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10 College Football Players Who Will Take Huge Strides Forward in 2015

As good as Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott’s 1,878 rushing yards looked in 2014, did you know he only posted 262 yards in 2013?

That’s when he was a freshman playing behind Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall, seniors who posted 1,521 and 536 yards, respectively.

Elliott, once a 4-star prospect from St. Louis, proves an important point—even if you’re good, really good, the situation has to be just right for you to flourish.

The following athletes are all really good, but each has been waiting, some longer than others, for the right combination of factors. 

The time is here.

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Alabama Football: Redshirt Freshmen Set for Breakout 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Fourteen scholarship members of Alabama’s 24-member No. 1-ranked 2014 recruiting class saw the field for the Crimson Tide in 2014.

For the other 10, they sat on the sidelines for a redshirt year while their teammates went to an SEC Championship and the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But several of them could be in line for a much different 2015.

Through offseason work and spring practice, a handful showed they could play big roles in 2015.

Let’s take a look at some redshirt freshmen who could breakout next season.

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UCLA Football: Who Is Replacing Every Former Bruin Taken in 2015 NFL Draft?

The UCLA football team will be tasked with replacing three former Bruins taken in the 2015 NFL draft. 

It will not be easy by any stretch of the situation. Jim Mora's squad will have to account for the loss of its most experienced defensive lineman a season ago (Owamagbe Odighizuwa), a Butkus Award-winning linebacker (Eric Kendricks) and arguably the most successful starting quarterback in program history (Brett Hundley). 

Fortunately, UCLA's head man has built up sufficient depth throughout the squad. While it's unlikely that the eventual replacements will replicate the production accrued by Kendricks and Hundley, there are some talented options waiting in the wings. 

This piece will look at three current members of the team ready to step up and assume the vacant roles left by the Bruins' NFL draftees.  

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UCLA Football: Who Is Replacing Every Former Bruin Taken in 2015 NFL Draft?

The UCLA football team will be tasked with replacing three former Bruins taken in the 2015 NFL draft. It will not be easy by any stretch of the situation...

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Florida State Football: How Would Everett Golson Fit in Jimbo Fisher's Offense?

When news broke last week that Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson would indeed transfer after graduating this spring, after months of speculation, the list of potential teams he could play for in 2015 read like a list of finalists for a 5-star high school recruit.

Since then, potential pitfalls have surfaced that could keep Golson from heading to the SEC, parts of the Big Ten or to Texas, Notre Dame's first opponent this fall. Not part of that initial short list was Florida State, but now the Seminoles might be the front-runner to land the fifth-year senior, according to 247Sports' Ryan Bartow:

Whether Golson actually ends up playing for the Seminoles is still uncertain, as neither the player nor the school has commented on the subject. Tom D'Angelo of The Palm Beach Post believes the interest at this point is one-sided:

Golson has started 23 games for one of the country's most high-profile programs, including 11 as a redshirt freshman in 2012 when he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game. He has thrown for 5,850 yards with 41 touchdowns and rushed for another 14 scores.

From a talent standpoint, Golson is far more accomplished than any quarterback on Florida State's roster. With Jameis Winston now in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie camp, the competition to replace him remains ongoing but is currently lead by junior Sean Maguire, Winston's backup in 2014. The Seminoles also have sophomore John Franklin III, redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino and true freshman De'Andre Johnson battling for the starting job, while freshman Deondre Francois arrives in the summer.

But just because Golson has started elsewhere and had success doesn't mean he'd be able to slide right into Jimbo Fisher's complicated system. The fact that FSU might even be interested in Golson shows how hard it is to play quarterback there, as Maguire is in his fourth year in the program and wasn't been able to lock down the gig during spring practice.

Looking back on Fisher's time in Tallahassee, the only time he's gone with a quarterback with two or fewer years in the system was with Winston in 2013. But Winston was a special case, one of the smartest players in college history, and the fact he was a redshirt freshman made no difference.

Before him, though, EJ Manuel didn't become a full-time starter until his fourth year in the program, and in Fisher's first year in 2010 he stuck with returning starter (and fifth-year senior) Christian Ponder rather than skew younger.

