NCAA Football News

Power Ranking Top 10 College Football Jobs

Last winter, a truly rare event unfolded on college football’s coaching carousel. Normally, the carousel is reserved for programs which have fallen on hard times, places that aren’t normally considered among the game’s blue bloods.

Oh, sure, no program is immune from change. However, having Florida and Michigan both open at the same time created a rare dynamic for job seekers and those looking to fill openings. It isn’t often that two marquee programs are filling openings at the same time, but it happened last winter, with Florida tabbing Jim McElwain and Michigan snagging Jim Harbaugh in hopes of a revival.

It brought up interesting questions: What are the best jobs in college football, and what makes those jobs truly special? Is it support (be it financial or emotional from fans)? Is it the facilities? Recruiting base and location? Tradition? Or a little of all the above?

Here’s a look at the top 10 jobs in college football. Keep in mind that these rankings don’t necessarily lean exclusively on a program’s current state. It’s what the program has been, what it is and what it can be.


Financial figures are taken from the most recent athletic department revenue stats .

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Texas Football 2015: Complete Preview of Longhorns

The Texas Longhorns finished off the 2014 season with a 6-7 record. Stephen Nelson hosts as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down the Longhorns' biggest storylines on offense and defense heading into the 2015 season.

How well do you think Texas will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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5 Statistics That Must Change for Michigan Football in 2015

Following a disappointing 5-7 campaign last season, the Michigan football team must improve in five particular areas.

While the statistics that need to change don't tell the complete story of the program's struggles, upgraded performance in these areas should positively impact Michigan's final 2015 record.

They're not simple fixes—considering the improvements are spread throughout the offense, defense and special teams—but most are a matter of fundamentals, and Wolverines fans can be certain that's what Jim Harbaugh and Co. are preaching.

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TCU Football 2015: Complete Preview of Horned Frogs

The TCU Horned Frogs finished off the 2014 season with a 12-1 record. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down the Horned Frogs' biggest storylines heading into the 2015 season.

How well do you think TCU will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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UCLA Football 2015: Complete Preview of Bruins

The UCLA Bruins finished off the 2014 season with a 12-2 record. How will they fare in 2015?

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the Bruins' biggest storylines heading into the 2015 season in the video above.

How well do you think UCLA will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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Ohio State Football 2015: Complete Preview of Buckeyes Defense

The Ohio State Buckeyes finished off the 2014 season with a 14-1 record. How will they fare in 2015?

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the Buckeyes' biggest storylines on defense heading into the 2015 season in the video above.

How well do you think Ohio State will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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Notre Dame Football 2015: Complete Preview of Fighting Irish Defense

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished off the 2014 season with an 8-5 record. But how will they fare in 2015?

Watch as Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down Notre Dame's biggest storylines on defense heading into the 2015 season in the video above.

How well do you think the Fighting Irish will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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Florida Football 2015: Complete Preview of Gators Defense

The Florida Gators finished off the 2014 season with a 7-5 record. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the Gators' biggest storylines on defense heading into the 2015 season.

How well do you think Florida will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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Oregon Football 2015: Complete Preview of Ducks Defense

The Oregon Ducks finished off the 2014 season with a 13-2 record. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the Ducks' biggest storylines on defense heading into the 2015 season.

How well do you think Oregon will do this year? Watch the video and let us know!

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NCAA Football Preseason Rankings 2015: Analyzing List of Top 25 NCAA Teams

Whether you want to acknowledge the college football preseason polls or not, they have a lot of importance as we head toward the upcoming season.

With a committee now deciding the postseason fates for the top teams in the nation, some believe you can ignore the opening rankings as meaningless. However, all four representatives in the inaugural College Football Playoff began the year in the Top Five of the preseason Associated Press Poll and the Top Six of the preseason USA Today Amway Coaches Poll.

This doesn't necessarily guarantee success for those near the top this year, but it's clear this is something we should take seriously. With that in mind, here is a look at this year's preseason USA Today Amway Coaches Poll with a breakdown of what it means for the upcoming season.

Ohio State deserves the No. 1 spot in the preseason rankings, and it is almost a mystery why two voters disagreed. Not only is the squad coming off an undisputed national championship with postseason victories over Oregon and Alabama, but it also returns most of its key contributors from that run.

The most intriguing storyline for those following the Buckeyes is the quarterback competition, which arose after a couple of injuries last season.

Preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller got hurt before Week 1, which opened the door for J.T. Barrett. He was excellent until an injury forced Cardale Jones into the spotlight, and he responded with a handful of impressive performances that led to Big Ten and national titles.

Miller has moved to receiver and will hope his athleticism allows him to be successful, while the other two options will keep competing until the opening kickoff against Virginia Tech.

