NCAA Football News

Which Star Sophomore Running Back Has Best Chance to Win Heisman Trophy in 2015?

According to most recent numbers at Odds Shark, 13 running backs stand a 50-1 shot or better to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

Seven of those running backs are true sophomores:

  1. Leonard Fournette, LSU (15-2)
  2. Nick Chubb, Georgia (9-1)
  3. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma (14-1)
  4. Royce Freeman, Oregon (25-1)
  5. Dalvin Cook, Florida State (33-1)
  6. Nick Wilson, Arizona (33-1)
  7. Jalen Hurd, Tennessee (50-1)

It's obvious which backs the numbers favor, but which of those sophomores stands the best actual chance to win the Heisman?

To answer that, we've broken them into five categories—2014 Production, Offensive Line, Competition for Carries, Coach and Team Factors, and Talent—and graded them from one to seven.

Sound off at the bottom and let us know what you think.

 

2014 Production 

1. Chubb: Chubb led the SEC in yards per carry (7.06) and finished second in total rushing yards (1,547). He ran for 143 yards at Missouri in the first start of his career, 202 yards at Arkansas one week later and ended his freshman season with 266 rushing yards against Louisville. Missouri (12), Arkansas (8) and Louisville (18) each had top 20 run defenses, per the S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders.

2. Perine: Perine led all freshman running backs with 1,713 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. Both of those numbers ranked No. 8 nationally. His most famous performance came against Kansas in November, when he broke the FBS single-game rushing record—set one week earlier by Melvin Gordon—with 427 yards on 34 carries.

3. Wilson: Wilson finished No. 25 in the country with 1,375 rushing yards—and that was with Terris Jones-Grigsby (121 carries) stealing touches. His highlight yards per opportunity (8.33), which broadly measures how players break long runs, ranked No. 3 among players with 210-plus carries, per Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall. Nos. 1 and 2? Tevin Coleman and Melvin Gordon.

4. Freeman: Freeman ran for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns as the power back in Oregon's speed offense. He posted eight consecutive games with 98 yards or more between Oct. 11 and the Pac-12 Championship Game, but sophomore Thomas Tyner, a 5-star recruit in 2013, became the lead back in the College Football Playoff. Freeman logged just 22 carries for 66 yards against Florida State and Ohio State.

5. Fournette: Fournette started slow but came on late to finish with 1,034 rushing yards as a freshman. His signature performance came against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, when he posted 143 yards on 11 carries and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. He rushed for 289 yards on his final 30 carries of the year.

6. Cook: Cook received just 24 carries in the first five games of the season but broke out with 122 yards on 23 carries against Syracuse. He never looked back from there, finishing the season with 1,008 rushing yards and 203 receiving yards, most of which were backloaded.

7. Hurd: Hurd is the only sophomore Heisman candidate who failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards (899). He did, however, post more than 1,000 total yards, and his numbers, while inconsistent, included four games with more than 115 rushing yards, so at least he made it clear he can explode.

 

Offensive Line 

1. Chubb: Georgia returns four starters from a unit that finished No. 4 in adjusted line yards (run blocking), per Football Outsiders. The one starter it loses, center David Andrews, was its most valuable player, but Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long provide capable replacements. Right guard Greg Pyke is a burgeoning superstar.

2. Freeman: Oregon finished No. 1 in adjusted line yards but returns just two starters from that unit. On the bright side, it also returns left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who missed the entire season with a knee injury. He, Tyrell Crosby and Cameron Hunt form a powerful nucleus, and Oregon's coaching staff ensures consistency.

3. Fournette: LSU returns three starters from a unit that finished No. 15 in adjusted line yards. The loss of left tackle La'El Collins—one of the best run-blockers in college football—opens obvious questions, but the return of Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander, both of whom could have easily cashed NFL paychecks, provides obvious answers.

4. Perine: Oklahoma finished No. 10 in adjusted line yards but returns just two starters from that unit. Fortunately, it kept offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, whose past work with Dana Holgorsen and Mike Leach should make him a smooth fit under offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners need some young pieces to step up, but they recruit and develop well enough to earn optimism.

5. Hurd: Tennessee couldn't protect the quarterback, ranking No. 118 in adjusted sack rate, but its offensive line did better than expected on the ground, ranking No. 32 in adjusted line yards. Next year it returns four starters, along with adding blue-chip freshman Drew Richmond, who ranked No. 55 overall in the 2015 class.

