No. 8 USC opens the 2015 season against an annual Sun Belt Conference title contender: Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves finished 7-6 last season, winning fewer than eight games for the first time since 2010. However, they also retained head coach Blake Anderson for a second season, which means they'll maintain continuity for the first time since that same year.
Former head coaches Hugh Freeze (2011), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Bryan Harsin (2013) spent one year apiece in Jonesboro before moving to Ole Miss, Auburn and Boise State, respectively. All three have played in BCS/College Football Playoff bowl games since leaving.
Last year, Arkansas State lost by 21 points at Miami and 15 points at Tennessee, which provides a good idea of what USC should expect. It is not a realistic threat to upset the Trojans, but Anderson's team plays uptempo, confident football and embraces road challenges.
If USC falls asleep at the wheel, who knows how close this could get?
Date: Saturday, September 5
Time: 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. local)
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Los Angeles, Calif.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN Radio; EAB Sports Network
Line: USC -28, according to OddsShark.com
The narrative surrounding Oregon's season-opener is so obvious we barely need to write it.
New starting quarterback Vernon Adams, who transferred this offseason after three successful years at Eastern Washington, will make his Ducks debut against…Eastern Washington.
Every other player will take a back seat to Adams, who faces the dual-pressure gauntlet of replacing Marcus Mariota, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, while also playing a team filled with former friends and teammates who in some ways consider him a traitor.
But, of course, there's also the macro-storyline of Oregon's Pac-12 title defense and quest for another trip to the College Football Playoff. Eastern Washington beat Oregon State two years ago and lost a 59-52 shootout against Washington in 2014. It is not afraid of playing a Pac-12 opponent.
Oregon should still beat them thoroughly, but the Eagles won't crumble to the floor like some typical FCS tomato can. In that way, they're a useful diagnostic opponent before the Ducks travel to East Lansing for a Week 2 showdown against Michigan State.
Expect this team to learn a lot about itself.
Date: Saturday, September 5
Time: 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. local)
Location: Autzen Stadium; Eugene, Oregon
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Oregon IMG; ESPN Spokane 700 AM
Line: No line posted at Odds Shark
Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Year 4 of the Kevin Sumlin era at Texas A&M begins with a difficult assignment: beat No. 15 Arizona State.
The Aggies opened last year with a 52-28 upset over then-No. 9 South Carolina, but the season unraveled after a 5-0 start. In the next three games, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama outscored Texas A&M by a combined 142-51 margin and averaged 7.1 yards per play, and the Aggies sputtered to an 8-5 finish.
If the defense hasn't been rectified, A&M will have a hard time beating an Arizona State team that thrives on offense and has won 10 games in consecutive seasons. There are reasons to expect defensive improvement, which is why, despite the rankings, the Aggies are technically betting favorites, but it's hard to know for sure.
Either way, this is easily one of the highlights of Week 1.
Date: Saturday, September 5
Time: 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. local)
Location: NRG Stadium; Houston, Texas
Radio: TAMUSN; ESPN Phoenix 620 AM
Line: Texas A&M -3, according to OddsShark.com
New head coach Jim McElwain begins his Florida career with what should be a blowout win over New Mexico State.
McElwain replaced Will Muschamp—who was fired before the bowl game last season—after three successful years as head coach at Colorado State. The Rams went 3-9 in 2011, but McElwain arrived from Alabama, where he served as the offensive coordinator under Nick Saban, and steered them to a 4-8 record in 2012, an 8-6 record in 2013 and a 10-3 record last season.
After a spring game that was mostly ugly, Gators fans are hoping to see cohesion—especially on offense—against an Aggies team that finished 2-10 and lost its final 10 games last season.
Anything less than a thorough blowout will lead to nerves before a Birmingham Bowl rematch against East Carolina in Week 2, a road trip to Kentucky in Week 3 and then a string of five straight conference games against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
This is the only easy game until November.
Florida had better make it count.
Date: Saturday, September 5
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium; Gainesville, Fla.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Gator Sports Network; Sirius: 119, XM: 192; Aggie Sports Network
Line: Florida -37, according to Odds Shark
Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.