The amazing part is it doesn't matter much who ends up at quarterback because Ohio State will be in great shape either way. The squad is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, including a pair of players considered the two best in the nation by ESPN: defensive tackle Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

This is why the Buckeyes have such a good chance to run the table in 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Of course, a number of teams could prevent the Buckeyes from defending their title. Probably the most intriguing is TCU, which barely missed last year's playoffs after an outstanding regular season. However, the Horned Frogs won't be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

Quarterback Trevone Boykin returns to lead an offense that ranked second in the nation with 46.5 points per game and never finished with fewer than 30. A 42-3 win over Ole Miss and its elite defense sent a message to those who doubted the program.

While last season was all about putting up huge numbers, head coach Gary Patterson explained this year is all about winning, per's Max Olson:

I think our frustration is understanding that winning is the most important thing and all the rest will come. They don't have to score more points, have more yards. It's going to be we play on the road six tough road games. If you're going to win those ball games, it's going to be hard to win by a couple of margins that we did last year.

It will be different for TCU to be the hunted team all year, but this squad has the talent to pull it off, especially if it can beat conference rival Baylor.

Meanwhile, top programs such as Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Auburn are once again loaded with talent, although the rosters might not be filled with household names. Still, the coaching staffs have proved they know what to do to win.

As far as squads that should be ranked higher, the one that immediately jumps out is Arizona. The Wildcats won the Pac-12 South last season and return an offense loaded with playmakers, including quarterback Anu Solomon, running back Nick Wilson and receiver Cayleb Jones. 

Still, the main attraction for Arizona is on the defensive side in linebacker Scooby Wright:

If Wright can anchor the defense, the Wildcats could once again surprise people in 2015.

SEC regulars such as Ole Miss, Arkansas and LSU could also move up the rankings over the course of the year with some big wins.

On the other hand, Georgia could see itself slip in the polls as the season progresses. The running game in Athens should remain strong even after losing Todd Gurley to the NFL, but there are major question marks at quarterback with a complete lack of experience at the position. Add this to a defense that could slip from last year, and the SEC could be too challenging to survive.

All of this can change once the season starts, however, with teams that aren't even ranked capable of flying up to No. 1. All we can do now is wait until things kick off on Sept. 3.


Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Texas Football: What Is Charlie Strong's Top Priority for 2015 Fall Camp?

Head coach Charlie Strong is all about disrupting the status quo for the Texas Longhorns. You're either on board, or you're on your own.

But the goal's always been the same—change the culture, then put the best possible players on the field. This fall, Strong has made forcing those players to step up his top priority.

From the moment Strong arrived on campus, he's done everything in his power to reverse the course of the program. It started with a new set of hard-stance rules, continued with surprising dismissals and suspensions and eventually led to roster moves nobody saw coming.

Seriously, did anyone think John Harris, Dylan Haines, Jason Hall, Taylor Doyle or Naashon Hughes would become indispensable members of the 2014 team? Well, they did. And all of those moves gave Strong the recruiting presence he needed to bring in the nation's No. 9 class in 2015, per 247Sports.

That success has given Strong more room to push his overhaul of this program. With a class full of nothing but players he recruited, he's showing that the roster turmoil has only just begun, per Alex Dunlap of

Said turmoil made headlines again Monday, with freshman linebacker Cecil Cherry electing to transfer just three practices into his college career. News of redshirt freshman tailback Duke Catalon's similar decision followed shortly thereafter, per William Wilkerson of Horns Digest:

The timing of these transfers will draw plenty of attention to Strong and his controversial rebuild. But this is part of the process—an inevitable event, given what we've seen through less than a week of fall camp.

Linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary summed up the staff's approach to fall camp when speaking to the media, per 247Sports.

"If we're in the middle of camp and you're basically in a dead heat with a freshman, you're going to play the freshman," the Longhorns assistant said. "You have to be able to be head and shoulders above them to justify us keeping you in there."

In short, if somebody's practicing better than you, you're not going to play.

That was the reality for Cherry and Catalon. Cherry, a 3-star middle linebacker, found 5-star stud Malik Jefferson in front of him in camp and became disgruntled about where he fit in the puzzle. That is, unless you believe this mess:

Catalon, a former head coach Mack Brown recruit, succumbed to similar circumstances. Per Horns Digest's Chip Brown, running backs coach Tommie Robinson likes what he's seeing from Kirk Johnson and Tristian Houston, with the former looking at some passing-down work early on. And Catalon was never going to compete with 230-pounders like D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren.

These are just two casualties of the staff's free-for-all. For instance, drops have been a major problem for the receivers thus far in camp. As a result, freshman John Burt is running with the first team ahead of sophomores Lorenzo Joe and Dorian Leonard. According to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts, the freshman looks like he's there to stay:

The same thing has already happened along the offensive line. Connor Williams came in as an early enrollee and outworked the incumbents as well as JUCO transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson.