6. Cook: Florida State finished No. 45 in adjusted line yards and loses four senior starters from that unit. Left tackle Roderick Johnson, who started and played well as a true freshman, will anchor one side of the line, but the rest of the group lacks experience.

7. Wilson: Arizona finished No. 56 in adjusted line yards and returns just two starters from that unit. More to the point, it loses three productive starters from that unit: left tackle Mickey Baucus, right tackle Fabbians Ebbele and center Steven Gurrola. The Wildcats have no bigger question area than offensive line.

 

Competition for Carries

1. Wilson:The loss of Jones-Grigsby bodes well for Wilson's workload. He should improve on last year's 236 carries—an already huge number—as the sole lead back in the offense. Quarterback Anu Solomon, who logged 137 carries in 2014, broke down at the end of the season. Why not scale back his workload by leaning on Wilson?

2. Fournette: As a freshman, Fournette shared carries with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. As a sophomore, there is no such competition. Derrius Guice arrives as the No. 46 overall recruit in the country, but he's a slot back who will help Fournette (by allowing him to rest on passing downs) more than impeding on his carries.

3. Chubb: Yes, Georgia has Sony Michel and (hopefully) Keith Marshall. Both of those guys (when healthy) are great, but neither occupies the same role as Chubb; they are home run threats more than down-to-down grinders. Chubb will be the workhorse no matter what.

4. Cook: Cook became the lead back when Florida State had Karlos Williams, and here's no reason to think he will lose that role with Williams departing. Still, the Noles have a pair of promising juniors, Mario Pender and Ryan Green, vying for meaningful carries, along with early-enrolling freshman Jacques Patrick, the No. 40 overall recruit in 2015.

5. Perine: What's the deal with Joe Mixon? A domestic violence incident kept him sidelined as a freshman, but he was the No. 21 overall recruit in 2014, and his versatile skills make him a perfect fit for Riley's offense. How much does he cut into Perine's workload? What about Keith Ford and Alex Ross? Oklahoma's backfield is a logjam.

6. Hurd: Is Hurd even the best running back on his team? Personally, I say yes, but Alvin Kamara could make a strong case. The one-time Alabama tailback spent last season at junior college, where he earned a 5-star rating from 247Sports. Position coach Robert Gillespie said Kamara "will create a healthy competition in the running backs room," which could either help or destroy Hurd's candidacy.

7. Freeman: Tyner throws a wrench in Freeman's Heisman chances. The former 5-star recruit played like…well, a former 5-star recruit during the College Football Playoff and is primed for an even bigger role next season. Besides him, the Ducks have Byron Marshall, a converted running back who now plays "taser," along with Taj Griffin, Malik Lovette and Kirk Merritt—the Nos. 1, 3 and 5 all-purpose backs in the 2015 recruiting class.

 

Coach and Team Factors

1. Wilson:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez runs one of the strongest, most creative, most lead-back-oriented offenses in college football. Ka'Deem Carey made back-to-back All-America teams in 2012 and 2013. There's a precedent for Arizona running backs posting Heisman numbers; the question is whether they can win enough games.

2. Freeman: Oregon likes to run as much as any team in the Pac-12. That was true when it had a Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Mariota, playing quarterback, and it's extra true under whoever plays quarterback next season. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have posted Heisman-sized numbers in this offense.

3. Fournette: LSU does not have a quarterback—or at least not a quarterback it can trust. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris will compete to start under center, but unless either player takes a massive leap forward, the Tigers will lean hard on the ground game.

4. Chubb: There's a chance we've ranked Chubb too low. Georgia head coach Mark Richt likes to run the ball, and the quarterback situation in Athens remains unclear. The only question surrounding Chubb is first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who in theory relies on the running game, but whose first year back in college represents a giant unknown. Former OC Mike Bobo will be missed.

5. Perine: Last year, Oklahoma ran a power-heavy, downhill offense. Next year, there's a good chance Riley changes that. The Air Raid thrives on spacing, speed and making defenders miss. That doesn't mean a power back can't succeed; he just likely won't be maximized. Oklahoma has a deep cast of wide receivers, which hurts Perine's case, though the lack of an established quarterback helps him.

6. Cook: Florida State needs a quarterback and leaned heavily on Cook last season. That's the good news. The bad news? Head coach Jimbo Fisher prefers a time-share. In his first four seasons at FSU, Fisher's lead back accounted for just 27.5 percent of the team's carries, per David Hale of ESPN.com. Last year, Cook accounted for 37.7 percent of Florida State's carries, which is an improvement, yes, but still far below the usage rate of Heisman-caliber rushers.

