immense talent. Meanwhile, Petty has a great chance to build on a monster 2013 that saw him throw for 4,340 yards and account for 46 total touchdowns.

Check out this production from Petty and the Bears offense, which could be even more prolific with more defensive help, per ESPN CollegeFootball:

Mariota ought to resemble his tremendous 2013 campaign, too. With one more year of polish as a passer, his knack for accuracy, arm talent and superior athleticism, Mariota figures to be Winston's top challenger as a potential repeat winner.

Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher operates a complex system that Winston operated smoothly even as a freshman. However, he also leaned on a defense that lost several stars to the pros, along with a rushing attack that saw Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. depart from last year's national champion.

New feature back Karlos Williams recently seemed confident in what Winston was doing and how he'll fare as a sophomore, via the Tallahassee Democrat's Natalie Pierre:

It would have taken a special year from Miller to leapfrog the likes of Mariota and Winston. If those two are the primary candidates toward the end of the 2014 campaign, Miller's injury will not have had a considerable impact on the Heisman race. Gurley, Hundley and Petty may steal some votes that Miller would have gotten, but Mariota or Winston must fall short of expectations for any of them to have a shot at collecting the award.

Miller's absence will leave far more of an imprint on the Ohio State program and its chances to contend for a national title and the Big Ten championship. Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com pointed out that left tackle Taylor Decker was the only returning starter on the offensive line.

Without departed NFL running back Carlos Hyde and with a raw line, it would have been an uphill fight for Miller to get into the Heisman conversation on the same plane as Mariota and Winston anyway.

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Jaquan Johnson to Miami: Hurricanes Land 4-Star ATH Prospect

Jaquan Johnson is staying home. The 4-star prospect committed to the University of Miami on Tuesday, announcing the decision on his Twitter account:

Johnson, a Miami native entering his senior season at the respected Killian High School, had offers from no fewer than 18 major college programs, per 247Sports. He made his decision a little less than two weeks after taking an unofficial visit to South Carolina.

Despite interest from across the country, Miami has been considered a heavy favorite throughout the process. 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions gave the Hurricanes a 91 percent chance of landing him, with Florida being the only other school to receive a vote.

Johnson is already the 23rd player to give Al Golden his commitment in the Class of 2015. He is Golden's sixth 4-star player and is his fourth-best recruit overall, behind fellow Florida products Jordan Scarlett, Mark Walton and Dexter Williams.

One slight problem: Scarlett, Walton and Williams are all running backs—one of the two positions from which Johnson is expected to choose. An all-everything talent throughout his high school career, Johnson is viewed as an athlete by most publications. Though officially listing him as a safety prospect, 247Sports also has running back listed as a possible long-term fit.

If playing time were his biggest concern, Johnson's position may have already been decided the moment he chose Miami. As a defensive back, he understands route concepts and uses his elite speed and fast-twitch quickness to cover receivers well.

His athleticism shines through more on the offensive side of the ball right now. He is an explosive ball-carrier who needs only a small crease to reach the second level of the defense. Lining him up at wide receiver isn't out of the question either; he's played the position (and done so well) in high school. Playing against more difficult competition in the ACC will prove a challenge, but the kid does not lack for confidence. 

“He’s going to in and try to be the man right away,” Killian coach Cory Johnson told Safid Deen and Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald.

Johnson is rawer at safety—being "the man" as a freshman is probably out of the question—but his ceiling is higher. His slight size and strength concerns are less noticeable when he's roaming the back half of the defense. He is also a high-intelligence player and a leader who has been a difference-maker from the moment he stepped on the field at Killian as a freshman. 

The Hurricanes lack elite defensive back talent in their 2015 class, so Johnson will also lack the fierce competition from contemporaries when making the full-time switch to defense. That should help him get the individual attention he needs to start realizing his potential. 

At the very least, he's another starry addition for Golden, who is amassing a solid core of talent. Miami is currently ranked 11th in the 2015 recruiting rankings. Golden has had a top-15 class each of the last three seasons, though never better than 10th. With one or two more recruits on Johnson's level, the Hurricanes might burrow their way back near the top five.

At least on the recruiting trail.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Braxton Miller Will Make 2015 Ohio State College Football's Most Talented Team

A plethora of playmakers another year older.

An offensive line with a season of cohesion under its belt.

A defensive unit in its second year of a cutting-edge scheme.

Another talented recruiting class on campus.

All that was missing when projecting Ohio State's 2015 roster a year ahead of time was a seasoned quarterback capable of directing it all.

Well, Urban Meyer got that on Tuesday—and then some—when two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller announced his intent to return to the Buckeyes as a fifth-year senior next season, after a reported torn labrum will keep him sidelined for OSU's 2014 campaign, per Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel.

Talk about a helluva recruit.

"My goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” Miller said in a statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season."

It's not quite LeBron James' return letter to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but its impact could be similar in Ohio, at least on the field where it's now championship-or-bust for both teams. Should he follow through on his promise, Miller would make the 2015 Buckeyes an instant national championship contender, as he'd be joining arguably the most talented team that he's played with in his college career.

Just what makes next season's Ohio State squad so intriguing? Look no further than a blend of skill and experience on both sides of the ball that hasn't been present in Columbus in nearly a decade.

 

Plenty Of Playmakers

Assuming nobody transfers or gets injured—quite the assumption, given the nature of this article—Ohio State will at the very least return Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel, Jalin Marshall, Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Noah Brown, Marcus Baugh, James Clark and Parris Campbell for either their second or third seasons in the Ohio State system. There also remains a strong chance that the Buckeyes would be bringing back Nick Vannett, Michael Thomas, Corey Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball for their fourth or fifth years of eligibility, giving Miller no shortage of playmakers.

The last time Ohio State possessed a stable of potential playmakers that deep? You'd have to go back to 2005, when future NFL draft picks Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline made up the Buckeyes receiving corps. Quarterback Troy Smith took advantage of those teammates' talents, leading Ohio State to a 10-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame, which preceded a No. 1 preseason ranking in 2006.

As for Miller, he's been short on toys to play with through the first three seasons of his college career. In his freshman campaign, no Buckeye caught more than 14 balls; in 2012, he served as the team's leading rusher; and last season, only two players topped 30 receptions on the year.

That won't be an issue in 2015, as Meyer will have added four full recruiting classes to Ohio State's roster by the start of the season. That's undoubtedly intriguing to Miller, who was already in line to shatter the Buckeyes' offensive record book heading into his senior season.

 

O-Line In Line

If Miller didn't get hurt in a non-contact drill in fall camp, there remains a decent chance he would have once the season started, as Ohio State will be replacing four multiyear starters on the offensive line from a season ago. And while growing pains up front may be expected this season, that likely won't be the case a year from now, when the Buckeyes could return as many as four starters to this season's starting five.

Of the offensive linemen in the mix to start for Ohio State this season, only right tackle Darryl Baldwin, center Chad Lindsay and guard Joel Hale will see their eligibility expire at 2014's end. That leaves left tackle Taylor Decker—the best of the bunch—guard Pat Elflein, guard/center Billy Price, center Jacoby Boren and tackle Evan Lisle slated to return when Ohio State takes the field in 2015.

Add in current true freshmen Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox, Kyle Trout, Marcelys Jones and Brady Taylor and it's not hard to see that Ohio State's offensive line will be in better shape next year than it is right now. The expected cohesion it will add this season will also go a long way toward making that happen, which will only benefit Miller in his senior season.

 

Defensive Doubts

A season ago, Ohio State's defense cost Miller what would have been his first Big Ten championship and a subsequent appearance in the national championship game, when the Buckeyes surrendered 438 yards and 34 points to Michigan State in the conference title game. Enter co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who has installed a quarters system that places an emphasis on press coverage for the Buckeyes, which has already drawn rave reviews from Meyer.

But will OSU's defense be so improved that it will be national title-worthy in the coming year? Maybe. But probably not.