And, of course, we have the quarterback competition. So far, passing has been the primary assignment for the quarterbacks, and Tyrone Swoopes has been head and shoulders above Jerrod Heard, according to 247Sports' Chris Hummer. Because of that, the junior is dominating the first-team reps.

It's obvious that some members of the team don't like this "What have you done for me lately?" approach. But it's in stark contrast to the "spoiled" and "country club" mentality described by Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel in October 2013.

Just being there doesn't cut it anymore.

So while Strong's not guaranteeing anything for anyone, he's fostering competition. Everyone believes he has a chance to make an impact, which is why practice looks like this:

The reality with this team is that it's young, and some of its most talented players will be in their first or second years in the program. But Strong can't afford to mail it in, so his priority is to squeeze every ounce of competitive fire out of each player in fall camp.

This is the next step in Strong's rebuild of the program. No matter what the product looks like when the season begins, it will be better for this process.


Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of, with recruiting data sourced from 247Sports.

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Diamond in the Rough: QB Recruit Dane Warp's Fight for a Scholarship Offer

The modern-day football recruit’s luxuries have escaped Dane Warp.

The 17-year-old 3-star quarterback and shooting guard for the Havre (Montana) Blue Ponies, per Yahoo Sports, is a throwback in many ways.

Since he entered high school, he’s been busy rewriting Havre High’s record books on the gridiron and the hardwood.

According to MaxPreps, for his football career, the 6’4”, 190-pounder has passed for 8,407 yards and 78 touchdowns while completing more than 65 percent of his passes.

He owns the Havre High single-season records for passing yards and total touchdowns, and he’s on pace to break the Montana state records in career passing touchdowns (needs five more) and passing yards (needs 501 yards). On the hardwood, the state’s career-points mark is also within his sights if he has a strong senior season.

Despite his athletic exploits, and the fact that he carries a 4.0 GPA with a college goal to major in the medical field, Warp’s dream of landing a scholarship offer from a big-time college football program has yet to materialize.

His current predicament could be due to the fact that his small town in the Treasure State, which is less than 50 miles south of Canada’s border, may as well be the Siberia of recruiting territories.

According to Mark Beckman, the Executive Director of the Montana High School Association, Montana is so sparsely populated that 105 of its 179 high schools have less than 120 students combined in grades 9-12. Also, the state features 29 co-op football teams—where two or more schools combine to field a squad.

“As far as development, everything is a little harder in Montana,” Warp told Bleacher Report. “There’s no quarterback trainers in the area. I have to go somewhere really far to get hands on teaching with people who are experienced with this. There’s no high-level offseason programs here.”

In fact, there are no offseason programs in Montana at all.

As Beckman told Bleacher Report, MHSA rules state that coaches are restricted from having contact with their athletes when their sport is out of season.

Warp’s offseason is spent playing in AAU basketball tournaments, as well as spending whatever free time he has working on his craft by himself or with any combination of friends and family he can round up.

“A lot of me practicing is me out in the backyard with my brothers or practicing with our team,” Dane said.

Nothing comes easy in Havre—which is pronounced HAV-err—whether in life or in athletics.

According to US Climate Data, the city’s average temperature is slightly more than 43 degrees year round.

The long winters are especially brutal in this town of roughly 10,000 residents.

Late-season practices and playoff games are often played in blizzard-like conditions at zero-degree temperatures.

“There’s a lot of times when it is snowing and the wind will be blowing,” Dane said. “That just means you put on a sweatshirt under your pads. You can’t afford to lose any days. It may not be the best team that ends up winning; it’s the toughest team. The kids are real gritty, here. That’s the best word for it.”

Living in Havre also means he’s isolated hundreds of miles away from any major college football program—including FCS home-state schools Montana and Montana State.

The closest FBS university in location to Havre, the University of Idaho, is 525 miles away. In fact, the average distance of the six closest FBS or FCS schools to Havre is 484 miles.

For him to take visits to schools requires road trips that would make Travel Channel enthusiasts jealous. Still, he’s entering his second offseason filled with marathon trips to try and get some type of exposure.

His family—which consists of parents Doug and Jane, and brothers Isaac (16) and Josh (12)—has been supportive of Dane’s athletic endeavors. In fact, Isaac was one of Dane’s primary receiver targets this past season, and Josh is a standout wrestler.

Doug, who works in the transportation industry, notes that his family has learned to embrace the long hours spent on highways across the great Northwest.

“We don’t mind traveling,” Doug said. “Our family is everything. We’ve never known anything different. If we stayed home, honestly, the only thing we could do there is to work.”

Doug jokes that it’s not uncommon for the kids to be stretched out in the backseat of the SUV during the wee hours of the night. The family has taken on the challenge of supporting Dane’s dream.