After what seemed like an offseason that would never end, we have finally made it. On Thursday, the 2015 college football season will begin, kicking of several months of nonstop action capped by a playoff-fueled national championship in mid-January.
Until then, all we can do is watch and enjoy. And also rank all 128 FBS teams from best to worst.
Bleacher Report's power rankings are comprised of an average of five sources: B/R's weekly top 25, the Associated Press and Amway coaches' polls, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings and my personal formula. The initial power rankings are based on preseason information, but as the season goes on they'll take better shape thanks to weekly results and trends.
Check out where all 128 FBS teams rank heading into the opening week of the 2015 college football season and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Cupcakes may be tasty, but they aren't good for you and rarely offer any long-term benefits.
The same can be said about college football’s version of cupcakes that typically dominate the Week 1 diets of the nation’s best teams. While it may be enjoyable to knock off an overmatched opponent by five touchdowns, scheduling a marquee inter-conference game early in the season will pay off in December when College Football Playoff spots are determined.
The sheer number of potential championship contenders that elected to play high-profile showdowns in lieu of the traditional cupcakes underscores the importance of strength of schedule when building a resume. That is welcome news for fans who will not have to wait until late September or October for intriguing games.
Since 10 teams in the initial Associated Press rankings square off against a power-conference opponent in Week 1, the Top 25 is bound to look different in the aftermath. With that in mind, here is a look at the predicted rankings and schedules following the opening weekend of contests.
Under-the-Radar Game to Watch: Arizona State vs. Texas A&M
There are a number of contests that jump out in the opening week. The defending champion Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Virginia Tech to take on the one team that beat them last year, Alabama and Wisconsin square off in a Big Ten-SEC showdown and Texas and Notre Dame battle in a matchup of traditional powerhouses.
Don’t overlook the game between Arizona State and Texas A&M, though, especially if you are a fan of offensive fireworks on Labor Day weekend.
The Sun Devils and Aggies meet Saturday in Houston, which is better for Arizona State than a true road game, but it is safe to assume the majority of fans will be decked out in Texas A&M colors for the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Still, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham did not hide his excitement during a radio interview with Paul Finebaum of ESPN (h/t Brandon Wheeland of the Dallas Morning News):
That’s a game as a coach I’m excited about coaching in, our players are excited about playing it, and fans on both sides are pretty excited about that game. It’s good for college football and it’s going to my home state [Mesquite]. It’s an exciting game for us. It’s really impacted our summer. Our guys have really had a sense of urgency. Training is really different when you kick off on the road in Houston against an SEC opponent that has the type of firepower that A&M does. We’re excited as a program; our program is ready for it. This will be the best team that we’ve had to this point and we’re excited to go down there and get after it.
Graham mentioned the fact his team is looking forward to playing an SEC opponent, which is not surprising because this game will likely be framed as a contest for conference bragging rights. The SEC has long been seen as the nation’s best league, but two straight years without a national title and a disappointing bowl effort has some questioning that assumption.
Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated openly wondered this offseason whether the Pac-12 passed the SEC as college football’s top dog:
The 2015 season presents an opportunity for the Pac-12 to rush past the SEC. The Pac-12 has far superior returning quarterbacks than the SEC does, is amid a facility-building boom and features a division, the Pac-12 South, that’s comparable to the vaunted SEC West. The Big Ten and ACC lack depth and the Big 12 couldn’t get a team into the inaugural College Football Playoff. That leaves a two-horse race for the best league from top to bottom, and for the Pac-12 to leap past the SEC it needs a sparkling season from its signature program.
That is not to suggest a victory in this game for either side would be the final argument in the conference-supremacy debate, but an early-season win would provide a solid statement.
Texas A&M’s best chance at achieving just that is with its offense.
Quarterback Kyle Allen took over as the full-time starter down the stretch in 2014 and led the Aggies to victories at Auburn and over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. He completed 61.5 percent of his throws and tossed 16 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. Allen also threw for a combined eight touchdowns in those two defining wins.
It is only natural to expect progression during his sophomore campaign with experience under his belt, especially since he will have plenty of wide receiver talent at his disposal.
Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones return after combining for 1,307 receiving yards and 17 touchdown catches in 2014. Reynolds in particular stands out as the team’s best option (842 yards and 13 touchdowns) and should find openings throughout the season.