The 2015 campaign, however, could be a different story, as Ohio State could return as many as eight projected starters from the 2014 season. That list includes talented defensive linemen Noah Spence and Joey Bosa, as well as safety Vonn Bell and linebacker Joshua Perry to go along with talented youngsters Raekwon McMillan, Marshon Lattimore, Erick Smith and Gareon Conley.

A veteran group playing in its second season of a cutting edge scheme would bode well for the Buckeyes—and, in turn, Miller—come 2015.

 

Mo' Talent, Fewer Problems

Meyer has never had issues on the recruiting trail since coming to Columbus, bringing in three top-5 recruiting classes, including the nation's No. 2 class in 2013 and No. 3 class in 2014. And while a smaller number of scholarships available may prevent Ohio State's 2015 class from reaching that status, Meyer has once again managed to improved an already impressive Buckeyes roster.

Currently ranked 15th in the country, Ohio State's 2015 crop includes a number of players who could play right away in their college careers. Although much of OSU's already committed talent comes on the defensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes remain strong contenders for 5-star wide receiver Christian Kirk, 5-star running back Damien Harris, 4-star offensive tackle Drew Richmond and 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, who could play immediately at the college level.

Could the potential of playing alongside Miller help sway any—or all—of these highly touted prospects to come to Columbus? It certainly couldn't hurt. And it would only add to what will undoubtedly be a national championship favorite in 2015.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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Top 15 Favorites for 2014 Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year

There's nothing quite like your senior season of high school football—surrounded by teammates you've grown up alongside and putting countless hours of tireless work into one final campaign for the chance to chase down a title. 

Along with team achievements, individual glory is at stake for many of the country's top college prospects. Productive games and rare talent put a select few in position to earn heralded postseason accolades before they depart for the next phase of their careers.

The Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year award annually recognizes an athlete who's exhibited exemplary success on and off the football field. Past recipients include NFL Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and quarterback Peyton Manning, while 2013 honors went to Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown.

We broke down a list of candidates who could compete for the distinction this year, highlighting players who've piled up statistics and victories throughout their high school careers. Though each of these athletes is headed to a high-level college football program, this list is solely based on their merit for the award rather than future potential.

Begin Slideshow

Kynon's Korner: Notre Dame Negative Recruiting, Michael Irvin's Nephew's Top 5

Last Friday, Notre Dame announced the school was launching an investigation into academic fraud involving four Fighting Irish football players per Yahoo! Sports reporter, Pat Forde The potential on-field implications here are obvious, however what may be overlooked is the impact this issue could have on the Irish's recruiting.  

According to SB Nation Recruiting Director, Bud Elliott, Notre Dame should be extra wary of negative recruiting on the trail this fall. 

You can see a scenario where a coach uses it as ammunition against Notre Dame. Coach to Notre Dame recruit, Are you sure you want to go there? You may have to cheat and jeopardize your eligibility just to play. It's not fair, but that's the world of recruiting and the reality of the situation. I think Notre Dame can handle it though. They did so with the Everett Golson saga a year ago. I'm not sure it's an epidemic either. If you look it at it's small sample of five players on an 85-man roster. College football has seen bigger scandals over the last few years. It's Notre Dame so things get magnified. 

One thing that may help the Irish is that they already recruit a different type of player because of the high academic demands similar to that of Northwestern, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. I don't think those schools will use the situation against Notre Dame when recruits come to campus for official visits, but expect other programs to bring it up if a kid is on the fence. 

However, Florida State commit and Notre Dame target, Calvin Brewton downplayed the impact of the investigation. 

The three-star safety from Miami (Fla.) Central defensive back said,

When I first heard about the Notre Dame news it was shocking. I'm 100% committed to Florida State, but Notre Dame is one of the schools talking to me about coming up to take an official visit. Assistant coach Tony Alford is the one recruiting me. I haven't talked to him since the news came out. However, I don't think the scandal will have an impact on my decision to go up there.

Currently, Notre Dame has the No. 13 class according to the 247Sports Team Rankings. It will be interesting to see if the class can stay in the top 15 through National Signing Day.

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Does Florida have the lead with a Miami legacy?

When you think of the football surname Irvin and the city of Miami usually the first thought that comes to mind is Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin scoring touchdowns in the famed Orange Bowl for The U. However, those memories might not be enough to keep Michael's nephew, Tim Irvin from Palmetto (Fla.) Westminster Christian School (WCS), in South Florida for college.  Irvin told me he is giving serious thought to leaving Miami to play at the next level. In fact, he likes what the Gators are selling him after his July visit for the annual Florida Friday Night Lights Camp.

I spoke to Coach (Will) Muschamp and T-Rob (Travaris Robinson) when I was up there. They are funny guys, comedians. T-Rob is recruiting me as a strong safety. They said I can be the next Matt Elam. That's a good thing. Elam is a great player.

Irvin is planning to make his college announcement at the US Army All-American Bowl next January. His top five schools are Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, and Miami. Even with the Florida overtures the hometown Hurricanes are still a major player in his recruitment.

Everything is a factor with Miami. My teammate Jordan Cronkrite is committed there. When I go there it feels like home. I'm from Miami, I like the vibe of Miami. I talk to all the coaches and they tell me to stay home.

The two-way star said his parents and his other famous uncle, Sedrick Irvin, will help him make his decision. Sedrick was a standout at Michigan State and spent three seasons in the NFL. He is the head coach at WCS and began his coaching career at the University of Alabama under head coach, Nick Saban.

***

Calvin Ridley ruled ineligible for most of his senior year 

Five-star wideout Calvin Ridley has been told by the Florida High School Athletic Association that will be ineligible after the third game of the season due to the 19-year and 9-month rule. Dave Brousseau of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was the first to report the news. The Sentinel's, Steve Gorten, explained the Breakdown of the FHSAA 19/9 Age Rule. The same rule disqualified former FSU split end and current Carolina Panthers receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, during his senior year of high school. 

It's a tough blow for Ridley. However, it will turn off schools looking to flip him from Alabama. Florida State is one of the schools on the heels of the 'Tide. 

At the Miami Dolphins Media Day at the beginning of August, Ridley told me, 

I'm 95% committed to Alabama, but FSU is coming at me a lot. Coach (Lawrence) Dawsey and Coach (Jimbo) Fisher tell me I can come there and make an impact. Coach (James) Coley at Miami wants me to build it in the backyard. Alabama is the only official visit I have scheduled, but I will likely take official visits to FSU and Miami. 

***

Miami in hot pursuit of Alabama commit Shawn Burgess-Becker 

 

Miami is turning up the heat for Alabama commit safety Shawn Burgess-Becker. The Crimson Tide came into UM's backyard to snag the Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch star behind a strong effort from primary recruiter Mario Cristobal. Miami's pursuit has helped their case recently with Burgess-Becker. The rangy safety elected to attend "U-Day" in Coral Gables a week ago instead of making the trip to Tuscaloosa for the 'Tide's scrimmage.

Burgess-Becker stated,

Miami is coming after me hard and telling me they want and need me. They are doing all the minor things. They hit me up every day, stay in contact. We are building a better relationship. The coaches write me letters all the time. Its tough because I'm a solid commitment to Alabama around 90%. But, Miami and Alabama are neck and neck.

The four-star defensive back grew up a Miami fan. Yet, it was Alabama that offered him first which meant a lot to him and was a big reason he committed. Will it be enough? 

***

The Gamecocks are making a move on an out-of-state prospect

When running back Jordan Cronkrite became Miami's second RB pledge in April the Canes told him they would only be taking two backs in the 2015 class. In July, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas standout Jordan Scarlett switched his pledge from FAU to Miami. Scarlett's declaration along with the addition of Mark Walton gives The U four four-star running backs in the 2015 class.

Cronkrite says he is still firm to Miami, but he is planning to take all of his official visits to see which situation is the best for him.