“That’s all I’ve been doing all summer long last year and this summer too, I’ll be going around the country,” Dane said. “Last year, I went to a handful of Pac-12 schools and Wyoming, BYU, Colorado State and Colorado. It was for both camps and junior days. I did that to kind of get my name out there because that’s the only way living where I live.”

These circumstances make his journey a daily grind that can be both physically and mentally taxing at times.

“It’s always in the back of your head, knowing the other kids are probably working with someone right now,” Dane said. “So you have to do twice as much as what they are doing to make that equal out, on top of what you are already doing. Without that kind of help or those kind of resources available here, you just have to work harder. Do longer weight-room sessions. Spend an extra hour in the yard or in the gym. That’s just how it goes.”

Still, he knows the odds are against him.

He knows it won’t be easy to achieve his dream of landing a FBS scholarship.

Strangely enough, he’s comfortable with that setting.

Last season, Warp threw for 2,629 yards and 27 touchdowns with only five interceptions.

According to George Ferguson of the Havre Daily News, Warp took home Class A Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2014—which marked his third straight All-State selection.

Curt Leeds, who is the head basketball coach at Havre High and doubles as a receivers coach for the football program, said that he knew he had something special in Warp during his freshman season.

“It was his freshman year when he had multiple games where he threw for five touchdowns and over 300-something yards,” Leeds said. “He just made defenses look silly and made defensive coordinators game-plan for more than one kid. People tried to all-out blitz us, they tried to drop back into Cover 2 under and different types of coverages. He saw multiple defenses, and no one could shut him down.”

His hardwood feats are no less impressive. Chris Peterson of the Havre Daily News is impressed by Warp’s game, describing one performance as “scintillating”:

Ferguson also notes that Warp—who averaged 23.4 points per game as a junior—has made the Montana Class A All-State team three years in a row and has had 15 games over the last two seasons in which he’s topped the 30-point mark.

Yet it’s safe to say that outside of Montana, few people have heard about Dane Warp’s athletic exploits.

Of the handful of people who have, there’s undoubtedly a stigma of wonder when it comes to his abilities because of the level of competition.

While he can’t control that, he’s doing his best to alleviate those concerns by competing at as many scouting and college camps as his schedule and budget allow him to.

Doug Warp admits that the camp scene creates an awkward atmosphere for his family.

Due to their frantic schedule that makes Dane’s camp appearances a hit-or-miss proposition, the Warp’s aren’t as entrenched and familiar on the camp circuit as other parents and recruits.

However, Doug said that Dane has often performed well enough at these events that he’s usually one of the handful of passers who get individual attention from the coaches at the conclusion of the camp.

“Mostly every [camp] Dane goes to, people and everybody has been super good about it,” Doug said. “He doesn’t have any offers, but usually at the end of the camps when [coaches] are talking to one or two kids, he will be one of those two kids. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s out of guilt since he’s come so far, and hopefully that’s not the case. Hopefully, it’s because of his ability.”

Dane has had similar experiences at college camps.

He notes that he was recognized as the MVP of a Washington State camp’s quarterback segment after his freshman year. He notched co-MVP honors with touted passers such as current 5-star quarterback Jacob Eason and 2015 California signee Ross Bowers at the University of Washington’s camp later that year.

Even in the absence of offers, there are still schools that have shown interest in Dane this spring.

According to current Havre head coach Mark Samson, Colorado State, Harvard, North Dakota, Princeton, Utah and Wyoming are among the schools that are showing interest in Warp. Princeton, along with in-state schools Montana and Montana State, sent coaches by his school in the spring.

He recently visited Ivy League schools such as Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Yale to take part in their summer camps. He also stopped by to see Columbia on the same trip.

Still, he admits that the interactions are sporadic and have yet to yield him anything concrete.

“Sometimes you think you might be close with a school, and the next day, you see they offered another kid,” Dane said. “That’s just the way it goes. There will be a day and a team that wants you and only you, and we’re just trying to find that school.

“Coming from Montana, that’s hard to do to get recognized as a recruit. You might believe that you can make every throw that these other kids are making, but I guess that’s part of it. Being unknown and being the underdog.”

That’s what makes the summer so critical for Warp.

Distance and location alone makes it unlikely that any FBS programs make it out to Havre during the season.

The clock is ticking on his opportunity, and he knows it.

With him, he’s carrying the hope of a small community and a state often dismissed when it comes to producing talented athletes.

In an effort to help refine his skills, Warp recently flew to Seattle to work with Lavelle Durant, who is a private quarterback coach and an Elite 11 counselor.

In their initial conversations, Doug mentioned to Durant that his son had never received any private tutelage—which led Durant to wonder if Dane’s skill level would be up to par with the prospects he normally works with.