Christian Kirk and Speedy Noil provide depth and speed in the slot or as additional options on the outside, which means opposing defenses must pick their poison against this deep unit. Someone will face single coverage on almost every play, and Allen is talented enough to take advantage.
The problem for the Aggies is the other side of the ball with a defense that finished an abysmal 103rd in the nation in total defense last year. That is concerning against an Arizona State offense that is confident entering the season with quarterback Mike Bercovici operating the reins.
He completed 61.8 percent of his passes and boasted 12 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He also threw for 488 yards against UCLA and 510 against USC and looked comfortable under the spotlight of marquee games.
Look for Bercovici to exploit Texas A&M’s defense with wide receiver D.J. Foster. Foster primarily played running back in 2014 on his way to 1,081 rushing yards, 688 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns, but he will play wide receiver in 2015. His shiftiness, speed and ability to make defenders miss in open space should serve the Sun Devils well Saturday.
Throw in running back Demario Richard (eight total touchdowns last year) as a threat to power his way to the difficult yards inside or burst around the edge for a big play, and Arizona State will be balanced throughout the game and the entire 2015 campaign.
The Aggies will have the in-state crowd and a potentially explosive offense on their side, but they will still come up short against the Sun Devil playmakers. Texas A&M’s defense consistently let it down a season ago, and it will start the new year in similar fashion.
Look for the combination of Richard and Foster, along with the accuracy of Bercovici, to overwhelm an overmatched Aggies defensive unit during a critical fourth-quarter drive.
Score one for the Pac-12.
Prediction: Arizona State 38, Texas A&M 35
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For three decades, Bob Stoops watched his dad, Ron Stoops, go to work at the same place, Cardinal Mooney High, in tough Youngstown, Ohio. That's 30 years as an assistant football coach working for the same head coach every day. Not a ton of money; no spotlight. Thirty years. Back then, it was called loyalty.
Bob saw. He followed.
"I watched my dad watching reel-to-reel tape on the kitchen table," he told Bleacher Report recently. "He loved his job, working with kids. He's a guy who wouldn't change a day in his life for anything."
So now, Stoops is starting his 17th year as head coach at Oklahoma. It is the second-longest tenure of any major college head football coach, after Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer (29 years). Loyalty? Both coaches have fans looking at them sideways.
Stoops has had chances to go to the NFL, to Florida. He's been in the Notre Dame talks. Not long ago, Oklahoma was Alabama and Stoops was Nick Saban. Now, Oklahoma is either: A) on a downward trend; or B) hitting a bump in the road. Either way, it is not a dominant national force, and people wonder why Stoops has stayed so long, whether he has outlived his shelf life and missed his chance.
Who stays anywhere this long anymore? In any profession?
It might seem weird to you and me. But not to Stoops.
Stoops knows that when you stay for the long term, times change and you have to adapt. You have to change over and over again. You have to re-invent yourself.
So welcome to Bob Stoops 2.0. Or whatever this version is. He has swapped several offensive coaches, put in a new coordinator to modernize with a spread formation—though that means a version of the Air Raid Stoops was using when he had OU on top. He also has a few new defensive assistants.
"I don't look at anything we're doing as re-inventing," he said. "We're going back to what we were. Hopefully, the Air Raid's back, only with some power running. But you don't have to have two fullbacks and two tight ends to have power."
Know this about Stoops and anyone from Youngstown: When they sound disagreeable, that's just how they talk. Years ago, I used to watch Stoops and his brother Mike as defensive assistants at Kansas State, sitting in the coaches box next to the press box, basically drowning out the crowd with their screaming and fist-pounding on the table and windows.
It was all in love, I'm pretty sure.
Coaching is a passion for Stoops and his family. Stoops' brother Mike is OU's defensive coordinator, Mark is head coach at Kentucky and Ron Jr. is co-defensive coordinator at Youngstown State. It's an infection for them or something.
As is competitiveness, the need to win.
Now, Oklahoma is a nationally ranked program, yet not a national title contender. Stoops knows. And at least one publication says he's at a crossroads in his career.