Cronkrite commented,

I'm not running away from competition, but who knows what will happen in the near future. I'm going to take all visits and see what happens. The coaches told me there is a good chance that Duke Johnson could be leaving early, so I could play right away. 

The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder said he plans to take official visits to Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and maybe Ohio State. South Carolina could have the best chance to pull Cronkrite from Miami. 

He said,

If I had a No. 2 school it would be South Carolina. They reach out to me everyday. They call to see how I'm doing and let me know how the team is doing. I like that a lot about them. 

As a junior, Cronkrite ran for over 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding three scores receiving. 

***

Will the third time be the charm for 4-star DB Ben Edwards?

The recruitment of Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian defensive back Ben Edwards has been a wild ride. Edwards committed to Ohio State in February, but later backed off his pledge. After opening things back up he pulled the trigger on Auburn in April. On August 3rd, the four-star defender had another change of heart and decommitted from the Tigers.

Where do things stand with the hard-hitting safety from Jacksonville?

I'm looking into other schools right now. Auburn is a great school, but I want to weigh all of my options and take my official visits. In regard to Auburn I feel some schools are offering more for me on and off the field. 

Stanford and UCLA are two schools in the mix. According to a source with knowledge of Edwards recruitment, the Cardinal could be a major factor. The academics stand out to Edwards and he said Stanford is one of the schools he feels most comfortable with the staff. 

*** 

The latest on FSU pledge Tyrek Cole 

Florida State target Tyrek Cole has been quiet about his status with the 'Noles. Cole committed to FSU after the BCS title game thanks in large part to ace recruiter Tim Brewster who has done an excellent job in Broward and Miami-Dade County for the 'Noles. 

I caught up with cool and asked him about the rumors circulating that he was cooling on the Noles. 

He replied,

I'm still solid with FSU. My recruiting is going well, but the process is getting harder and harder. Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Miami, and South Carolina are on me the hardest. There's some pressure to stay home with Miami, but I try not to let it get to me.

The 'Canes feel like they have a shot to flip him the local star. His teammate Leeward Brown is committed and Cole said Miami is the clear cut No. 2. 

***

S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C 

In case you missed it, ESPN launched the much hyped and anticipated SEC Network. Is there a coincidence the network made its debut during the inaugural College Football Playoff format? I think not. Now coaches can sell the network to recruits and their families. Although its not like the conference needs another recruiting tool. 247Sports has six SEC schools in its' top 10 recruiting rankings. 

However, there are two schools struggling with recruiting heading into the fall. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt currently sit behind Arkansas State and FAU in the Rivals Team Rankings.

I caught up with Rivals.com Southeast Recruiting Analyst, Woody Wommack, to get his take on the situation at each school. 

We've seen Ole Miss land some big name guys recently with the 2013 consensus No. 1 player in Robert Nkemdiche along with stud wideout Laquon Treadwell. However, people shouldn't hit the panic button just yet. They are still in the mix with some big name guys. New five-star offensive lineman, Drew Richmond, was just down there on campus. Richmond is high on Ole Miss. The Rebels are in good shape with four-star guard, Javon Patterson. Although they missed on defensive end Natrez Patrick out of Atlanta they still have some quality guys committed like running back Eric Swinney and defensive back Ugo Amadi

In Vanderbilt's case they enter the season with a new staff that salvaged the 2014 class after James Franklin left Nashville to take over at Penn State. Some recruits are waiting to see the results on the field before considering the Commodores. 

Wommack opined, 

They have a staff without a lot of ties in the southeast. It appears they trying to recruit like the Stanford of the South, going nationwide. That makes it harder to go against SEC schools if they miss on those guys and have to make a late push. Plus they aren't offering underclassmen early and that puts them behind the eight ball. By the time they offer a kid he may have five SEC offers by then. Head coach Derek Mason is taking a different approach and it remains to be seen if it will work in the SEC. One thing I've noticed is they don't seem to have that Atlanta connection like they used to under Franklin. If you like up and down SEC rosters you see a number of players being plucked from the Atlanta area. This year they don't have that. 

The 'Dores still have a pair of four-stars committed in defensive back Donovan Sheffield and linebacker Josh Smith, but its clear they need to add more depth in this cycle if they want to continue the success of the previous regime. 

Kynon Codrington is a national recruiting analyst formerly of ESPN and Rivals.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

The addition of Doug Nussmeier has to count for something when predicting Michigan’s season.

It just has to.

Now perching at Al Borges’ former post, the former Alabama offensive coordinator faces the task of calling the shots for a Wolverines offense that is abundant with talent but riddled with holes—case in point: an incredibly porous offensive line that didn’t look any better during this past Saturday’s scrimmage than it did during the spring game.

Of course, that’s excluding Mason Cole, a 6’5”, 292-pound true freshman who’ll likely start the season at left tackle. He’d be the sixth true frosh to start on Michigan’s O-line. That’s one mean first job, isn’t it?

Then there’s the running game, which must get its wheels turning in time for Week 2’s assumed series finale with Notre Dame. During the “under the lights” scrimmage this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, neither Derrick Green nor De'Veon Smith were overly impressive, but they showed that they’re willing to take bumps and bruises in the name of gaining a few yards.

Good thing that the offense has Greg Mattison, who’s built a Goliath defense since arriving as coordinator in 2011. His secondary, linebackers and linemen should serve as the glue that binds while quarterback Devin Gardner’s crew gets comfortable.

With enough question marks, loose ends and deficiencies to go around—but don’t negate the potential positives—Team 135 should be approached with great caution. Again, this can’t be stressed enough: Michigan has the personnel to get the job done in the Big Ten, it’s just a matter of head coach Brady Hoke’s staff putting it together in time to do something this fall.

 

Game 1: Aug. 30 vs. Appalachian State

This has been said over and over, but it’s worth repeating: This isn’t really a “rematch”—these two teams are drastically different than they were in 2007 when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines at The Big House, 34-32.

Not even close this time.

That was an once-in-a-lifetime, back-to-back-FCS-title-defending team vs. an extremely unfocused foe who took the little guy for granted. There is no need for a statistical breakdown right now, because this one is a win for Team 135.

No doubt. It has to be, or heads will roll.

Score: UM 49, ASU 10 (better be, or else)

Record: 1-0

 

Game 2: Sept. 6 at Notre Dame

So, that makes Michigan 1-0 heading into South Bend, one of the most challenging environments in all of college football. Since 2002, the Wolverines have won twice in front of Touchdown Jesus (2006, 2010), so it’d be easy to chalk up another one for the Irish…

…right?

Well, not this time. This past week, due to alleged academic fraud, Notre Dame removed four players—three starters—from its team. That won’t be easy to overcome, and that should make Hoke’s job a little easier, despite having to face quarterback Everett Golson, who’s returning from an academic suspension, for the first time.

Special teams could easily decide the outcome. Don’t rule out a big pick-six or blocked kick to turn the tides in either team’s fortune.

However, the Wolverines will be out for a statement victory—one to make up for not throttling the Mountaineers as they should have, and/or to build on that momentum by posting a gaudy win over their rival Irish.

Score: UM 24, ND 20

Record: 2-0

 

Game 3: Sept. 13 vs. Miami (Ohio)

Too much maize and blue, not enough RedHawk. We could break down some things, but why? This one should be relatively painless for Michigan.

Score: UM 38, Miami 14

Record: 3-0

 

Game 4: Sept. 20 vs. Utah

The Utes may surprise a few by hanging with Michigan. In 2013, Akron and UConn—a pair of perceived pushovers—gave the Wolverines everything they could handle. Of course, the same could be said for Miami (Ohio), a team that I’ve given almost zero chance of beating Hoke in Ann Arbor.

Utah will have to get the most from its seasoned O-line and running back Bubba Poole if it wants to skate by with a “W.” Michigan could experience some lag after trampling the RedHawks, so I'm going to say that this one's close until late in the third quarter.