It didn’t take long for his early skepticism to fade away.

“The first thing I said to him was, ‘You look like you’ve been training with somebody,’” Durant said. “The mechanics were proper and correct, but they just needed to be sharpened up. His release was actually very quick. That’s the first thing I noticed, and the first thing I was impressed with.”

Durant—who has worked with other touted passers such as Eason and current USC quarterback Max Browne—noted that he had a few other pupils working with him for the training sessions that Warp flew in for. These were prospects who had been working with him for at least a year.

Rather than have Warp start off slowly by observing things first, Durant threw him straight into the fire, putting Warp through three planned sessions during their workout.

The first was designed on working with his mechanics and throwing motion, the second a breakdown of any negative tendencies Durant noticed in the first session and the last practice was a comprehensive, four-hour session in which everything was slowed down in an effort to get him to read and react naturally.

Immediately, Durant came away impressed with Dane’s release, athleticism and his ability to retain and apply the coaching he was getting on the fly.

“Knowing that he hasn’t [worked with anyone] and seeing what he has, I can only imagine how good he would be with the proper training,” Durant said. “He has the tools to be a college quarterback. If he has the right person to help him sharpen those tools, only God could tell you how good he would be.”

From a talent standpoint alone, Durant said that Warp was ahead of most of the guys he’s trained from the initial point they first started working with him. But, he also stopped short of saying he was a surefire Division I prospect.

“I don’t speak highly on tons of kids, because a lot of kids don’t pan out,” Durant said. “I don’t put my credibility on the line much, but he’s one kid that I would get out there and get on the phone for and talk to some coaches about. He has the ability to play next-level football.”

Durant said that he hopes to work with Warp again, because “he’s a kid that intrigues the hell out of me.”

However, given the expansive travel schedule Warp’s family has had in the spring and summer, the financial strain on their budget may prevent it from happening.

While that seems like another cruel twist of fate for Warp, it’s another chapter of him battling circumstances that sometime seem unfair.

Still, that doesn’t mean he’s without believers in his ability to play at the next level.

“I actually sent him home with these words,” Durant said. “I told him, ‘You can definitely play college football.’ He has to show coaches he can throw with the best of them, because he has something. He has it. You see it in his first snaps. You see that he’s not playing around. He’s worked his butt off to have a shot. It just takes one school to recognize it.”

If there’s one trait that helps Dane deal with the extenuating circumstances surrounding his recruitment, it’s his mental toughness.

That part of his makeup was instilled in him in part due to where he comes from. He’s used to having to work a little bit harder than kids who have more resources available.

In that way, he’s already made the impossible become possible on a daily basis in Havre.

He sees no reason why he can’t do it again by overcoming the odds and landing a scholarship to a big-time college program.

“It’s hard, but it’s definitely worth it,” Dane said. “Going places and family time in the car. Just going everywhere and being the underdog, it’s a real motivating thing for me. Every opportunity you get, and you don’t get a lot, when you do, you work hard for it.”


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

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Tennessee Football: Why Tight End Could Be a Major Concern for Vols

The news that A.J. Branisel is leaving the Tennessee football program was announced this week and met with little fanfare, but the fallout from his departure may cause ripple effects throughout the season.

"A.J. Branisel has decided to leave the football program. We thank A.J. for his two years and wish him the best. We are in the process of assisting him to find another opportunity," Vols coach Butch Jones said in a statement on Monday morning, per the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak.

On the surface, the exit of a third-string tight end may be met with a universal "meh" from a fanbase with high aspirations.

But when you couple Branisel leaving with the recent dismissal of freshman Kyle Oliver and the decision by Daniel Helm—who started a couple of games as a freshman last year—to leave UT for Duke after last season, the tight end position just became a major worry for 2015.

On the current roster, the Vols have four scholarship tight ends: sophomore starter Ethan Wolf, senior former walk-on and second-teamer Alex Ellis, redshirt freshman Neiko Creamer and converted linebacker Jakob Johnson.

Wolf's younger brother, walk-on Eli, may be able to provide depth down the road, but at 205 pounds, that time won't come this year.

Though saying any of those guys are "injury-prone" would be harsh, the elder Wolf suffered a high ankle sprain against Arkansas State last year that hobbled him for much of the season and caused him to miss most of a couple of games.

Ellis must manage his diabetes very closely to ensure there isn't an abundance of health issues throughout the rigors of the SEC season. He has battled other nagging injuries during his time in Knoxville as well.

Considering this is college football, UT is one injury away from being dangerously thin at a position that has proven vastly important to Jones' offenses throughout his coaching career.

It's even more of a concern for the Vols that they're so shallow at the position considering the lingering offensive line issues.