"I don't know how crossroads it can be," he said. "Anytime you don't win the championship at a place like ours, that's brought up. I don't think any other team in 12 of the last 15 years has more wins."
It wasn't enough last year, when OU started with fans thinking College Football Playoff and ending with an 8-5 record, with Baylor and TCU appearing to have blown past OU. Stoops feels duped by his own past.
In 1999, when he had Mike Leach as the offensive coordinator, OU was running something similar to today's modern hurry-up, spread offenses. Then Leach left for Texas Tech, and OU slowly slipped back into a running scheme. As OU settled in, Baylor, TCU and others spread out. Lincoln Riley, part of the Leach coaching tree, had an offense at East Carolina last year that produced 533 yards a game.
"You know, six of the top 13 offenses last year are all from this family of coaches," Stoops said. "Washington State, Texas Tech, East Carolina, TCU. It goes on and on. I just didn't feel we were consistent enough. We ran the ball well but were terribly inconsistent throwing the football. In my eyes, we had far too many three-and-outs.
"Today, you have to stay on the field and, basically, hold serve like you do in tennis."
Stoops said he had become "too infatuated" with running quarterbacks. "But I always believed in the principles [of the Air Raid]."
The offense will look like TCU's, spread out, getting the ball in the hands of lots of players. The defense, Stoops said, has experience in the secondary and should get more comfortable facing the modern offenses now that it will see one every day in practice.
Even the quarterback is a fresh look, and an odd one: Baker Mayfield transferred to OU from Texas Tech and hadn't been released by the Red Raiders. So he never contacted Stoops to say he was coming.
"He never even called to ask permission to walk on," Stoops said. "He just showed up. I found out over the Internet that he was planning on transferring. People would ask and I'd say, 'Not as far as I know.' "
Also unknown is how the team will react to a racial scandal on campus this past spring. Frat members were seen on video singing a racist chant. Stoops led the team in a protest on campus.
"More than three quarters of the team is minority and that hit home," Stoops said. "We felt strong enough and said 'Let's do something about it.' "
Will OU be able to get its mojo back? I'm going with yes. Stoops is just 54, and the team never bottomed out. If it did, that was only in OU terms.
Times change fast, though. Mack Brown saw that a few years ago at Texas, as he went from a top national program to a faltering one in about 15 minutes. By the time he saw it coming, it had already run him over. He tried to switch to a hurry-up offense, but it was too late. He was out.
This isn't to lament the loss of loyalty. It's just to point it out. There is so much money in college football now, and that is mixed with the immediate and short-term thinking of a fanbase living on social media.
Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier, Stoops' old boss at Florida, has told him that head coaches shouldn't stay at one place too long anymore. Pat Riley used to have a 10-year rule. Stoops knows the dangers.
"In today's world, with so much media and so much exposure, it's natural that people want to hear something different," he said. "Expectations are…are you realistically always going to be undefeated or the champion? Sometimes there's a little bit of a feeling that just because you're somewhere [with a great history], you're going to be good."
So if the demands are impossible and the options are there, why stick around when a dip is inevitable?
"I've had the same president and athletic director for 17 years," Stoops said. "My children have only known one home. For some reason, it's been right to stay.
"You never know when it is time to leave. But years like last year didn't change all of it. That's just part of it anywhere you go."
So why not just stay?
Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — He drove along the snow-lined streets of his hometown where the next act in his coaching life was just beginning.
It was the dead of the northern winter—he’d only recently moved to Ann Arbor—and now in the early-morning darkness he steered his car on a winding route, one that was littered with memories.
He cruised by St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School, where as a 10-year-old he’d sat behind a tiny wooden desk and where his daughter, Addison, would soon enroll. He passed Tappan Middle School, where he once roamed the halls and dreamed of being Michigan’s starting quarterback.
He continued to drive, alone, guiding his car past a park where he and his older brother, John, had played catch with their father when they were boys. He spotted houses where old buddies once lived, yards where he once played pickup football games, porches that he used to throw newspapers onto as an afternoon paperboy.
So many snapshots from his youth rushed back at him, filling him with so much unexpected joy.