Score: UM 28, Utah 13

Record: 4-0

 

Game 5: Sept. 27 vs. Minnesota

It’ll be a game against a little brother.

Braylon’s little brother, actually.

As the younger sibling of a legendary Wolverines receiver, Berkley Edwards probably won’t receive a warm ovation when he visits big bro’s former stomping grounds.

Minnesota’s on the rise, as coach Jerry Kill has done a wonderful job of implementing his system and consistency, but it’ll probably get grounded by the Wolverines, who’ll want to sink their teeth into their first Big Ten opponent.

It’s at home. Hoke’s lost twice in front of his own. This game will be Michigan’s, but it won’t come as easily as I thought back in the spring (predicted 31-13, UM).

Score: UM 28, Minn. 21

Record: 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten)

 

Game 6: Oct. 4 at Rutgers

There’s a first time for everything, and Michigan gets to meet the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey, to kick off a new Big Ten…rivalry?

Partnership?

Anyway, back to the predictions.

These aren’t Greg Schiano’s Knights, and they don’t have a superstar like Ray Rice to handle the workload. I can’t see anything but a crooked-number fest for the Wolverines, who should get their second conference win in the home state of Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star Jersey Kid who’s been maize and blue since childhood.  

I can see mop-up time for Shane Morris and maybe even Wilton Speight. Who knows, Hoke may throw Bobby Henderson into the fullback position and let Peppers play quarterback—you know, just for the experience.

If the Wolverines don’t demolish Rutgers, I’ll personally send a bouquet of flowers to Knights coach Kyle Flood as a way to say, “I’m sorry for doubting your team.” But I’ll ask that Michigan reimburse me. It’s a tax write-off, right?!

Score: UM 42, RU 14

Record: 6-0 (2-0 Big Ten)

 

Game 7: Oct. 11 vs. Penn State (night)

First loss.

Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg could rattle off a career-type win if he successfully exploits Michigan’s secondary, which is as deep as it’s been since the 1990s.

Of course, the Wolverines want revenge for losing their late-night date with the Nittany Lions in 2013. That Hackenberg-to-Allen Robinson Hail Mary was a punch to the gut.

But 6-0 is far enough. Michigan has potential, but I can’t see it winning seven in a row. Six is pushing it, and I’m giving the Wolverines the benefit of the doubt while assessing their matches with the “underdogs.”

Team 135 could very well start 4-2, which is my way of softening the blow when I see my 6-0 prediction explode before my very eyes. But I’m sticking with it.

Score: PSU 27, UM 23 (Hackenberg-to-Someone, Part 2)

Record: 6-1 (2-1 Big Ten)

 

Game 8: Oct. 25 at Michigan State

Winners of five of the past six—but might as well make that winners of six of the past seven; Michigan State is going to take this one. There aren’t any reasonable clues or forgotten logic that says otherwise.

The Spartans’ O-line is far superior to Michigan’s—even their second-teamers are comparable—and their offense is years ahead in development.

Oh, and that defense. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State’s defensive coordinator, is probably doing jumping jacks right now, just thinking of his “Dawgs” getting at the Wolverines.

At this point, judging by Michigan’s O-line as-is, I’m seeing at least a handful of sacks. Gardner may want to wear some extra padding on his backside, because he’ll be on it a lot if Cole, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Bosch and, among others, Erik Magnuson, fail to provide adequate protection.

Score: MSU 31, UM 14

Record: 6-2 (2-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 9: Nov. 1 vs. Indiana

The Hoosiers have quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who’s appeared on a couple of watch lists, and receiver Shane Wynn. This should be fun, as the pair has the potential to frustrate Michigan’s defense, especially during the early goings.

With that being said, once Mattison’s guys apply the clamps, it should be over for Indiana, which doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to outdo the Wolverines defense—one that features an incredible set of DBs led by Blake Countess, Jourdan Lewis and probably Peppers.

Score: UM 28, IU 17

Record: 7-2 (3-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 10: Nov. 8 at Northwestern

Without do-all running back Venric Mark, who's transferring after being suspended, the Wildcats could find themselves serving as a league doormat. I mean, Northwestern usually puts up a great fight, but it’s hard to imagine it doing a whole lot on offense without Mark, a speedster who could make an entire defense miss by flinching.

He was also a supreme talent on special teams.

And the Wildcats will miss wideout Christian Jones, who's lost to a season-ending leg injury. 

I like the Wolverines in this one, only because the offense will almost certainly be clicking and the defense will most certainly be sticking…”it” to the opposition. By this time, everything should be in sync—and if it’s not, it won’t be until 2015 or later.

Score: UM 27, NW 19

Record: 8-2 (4-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 11: Nov. 22 vs. Maryland

The struggle is real for the Terps, who have All-Big Ten candidate Stefon Diggs leading the charge at wide receiver. Other than him, it’s kind of thin.

Welcome to the league, boys.

Score: UM 30, Maryland 20

Record: 9-2 (5-2 Big Ten)

 

Game 12: Nov. 29 at Ohio State

News of Braxton Miller’s injury—he dislocated his right shoulder and could be out for the season, per Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch—certainly changes perception of this game. But not that much. Even without their star senior quarterback, the Buckeyes are, top-to-bottom, better than Michigan.

Even without linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State has the advantage. 

That’s just how it goes.

When it comes to O-H-I-O, it’s back to the drawing board for Hoke. Michigan just isn’t there yet, and going to Columbus will make that abundantly clear—that’s if Michigan State doesn’t end up doing that in October.

Score: OSU 31, UM 20

Record: 9-3 (5-3 Big Ten)

Agree? Disagree? How many wins do you predict for Michigan? Let me know in the comments section. 

 

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

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Texas Football: Offseason Growth Has Longhorns' D-Line Set for Monster Year

When defensive line coach Chris Rumph came to Austin, he inherited a unit that appeared to be poised for perfection.

Although the group lost 2013 Ted Hendricks Award winner and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat, it still contained a variety of options to fill Jeffcoat's void, most notably Cedric Reed.

At least that's how a lot of the public viewed the unit.

But was the instant hype real or was it just the way outsiders perceived the group?

Rumph's answer would fall under the latter, especially when it pertains to Reed.

"I don't think he had a very good spring," Rumph said of Reed. "If it were someone else, I would say, 'That guy had a good spring.' But I was expecting more from him. And I think he was expecting more from himself. If you were to ask him, and he was honest, he would probably say he didn’t have the spring that he should have had."

Some may be wondering what Reed did, or did not do, to cause Rumph's disappointment. Was it his motor? Toughness? Leadership? All of the above?

"Maybe it was his coaching," said Rumph. "I just wanted to see more mental toughness, more hustle, more leadership, more passion. I wanted to come out there and coach him in flip-flops. I shouldn’t need to come out there with a whistle to coach him.”

This quote may catch some Texas fans by surprise, especially considering the strides Reed made in 2013, which helped him place as the projected No. 1 senior defensive end for the 2015 NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

But Reed agrees with his coach.

"It was just a learning experience for me," Reed said of his spring performance. "I was getting caught between trying to learn too much at one time. I was playing in a totally different scheme and I was just trying to understand the defense, and I think it made me take a step back because I wasn’t playing my greatest. I was more reacting instead of playing to my ability."

Learning a new scheme is not something new for the Longhorns defense, which is on its third defensive coordinator in four seasons, but that did not make it any easier to learn immediately.

However, the slow learning period may be a thing of the past for Reed and the defensive line. 

"I think Ced Reed is a guy who has really stepped it up," Rumph said. "He's really coming on now. He's starting to look like the type of player I expected."

Reed is just one of the many talented faces the Longhorns have on the line. Defensive tackles Malcolm Brown and Desmond "Tank" Jackson have the ability of being one of the better tackle tandems in the Big 12.

Rumph is particularly pleased with the leadership he has seen from Jackson.