7. Hurd: Tennessee head coach Butch Jones runs a balanced, modest offense. His running backs post solid but rarely exceptional numbers. Even Isaiah Pead, who was a second-round NFL draft pick, never cracked 1,350 yards under Jones at Cincinnati. It doesn't help that Tennessee's quarterback, Joshua Dobbs, is himself a Heisman dark horse.

 

Talent  (The Subjective Part)

1. Fournette: Call me a slave to the rankings if you must. If it means backing Fournette, I'll take it. Fournette was the No. 1 overall recruit in 2014, and although he took a while to get going, he made plays in the second half of last season that only transcendent, once-or-twice-per-decade talents can make. He is 6'1", 230 pounds and runs faster than any 6'1", 230-pound human should ever run.

2. Chubb: Chubb made replacing Todd Gurley look easy, which is no small task. In fact, the best word for that task is "colossal." Chubb boasts a powerful, stocky frame (5'10", 228 lbs) but ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and posted a 41-inch vertical in high school, per Michael Carvell of the Atlanta Journal Constitution

3. Cook: You like quick feet? Cook's might be the quickest in college football. He's not as much an explosive athlete as a fluid athlete, which is intended as a compliment, as the latter comes around less often. He embarrassed defenders with his juke moves and cutbacks last season, and he should only improve his repertoire with age.

4. Hurd: What's not to like? Hurd stands 6'3", 227 pounds and breaks tackles with both speed and power. He's a long-strider with exceptional vision in whom some see shades of Darren McFadden. There's a reason I think Kamara is the No. 2 back on the roster, and it has nothing to do with my feelings about Kamara. It's because I think Hurd is a superstar.

5. Freeman: Freeman has the size (6'0", 229 lbs) to get downhill and finish near the goal line, but he also wins with balance and vision. He made an impact as a receiver in 2014, displaying soft hands and proving he could shift his weight after receptions.

6. Perine: Perine is a singular talent who only ranks this low because of the skill of the five players above him. (Translation: I swear I don't mean this as an insult; please don't come after me, Sooners fans.) At 5'11", 243 pounds, he obviously wins with power more than quickness, but he's not as stiff or rigid as one expects from a back his size.

7. Wilson: Wilson was the No. 246 overall recruit in 2014 and easily outperformed his ranking. He's a balanced combination of size (5'10", 199 lbs) and speed, neither excelling nor struggling in either area, but his best attributes are balance, decisiveness and vision.

 

Final Tally 

The Favorite: Chubb

The Long Shot: Hurd

Undervalued: Wilson

Overvalued: Perine

 

Note: Unless otherwise cited, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings. Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeigh35

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Achilles' Heel of Every Projected Top 25 Team for 2015

Across the nation, college football programs are shaking off the rust and getting ready for spring practice. 2014, for better or worse, is in the books. 2015, and all of its associated promise, is on the horizon.

While coaches don’t have a complete accounting for what they’ll have on hand this fall, due to freshmen who have yet to arrive on campus and veterans who are fighting their way back from offseason surgeries, they have a pretty good idea.

Every program, from Ohio State on down, has its strengths. But every program also has weaknesses. Spring is about trying as best you can to shore up those weaknesses and making yourself better entering fall practice.

Here’s a look at every Top 25 team’s Achilles' heel. The Top 25 ranking is taken from Bleacher Report’s most recent Top 25 filed by Ben Kercheval.

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Underrated 2016 RB Vavae Malepeai 'Can Be Feature Back for Big-Time CFB Program'

Vavae Malepeai, a 3-star running back, per 247Sports, is a guy not many are talking about. Part of the reason is that he hails from Hawaii, unable to receive the big-time press. But that is not stopping him from putting up huge numbers. 

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Malepeai's game and where he could potentially land at the next level. 

What is Malepeai's ceiling? Check out the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Austin Kendall Decommits from Tennessee: Which SEC Alternative Offers Best Fit?

Quarterback Austin Kendall ended a long-term commitment to Tennessee on Tuesday, backing off his verbal pledge on social media:

The 4-star North Carolina recruit initially joined the Volunteers' 2016 class last summer. He headlined a Tennessee recruiting haul that rated 12th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings prior to his decommitment.

Kendall, a 6'2", 205-pound passer at Cuthbertson High School, is considered one of the country's top prospects at a crucial position. Listed eighth among pro-style quarterbacks in the aforementioned composite rankings, he is valued by teams far beyond Knoxville.