Jim Harbaugh eventually pulled into the parking lot outside of the football offices at the University of Michigan. He walked through the frigid morning—his breath shot out in white puffs of air—and entered the building.
More memories seized him. Back when he was 11 years old, Harbaugh rode his bike to the Wolverines offices after school and ran around inside as if trying to evade imaginary tacklers; his dad, an assistant coach, would chase him for what seemed like hours.
And when no one was looking, little Jim loved to sneak into the head coach’s office and sit in the chair of Bo Schembechler, where for a few heartbeats he would pretend he was the Wolverines' top man, telling players to do things “the Michigan way.”
Harbaugh, a former Wolverine ball boy, savored every moment of this morning, reveling in the warm sensation of being home again. He had lived in Ann Arbor from the ages of 10 to 16—the happiest, most carefree years of his life—and now on this day last February he fully realized he was getting a chance to relive it all, as if he’d traveled back through the mists of time.
“I didn’t even know how much I would like it, coming back to Ann Arbor,” said Harbaugh. “The memories have all been powerful and wonderful, and it took me a few weeks to be back and driving around to understand it. I think that’s why I’m here, to maybe find something that I’ve lost. I mean, I really, really love this place.”
But with Harbaugh—a 51-year-old man prone to emotional swings, an old-school authority figure famous for his eccentricities, a professional vagabond who has never been a head coach anywhere longer than four years—we must ask:
Will Harbaugh’s love for this school turn him into a micromanager as he tries to personally fix all that he believes is ailing Michigan football? Will he push everyone in his program—from players to administration to janitors—to the brink of both physical and mental exhaustion?
Will he, in short, start pissing people off?
Oh, how they adore James Joseph “Jim” Harbaugh in Michigan.
It’s two weeks before the Harbaugh era kicks off in Ann Arbor, and the Michigan campus clearly has a deep lust for its new coach. Outside the M-Den campus bookstore on State Street, five students—dubbed the HarBros—are dressed in Harbaugh’s game-day outfit: khaki pants, blue, long-sleeve T-shirts, whistles draped around their necks with a blue sharpie attached.
The HarBros have spent several days studying the coach’s mannerisms, and now they are posing for pictures in classic Harbaugh sideline stances—one is crouched over with his hands on his knees, another has his arms akimbo with his chest thrust forward. A crowd of several hundred quickly gathers, gripped by Harbaugh fever. As cameras flash, a game-day vibe is unmistakable.
“It took awhile to learn Harbaugh’s scowl, but I think we all got it down now,” said Nick Carey, a junior from Ypsilanti, Michigan, who is one of the HarBros. “Harbaugh is our savior. We’ve a waited a long time for him. There’s little doubt that he’s going to lead us to the promised land.”
Inside the M-Den, just past a replica locker housing Harbaugh’s old No. 4 Michigan jersey, T-shirts that read “Ann Arbaugh,” “Welcome Home Coach” and “Maize, Blue, Khaki” are plucked off the racks in handfuls. And on this day seemingly every 10th student on campus is wearing khaki pants in tribute to Harbaugh, who pulls them on every morning.
Which begs an obvious question: Why is a coach who in January signed a seven-year, $40.1 million contract so enamored with khakis? It’s part obsession and part by design.
“It eliminates the need for Jim to make a decision on what to wear every morning, so instead that time can be used to focus on football,” said Ed Lamb, the head coach at Southern Utah who was an assistant coach under Harbaugh in 2005 and 2006 at the University of San Diego, where Harbaugh also wore khakis. “Jim is basically always thinking about football. If you’re around him, get ready for that.”
You don’t have to tell Sarah Harbaugh about her husband’s total immersion in football. There were times this spring when Jim, Sarah and their three young children—Addison, Katherine and Jack—would climb into their car that was parked in the driveway of their house, which sits just five lots down the street from Schembechler’s old place.
Jim would be behind the driver’s wheel; Sarah and the kids would strap on their seat belts. Then...silence. For 30 seconds, the air would stand still.
Sarah would finally look over at Jim, who would be staring blankly ahead, mouth open, as if he had mentally blasted off from the real world. This happens frequently with Harbaugh, even in the middle of conversations, which is why he often comes across as spacey and even rude.