"Tank brings it every day," said Rumph. "He's everything you want in a player. He plays with toughness. He plays with great effort. I'm really pleased with him."

Defensive ends Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett are battling for the starting position opposite of Reed, which Rumph refers to as the "fox" position. Davis has been taking many first-team reps, but that could change at any moment.

"We don't have that written in pen yet. It's more written on a dry-erase board, not in permanent marker," Rumph said. "Shiro plays the run a little bit better than Bluiett, and I think Bluiett rushes the passer a little bit better than Shiro. If we could combine those guys into one, we would have a special player right there.”

Although Rumph still needs to determine which guy will fill the fox role, the defensive line appears to be in a prime spot heading into the 2014 season.

But how will this line be any better than recent years if it still features many of the same players?

That's where Rumph's track record comes into the conversation.

During his three seasons coaching at Alabama, Rumph's defensive line held its opponents to an average of 84.9 rushing yards per game and gave up a total of 21 rushing touchdowns. During that same time frame, Texas' rushing defense allowed an average 156.9 yards per game and 65 rushing touchdowns.

Some may argue that comparing the defensive numbers is not relevant because Alabama had one of the best defensive fronts in college football, and that might be a valid point.

But coaching had a lot to do with the Crimson Tide's success.

Rumph has a way with words that makes his coaching style relatable and effective. His focus is on building a fundamentally sound group, and he has been very direct with what he demands from his players.

"You have to be tough. You have to play hard and have a great motor. You have to be able to strike and take on blocks. You have to be able to take blocks and rush the passer. You have to be able to move," said Rumph. "I want it all.”

It's evident he has high standards for his defensive linemen. Brown said a common quote he hears from his coach is, "Play each play like it has a life of its own," which is just one of the many clever sayings Rumph uses to coach his team.

The positive news for Texas fans is it sounds like the group has bought in and fully understands the expectations Rumph has set for the defensive line.

"Right now, I think a lot of guys are mentally focused and know exactly what they’re doing," Reed said. "I’m one of those guys. I know a lot more about the defense than I did in the three years I played in the last defense that we had. I think we will come out and surprise people.”

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bleacher Report's 2014 Preseason College Football Award Predictions

College football season is no longer a light at the end of a tunnel or a speck on a distant landscape; we have officially reached the one-week countdown to kickoff.

Now is the last time for writers and fans and…well, anybody, really, to get in their predictions before it's too late. It's our last chance to go on record and say what we think will happen (but know, deep down, will inevitably not).

With that, let's get to our final preseason awards predictions. Of the major national hardware winners, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (Heisman Trophy/Walter Camp Award) is the only position player to return in 2014, so there is plenty of room for new faces. And even Winston's old spots are up for grabs!

Who that performed well last season will take that one final leap in 2014? Who that has not reached his potential will get there at last? Whose combination of skill and opportunity will make him the best player in the country at his position?

Sound off below and let me know where you agree/disagree.

Begin Slideshow

4-Star WR George Campbell Reveals His Top 3: Where Would He Fit Best?

Dynamic Florida wide receiver George Campbell committed to Michigan last summer but became one of the 2015 recruiting class' hottest commodities by backing off that pledge in December. After a summer filled with campus visits and football showcases, the 4-star prospect appears poised to reach a decision.

Campbell cut down an expansive list of options to three programs, per Josh Newberg of 247Sports. LSU, Florida and Florida State are still vying for his commitment moving ahead.

The trio may not have to wait very long for an announcement. Though Campbell isn't expected to commit before the season begins, that development is "likely" to occur in September, per Newberg.

It's a drastic turn of events in a nationwide recruitment that began with a steady stream of scholarship offers during his sophomore year. Campbell, who averaged 25 yards per reception and caught seven touchdowns last season at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, eliminates dozens of potential suitors by focusing on three finalists.

Clemson, UCLA, Oklahoma and Alabama are among squads that hoped to lure him away from the Sunshine State. Instead, LSU seem to be the lone landing spot that could lure Campbell beyond state borders.

The Tigers appeared to make a strong push in recent months. Campbell showed up at The Opening, an annual camp at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon, wearing LSU gear and ignited a growing sentiment he could be bound for Baton Rouge.

LSU maintains a strong track record at receiver, producing NFL draft picks at the position on a seemingly annual basis. Head coach Les Miles landed in-state pass-catcher Jazz Ferguson in February and remains in pursuit of 5-star New Orleans receiver Tyron Johnson.

Malachi Dupre, another top-ranked New Orleans product, picked LSU over Florida State last signing day and is expected to contribute immediately in the team's aerial attack. The Tigers also welcome receiver Trey Quinn to campus after he set a national high school record for career receiving yards.

This time, it's the Seminoles aiming to keep a prized prospect on home turf. Campbell has visited campus multiple times and the team appears to be in good shape at quarterback when Jameis Winston eventually leaves, holding commitments from three 2015 passers—including two 4-star recruits.

Receivers value reliability at quarterback and, on paper at least, Florida State offers several promising options. Campbell would join Tampa product Aden Tate, a 4-star pass-catcher who committed earlier this month.

The Seminoles boast a bevy of young receivers. Head coach Jimbo Fisher signed two of the country's top 10 receivers during the last recruiting cycle, securing Travis Rudolph and former Florida pledge Ermon Lane.

Lane's departure hurt the Gators' 2014 recruiting efforts and the team settled for one receiver rated above 3-star status (J.C. Jackson). Florida is in dire need of field-stretching targets along the outside, especially after watching Jacksonville commit Tristan Payton flip to USC this summer.

Though Gainesville may provide the clearest path to a spot in the rotation for Campbell, uncertainty swirls around the coaching staff. If the offense doesn't rebound this fall, there will be a lot of questions regarding where the Gators go from here.

Florida State and LSU have each assembled stacked receiving corps, but Campbell is a confident young man and won't shy away from competition.

Ultimately, his best fit can be found in Tallahassee, where the 6'3", 184-pound prospect would grow with an impressive group of passers and help set the stage for strong seasons in a post-Winston world. 

 

Recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Final Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions

Nebraska football fans know that the season is now achingly close. Fall camp is just about finished, and fans throughout the state have been anxiously reviewing Nebraska’s schedule to imagine how the 2014 campaign will unfold.

So now that we’re just about ready to kick a football in anger, let’s take one final game-by-game look to see how Nebraska’s 2014 season will unfold.

Begin Slideshow

Why 2014 Will Be the Year of the Freshman in College Football

LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette set the tone for 2014. Not just for himself, either. Perhaps without knowing he did so, he also showed the kind of attitude incoming freshmen across college football can have. 

"My expectations: Heisman candidate, All-American, national title,"Fournette said in an April interview with Sports Illustrated. "That’s just my first year as a freshman, though."

The talking didn't stop there. During SEC media days, Tigers running back Terrence Magee even compared Fournette, the No. 1 overall player in 247Sports.com's 2014 class, to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (h/t Chase Goodbread, NFL.com). 

Those are lofty expectations for a player who has yet to take a snap in a college game, but Goodbread did note that Fournette has a good chance to win the starting job this season: 

Given that neither Magee nor veteran running back Kenny Hilliard commanded a starting role previously, Fournette is widely expected to be the Tigers' top rusher as a true freshman this fall. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds and with a highlight reel that left major college programs drooling over his recruitment, it's no wonder LSU head coach Les Miles, like Magee, said Fournette has shown an early willingness to learn and a humility not common in a recruit so highly decorated.

Of course, if Phil Callihan of UMGoBlue.com had it his way, freshmen wouldn't be allowed to play college football. 

"There's so much going on for them right away," he said. 

He has a point. Acclimating to college life is no easy task, especially with the added demands from football. But that hasn't stopped freshmen from competing right away, nor has it stopped them from enrolling early with the hopes of getting a jump start on things. 

Rather than stave off high expectations, freshmen are welcoming them early. 