If Golson were to transfer to FSU, his first exposure to the Seminoles' playbook—other than what he could see from the opposite sideline last October when Notre Dame played in Tallahassee—wouldn't come until preseason training camp begins in late July. That would make for a very steep learning curve, and with such a short time to impress he'd have to blow Fisher's mind and blow away the competition to become the starter.

There are similarities between FSU's offense and what Golson ran at Notre Dame but not many. The Fighting Irish were more spread-oriented, compared to FSU's pro-style approach (which keeps sending quarterbacks to the NFL, unlike Brian Kelly's system at Notre Dame).

Bud Elliott of SB Nation's Tomahawk Nation blog weighed in on Golson's potential fit at FSU over the weekend, noting that Golson has the arm strength and mobility to rival what Winston did the past two years, but the rest of his makeup is full of questions.

Despite his physical skills, Golson was also a turnover machine against Power 5 competition, throwing more than an interception per game and adding 12 fumbles. He had five games in which he failed to hit the seven yards/attempt mark, and was a 55 percent or worse passer in more than half of his games against the Power 5.

Elliott also noted that Golson's size (6'0", 200 lbs) might make it difficult to throw effectively out of a pocket, which could then force FSU to tweak its system to make him fit. And if he struggled with the passing, it could mean converting him more or a run-first quarterback, requiring further schematic adjustments.

Because of the talent that FSU has at the skill positions, though, Golson might not have to do much to be successful. Hand it off to Dalvin Cook and Jacques Patrick, throw it up for Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane, Bobo Wilson and George Campbell, and just try not to turn it over like he did during the second half of 2014 for Notre Dame. The game plan wouldn't need to be as complicated as for existing FSU passers, in effect turning Golson into a game manager.

However, Golson's legs can still beat you, something that can't be said of most so-called game managers. That added element could more than make up for any shortcomings in the passing game.

If Golson and FSU ultimately choose to link up for 2015, it will be with the aim of having him be the starter and getting him prepared for an NFL career. Fisher has a proven track record of developing NFL quarterbacks, with Ponder, Manuel and Winston all getting drafted in the first round, and if he could manage something close to that with Golson it would further enhance his reputation as a QB guru.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Would Everett Golson Make Florida State a National Title Contender?

According to 247Sports'Ryan Bartow, the Florida State Seminoles are the leaders to land Everett Golson. Golson transferred from Notre Dame last week. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Golson to Florida State and what it would mean for Sean Maguire. 

Will Everett Golson land at FSU? Check out the video and let us know! 

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2016 DE Commit Julian Okwara's Speed Will Fuel Success on Notre Dame Defense

According to 247Sports, Julian Okwara is a 4-star weak-side defensive end who is committed to Notre Dame.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Okwara's impact on the field.

How good can Julian Okwara be at ND? Check out the video and let us know!

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Predicting Preseason AP Top 25 Poll for 2015 College Football Season

Whoever said rankings don't matter has somehow managed to ignore how big a deal the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 Poll is in college football.

Released in the weeks leading up to each season, this prediction of the upcoming year's top teams is one of the most talked-about items of the offseason. It's as much of a guess as anything, with voters setting their ballots based on a combination of past results and expected performance while also factoring in any significant news that's occurred since the last games were played in January.

According to sportswriter Phil Steele, the tendency is for voters to give the most weight to the makeup of returning starters, how teams did in their bowl game and where they ended last season in the rankings.

Even though we're still more than 16 weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, we'll attempt to project what this year's poll will look like. Using Steele's criteria as a guideline, here's our take on what the AP voters will say in a few months.

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Recruiting Rivalry Breakdown: Will Texas or Texas A&M Land 2016's No. 1 Safety?

Brandon Jones, a 5-star safety, per 247Sports, has not yet decided on where he will continue at the next level. With the two Texas powerhouses, Texas A&M and Texas, battling it out for his services, it will be interesting to see who lands the talented star. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Damon Sayles joined Stephen Nelson to break down Jones' game as well as the recruiting battle that is currently ensuing. 