“Jim!” Sarah would say, and suddenly he would shake from his reverie.
“Part of him is always coaching,” Sarah said. “He can’t turn it off. He just loves it so much.”
Nearly everyone who has orbited in Harbaugh’s solar system for a length of time possesses a whopper of an anecdote about the new Michigan coach.
Frank Beamer has one. The Virginia Tech head coach is sitting on a porch overlooking a golf course in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia, on a tar-bubbling summer afternoon—a lazy, storytelling kind of afternoon. As he puts down a glass of lemonade on a table, he says he has a tale to tell. It might just be, he claims, the weirdest damn story of his entire coaching career.
Beamer leans back in his chair and loosens a memory from late 2010. The Hokies of Virginia Tech, where Beamer has coached for the last 28 autumns, were preparing to play Stanford in the Orange Bowl. A few days before the Jan. 3 game, Beamer met the Cardinal head coach—Harbaugh—at an event in Planet Hollywood in Miami.
“After we take some pictures, we start talking, just the two of us,” Beamer said. “Jim says over and over how much respect he has for Georgia Tech. He must have said it five times. I’m just looking at him like, ‘Are you serious?’
“Finally, I’m joking with him and I say I can’t wait to tell my team that you called us Georgia Tech. Because, you know, we’re Virginia Tech.”
Harbaugh then threw his infamous shark expression at Beamer: mouth agape, eyes on fire, looking poised to chomp. Harbaugh’s assistants have seen this look for years; he sometimes holds it for about 30 seconds without speaking, causing everyone in eyeshot to wonder what is flowing through his mind—if anything.
Beamer continued to lock eyes with Harbaugh for a few moments, waiting for him to say something, anything. It may have been the most uncomfortable silence of Beamer’s life.
“Well,” Harbaugh finally told Beamer. “I can’t wait to tell my players that you said you were going to play Samford, not Stanford!” He then turned and walked away.
More than four years later, Beamer smiles at the memory, still befuddled by Harbaugh's response. “No question, Jim is a different kind of coach,” said Beamer, whose team lost in the Orange Bowl to Harbaugh and Stanford 40-12 in what was Harbaugh’s last college game.
“He’s either crazy...or he’s crazy like a damn fox.”
Harbaugh is an early riser, a believer that mornings are a time for labor. And so last fall it wasn’t shocking to those who know him well that several times he showed up in the office of San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York at just past daybreak wanting to resolve an issue right now this very second.
This illustrated the rub of Harbaugh: His full-blast, turn-it-up-to-10 intensity is what makes him such a successful coach, but his friends and associates say it also is often what makes him unwilling to find common ground with others, which ultimately was his unraveling in San Francisco.
“When Jim focuses on something, he won’t let it go,” said a close friend of Harbaugh’s. “That can be both good and bad.”
Midway through last season, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke called a staffer on another team. At the time, San Francisco’s season was falling apart—the Niners would finish 8-8—and Baalke’s relationship with Harbaugh had frayed to the extent that the two were known to ride elevators together in silence and not make eye contact.
“I just can’t deal with Jim anymore,” Baalke told his friend, a veteran front-office employee of an NFL team who relayed the conversation to Bleacher Report. “This guy is a nut. Every day he’s bitching at me about something new. It’s this, it’s that. He’s wearing all of us out. He’s grinding us down.”
“But Trent, you guys have won with Jim,” the friend told Baalke. “Can’t you just focus on the winning?”
“I’m getting stepped on every day by Jim,” Baalke replied. “I can’t do this much longer.”
On Dec. 28, York fired Harbaugh, who had one year remaining on his contract. It didn’t matter to the team brass that he had led the organization to three straight NFC championship games between 2011 and 2013, reached Super Bowl XLVII—where the 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens, who were coached by Harbaugh’s brother, John—or that Harbaugh had compiled a 49-22-1 record in his four seasons as head coach.
Put simply, they had had enough of him, even though the 49ers hadn't enjoyed a winning record in nearly a decade before Harbaugh's arrival in 2011. In the bottom-line world of the NFL, his parting from the 49ers was one of the more stunning breakups in recent history.
