NCAA Football News

Notre Dame Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2015 Schedule

Notre Dame football begins spring practice in seven short days, and the Irish kick off the 2015 regular season in less than six months.

So with football around the corner, let’s turn our attention to the upcoming season and analyze Notre Dame’s 2015 schedule. We’ll rank the hardest games for the Irish, considering timing and venue—everything that goes into the game—not just the opponent.

At first glance, Notre Dame’s 2015 slate of games may not be as challenging as its 2014 schedule on paper. When we power ranked the 2014 opponents last summer, there were seven teams drawing top-25 consideration (Louisville, North Carolina, Arizona State, Michigan, Stanford, USC and Florida State).

This year? There are only five teams—Georgia Tech, Clemson, Navy, USC and Stanford—on the 2015 docket that won at least eight games in 2014. The combined 2014 record of Notre Dame’s 2015 opponents was 82-71 (.536).

But of course, it’s way too early to jump to any conclusions. Last year, we pegged Northwestern as Notre Dame’s third-easiest game and Michigan as its second-hardest game. Welp.

Let’s dive into the 2015 edition, ranking the opponents based on their 2014 success, their additions and losses and the scheduling logistics.

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USC Pro Day 2015: Recap, Reaction for Leonard Williams and Top Trojans

When USC throws a pro day, the entire NFL shows up.

Representatives from all 32 NFL teams attended Wednesday afternoon's showcase, where they watched 15 former Trojans perform an assortment of on-field workouts. 

Here is the full list of participants, courtesy of USC Athletics:

Defensive tackle Leonard Williams, a projected top-five draft pick, forewent numerical testing after a strong performance at the scouting combine in February. He did, however, perform positional workouts.

Here he is showing some nimble footwork:

And here he is treating a blocking sled like a throw pillow:

Regardless, Williams' decision to take things easy opened the door for other players. The biggest beneficiary? Wide receiver George Farmer.

Farmer was the No. 8 overall recruit in the country in 2011, but injuries derailed his college career. He caught five total passes his first three seasons and missed all of 2013 with an injury, but he returned to catch 25 balls for 314 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games as a junior.

Eager to bank a paycheck while he's healthy, Farmer forewent his senior year and declared for the draft. His decision earned widespread skepticism—again: He's caught 30 career passes—but he justified his confidence with an official 4.35 in the 40-yard dash.

Farmer didn't attend the scouting combine, but his 40 would have tied Chris Conley (Georgia) and Kevin White (West Virginia) as the No. 3 mark among receivers. Considering his listed size (6'1", 220 lbs), that's a phenomenal number to have posted.

Farmer's vertical jump (34.5") left a lot to be desired, but Wednesday was a big day regardless. That 40 time earned him some money, and so did posting 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor, the higher-regarded NFL prospect, and running back Buck Allen stood on most of their scores from the combine. Agholor ran a 4.42 40 in Indianapolis, and Allen ran a 4.53, so there was no good reason for either to run again.

Agholor and Allen ran position drills, which is where they'll make their money anyway. Each has such a natural understanding of his position, especially Agholor, whose quantifiable performance at the combine—when combined with his intangible qualities—should make him a late first-round or early second-round draft pick.

Joel Klatt of Fox Sports raved about Agholor's hands:

Allen told reporters he scheduled a workout with the Carolina Panthers, who recently released running back DeAngelo Williams and must add young legs behind Jonathan Stewart. He will conduct the workout for Carolina Friday, per Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:

Shaw missed most of the season with ankle injuries—injuries derived from that infamous three-story fall—and so he didn't provide a lot of senior tape. Scouts arrived at pro day with an eye on his positional workouts, and though he didn't turn heads, he looked fine:

Any other notable performances? Sure.

Let's roll through them rapid-fire:

  • According to Real Sports Entertainment, linebacker Hayes Pullard ran a 4.59 40. If someone shares that time, DON'T BELIEVE THEM. Officially, Pullard clocked a 4.74 that was right on par with his time from the combine (4.78). If and when he's drafted, it will be for his strength, his leadership and his production—not his speed.
  • Tight end Randall Telfer skipped pro day after suffering a Lisfranc injury, per Michael Lev of The Orange Country Register. Telfer also skipped most of the combine, so this news comes as a major disappointment.
  • Former Trojan D.J. Morgan participated after retiring from the team in September. He retired so he could focus on track but always maintained that he had eyes for the NFL. Morgan played both running back and defensive back in Los Angeles, and though it's unclear where his future lies at the next level—or even what "next level" means—he did make noise with a 39.5-inch vertical.

 

Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings

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Spring Game Dates, Times, and TV Options for Every Top 25 Team

The calendar might not say spring for another week or so, but the sounds of pads smacking and whistles blowing say otherwise.

