NCAA Football News
Cardale Jones may not feel he's ready for the NFL just yet. That would be a logical assessment by a reasonable person. Then again, the extraordinary accomplishments Jones has achieved in his brief tenure as Ohio State's starting quarterback have defied reasonable expectations.
Jones led the Buckeyes to victories in the Big Ten title game, the Sugar Bowl and the national championship in his first three college starts. The 6'5", 250-pound instant star has a cannon arm and amazing athletic ability for his size, and he would be turning down a golden opportunity by spurning the 2015 NFL draft.
A convoluted quarterback depth chart looms in Columbus, where Jones isn't even guaranteed a starting spot this next year. SportsCenter's graphic illustrates the situation:
Asked about the possibility of making the improbable leap to the pros on Tuesday following OSU's 42-20 triumph over Oregon, Jones was reluctant to claim he was prepared for the next level, via ESPN.com's Heather Dinich:
I mean, it's very odd. You know, I'm going to be starting three games in three years, and you know, guys play their whole career to have that buildup and have that motivation to play in the NFL. In my personal opinion, I'm not ready for that level yet. I mean, like coach [Urban] Meyer said, it's a conversation me and him will have later down the road. But to me right now, it's far out.
Other than Jones' national championship counterpart, Marcus Mariota, and Florida State's Jameis Winston, there aren't any surefire first-round QB prospects in this 2015 class.
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey alludes to the lack of alternatives available:
If Jones does require time to sit and learn a pro-style offense, he can do so at the NFL level, rather than lighting up the competition in college for another year.
There is a realistic chance that Jones sits behind either Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett with the Buckeyes in 2015.
Presuming Miller or Barrett succeed, there would be little chance for Jones to see the field, and he'd lose steam as an NFL prospect and not have any recent, impressive game tape to point to.
That isn't to say Jones would go in the top 32 if he declared himself eligible for the NFL this year. Limited game action and a QB-friendly spread offense make Jones quite a risk the higher he'd be chosen.
But in this era of lesser rookie salaries, which team in need at the most important position wouldn't consider Jones in the second, third or fourth round?
The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre brings up another strong point:
Jones has shown enough innate accuracy and transcendent arm strength to fit the ball into tighter NFL windows, and his knack for delivering the deep ball also bolsters his stock. His feel for climbing the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield are other attractive qualities.
Far removed from his infamous "classes are pointless" tweet, Jones is 22 years old and has a daughter, which has aided his maturation.
"We've had a lot of conversations about the enormity of responsibility that comes from being a father," said Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman of Jones, per ESPN.com's Max Olson. "I think it's really caused him to mature and grow up and have a different perspective on things."
The skill set Jones has brings to mind the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, two big signal-callers who've had considerable success in the pros.
Conventional wisdom isn't something Jones has adhered to amid his amazing run in leading the Buckeyes to the top of college football. In his aforementioned tweet from October 2012, Jones stated that he really came to Ohio State to thrive on the gridiron. He couldn't have hoped to do much better to date with the opportunities he's had.
A certain degree of naivete harmed Jones' reputation during that Twitter fiasco. Then that quality helped him take the reins of the Buckeyes offense and thrive on the biggest stages imaginable.
Using that logic, it suddenly doesn't seem so unrealistic that Jones could shine in the NFL if he takes the modest risk, marketing his limited experience as a positive to rise above the underwhelming prospects after Mariota and Winston.
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The Longhorns defense was one of the few bright spots on the team in 2014. Head coach Charlie Strong took a unit that was once the worst statistical defense in school history in 2012 and transformed it to the No. 25 total defense in the nation.
The Longhorns' final defensive performance was not what Strong was used to. Texas gave up 351 total yards in the 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl. Strong was not thrilled with his defense's performance and understands he has a challenge ahead of him.
"Defensively, you can't give up the big play. You've got to play better. You've got to play smart. You have to be able to go out and stop. It doesn't matter what happens on offense. Defensively, you have to make plays. We just didn't do that and didn't get off the field," Strong said following the loss.
"We see there's a lot of work to be done, which is great. It's a great challenge. I don't mind it. I don't mind accepting it."
Texas had a lot of veteran players on the defensive side of the ball, and Strong needs to find the right replacements for the talent he has lost.
Part of the reason for the Longhorns' success was because of the veteran group of linebackers. Seniors Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond were two of the most consistent players on the team last season, and their absence will be hard to replace in 2015.
The positive news for Texas fans is the Longhorns have a variety of options to replace the duo. The downfall is the lack of experience at the position.
Peter Jinkens is one of the most veteran returning starters at linebacker. Texas also has Dalton Santos, who played as a backup to Edmond in 2014. Aside from those two, the Longhorns have a group of linebackers with little to no experience.
Three names a lot of Texas fans are excited to see are incoming freshmen Malik Jefferson, Cecil Cherry and Anthony Wheeler. The highly touted commits could see playing time immediately, which could fill the void at linebacker.
With a group of inexperienced linebackers on campus, the Longhorns need to utilize this offseason to find viable replacements for Hicks and Edmond.
Two of the highest-profile names on the Longhorns' list of departures are defensive end Cedric Reed and defensive tackle Malcom Brown. Replacing these two players will be difficult, but there is enough talent on the roster to make the drop-off a little less drastic.
Defensive tackles Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson are two veteran replacements for Brown. The Longhorns also have a variety of options at defensive end.
Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett will be back for their senior seasons and Naashon Hughes will return for his redshirt sophomore season. The problem does not lie within the starting defensive ends; the problem is with the inexperienced depth behind the starters.
The backup defensive ends need to step up in order to continue the progress of the defensive line without Reed in the mix.
One of the biggest areas of need for Texas is at defensive back. The Longhorns will lose four-year starters Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson. But Texas has a group of defensive backs who could replace the veteran duo.
Duke Thomas, Jason Hall and Dylan Haines return for another season, and the Longhorns have a number of defensive backs who could very well turn into starters in 2015.
But similar to the other positional groups, the issue lies with the lack of experience behind the starting defensive backs. The Longhorns need to determine which players can provide the needed depth for the position.
If you have not noticed, there is a common denominator for all of the defensive positional groups. The Longhorns have a lot of talent on the roster but need to have more depth in 2015.
Will this plague the Longhorns defense? Probably not, but an answer needs to be found during the offseason to continue the progress on the defensive side of the ball.
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.
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Ah, yes, it's that time of year again. It's time to take what we've learned from bowl season, throw it in the trash and look ahead into the future with reckless abandon.
College football is a year-round sport. The College Football Playoff National Championship may be over, but the offseason—recruiting, spring practices and the like—is just getting under way. In the meantime, let's make some predictions for the 2015 season.
Here is your way-too-early Top 25 for next season. As always, we expect you to agree 100 percent with the decisions, as surely no team will be overrated or underrated.