But he has a long track record of having relationships with superiors, assistants and players that slide off the rails. Harbaugh’s supernatural intensity—coupled with his you’re-with-me-or-against-me managing style—has rubbed many the wrong way.
With the 49ers, for instance, he promised his players he would be “their alarm clock” every morning, which didn’t exactly endear him to any of the veterans in the locker room.
“Jim wore us assistants down at San Diego,” said Lamb, the Southern Utah head coach who was an assistant under Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. “There’s a trail of players and coaches that have been left behind in Jim’s wake. If you’re not on board with him, he wants you to go away.
"But Jim also told us, ‘Stick with me and you’ll be farting through silk,’ which I guess meant that we’d all be so successful we could afford silk undergarments. And he was right: We could have if we’d stuck with him. But only Tim Drevno, his offensive coordinator at Michigan, is still with him. The rest of us left. Jim just isn’t for everybody.”
“Jim is nuts, but it’s a different kind of nuts,'' said a former teammate of Harbaugh's on the Indianapolis Colts who requested anonymity. "Once he focuses on something, he won’t let go of it. It makes him a great coach at a place in the short term, but it’s why he’s a disaster of a coach when he’s in one place too long.
"You can’t even have long meetings with him because his mind will start to wander and you’ll have no freaking idea what he’s talking about. His personality and his weirdness wear people down over time, and after four, five years, you just don’t want to deal with the guy anymore.”
To understand how Harbaugh will try to construct a winner at Michigan, it’s instructive to examine his past rebuilding jobs at the University of San Diego and Stanford.
In his first year at San Diego, Harbaugh developed a physical prototype that he wanted at every position, similar to what Nick Saban now uses as his recruiting model at Alabama. With the help of Dave Adolph, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator whom Harbaugh hired to be his top defensive lieutenant at San Diego, Harbaugh identified the ideal height, weight, size and speed he wanted for every position.
Other important factors at every position were also weighed, such as athletic ability, strength, playing speed and character. But when assessing a player, he was always compared to Harbaugh’s created prototype.
“The prototype went all the way down to hand size and shoe size for each position,” said Lamb. “Jim brings as much intensity to recruiting as he does anything else. It’s an everyday thing. His philosophy is that he always wants players who offer upside in potential, which means he looks at height and weight and then analyzes if that player can grow into his body.
"Jim loves players who play multiple sports. His belief is that multisport guys have a bigger chance to grow in college. This is especially true with his quarterbacks. He doesn’t like to look at high school QBs who don’t play other sports. He wants to know, for example, if a high school quarterback is a good bowler.”
Once a player was on campus at San Diego, his actual weight was written on a large dry erase board next to his goal weight. The board was placed in the weight room, and nearly every day the players were weighed—often in front of teammates—to chart their progress in gaining mass.
“It became almost like a contest,” said Lamb. “It was amazing how the kids really got into it, challenging each other to get bigger and stronger. Jim molds players in his image. They will be as tough as him, or they won’t play.”
When assistants at San Diego asked Harbaugh if there was a travel dress code, he said he’d never put a nanosecond of thought into it. “I don’t care what you wear,” Harbaugh told his staff. “Just bring energy to your preparation and make sure your kids are damn tough on game day.”
To emphasize his approach to his players at San Diego, Harbaugh stood in front of them one afternoon and gave an impassioned speech about why he showed up to work in the same outfit every single day.
“I don’t care about clothes,” he told them. “I’m here for two things: to work and to make you guys tough. That’s it. Now let’s go!”
In preseason practice Harbaugh ran hills with his players—he puked along with them—and closely tutored his quarterbacks, whom he treated as if they were his own blood. The Toreros started the ’04 season 2-4 but won their last five games to finish 7-4.
The FCS program then began overpowering opponents: The beefed-up Toreros went 11-1 in both ’05 and ’06 and won back-to-back Pioneer League titles. Harbaugh was so successful that he was offered the head coaching position at Stanford, which in 2006 had floundered to a 1-11 record.
Aside from building the collective team strength of Stanford—“They went from looking like a high school team to looking like an NFL team in two years,” said Matt Millen, a longtime Harbaugh friend and former general manager of the Detroit Lions—Harbaugh’s first mission in Palo Alto was to find a program-changing quarterback. He zeroed in on Andrew Luck out of Stratford High in Houston, whom Harbaugh wooed by emphasizing his own experience as a quarterback who played 14 years in the NFL.