Fournette is just one of several freshmen who could keep this trend of impact freshmen going this season. Jabrill Peppers, a 5-star athlete who signed with Michigan, could see the field immediately as a nickelback. Texas A&M wide receiver Speedy Noil, Baylor receiver KD Cannon, USC defensive back Adoree' Jackson and a host of other, perhaps widely unknown, players could all help make 2014 the year of the freshman. 

Take Peppers, who, according to Callihan, is already setting a tone for older players. 

"[Michigan defensive back] Blake Countess told me that everyone this summer has had to compete with Peppers," Callihan said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "That says a lot coming from a veteran guy like that." 

Another option, per Callihan, is to put Peppers on offense, perhaps as a wide receiver where depth is thinner. Wolverines head coach Brady Hokehas hinted before that offense may not be out of the question for Peppers. 

"I don't know how you keep [Peppers] off the field," Callihan said. 

With the rise of tournaments and events like The Opening and Elite 11, high school football—or, at least, a seven-on-seven version—has morphed into a 365-day-a-year sport that highlights its athletes at younger and younger ages. And more than ever, young players are ready to seize the spotlight.

Consider last year's session at The Opening when Noil posted the second-best SPARQ score ever (153.51) after completing the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard shuttle, the vertical jump and the powerball toss. The numbers may not equate to on-field success, but they only added to the attention given to Noil. Camps also showed what he was capable of doing in a wide-open offense like A&M's, where he could be a go-to slot receiver, according to Sean Lester of The Dallas Morning News

Or, consider last year's Elite 11, which featured Jerrod Heard (Texas), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M) and Brad Kaaya (Miami). Is it possible for those freshmen to play in 2014? Of course. David Ash is Texas' starting quarterback, but what if he gets hurt? Allen lost a heated quarterback battle to Kenny Hill but pushed him to the final weeks. Kansas transfer Jake Heaps may not be the answer for the Hurricanes. 

A quick glance over the top players in 2014's class, via 247Sports.com, shows several freshmen who will be in a position to play right away. Like Peppers, Jackson can play offense and/or defense, head coach Steve Sarkisian told Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports West in April. 

Noil, Florida State wide receiver Ermon Lane and Alabama cornerback Tony Brown are other players who have the talent (and the depth chart) to compete immediately. The Aggies and Seminoles lose star power at those spots due to the departures of Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. 

And as Andrew Gribble of al.com notes, Brown has been catching head coach Nick Saban's attention since the spring. After getting torched through the air by Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in the Sugar Bowl (348 yards, four touchdowns), the Tide's cornerback situation is up for grabs: 

His performance throughout the Crimson Tide's 15 spring football practices -- combined with Alabama's lack of experienced veterans at cornerback -- only made him more popular among his newest fans.

Saban certainly hasn't ruled out the possibility of Brown emerging as a starting cornerback by the time Alabama opens the season against West Virginia, and it's a challenge Brown appears to have embraced entering his first season.

2014 wouldn't be the first time freshmen have become key players for their teams. First-year players like Arkansas running back Alex Collins and Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa were impact players right away. It's no surprise to see some of those impact players come from the top of recruiting rankings. 

Rankings may be an inexact science, but they can project how good a player is capable of being. 

Can the '14 class be even better? Absolutely. 

Leonard Fournette for Heisman? It could happen, and he'd be the first true freshman to win. (Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won as a redshirt freshman in 2012.) Put up big enough numbers and anyone has a chance. 

Peppers could be the next Charles Woodson-type player for the Wolverines. Like Fournette, Peppers has been quick to downplay his own hype. Still, the goal of Michigan's coaching staff, before a single snap has been played, is to find a way to utilize Peppers' athleticism any way possible.

Perhaps a player who's not on anyone's radar comes out of nowhere to take college football by storm. The year of the freshman isn't picky. That's what makes it exciting. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com

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Bold Predictions for Every SEC Football Team's 2014 Season

By this point of the summer, you're already preparing for the season.

You're getting your grill ready, locking down your menu and are making plans with your friends set in stone to watch the action either on campus or within the friendly confines of your cozy man cave.

Before then, though, let's serve up an appetizer in the form of some bold predictions. 

What will be some surprising storylines that develop as the 2014 season goes on? One bold prediction for every SEC team is in this slideshow.

Begin Slideshow

Updated 2014 Heisman Odds Post-Braxton Miller Injury

News of Braxton Miller's reinjured shoulder, which will keep Ohio State's senior quarterback out for the 2014 season, has altered the college football landscape in a couple important ways. It changes the outlook of the Big Ten, the College Football Playoff and the Heisman Trophy races.

SI.com reports that the injury is a torn labrum in his right shoulder. 

Miller is the twice-reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and was listed in August as the No. 3 favorite to win the Heisman, per Jack Randall of Oddsshark.com. Only last year's winner, Jameis Winston, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had smaller odds.

Miller's absence thins the field of contenders, eliminating a player who was valued at 15-2 to win. In theory, that means he would have taken home the award once every 7.5 times this season was played. For obvious reasons, his lack means other players have a better shot.

But who—if anyone—jumped up the odds board most in the wake of this injury? How might the new Heisman landscape look?

Let's take a quick preview:

 

 

The Group of Five Becomes Four

Their odds reflect it only slightly, but four of the biggest beneficiaries of Miller's injury are the other front-runner candidates, who now have one less strong quarterback to contend with.

Before this, there were a discernible top five candidates on the Heisman ballot, all quarterbacks: Winston, Mariota, Miller, Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley. Now, there are only four of them. And each of their odds go up a little bit because of it.

That is not just for statistical reasons, either. Florida State, Oregon, Baylor and UCLA all now have a slightly bigger margin for error with regard to making the CFP. Ohio State was the type of team that could have easily run the table and forced a quality one-loss team out of the playoff. Without Miller, that seems much, much, much less likely.

Other favorites rising include Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who was rated just outside that top five and now slides into Miller's spot. He's now the fifth-most likely quarterback to win the Heisman, and Auburn's odds of making the CFP increase a slight amount.

The top running back candidate, Todd Gurley of Georgia, also sees a small boost because there's one less blue-chip quarterback to compete with, although this news effects him less than that core four.

If a running back is going to win this award—something that has happened only twice (counting Reggie Bush) in the past 14 years—he was going to need a transcendent season before Braxton's injury.

Now? Well, not much (if anything) has changed.

 

The Biggest Riser

You don't want to call anyone a "winner" when a player gets injured, especially a player such as Miller who is so fun to watch/good for the sport. We are all sort of losers in his absence.

On paper, though, no one benefits from this news more than Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, whose team now becomes the favorite to win the Big Ten/make the CFP. His Heisman odds should see a considerable uptick because of that.

Not that he "needed" the boost, per se. Cook was a fast-rising candidate even before Miller's injury. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder called him a Heisman dark horse—in his own words: "I'll tell you…this dude's a bro"—and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports had him going in the top 10 of his first-round mock draft for 2015.

Everybody wants a piece of Cook after his hot finish to 2013-14, which included a pair of superb games in the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl, and now everybody is going to get it.

Also rising because their Big Ten Championship odds go up are running backs Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska. Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com, who thoroughly understands the politics that go into regional Heisman voting, thinks Gordon will be the Midwest voters' new champion (so to speak):

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg also gets a slight bump, albeit one that doesn't land him in the top 15. Fair or not, his team's postseason ineligibility will make it tough for him to win this award.

2016 is more likely Hackenberg's year.

 

The Long-Shot Riser

There are favorites, there are dark horses, there are long shots, and there are long long shots. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds probably registers as the latter. But if he leads an upset of Ohio State in the first week of the season, he'll start to creep up the hierarchy.

Of course, beating the Buckeyes with Miller and without Miller are two very different things, the former being much more impressive. Still, Ohio State's defense remains just as scary in Miller's absence (if not scarier now with a chip on its shoulder), and the offense has enough pieces to keep from imploding.