A season ago, Tennessee's offensive front was the team's weakest link, and it only improved once mobile quarterback Joshua Dobbs was inserted and flashed the wheels to move the pocket away from pursuing defenders.

Even then, the Vols gave up six sacks in a late-season loss to Missouri.

So far in camp, UT has lost starting left guard Marcus Jackson to an arm injury. He won't be back until at least "the tail end of the season," Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker on Tuesday morning.

On top of that, the Vols have been experimenting with players shuffling around everywhere in an effort to put the best five on the field. A mixture of experienced players who aren't as talented as the freshmen and freshmen who aren't as experienced as the veterans isn't always a good formula for success.

It was encouraging when Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan on Tuesday that the emergence of Coleman Thomas and freshman Jack Jones starting on the right side of the line helped UT take "a big step" forward, but that doesn't quite alleviate the concerns just yet.

While the Vols search for the right combination of linemen during a rigorous early-season schedule, the onus will fall on tight ends to help block for Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and company.

That makes the lack of depth at the position even more vital.

The Vols already have addressed the major need at tight end in a big way for the 2016 recruiting class. They've got commitments from 3-star Devante Brooks from the Washington D.C. area and local product Austin Pope of the Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Brooks will be coming off two anterior cruciate ligament injuries suffered in the past two years, so his short-term impact may be minimal. However, he was a player with a strong offer sheet prior to his UT commitment.

Regardless of those future fixes, the Vols are playing with a thin slate in 2015.

Branisel's production maybe won't be missed so much, but the repetitions he likely would have provided must be replaced with an unproven commodity.

Though Branisel redshirted last year after tearing knee ligaments, he caught three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown in limited action as an undersized freshman in 2013. He was expected to provide depth this year, but instead, he wanted to seek more playing time elsewhere.

That's a bit surprising since he was once committed to Jones at Cincinnati and flipped to the Vols once Jones took over in Knoxville. But maybe he thought backup was always going to be his ceiling at UT.

When you sign two massive, talent-laden classes like Jones has over the past two seasons, you're going to experience some attrition, and the Vols certainly have had their share.

It's just an unfortunate coincidence that a great portion of it has occurred at the tight end position, where you don't traditionally stockpile a lot of bodies.

That may not make much of a difference if Wolf and Ellis—two very talented and capable players—stay healthy. They were always going to get the vast majority of the reps anyway and are both physical enough to be forces in the run game and athletic enough to catch passes.

But if one of them goes down, the Vols will be facing a question mark that could ultimately hinder the production of what many anticipate being a potent offense.

It's a tightrope UT now has to walk thanks to the defections of three players in the past eight months.


All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Auburn Football: Breakdown of Tigers' Schedule and Predictions for Each Game

The Auburn Tigers enter the 2015 season with loads of talent and plenty of hype as a serious contender for the College Football Playoff. 

Head coach Gus Malzahn’s team landed at No.7 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll in addition to being picked by the media to win the SEC, which would pretty much ensure a chance to play for a national title. 

Much of the excitement around the team is warranted even though the Tigers stumbled down the stretch to an 8-5 record in 2014. Jeremy Johnson will take over at quarterback in Malzahn’s high-powered offense, and the junior is a possible Heisman Trophy threat thanks to his exceptional passing ability and the offensive weapons at his disposal. Will Muschamp also joins the program to take over a defense that finished ninth in the SEC in total defense last season. 

The road to a championship is never easy in the treacherous SEC, especially in the West Division. Auburn will have to conquer such a task, but its schedule is favorable for SEC standards. Alabama and Georgia, the Tigers’ two toughest opponents, come to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the team plays Kentucky out of the SEC East rather than a tougher challenge like Tennessee. 

Let us now go through Auburn’s schedule and predict how the Tigers will fare this season.


Idaho, Jacksonville State and San Jose State 

Every team has its “cupcake” games on the schedule, and these three opponents are Auburn’s. 

Jacksonville State visits Auburn in Week 2, and even though the Gamecocks finished 10-2 and won the Ohio Valley Conference last season, they will still be thoroughly outmatched as a FCS team and will not be able to beat the Tigers at home. 

San Jose State and Idaho, Auburn’s opponents in Weeks 5 and 11, respectively, are in the same boat as Jacksonville State regarding a disparity in personnel. These two teams will also be tune-up games for the Tigers.


Louisville, Sept. 5 

The season opens up with a challenge against ACC foe Louisville at the Georgia Dome. 

The Cardinals impressed in head coach Bobby Petrino’s first season back at Louisville, finishing 9-4. Unlike most of Petrino’s past teams, he won with defense, which finished sixth nationally in total defense. 

That unit only returns four starters, but some big-time transfer additions should help. The defensive line adds former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields of TCU, while the secondary adds former Georgia contributors Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. 