Scholarship offers also arrived from Boston College, Virginia and Miami, among others, following a sophomore 2013 season that saw Kendall complete 61 percent of his passes for 1,668 yards and 20 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

He topped those totals in 2014, tossing 4,461 yards and 49 scores in 15 games. Kendall flashed versatility during his junior campaign, gaining another 519 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

His offer list has continued to expand, and diverse options—along with the three quarterbacks Tennessee signed in February—may have ultimately led him to reassess his situation.

Shortly after announcing the decommitment, Kendall unveiled three new possibilities during a conversation with Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

"Kentucky, Auburn and Florida," Kendall said.

Based on that list, it appears he's still likely to compete in the SEC when his college career commences. 

Though a decision may remain far off for Kendall, let's break down each of his three top interests.

 

Auburn

Head coach Gus Malzahn extended an offer to Kendall just a few weeks ago. Kendall is one of several quarterbacks who've drawn interest from Auburn, one of the most aggressive pursuers of the position early in this cycle.

The Tigers landed 3-star quarterback Tyler Queen during the last cycle, and he enrolled on campus early. Auburn also made a late charge at dual-threat talent Torrance Gibson, who ultimately opted to stick with his Ohio State commitment. 

Quarterbacks have enjoyed immense success under the direction on Malzahn, whether they were elite-level passers like Cam Newton or relied more on raw athleticism like Nick Marshall.

The program currently has sights set on predominantly mobile prospects in the 2016 class, namely Jawon Pass and Xavier Gaines.

It's hard to imagine that Auburn will wait long to secure a commitment at the position, considering its offensive track record and the presence of top-rated wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers in this class.

Kendall's willingness to line up a campus visit in the near future could be key. He has no planned university trips at this stage, per Bartow.

 

Florida

The Gators are an outlier here, as the program has yet to formally offer Kendall. It's a bit surprising, since new coach Jim McElwain doesn't currently have one of "his guys" at quarterback on the roster.

Florida pushed hard late in the 2015 recruiting cycle to flip Florida State commit Deondre Francois and Louisville pledge Lamar Jackson—hosting both before national signing day—but came up empty in those endeavors. 

The Gators will officially move on from a failed Jeff Driskel era with two 4-star 2014 signees. Treon Harris gained experience with mixed results as a true freshman, while Will Grier is expected to compete for the starting job after a redshirt season.

If either player performs well enough to win over the new coaching staff for the long haul, he may be in position to keep a grip on that role for several years ahead. However, McElwain is eyeing ways to improve every element of the program, and a top-tier 2016 quarterback is necessary regardless of how this 2015 battle shakes out. 

Kendall clearly has interest in the Gators, so expect Florida to take a long look at identifying him as a primary target moving forward.

 

Kentucky

The Wildcats are among Kendall's earliest suitors, and he may very well be the top offensive target for Kentucky. Head coach Mark Stoops has done an outstanding job building the foundation of his 2016 class, which already includes 14 commitments and rates fourth nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Like Florida, the Wildcats are working with a one-year gap at quarterback. Kentucky didn't sign a 2015 passer after landing top in-state prospect Drew Barker last year. 

Now a redshirt freshman, Barker will attempt to seize snaps from incumbent starter Patrick Towles as new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson dissects each candidate. This is another case in which Kendall could take advantage of limited competition behind potential starters, rapidly working his way up the depth chart.

Kentucky hasn't kept its interest a secret.

"Kentucky has been a school he has always stayed in contact with," Cuthbertson coach David Johnson told Bartow.

His older brother, Ryan, is a Wildcats wide receiver. Kendall attended a junior day in Lexington last month.

 

Best Fit

Though he may be feeling the most love from Kentucky, we like the opportunity in Gainesville best should McElwain finally pull the trigger on an offer. Florida has two promising young passers, but neither committed to the current Gators regime, so allegiance must be earned through strong play.

Stoops coveted Barker while assembling his 2014 recruiting class and is giving him a legitimate chance to claim starting duties this spring with four years of eligibility left. Success is never guaranteed for unproven quarterbacks, but loyalties may be a bit tighter between Kentucky and its young gun than what you'll find at Florida this year.

Historically, the Gators also have a stronger chance of surrounding Kendall with elite offensive talent. Florida finished hot on the 2015 recruiting trail and could emphatically capitalize next signing day with signs of a program rebound.