Where will Jones land at the next level? Check out the video and let us know! 

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Which Former Oklahoma Star QB Does 2016 Commit Austin Kendall Resemble?

The top quarterbacks are showing what they have at all of the Opening events across the country, but what happens when we take a close look at some of them?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder takes a closer look at 2016 QB Austin Kendall. 

How good do you think Kendall can be? Check out the video and let us know!

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Offensive and Defensive Linemen Steal the Show at The Opening Charlotte

The Opening regionals have become a place for skill players to shine. But out in Charlotte, it was the defensive and offensive linemen who stole the show. 

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Damon Sayles highlight the players who stood out on each side of the ball in the video above. 

Which players performed the best? Check out the video and let us know!

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Big Ten Football: Ranking the Top 15 Players Heading into 2015

Despite already being the home of the reigning national champion and first-ever winner of the College Football Playoff, the Big Ten is only looking to continue to improve its reputation heading into the 2015 season.

After being much-maligned for the better part of the past decade, the conference now appears to be on an upswing, thanks to Ohio State's 2014 postseason run, consecutive major bowl wins from Michigan State, a steady stream of success at Wisconsin, and Michigan and Penn State programs that appear to be on the rise.

But while there's now plenty of star power to be found on the Big Ten sidelines in terms of head coaches, the players aren't too shabby either, as the conference will return an abundance of talent in the upcoming season.

With that in mind, here's a look at the top 15 players who will call the Big Ten home in 2015.

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Top 10 College Football Pass-Rushing Duos for 2015 Season

Look, nightmares are common for everybody. Someone who's much smarter than all of us is probably examining their meaning right about now too—you know, how they reflect things in our lives and stuff.

The following pass-rushing duos are the things nightmares are made of for offensive coordinators around college football. As an offseason present for them, we've decided to rank the 10 best. 

2014 stats used were broken down into sacks and quarterback hurries. While last year's numbers were considered, they weren't the only criteria. Are players coming back from injury? Will there be JUCO transfers joining the fold this year? 

With that, let's get to the list. Unless you're too scared. 

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Underrated 2016 Recruits Who Showed out at the Opening Charlotte

At the Opening in Charlotte, North Carolina, some of the nation's top recruits brought their A-games. Which of them took our recruiting experts by surprise?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the sleeper recruits who are making an impact. 

Which of these under-the-radar recruits can make a huge impact when they get to the college level?

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Which Recruits Are Shooting Up Boards After the Opening Charlotte?

The Charlotte Regional offered some surprising performances from prospects looking to make a huge jump in the upcoming recruiting cycles. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder is joined by Bleacher Report Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles to discuss who were the fastest risers from this past Opening. 

Which recruits are you most excited to see in the upcoming seasons? Check out the video and let us know!

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Pittsburgh Steelers Weekend Workout at Georgia's Facility Huge for Recruiting

The Georgia Bulldogs football program perennially produces players who eventually compete at the professional level. However, several established NFL veterans invaded Athens on Saturday to polish their skills at team practice facilities. 

First-year Georgia offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer welcomed the core of a potentially prolific Pittsburgh Steelers offensive attack, working through drills with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and a trio of wide receivers—Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton:

None of these Steelers players attended the university, but they opted to tune up for their upcoming training camp by spending some time with Schottenheimer, who previously served as offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and New York Jets. 

They were joined on the field by his father, Marty Schottenheimer, who won 200 NFL games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. A third generation of Schottenheimers, including Brian's son Sutton, also spent time with the pack of Pittsburgh standouts:

The Steelers featured one of the league's most well-balanced and explosive offenses in 2014. Brian Schottenheimer received largely mixed reviews during his NFL tenure, but he clearly commands respect from athletes who competed for and against him.

He replaced Mike Bobo in Athens after the longtime Bulldogs offensive coordinator accepted the head coach position at Colorado State. Despite his NFL notoriety, Schottenheimer does have a college football background.