If Navy starts the season 1-0, Reynolds will be put on the map.

Not that he necessarily prefers that. When asked in August if he belongs in the Heisman conversation, Reynolds calmly told reporters, "I'll let you worry about that," per Gene Wang of The Washington Post.

Reynolds' numbers, however, speak much louder than his words.

He finished last season with 1,346 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns, a year highlighted by an NCAA record eight total touchdowns in a triple-overtime win over San Jose State.

If he keeps posting ridiculous lines like that, and he has a signature win over Ohio State on his resume, is there any reason (other than "he plays for Navy") to keep Reynolds off Heisman ballots?

That Week 1 game in Baltimore just became a huge one.

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Meet JT Barrett, Braxton Miller's Replacement & Ohio State's New General

At his press conference on Saturday, Urban Meyer raved about a "J.T. Barnett" who was impressing him in Ohio State's quarterbacks room. It only takes one quick scan to realize that no such player exists on the Buckeyes roster—although it's not too hard to figure out who Meyer was making reference to.

Meet J.T. Barrett, coach.

He's the new starting quarterback at The Ohio State University.

The plan was always for Barrett to hold that title one day—just not necessarily so soon. But with the news that Braxton Miller's re-injured shoulder will cost him the entire 2014 season, Barrett suddenly finds himself atop the Buckeyes' quarterback depth chart, with less than two weeks to go until their season opener.

Where He Came From:

At 6'1" and 225 pounds, Barrett arrived at Ohio State in January 2013 as a 4-star prospect byway of Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. Despite enrolling early, Barrett never saw significant snaps—not in practice and certainly not on the playing field—as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered during the senior season of his high school career.

Yep, the same Barrett who is expected to take the field in Baltimore for Ohio State's opener with Navy on Aug. 30 is the same player who hasn't taken an actual game rep since Oct. 5, 2012. That's obviously a scary proposition for any Buckeye fan to take into consideration, as a team that was just ranked fifth in the nation could now be lucky to finish fifth in the Big Ten.

But while Barrett's inexperience is certainly cause for concern, there's also a lot to like about Ohio State's new starting quarterback. What that means for the Buckeyes' 2014 prospects remains to be seen, but here's what you need to know about the new QB-1 in Columbus.

 

The Good

Despite having only been on a college campus for little more than a full season, Barrett has already shown resiliency, and not just in how he has recovered from his injury.

Entering his second fall camp in Columbus as Ohio State's third-string quarterback, Barrett was essentially an afterthought—especially on an offense that was centered around a Heisman hopeful ahead of him. But as Miller's recovery from a previous shoulder injury went slower than expected, more reps at quarterback were to be had, with Barrett using enough of them to leapfrog third-year sophomore Cardale Jones as the Buckeyes' second-string signal-caller.

"J.T. Barrett's moved slightly ahead of Cardale in the quarterback derby," Meyer stated on Saturday. "That's because of his opportunities."

Expanding on Barrett's recent promotion on Monday, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman had high praise for the now-former understudy.

"The offense moves better when he's in there," Herman said of Barrett. "Not that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback, and that's the sign of a good one."

Despite being just a second-year player with no playing experience at the college level, Barrett has also already been lauded for his leadership within the Ohio State locker room. And while he may not be a physical freak capable of stringing together single-game highlight reels like Miller, he prides himself on his intangibles and ability to spread the ball around.

"I'm a grinder. I really hate to lose. I probably hate to lose more than I like to win, honestly. A competitor, a really tough guy," Barrett said. "I'm pass-first, throwing the football and distributing it to the receivers. I'm able to run. It could be a quarterback design run or just be a scramble."

In a best case scenario for the Buckeyes, Barrett would overcome his inexperience by distributing the ball to a plethora of potential playmakers like Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Devin Smith Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas, Johnnie Dixon and Curtis Samuel. He may not be the one-man show that Miller often has been throughout his college career, but Barrett could help open Ohio State's options offensively and make it less one-dimensional than it's been at times with Miller at the helm.

The Bad

Barrett's inexperience aside—which there's no denying—he also possesses physical limitations as both a passer and a runner. Comparing the arm strength of his top-three quarterbacks, Herman placed Barrett at a "distant third," behind both Miller and Jones.

"We're going to work on strengthening his arm," Herman promised.

That's fine and well, but also a process that would likely take an entire offseason and the Buckeyes don't even have an entire two weeks until the start of the season. Even when he was a true freshman, Miller's big arm managed to make big plays for Ohio State, which is a luxury it likely wouldn't get to enjoy with Barrett at the helm.

Asked how he'd feel about putting Barrett—or Jones—into an actual game right now, Herman expressed confidence, but also trepidation.

"I wouldn't say it's where it was the previous two years, but close," Herman said of his confidence in OSU's backup quarterbacks. "By no stretch of the imagination are we where we were at that position with Kenny Guiton, arguably the best backup quarterback in college football the last two years."

And while Barrett has time to develop into the safety valve that Guiton was, it's hard to imagine him doing so in time for the Buckeyes' second game of the season—a Sept. 6 home date with Virginia Tech. The Hokies may be unranked, but they'll be as talented as any team that Ohio State faces this season—especially on the defensive side of the ball—and will undoubtedly be a tall task in what will likely be the second start of Barrett's college career.

Even if the Buckeyes manage through their non-conference slate and the better part of a lighter Big Ten schedule than most teams, all signs point to Ohio State's Nov. 8 matchup at East Lansing, Michigan, being the Big Ten East's de-facto championship game. Would Barrett be ready to take on the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions on the road and at night by then? It's too early to tell. But at this point and time, it's certainly a tough sell.

 

The Unknown

Can Barrett's intangibles overcome his physical shortcomings? That's the biggest question in Columbus right now.

With Kenny Guiton, the answer was yes, as evidenced by the four victories that the former Buckeyes backup was essentially responsible for in Ohio State's past two seasons. But playing in spot duty and playing for an entire season are two different animals to attack, and Guiton was never faced with the task of the latter.

Now Barrett could be, and while his ceiling is undeniably higher than Guiton's, it's also lower than Miller's—perhaps significantly. Expect the Ohio State offense to change significantly—less designed runs from the quarterback, more quick screen passes and perhaps a heavy dose of the Buckeye running backs—as Meyer and Herman no longer have the ace in the hole that they possessed with Miller, especially as a runner 

Is Braxton Miller really Ohio State's equivalent to LeBron James, as tight end Jeff Heuerman alluded to a month ago? We're about to find out. And that could be up to Barrett to decide.

But as uncertainties in Columbus mount, one thing is for sure: Barrett's head coach should no longer have an issue remembering his name.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information comes courtesy of 247Sports.

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Meet Texas A&M's New Starters for 2014

The Texas A&M football team will be deeper than it was in 2013, but it still has some areas of questionable depth. The Aggies return 12 starters from the 2013 squad, so they will be breaking in 10 new starters when they open the season against South Carolina. 

The Aggies defense was going to be rewarded for taking its lumps in 2013 while playing so many freshmen. That plan was foiled when two of the starters from 2013 in Darian Claiborn and Isaiah Golden were dismissed from the team. The expected starter at strong-side defensive end, Gavin Stansbury, decided to transfer

The Aggies will feature four new starters on defense. There are still some question marks about who will start in the opening game due to some possible suspensions and injuries

This is a look at who the starters will be against South Carolina on August 28 with the information that is available right now.

Begin Slideshow

Blueprint for How Ohio State Can Survive Braxton Miller's Injury in 2014

Ohio State senior quarterback Braxton Millerre-injured his throwing shoulder during practice Monday afternoon—a setback that will reportedly sideline him for the entire season and deal a heavy blow to the Buckeyes' title hopes.