Auburn shouldn't be counted out, but the Tigers may view other quarterbacks in higher regard than Kendall due to their enhanced dual-threat skill sets. Malzahn may be tempted to take two quarterbacks in this class, as he tried to do last time around, but that would create a more crowded situation than Kendall would find at his other two potential SEC landing spots.

The pressure is on McElwain to find an elite quarterback in this class; one he hand-picks himself. If Kendall fits the bill for Florida, it's an opportunity the former Tennessee pledge should accept.

 

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC LB Commit Mique Juarez Will Add Versatility to Reloaded Defense

Mique Juarez is a 4-star outside linebacker, as per 247Sports' composite rankings, who is committed to USC. Juarez will help add linebacker depth to the Trojans next season. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down what impact Juarez can have for the Trojans. 

What kind of impact do you think Juarez can have in 2016? Check out the video and let us know! 

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The SEC East's 7 Most Indispensable Players

There was a glimmer of hope in the SEC East during bowl season, when the struggling division posted an unblemished 5-0 record and announced to the world that it is on the way back.

For the division to take the next step in 2015, though, several key players need to stay healthy.

On Monday, we went through the SEC West's most indispensable players based on talent, scheme and depth. We'll run down the most indispensable player for each SEC East team in this slideshow.

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Ed Orgeron Shows He Can Dominate SEC Recruiting by Landing 2017 DT Tyler Shelvin

Tyler Shelvin, a 4-star defensive tackle, per 247Sports, has officially committed to the LSU Tigers. The 6'2", 310-pound defender will be sure to bring his big-play ability to Les Miles and the Tigers' faithful. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Shelvin's game, as well as what impact he will have for the Tigers. 

What is Shelvin's ceiling? Check out the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Football: 5 Biggest 2015 Heisman Contenders

Spring practices have just started for some programs. Naturally, it's time to peer into the crystal ball and pick out some Heisman Trophy contenders with what will surely be 100 percent accuracy.  

Being a Heisman finalist is as much about fitting into a formula as anything else. Are the individual stats good enough? Are there enough highlight-reel plays sprinkled in? Is the team's record good enough? Are non-quarterbacks versatile enough? 

Believe it or not, those things matter. 

With that in mind, here are five players from the Big 12 who could become Heisman contenders in 2015. Or, more specifically, here are two with a legitimate shot and three others, should the circumstances be right, who could get some chatter. 

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FSU Commit Tyree Horton Athletic Enough to Be Anchor of Seminoles Defense

Tyree Horton is a 4-star JUCO linebacker, per the 247Sports composite rankings, who is committed to Florida State. Horton has experience at Highland Community College in Kansas, and he will be a huge asset to FSU in the future. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down why Horton is a perfect fit for FSU.

What kind of impact do you think Horton can have for the Seminoles? Check out the video and let us know!

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He Won't Get the Hype, but Jonathan Williams Might Be the SEC's Best RB

With running backs like Georgia's Nick Chubb, LSU's Leonard Fournette, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd, Arkansas' Alex Collins and Alabama's Derrick Henry in the conference, it's safe to say that the SEC will be a running back-driven conference in 2015.

Which one is the best?

Chubb has the stats, Fournette has the hype and Henry has the size. The right answer, though, might not even be the most notable name in his own backfield.

Arkansas senior Jonathan Williams.

The 6'0", 224-pounder from Allen, Texas, led the Razorbacks with 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, splitting time with Collins, who finished the year with 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Pretty impressive considering Williams has been splitting carries with Collins over the last two seasons. That's part of the plan, though.

"We're very excited about the combination of Jonathan and Alex together," head coach Bret Bielema told Bleacher Report. "Obviously, they've been able to put up impressive numbers, and the reason for that is because they share the workload."

Williams has proven over the last two seasons that he has the size to take the punishment between the tackles, the jets to be a home run hitter in space and the hands to be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.

A true complete back, Williams passed up a chance to jump to the NFL to come back to be part of what's becoming one of the most prolific running back systems in college football.

"I don't think a back that's been in our system since I've been a head coach can survive as a one-back guy. We've had guys gain almost 3,000 yards between the three of them, and there's no way one guy can do that. We've always felt really strongly about having two major guys and one role player, and I think J-Will will take the lead on the role that he'll play his year."

Take the lead, he will. 

Arkansas released its spring depth chart on Wednesday morning, and Williams found himself atop the running back depth chart without an "or" attaching him and Collins.