His playing career included reserve quarterback roles at Kansas and Florida. He served as an assistant at Syracuse and Southern California before leaping to the NFL in 2001.

Most top college football prospects have aspirations of extending their career beyond four years on campus. Securing the payday and fame that can accompany an NFL opportunity is typically among top priorities, so the presence of a coach who has directed professional rosters for a the past decade-and-a-half is appealing.

Schottenheimer's ability to recruit offensive weapons to Athens will be greatly aided when young athletes see current NFL players taking the time to visit Georgia and learn some new tricks from the Georgia assistant. 

The Bulldogs are well aware an event like this can stir up positive publicity on the recruiting trail:

Schottenheimer inherited quite an offensive haul in Georgia's 2016 class when he came to town. The group already featured commitments from No. 1 overall quarterback recruit Jacob Eason and 4-star offensive tackle Ben Cleveland.

He has since assembled more promising pieces on that side of the ball, highlighted by top in-state offensive lineman E.J. Price and 4-star wide receiver Darion Anderson

The exposure of a visit from two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger, reigning NFL receiving leader Antonio Brown and their fellow Steelers playmakers should add more momentum to Georgia's recruiting efforts on offense.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Minor NCAA Violations Won't Impact Jim Harbaugh's Momentum at Michigan

Just five months into the job, first-year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan are the subjects of an NCAA issue.

OK, so it's not that dramatic. It's a minor issue. Blame it on the summertime news cycle.

It's been quite an offseason for Harbaugh, whose Twitter account might be the best thing to happen to college football in 2015. Additionally, Michigan's "Summer Swarm" satellite camp tour is intended to drive home Harbaugh's return to college football and the resurrection of the Wolverines program.

None of that will be affected by the latest news from Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com. According to Baumgardner, Michigan recently self-reported four secondary/Level III violations spanning from December to April. The self-reported violations are as follows:

1. Michigan safeties coach Mike Zordich speaking about incoming graduate transfer Wayne Lyons before Lyons had signed with the Wolverines.

2. Harbaugh personally donating an autographed team helmet and jersey to a benefit auction. The donation was not reviewed by compliance, and the items were—unknown to Harbaugh—used toward a scholarship fund.

3. Allowing an unnamed recruit to sit in a premium-seating area with coaches during a Michigan hockey game.

4. Creating/sending impermissible electronic correspondence/recruiting materials to an unnamed recruit.

But what you really need to know is this, from Baumgardner:

All four of the self-reported violations were obtained by MLive via a Freedom of Information request. All Level III violations are considered to be minor, and none of Michigan's self-reports resulted in the loss of eligibility by any student-athlete or coach.

In all instances, coaches/staffers were educated by compliance, and no further issues came as a result.

This isn't even a wrist slap from the NCAA. At best, it's bordering on a wrist graze. It's an admitted "whoops, sorry about that" from Michigan and an "eh, no big deal" from the NCAA.

Regardless of the nature of the violations, the big thing is that no one on Michigan's coaching staff faces any consequences that could jeopardize recruiting efforts. Michigan's 2016 class will be the first to have Harbaugh's stamp on it. The relationships that develop into verbal commitments that morph into national signing day signatures are formed during these summer months.

As far as recruiting pitches go, Michigan is concentrating on rebuilding the reputation of the program and selling the future. Why? That's pretty much all it has at the moment. This is a program that's been dominated on the field and in player development by rivals Michigan State and Ohio State over the past several years. And others are using that to their advantage.

Appearing on ESPN's Championship Drive podcast recently, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio took a shot at programs selling hope, which could have been directed at Michigan. "Right now, we're selling results," Dantonio said about recruiting. "I've said this over and over. We're selling results. Other people are selling hope."

If it was a veiled shot at Michigan, it wasn't completely inaccurate—even if Wolverines tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh took exception to it:

There's nothing wrong with selling hope/potential/work/the future—whatever you want to call it. Harbaugh just needs all hands on deck for that, whether it's in the form of summer camps or visits.