Louisville has enough surrounding talent on defense to at least stop the Tigers from scoring at will. However, the offense faces major issues. A revolving door at quarterback saw three different players start for the Cardinals, and the team still has not decided on a starter as all three return. 

In addition, Louisville loses its top three receivers and three starting offensive linemen from 2014, which will not help quell the instability at quarterback. This should offer Muschamp and his defense a prime opportunity to make a splash and create havoc with star defensive end Carl Lawson to go along with some heavy blitzing. 

Auburn has more ability, depth and proven playmakers on both sides of the ball than Louisville. It may be close early as both teams go through first-game jitters, but the Tigers should be able to take advantage of the Cardinals’ inept offense and wear out the defense. Auburn wins 28-13.


At LSU, Sept. 19 

Auburn and LSU have had a physical rivalry throughout the years, but the Bayou Bengals have dominated at home recently. 

Auburn has not beaten LSU in Baton Rouge since 1999, but that streak could be broken in 2015. 

Head coach Les Miles has again produced a loaded depth chart, particularly on defense. However, quarterback still remains the Achilles’ heel of the team. Take a look at the numbers of Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings, the two men vying for the job, in SEC play last season:

The massive inefficiencies coupled with the turnovers make LSU a beatable team in 2015, especially early on in the season when either quarterback is likely still not comfortable effectively running the offense. 

With a vaunted secondary led by Jalen Mills and a strong front seven featuring linebacker Kendell Beckwith and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, LSU will undoubtedly be able to combat Auburn’s offense. 

Yet, Auburn will load up to contain running back Leonard Fournette and force either Harris or Jennings to win the game, which at this point would not seem likely. Auburn is able to escape LSU with a win to start SEC play. Auburn wins 20-10.


Mississippi State, Sept. 26 

A week after a grueling battle with LSU, Auburn must come right back to take on Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

Prescott led his team on a magical season as the Bulldogs spent four weeks as the nation’s top ranked team. They also took down Auburn 38-23 in a high-profile matchup. 

The star quarterback is essentially the only key player returning for head coach Dan Mullen’s team. A whopping 13 starters are gone, and the team must replace instrumental pieces such as running back Josh Robinson and linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

De’Runnya Wilson, a strong receiver, will give a smaller Auburn secondary some issues. However, the Tigers are superior to the Bulldogs at every position outside of quarterback. Especially with the game being at Auburn, Malzahn and his team will get revenge in 2015. Auburn wins 34-20.


At Kentucky, Oct. 15 

Kentucky greatly improved in its second year under head coach Mark Stoops, going from 2-10 to 5-7 while looking much more competitive. 

Quarterback Patrick Towles will be back after throwing for over 3,000 yards last season. He will be surrounded by Stanley Johnson, last season’s leading rusher, and leading receiver Ryan Timmons. 

On defense, replacing first-round pick Bud Dupree will be a challenge, but returners such as nose tackle Melvin Lewis and safety A.J. Stamps will be able to anchor a unit that returns seven starters total. 

The Wildcats are on the rise and should be able to clinch a bowl in 2015, but they are still heavily mismatched against Auburn, even at home. 

Towles will lead a couple of scoring drives, and the home crowd will keep the game close early, but Kentucky does not have enough defensive line depth to stop Auburn’s rushing attack. This will wear down the Wildcats and create more space on the outside for star receiver D’haquille Williams. Auburn wins 38-20


At Arkansas, Oct. 24 

At this point in the schedule, this will be Auburn’s toughest matchup so far in 2015. 

Arkansas returns a powerful rushing attack headlined by Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, who each ran for over 1,100 yards and 12 scores in 2014. Add in Brandon Allen, who has the most starts of any active quarterback in the SEC with 25, and a strong offensive line and the Tigers will have their hands full on defense. 

Yet, there are two reasons Auburn can still feel good about this game. 

Firstly, Allen has been ineffective against Auburn in his career. Check out his combined numbers from two starts against the Tigers: 

Considering this in two starts, these statistics are extremely pedestrian. Arkansas has also not had much success running the football against Auburn in the last two seasons, both under head coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks are averaging 188 yards rushing against the Tigers while averaging 213 yards per game total in that time span. With Muschamp revamping the defense, there is not much reason to believe much will change on the ground. 

Arkansas’ defense will also be down from last year’s unit that finished second in the SEC in total yards per game. Stars such as Trey Flowers, Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight are all gone with not a great deal of experience taking their place. Seeing how Johnson carved up Arkansas for 243 yards and two touchdowns in just the first half against last year’s defense, he and the Tigers should have no issues this season. 

Auburn should comfortably outscore Arkansas on the road. Auburn wins 31-17.


Mississippi, Oct. 31 

Auburn and Mississippi played a classic last season in Oxford that the Tigers ended up winning 35-31 after a late defensive stop. 