That's quite a compliment for Williams, who simply goes about his business in the Hog backfield.

"I think we all take Williams for granted because he lacks a little of that 'flash' factor," said Nicholas Mason, program manager and host on ESPN Radio 99.5 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. "We have to forget about a guy not making sexy plays and just look at his production. The kid just gets it done."

He gets it done in an offense that doesn't get too creative with the running game. Of the 916 plays Arkansas ran last year, 557 were running plays (60.8 percent).

Quarterback Brandon Allen was solid as a game manger last season, but Arkansas' ability to remain consistent in the running game without much of a deep threat in a passing game is a massive compliment to the running backs and the offensive line.

Sure, Chubb is a monster, Fournette has the potential to be a superstar and Henry is a physical freak who jumps off the screen.

But Williams is a proven superstar and rarely gets mentioned in the conversation.

That makes him, by far, the most underrated running back in the SEC.

 

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

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

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Will Cardale Jones End Ohio State's QB Competition Before It Even Begins?

Cardale Jones could end college football's most polarizing and intriguing position battle before it truly has a chance to take shape. 

Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett—two former Heisman Trophy candidates in their own right—may be helpless to prevent it as they recover from injuries that ended their 2014 season.

Ohio State's quarterback quandary is not only one of the most fascinating storylines in the country—it may be one of the most unique in college football history. 

There's Miller, one of the most electrifying playmakers in the country and one of just two players in Big Ten history to win the conference MVP award in back-to-back seasons.

Then there's Barrett, who not only possesses the single-best quarterback rating among returning players in the NCAA, via cfbstats.com (h/t Peter Berkes of SB Nation), but he's also coming off the most prolific season in Ohio State history (despite playing in just 12 games). 

And finally there's Jones, who led Ohio State to a historic thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game before ripping Alabama and Oregon to win the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Urban Meyer, who's coached at the collegiate level since 1986 and won three national titles, has seen a lot of things. But even he is a bit bewildered by Ohio State's quarterback dilemma. 

But Jones, the only signal-caller among this elite group who's fully healthy, has all the momentum.

Or rather, he's the only one who's capable of carrying the load at the moment.

With spring practice officially underway, Meyer provided an update on the recovery process for both Miller and Barrett on Tuesday. Miller, who's coming off shoulder surgery, is a bit ahead of schedule and throwing light lob passes. Barrett, fresh off a broken ankle suffered against Michigan, has his ability to throw, but his lack of mobility will prevent him from participating fully this spring.

Their top priority is getting healthy and avoiding setbacks.

That leaves Jones to receive the lion's share of snaps this spring. And even though he played well during Ohio State's jaunt through the postseason, he still has a lot to learn.

“Cardale is getting more reps than he's ever gotten,” Meyer said, via Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. “He became a very functional player with repetition…he's still almost a rookie—an older rookie that hasn't had a lot of reps.”

How much better will Jones get with those invaluable repetitions this spring? How much chemistry will he build with a new-look receiving corps that doesn't feature Devin Smith or Evan Spencer? 

Will he gain an insurmountable lead in this unprecedented race?

Those aren't questions Meyer is willing to entertain. The Buckeyes' head man is taking things in one day at a time.

“How does it play out? I don’t know,” Meyer said, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. “It’s day by day, player by player. That’s the focus. Not what’s going to happen or what do we foresee.”

What can be seen, however, is the opportunity that lies ahead of Jones. The Buckeyes have 13 more practices before closing out camp with the spring game on April 18.

That gives Jones 14 more opportunities to increase his lead over Miller and Barrett.

 

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Recruiters, Coaches, and Analysts Need to Watch This 2016 Recruit

Meet Aaron Manning, an unranked, talented wide receiver and running back from Rancho Cucamonga, California. He does not let rankings get in his way. He is determined to make it to the next level. 

Check out the video above, where Manning discusses his family, his detractors and his football goals. 

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Tennessee Football: Ranking the Volunteers' Top Recruiting Targets for 2016

With Tennessee taking fewer football commitments in this year's recruiting class due to sheer numbers, the Vols' 2016 start isn't quite as torrid as it has been the past couple of cycles.

That's not necessarily a bad thing as UT can be a little more selective in handpicking players than in years past.

Most of the recent activity for head coach Butch Jones in this recruiting class hasn't been positive, however.

First, linebacker Emanuel Bridges decided to reopen his recruitment after an early pledge to the Vols. Then, on Tuesday, 4-star quarterback pledge Austin Kendall decommitted.