If the NCAA had taken any action, no matter how small, it could have hurt those efforts. It didn't, though, so to paraphrase a great philosopher: Ain't no party like a Jim Harbaugh Party 'cause the Jim Harbaugh Party don't stop.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.

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Ohio State Stat Projections: Will Ezekiel Elliott Top His Breakout 2014 Season?

Ezekiel Elliott was absolutely unstoppable in Ohio State's run through the first College Football Playoff, leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives his predictions for Elliott's stats next season.

What kind of year will the OSU running back have? Check out the video and let us know!

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Top Performers from the Opening Regional Charlotte

The 2016 recruiting class is rounding into form, with many of the top athletes making names for themselves at various regional outings across the nation. The Opening Charlotte was the latest installment where these players got to hone their craft. 

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Recruiting Analyst Damon Sayles broke down which players impressed them the most out in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

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Auston Robertson Reveals New Top 3: Odds on Where Versatile 4-Star Lands

As the top-ranked recruit from the state of Indiana, defensive end Auston Robertson showed on May 3 at The Opening Chicago regional that the ranking was justified. Per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, he won the majority of his reps against quality offensive linemen.

A quick, strong athlete who only seems to get better each week, Robertson has his share of schools to choose from. Before the camp, the nation's No. 7 weak-side defensive end discussed recruiting and reconfirmed to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts his top three of Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Somewhere between then and last Thursday, however, the 6'5", 230-pound athlete has decided not only to switch things up in his top three, but also make a move that has the potential to stir up an always-on recruiting battle between rivals.

Robertson reportedly has replaced Ohio State with Michigan in his top three, according to ESPN.com's Tom VanHaaren (h/t College Spun's Dan Lyons), and he's set to announce his commitment on June 7 at the RAS Camp in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Will Robertson, who is from Fort Wayne, stay in state or choose out of the two Big Ten schools representing Michigan?

Robertson would be a great defensive addition for all three programs. He has a quick first step, and he uses his length to disrupt run and pass plays. Robertson also has the skills to be a productive tight end at the college level.

With a little less than a month before decision day, here are odds for each school in Robertson's top three.

 

Michigan State (3-1)

With Michigan taking Ohio State's place in the top three, Michigan State and Notre Dame both have a chance to pull away in the race for Robertson. The Spartans appear to have a slight edge over the Irish currently.

Per his 247Sports timeline, Robertson last visited Michigan State last month. He's made a few trips to East Lansing since receiving an offer in September. He's built a strong relationship with the majority of the coaches, particularly defensive line coach Ron Burton, and, according to Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com, he keeps in contact with several players in the Spartans' 2016 class.

Building relationships is half of the recruiting process. Robertson's comfort level with Michigan State gives the program an advantage as he inches closer to his decision next month.

 

Notre Dame (4-1)

Like Michigan State, Notre Dame has been in the running for Robertson for a while. All three schools are roughly within a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Fort Wayne, but Notre Dame is the closest of the three. Having family come to watch Robertson at home games would mean making a 90-mile trek northwest.

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston have been in contact with Robertson. He's looking to take a visit to the campus in the immediate future. He told Helmholdt he wanted his mother to take in the campus experience before he made any final decisions.

Robertson was offered in June during a Notre Dame summer camp. The Irish are hoping to land their seventh commitment and another defensive end to join 4-star Julian Okwara in the class.

 

Michigan (5-1)

With Ohio State out and Michigan the new team in, the big question is whether or not the Wolverines can make up enough ground to take over the Spartans and the Irish. Robertson helped Michigan's cause by taking a visit to the campus earlier this week with the No. 2 player in Indiana, 4-star wide receiver Austin Mack, a fellow resident of Fort Wayne, according to Wiltfong.

Robertson has been to Michigan a few times, and getting one-on-one time with head coach Jim Harbaugh and other coaches has proven to be valuable. He told Wiltfong that he likes how Michigan has coaches with NFL experience.

If Michigan is able to land Robertson—as well as Mack—it would mean the Wolverines would have Indiana's top three recruits. Harbaugh was able to get 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters, the No. 3 player in Indiana, to commit on April 3.

 

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

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