The No. 5-ranked Buckeyes were one of a handful of teams expected to make a run at the inaugural College Football Playoff. Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten MVP and Heisman Trophy hopeful, fueled those expectations because of his nearly irreplaceable playmaking ability.

Can Ohio State bounce back without the centerpiece of its offense?

That's a question that won't be answered until Ohio State takes the field, but here are three things the Buckeyes must do to survive without Miller in the fold.

 

Get Defensive

Even before Miller's injury, the Buckeyes' title hopes hinged on Chris Ash's ability to rebuild a beleaguered defense. That unit, which opponents gashed regularly a season ago, is fueled by top-end talent and loads of potential.

If Ohio State wants to maintain its status as a Big Ten contender, the defense will need to step up and realize that potential.

Stocked with 5-star talent across the board, the Buckeyes boast one of the country's strongest defensive lines. Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are terrors coming off the edge, and Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are the kind of run-stuffing/pass-rushing combination that offenses hate to deal with.

The Buckeyes lost their most productive linebacker when Ryan Shazier opted for the NFL draft, but the unit should see a boost thanks to stronger depth and fundamentals.

The secondary is the biggest question mark. The Buckeyes allowed opposing offenses to throw for 268 yards per game in 2013, which ranked No. 110 in the country. This season, Ash has Ohio State's corners playing press coverage instead of ineffective zone schemes—a move that made a drastic difference during the spring game.

If Ohio State's defense can return to elite status, the loss of Miller won't sting as much.

 

Get J.T. Barrett Ready

Without Miller, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have to get option No. 2 ready for the week-to-week grind of the college football season.

J.T. Barrett, a former 4-star prospect and the No. 3-ranked dual-threat quarterback from the class of 2013, is primed to fill that role.

Barrett won't know the nuances of Ohio State's offense like Miller, who ran Meyer's system at a high level during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He doesn't have the top-end speed or the arm strength that made Miller such a dangerous threat either.

But he's still capable of orchestrating a powerful Buckeyes attack. Although he struggles with his accuracy at times, he has a strong arm and enough speed to be a threat in the run game.

Those characteristics propelled Barrett past Cardale Jones in the Buckeyes' backup quarterback competition.

"The offense moves better when he's in there," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of Barrett, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "He's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game."

That's exactly what Ohio State will need from Miller's replacement, because Meyer has stacked this offense with weapons at every level.

 

Solidify the Offensive Identity

Without running back Carlos Hyde and four multiyear senior starters along the offensive line, Meyer and the Buckeyes were planning to reshape the offense in 2014. Instead of bulldozing over defenses with an array of interior runs, Meyer wanted to utilize Ohio State's speed at wide receiver to attack the perimeter.

That shouldn't change with Barrett at quarterback. Bubble screens and quick passes to the perimeter will help Barrett settle into the offense as he develops the mid-range and deep passing attack.

With players such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Johnnie Dixon, the Buckeyes have a number of lethal options on the edge. Each of those receivers have the ability to take a screen pass to the house, so the Buckeyes can build their aerial attack around the quick throws.

On the ground, nothing should change schematically. Barrett has the skill set to run the read-option offense—along with the other elements Meyer uses to keep defenses off balance. Miller's speed will be the only thing Barrett can't replicate, but a deep stable of running backs will help offset that.

Of course, Ohio State's offense won't be as potent with Miller sidelined, but Meyer was already building an offense that would utilize perimeter speed. Even with their star quarterback out for the season, the Buckeyes still have the tools to attack the edge.

 

All recruiting information via 247Sports. All stats via NCAA.com.

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

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Braxton Miller Reportedly Out for Season with Shoulder Injury

The worst possible scenario for the Ohio State football team is now a reality less than two weeks before the season starts.      

Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch had the initial report regarding quarterback Braxton Miller’s health Monday evening, and Brett McMurphy of ESPN provided the sobering news Tuesday:

Miller had offseason surgery on his right shoulder after injuring it during the Buckeyes’ Orange Bowl loss to Clemson. He missed spring practice and was limited for much of August training as he eased back into things. Per May, Miller reinjured the same shoulder in a second-session practice on Monday, although "he was not hit, having been off-limits from contact since off-season shoulder surgery."

Given the fact that Ohio State lost bruising running back Carlos Hyde to the NFL and four of its five starting offensive linemen from a year ago, this injury is particularly worrisome. Perhaps even more important now is the loss of QB Kenny Guiton to graduation.

Miller was seen as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for 2014 after posting 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air, and 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground last year. Perhaps most damaging of all is the impact on Miller's potential NFL career that could have really used a boost with a productive senior season.

Somehow, life will have to move on for the Buckeyes with a season rapidly approaching. May provided some details on the contingency plan:

It likely means redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett will start when the Buckeyes open the season against Navy on Aug. 30 in Baltimore. Barrett moved ahead of sophomore Cardale Jones last week in the competition to back up Miller, Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. 

Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report had a nugget about that contest with Navy that is sure to interest some viewers:

It wasn’t that long ago that co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner wasn’t particularly concerned with Miller’s health, via Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:

We’re kind of bringing him along slowly. I think we have a really good plan to get him where he needs to be Aug. 30. We definitely don’t need to rush it.

I love Braxton’s work ethic, his attitude, his mentality. His mindset is awesome. His understanding of the game is great, and his leadership has improved. We’re just letting him come along physically.

It’s part of the plan. There was no he got the hook in the middle of the day. It was all planned out. We’re doing that with some other guys who started a lot who are coming off injuries, just watching their volume until they build into it.

That is clearly no longer the case anymore. Instead, Ohio State's once promising College Football Playoff chances are in serious jeopardy. The biggest concern of all, especially given the loss of Hyde and the majority of the offensive line, is the lack of experience under center. ESPN Stats & Info provided the discouraging details in that regard:

SportsCenter on Twitter provided this interesting stat:

Turning the reins over to a freshman was once unthinkable in Columbus, but it has become business as usual in recent years. Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.com added more:

You would be forgiven if you were a glass-half-empty sports fan and you abandoned hope for a postseason appearance. However, the preseason is for optimism, and Eleven Warriors, Alex Gleitman of Bucknuts.com and Kramer provided a dose of that:

Still, even the most optimistic fans would admit that the Buckeyes are in some trouble without their star playmaker.

Remember, we are talking about the two-time defending winner of the Big Ten Silver Football as the conference’s best player and one of the most dynamic athletes in the entire country. The previously mentioned loss of Hyde and Guiton cannot be overstated either.

Hyde rumbled for 1,521 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns in 2013 even though he missed three games and single-handedly won some nailbiters (the Northwestern contest comes to mind). Guiton threw for 749 yards and 14 touchdowns, and added 330 yards and five touchdowns on the ground last year. He also started multiple games and rescued the Buckeyes when Miller was periodically injured throughout the past two years.

Now that Miller is out for the season, the national title expectations that are in place every year in Columbus fall on the inexperienced shoulders of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

Don't let the talking heads who decry a weak Big Ten every year fool you either. The Buckeyes will be tested a number of times this season, including in the non-conference portion of the slate against a dangerous Navy team, Virginia Tech and a Cincinnati squad that will be hungry to shock the state's bully.

In conference, Ohio State has to face a resurgent Penn State team under the lights in what will be the Nittany Lions' Super Bowl, square off in the annual clash with archrival and hated Michigan that came down to the last play in 2013, and play Michigan State in a rematch of the Big Ten championship game.

The Spartans contained the Buckeyes offense with Miller at the helm in a neutral-site contest last year. Playing that stout defense on the road at night with a possible playoff spot on the line is plenty of pressure for a tested senior, let alone freshman Barrett.

Fair or not, the only way a Big Ten team is getting to the College Football Playoff is by winning the conference. If the Buckeyes can't beat fellow East Division member Michigan State, they probably aren't even reaching the conference title game, given the tiebreaker scenario in this hypothetical.

Not having No. 5 under center will certainly make the task at hand even more difficult.

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