The two teams play at Jordan-Hare Stadium this season, and while Auburn is much improved, Ole Miss is not, particularly on offense. The team does not have a quarterback, and there is definitely a possibility that the Rebels could be on their second or third signal-caller by the time Week 9 rolls around. This could slightly neutralize receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram, Mississippi’s two top offensive weapons. 

The defense is still stout with the return of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner. The unit will likely not be as strong as last season after losing stalwarts such as linebacker D.T. Shackelford, cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt. Auburn scored 35 on the Rebels last season on the road, and that number could very well be similar in 2015. 

This will be another case of one team not being able to keep pace with Auburn offensively. Auburn wins 35-17.


At Texas A&M, Nov. 7 

Defensively, this game represents the worst matchup all season for Auburn. 

Quarterback Kyle Allen leads probably the best passing attack in the SEC. He impressed after taking over as the Aggies signal-caller halfway through 2014 and finished with eight touchdowns and only three picks against SEC competition. Allen also has a loaded arsenal of weapons with receivers Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds. 

Auburn’s biggest weakness is its secondary, and Texas A&M is the best team to exploit that. The Tigers finished 10th in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and also surrendered 277 yards on four touchdowns to Allen at home in 2014, his first career SEC start. 

Behind Blake Countess, Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones, Auburn has no real proven depth at cornerback. This should be tempered a bit by this point in the season, but no team on the schedule presents the passing depth of A&M. 

The Tigers will be able to score as well. Texas A&M was the conference’s worst defense in terms of yards allowed per game in 2014, but it was still able to beat Auburn. The unit will definitely be improved with new defensive coordinator John Chavis taking over. 

With Auburn having to constantly pass to keep up with A&M, this will play perfectly into the Aggies’ strength, which is the pass rush with Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The Tigers will be doomed by their pass defense and Texas A&M will clinch the game with a sack on the final drive to hold on and hand Auburn its first loss. Texas A&M wins 45-41.


Georgia, Nov. 14 

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry may only be slightly in Georgia’s favor historically at 53-51, but the Bulldogs have dominated Auburn as of late. 

Check out the results between the two teams the last four seasons: 

Notice the rushing yards racked up by Georgia. This is significant because once again the Bulldogs will rely heavily on its ground game behind Heisman contender Nick Chubb. He gashed Auburn for 144 yards on 19 carries in 2014. 

With Georgia returning four starters on the offensive line, Chubb should again have a great day running the ball. Brice Ramsey is also the favorite to win the quarterback job in Athens, per Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports. He should be fully comfortable and entrenched at this point of the season, which makes Georgia even more dangerous offensively. 

Defensively, head coach Mark Richt’s team has some question marks in the secondary, which Auburn can exploit with Williams and Ricardo Louis. However, a disruptive front seven, led by defensive tackle Trent Thompson and linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins will keep the Tigers’ rushing attack at bay. 

If this happens, Auburn will be too one-dimensional on offense and Georgia will dominate possession with its running attack. Richt again continues his control of the Tigers, who drop a second straight game. Georgia wins 27-17.


Alabama, Nov. 28 

The Iron Bowl is always one of the best games of the college football season, and it should stay that way in 2015 with these teams so evenly matched. 

Alabama again boasts a powerful defense with a front seven anchored by defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and linebacker Reggie Ragland and has a secondary that is experienced and extremely talented despite getting torched at the end of last season. 

Under Malzahn, Auburn has been able to handle Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s vaunted defense. Here are the basic numbers from the last two seasons against the Crimson Tide: 

Auburn has shown it can either run all over Alabama or shred it through the air if necessary. With the plethora of weapons the Tigers have this season, they again will be able to move the ball. 

In the past two seasons, Alabama has countered with an explosive offense of its own. That is not likely to be the case now that Amari Cooper is no longer around to single-handedly dismantle Auburn’s secondary, as can be seen in the highlights below: 

Alabama currently does not have a quarterback, and there is no telling at this point how effective the position will become for the Tide in 2015. Also, running back Derrick Henry is really the only proven playmaker on the entire offense. 

Henry will have a solid game, but Auburn’s front seven will be able to keep him from running wild. Alabama’s passing game will not be enough to threaten the Tiger secondary. Plus, the offensive line is not the caliber of Georgia’s, so do not expect Alabama to follow the Bulldogs’ ground-and-pound strategy. 

Auburn will give itself a chance to win the SEC West with a win over Alabama. However, the outcomes of others in the division could keep the Tigers from a shot at a conference title and thus, a spot in the College Football Playoff. Auburn wins 28-21.


Auburn Finishes 10-2 (6-2 in the SEC)


All statistics are courtesy of

All returning starter information comes from Phil Steele's projections.

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