Kendall had been shaky since Sheriron Jones gave UT three quarterback pledges in the 2015 class and lead recruiter and former offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian departed. So now, the Vols will begin the quest to sign their signal-caller in this class as well.

With just five early commitments in the '16 class, there is plenty of room for Jones and crew to work and numerous spots to fill.

Tennessee's roster features several big needs, so with those in mind as well as some elite talent with some Vols connections, and other factors such as geography and bloodlines, let's take a look at some of the top targets on UT's board.

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Amari Cooper Needs Big Pro Day to Cement Himself as Draft's Top WR

On Wednesday, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper has a chance to open some eyes at the Alabama pro day. Typically, pro days serve mid-tier prospects more than the elite, because so many teams are in attendance it gives them an up close look at the players from a specific school. But does Cooper need a big pro day? He’s already considered a top prospect.

The answer is a definitive yes. In fact, of all the top prospects in this draft, Cooper might be the one who needs a big day more than any other. The reason being that for the talented Crimson Tide star, his status as the top wide receiver in the draft is tenuous.

What’s the difference between being the first wide receiver off the board and the second? It’s hard to be certain, but there’s a real chance that the Oakland Raiders take a wide receiver with pick No. 4. After that, the next likely landing spot for a wide receiver would be the Chicago Bears at No. 7, but more probable are the Minnesota Vikings at No. 11.

There’s a significant difference between being the No. 4 pick and the No. 11 pick, so it would behoove Cooper to fend off West Virginia’s Kevin White with a big pro day.

Cooper’s talent is not in question. In terms of route running, Cooper is the best in this draft class, and he would have been among the very best of the past two drafts. As this Vine shows, Cooper’s ability to shake his defender at the line of scrimmage, then stick his foot in the dirt and square the route is elite.

Amari Cooper route running is icy 😤https://t.co/F2N21oz6EU

— Darious Crawley (@DariousCrawley2) March 4, 2015

Another strength of Cooper’s game is his ability to operate once the football is in his hands. Here’s another great example of how Cooper can make a talented defense look hapless in a near effortless manner. Lateral agility, burst off the line and power to finish are all on display.

Amari Cooper https://t.co/jgZKFhnejv

— Ndamukong Flakes (@Vaca_Frita) March 9, 2015

The movement toward White over Cooper is evident in mock drafts around the league. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. moved White ahead of Cooper in his latest mock draft.

West Virginia WR Kevin White passes Amari Cooper in @MelKiperESPN's Mock Draft 3.0. http://t.co/frsKR9jKBw (Insider) pic.twitter.com/bkFVsG9QUY

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 5, 2015

In addition, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has moved White ahead of Cooper as well. On the other side, CBSSports.com and ESPN’s Todd McShay have stuck with Cooper as their top wide receiver. Cooper has been my top wide receiver since mid-October, and while I love a lot of White’s game, the polish and versatility of Cooper give him a clear advantage.

So, what can Cooper do on Wednesday to change the minds of guys like Miller and Kiper? And more importantly, the minds of those teams in the league who favor the size and physical style of White over his?

The main thing Cooper must do is pick his spots. Cooper can’t make himself bigger or taller, so he has to do it with the drills. Cooper already showed at the NFL combine that he has areas of agility that he is superior to White. However, that is to be expected from a player a bit shorter and lighter.

If Cooper wants to open eyes on Wednesday, he can do it with a fast 40-yard dash. Back in March of last year, Cooper ran an unofficial 4.31 40 at the Alabama 2014 pro day, according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. Obviously, this is as much legend as anything, but if Cooper could pull a sub-4.4 40 on Wednesday, teams will have to take notice.

It is a given that Cooper is going to catch everything that’s thrown at him. This has been the case during his entire career. Even with that, White is charging on him fast. Cooper displaying truly elite speed would marry so well with his skill set that teams would have to take notice.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Unheralded SEC College Football Players Who Would Be Stars Elsewhere

As members of the premier conference in college football, SEC programs put together some of the best recruiting classes in the nation. The most sought-after recruits in the country headline these classes, but there are others brought in for depth who eventually perform as well as their blue-chip teammates.

If they played in inferior conferences, these guys would be the stars of their teams.

There are so many in the SEC who fall into this group, but which 10 would have the greatest star potential? That's what we'll try to figure out here.

College success doesn't always translate to being drafted into the NFL, but the best of the college game at least get an opportunity to prove themselves at the professional level.