Spring football is well underway throughout the country, with most FBS teams in the midst of their allotted 16 practice days during a five-week span during the offseason. These workouts help new players get acclimated to the program while allowing upgraded systems to get implemented.

This culminates with an end-of-practice exhibition or scrimmage usually referred to as a spring game, which is open to the public and can serve as an early chance to see the stars of next season's team.

Spring games are scheduled nearly every week between now (Colorado holds its scrimmage on March 15) through early May, with Duke having already held its game on Feb. 28.

Using Bleacher Report's post-signing day Top 25 as a guide, we've put together a handy list of the dates, times and (when applicable) TV info for fans looking to watch a school's spring game. 

 

NOTE: Spring game television information is current as of Wednesday, March 11.

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Frank Iheanacho Arrested: Latest Details, Mugshot and More on Texas A&M WR

Texas A&M wide receiver Frank Iheanacho has reportedly been suspended from taking part in any athletics activities after he was arrested Tuesday in Brazos County, Texas.   

According to Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicleciting the Brazos County justice system website, Iheanacho was "arrested on charges of failure to identify and providing false/fictitious information":

The charges stem from a February shoplifting incident in a Bryan Wal-Mart, according to KZNE Radio in College Station, which first reported the arrest. Iheanacho, a sophomore from Westside High, posted $2,000 bond on Tuesday, the day of his arrest.

Iheanacho has been suspended from all athletics activities per athletic department policy, according to an A&M spokesman.

Zwerneman also provided a look at Iheanacho's mugshot on Twitter:

Iheanacho played sparingly as a freshman in 2014, catching just two passes for 23 yards, but he was one of the top incoming receivers. He was ranked as the 13th-best wideout and the 89th-best player overall by 247Sports coming out of high school. 

The Aggies finished 2014 with a 7-5 record and defeated West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. Iheanacho caught one pass for 13 yards in the game. Zwerneman's report does mention the team is currently going through spring practice before spring break next week. 

The school, as well as head coach Kevin Sumlin, will certainly monitor Iheanacho's situation before making any final determinations about his football eligibility. 

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Redshirt Freshmen Ready to Contribute

As coach Brian Kelly enters his sixth season at Notre Dame, the program stands on solid ground. While both 2013 and 2014 fell short of their high-end expectations, Kelly has the program on the best footing we've seen since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines. 

That has allowed the Irish to build their depth chart and stockpile talent that develops on the right timeline. 

A young roster in 2014 turns into an experienced group in 2015. And after sitting out as true freshmen last year, expect five redshirt freshmen to make their mark come this fall. 

With spring practice set to begin next week, let's look at five redshirt freshmen who are poised to make an impact. 

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Urban Meyer and Ohio State's Biggest Offseason Challenge

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State won't officially take the field as college football's defending national champion until Sept. 7, when the Buckeyes head to Blacksburg for a revenge game against the only team to beat them last season, Virginia Tech.

But that doesn't mean Urban Meyer will have to wait another six months to find the first opponent of the 2015 campaign.

It's a battle that started on the first day of Ohio State's spring practice on Tuesday and could continue all the way through a potential title defense in next season's College Football Playoff. With a roster full of young players eight weeks removed from winning the national championship—in football-crazed Columbus no less—Meyer knows he'll have to keep an eye on complacency as the Buckeyes inch toward the actual season.

"Do we have to be aware? We're human beings, man," Meyer responded when asked if he has to watch out for a sense of self-entitlement around his program. "Last year, I don't think we had that sense of entitlement at all. This year, I'm watching it."

Meyer said he hasn't seen any of it from his players—yet—but there's still nearly six months to go until the start of the season. The three-time national champion head coach has been in this position before, defending titles at Florida following the 2006 and 2008 seasons, neither time doing so successfully.

That wasn't necessarily due to complacency—the '07 Gators lost a lot of talent, and Meyer's '08 squad went undefeated before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game—but the fourth-year Ohio State head coach has long stated his preference to coach an "angry" football team.

With a roster full of players who have just reached college football's pinnacle, that might not be the easiest attitude to install. After all, what's there to be angry about at Ohio State right now?

But if the words of Meyer's players are any indication, the Buckeyes aren't having any trouble coming up with sources of motivation—whether they be real or imaginary.

“We know that people are always going to doubt us, so that’s going to be a big thing for us,” senior linebacker Joshua Perry said after Tuesday's practice. "We know that we have a target on our back and that people are going to doubt us. We’ve still got something to prove every day that we go out there.”

Doubters? For Ohio State? Just two months removed from a national title run, 14 starters returning and three of the best quarterbacks in the country playing for arguably the nation's best coach? There can't be many.

But that hasn't stopped the Buckeyes from finding them.