Therefore, NFL Draft Scout's player comparisons according to class were heavily considered when forming this list. Also considered was how highly (or lowly) regarded these players were coming out of high school, according to ESPNU's rankings. In this scenario, the fewer stars, the better.

With that, here are the players.   

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4-Star DB C.J. Pollard Reveals Top 4 to B/R: Where Does He Fit Best?

C.J. Pollard is the type of defensive back who wants the title "do-it-all athlete."

Need him to play cornerback? No problem. Need him to line up at safety? Piece of cake.

Whether the 4-star defensive back from California's Junipero Serra High School is shutting down receivers or delivering the big hit, Pollard has been one to watch. On Sunday, after earning an invitation to The Opening, Pollard broke down what he called his "unofficial top four," a quartet of schools that currently lead the way in his recruiting process.

Emphasis on "currently."

"Right now, I'm looking at USC, Arizona State, Utah and Michigan," said Pollard, the nation's No. 16 safety. "They are four schools that really catch my attention. Not to say that another school can't come in, but I'm thinking about visiting those schools [officially]."

Pollard's versatility would be an asset at any one of the four schools, but if level of comfort is playing the X-factor, look for USC to win this battle. The school is minutes away from home, and he said he loves the "family vibe" and the potential of the program under head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Plus, the Trojans are fresh off landing the nation's No. 2 recruiting class for 2015, barely losing the No. 1 spot to Alabama. He's expecting USC to be good for quite some time.

Still, there's plenty of time for Pollard to make a decision, and contrary to what some may believe, there are no favorites on his list—only potential favorites.

Pollard, who measured at 6'1" and 182 pounds at The Opening's Los Angeles regional, has his reasons for liking all four of the programs high on his list. Utah was his first offer. He said he's taking an unofficial visit there on April 25.

USC has the proximity edge, and he's familiar with the program. Arizona State, however, will get his next unofficial visit. He has a track meet in Chandler, Arizona, and Tempe is roughly a 20-minute drive away.

Pollard said he's a big fan of Pac-12 football. The wild card of the bunch will be Michigan. While he noted Michigan's rich football tradition, he's very intrigued by potentially being coached by Jim Harbaugh.

"That's the school Coach Harbaugh's taking over, and nothing but greatness is expected," Pollard said. "With his NFL expertise, he should be able to master the college level. I think after he gets a season under his belt, that school will end up being dominant."

USC leads Pollard's 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. In fact, of the nine predictions made for the defensive back, all nine project him to play for Sarkisian and the Trojans.

Pollard said he's planning on taking his time with the process. He added that he will keep his ears open for other offers. LSU, Alabama and Florida State, Pollard said, are three schools that could sneak into contention if they were to offer.

"If they have interest in me, I have interest in them," Pollard said.

Pollard showed on Sunday that he has the skills to play anywhere. He was outstanding at the Los Angeles regional and earned an invitation to The Opening national event this summer in Oregon. It's an event he called "football heaven" for college football recruits.

At the regional competition, Pollard ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. He also threw the power ball 37.5 feet and recorded a vertical jump of 32.9 inches. It was during the actual defensive back drills, however, when he shined the most, showcasing quick feet and good overall instincts.

The Opening, he said, was a goal of his. Finding a college home is just as important—if not more.

"I just want to show that I can play wherever I'm needed," Pollard said. "I think most like me at safety, but I can play corner and show off my coverage skills. If not, I'll just be a straight-up DB, down to play wherever my team needs me."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. Player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

ACC Football: Most Important 2015 Spring Practice Battles

Players graduate, injuries happen and changes need to be made. Regardless of the situation, important spring practice battles are happening all across the nation. As for the ACC, a few big-time positional battles truly stand out heading into the 2015 college football season.

For teams like the Louisville Cardinals and Florida State Seminoles—sitting with multiple options at the quarterback position—the choices won't be easy.

As for other teams, such as the Virginia Tech Hokies, the battles for multiple starting jobs will be heated. The battles for starting gigs are going on throughout the ACC, so let's take a look at a few of the most important ones to watch out for.

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Bold Predictions for Ohio State Football Spring Practice

The Ohio State Buckeyes open spring practices as the reigning national champions fresh off their unbelievable season in which they battled back from an early-season defeat while going through all three of their quarterbacks.

Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson caught up with Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer Ben Axelrod to discuss all things Ohio State as it's in the midst of its spring practices.

Is the QB position Cardale Jones' to lose? How dominant can the defense be in 2015? Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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