“We did lose players who were vital to that team last year," left tackle Taylor Decker said. “I can see why there are reasons people could doubt us.

"Not that I believe in those,” he then added.

But while Perry and Decker—both three-year starters and presumed captains for the 2015 team—are already busy trying to maintain their team's competitive edge, they both are aware of the sense of complacency their head coach is fighting against. Make no mistake, Ohio State has gone from the hunters to the hunted after a playoff run that included wins over top-ranked Alabama and second-seeded Oregon.

It would be a shock if the Buckeyes weren't the country's preseason No. 1 team, and a favorable schedule would make anything short of a second consecutive playoff appearance a disappointing season. Bovada (via Odd Shark) currently lists Ohio State as a 4-1 favorite to repeat as national champion, the next closest team being Alabama at 7-1.

Decker, however, isn't ready to let his teammates buy it.

"It’s kind of scary, a team coming off a big season like we did, to have a letdown," the senior said. "You don’t want guys to think they’ve arrived or be entitled to winning games.”

Only many of these young Buckeyes have already arrived, the losses in last year's lineup being limited to just four players who were invited to last month's NFL Scouting Combine. Ohio State will return the current Heisman Trophy front-runner in Ezekiel Elliott, one of the nation's best defenders in Joey Bosa and one of the country's top quarterbacks—whether it be Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller who starts at signal-caller against the Hokies in September.

That, of course, is a long ways away, which is both good and bad for the Buckeyes. On the one hand, Ohio State has half a year left of hearing how great it is before taking the field for a game again. On the other, Meyer has that much time to guard against it.

"I don't feel it," Meyer said. "If I do, we dive right in. Not a whole lot of whispering. We dive right in and see what the problem is."

For now, Meyer insists he's more focused on seeing how his two new assistant coaches fit in with the Buckeyes' already established culture rather than forming an identity for next season's team. But if you listen to his players, the process already seems to be taking place.

"It wouldn’t be as fun if everybody was always cheering you on all the time," Perry said. "You kind of need those doubters to give you a little bit of that extra edge.”

It still remains unclear exactly who those doubters are. Just don't try telling that to the Buckeyes—they have mindset, and they're trying to maintain it.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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USC, Stanford or Michigan? Decision for 4-Star QB 'Coming Real Soon'

California 4-star quarterback K.J. Costello recently announced that USC, Stanford and Michigan are his top three choices. Following Sunday's Elite 11 Los Angeles regional, Costello said a decision is "coming real soon" and could be announced in the next couple of weeks.

"For the most part, I'm getting real close to a decision," Costello said. "It's kind of hard choosing from five or six schools. That's why I narrowed everything down to three where I feel I can play and be happy."

Costello said all three schools have their advantages and choosing a winner has been "the hardest decision of my life." USC is the school closest to his home in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, but, per his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions, Stanford is the favorite to land him.

Costello said he's attended USC games since he was five years old. He's a Trojans fan, but he added that being a fan has nothing to do with making a choice for his future.

"Coach Sark [Steve Sarkisian] is an offensive guy. I feel like I connect with them on the offensive side," Costello said. "He brings that uptempo style out of the gun with insane athletes on the perimeter. I've been to some practices, and they're getting a lot done on a day-to-day basis. He's doing a great job."

Costello added that he likes the academic reputation USC has. From an academic perspective, few universities can compare to Stanford's prestige. Costello said that Stanford's football reputation is beginning to catch up to its academic reputation, which makes the school an attractive option.

Stanford was the first school to communicate with Costello, back in his freshman year. He called Stanford a "package deal," in reference to playing football and getting a good education.

"Stanford is top of the line with the education and with football," said Costello, who has an interest in majoring in either business or engineering. "I just want to align myself with great people when I'm finished with football. Stanford's a great place to do that."

Many believe the race will come down to the two California schools, but Costello said Michigan is very much alive and shouldn't be considered a dark horse. He took an unofficial visit to Michigan during the summer.

Being coached by Jim Harbaugh is something that Costello has thought about. He added that he's heard from Harbaugh almost as much as he's heard from quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch.

"He's a coach I have a ton of respect for," Costello said. "I watched him in the NFL. He's an intense guy, and I like his style. I think he can turn the program around in two years."

Costello said all three schools fit well, and he said a decision will come when it becomes right in his head. It's a decision he said he has to make without emotions involved.

"The past month or so, I wake up with a different school on my mind, and I'm ready to commit that day," Costello said. "It's an emotional rush. I can't just say 'yes' and get it over with. I want to make a good decision.

"It could happen this week, maybe next week. If I wake up three or four days in a row with the same thought, I'm going to pull the trigger."

 

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

 

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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!

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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! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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