“Andrew wouldn’t be the quarterback he is today if Jim Harbaugh hadn’t coached him,” said Oliver Luck, Andrew’s dad who played for the Houston Oilers from 1982 to 1986. “Coach Harbaugh was hands on and taught Andrew so many good habits that he’s carried to the NFL. He’s special when it comes to coaching quarterbacks.”
But even with a future No. 1 overall pick piloting his offense from 2009 to 2011, Harbaugh insisted on operating a run-first, pass-second offense—just like he will do at Michigan, even though the Wolverines finished eighth in the conference in rushing last season.
And Harbaugh believes he landed his next Luck in 6'5", 205-pound quarterback Brandon Peters, a 4-star recruit from Avon, Indiana, who verbally committed to Michigan in April, per 247Sports. (Note that Peters has room to grow into his 6'5" frame and is also a standout basketball player.)
“Jim’s offense will reflect his Midwestern toughness,” said Millen. “He’s going to pound the ball, no matter who his quarterback is. It all goes to toughness. When you run the ball, it takes pressure off the defense and gives confidence to the whole team. Jim was able to turn around Stanford so fast because the kids bought in. How quickly will the Michigan kids buy in? That’s the great unknown.”
In Harbaugh’s third season on The Farm in 2009, he led The Cardinal to an 8-5 record. The next year Stanford won the Orange Bowl and finished 12-1, the best season in program history.
Harbaugh could be oddly endearing one moment at Stanford—he sometimes carried a glass of whole milk to meetings because he believed it gave him strength—but he also could be a handful. For instance, he constantly bickered with Stanford administrators over admission standards for recruits.
Get ready, Michigan, because this issue will boil soon.
“The key to Jim’s success will be recruiting,” said Rich Rodriguez, the Wolverines head coach from 2008 to 2010. “And the key to recruiting at Michigan, which is a great brand name, is finding the right kind of player to fit in. The player has got to want to get an education, he’s got to be driven academically and athletically, and he’s got to be someone who can develop.
"At Michigan you have to evaluate players more than you do at other schools because you’re looking at a specific set of criteria that have to be met before you can bring them onto your campus. Jim did a great job of finding these guys at Stanford, so he knows what he’s looking for.”
This spring Harbaugh searched for his kind of guys already on the Wolverines roster. During spring ball he held five four-hour practices—the most grueling practice schedule in the nation.
Harbaugh, who wears his cleats to meetings and virtually everywhere else in the football complex, rationalized it to his players by telling them that last season the Wolverines had stunk in the third quarter, scoring only 52 points, their lowest-scoring quarter. So he wanted his players to improve their conditioning. But in reality, he was trimming the fat off the roster.
“There were guys who didn’t make it through those practices and just left,” said senior linebacker James Ross. “In the past, we’d complain when practices went long. But now we understand that we have to change because what we did in the past didn’t work. We’re going to follow Coach Harbaugh no matter what.”
Even Harbaugh, who doesn’t like to talk about himself, has a fascinating Jim Harbaugh story to tell.
The lantern-jawed coach was sitting at a table in a conference room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago on a midsummer afternoon. He leaned forward on the edge of his chair, his eyes wide, as he recalled a moment from his days at Stanford.
As he explained it, he was on his way to the office when he noticed a traffic light wasn’t working; a cop was standing in the middle of a busy intersection, directing cars this way and that way. The female officer displayed such command of the intersection that Harbaugh pulled over to the side of the road, mesmerized.
For half an hour, Harbaugh sat in his car and studied the scene. He was nearly late for practice because he was so enthralled with the skill and the savvy of the traffic cop. “I like to watch people doing their job at the highest level,” he said. “I really do.”
Harbaugh also loves the familiar rhythms of a routine. In Ann Arbor, he gets his hair cut at the State Street Barbershop; his barber, Bill Stolberg, first took the clippers to his hair back in the ‘70s. After a cut, Harbaugh will then walk around downtown, happily pressing the flesh with fans, taking selfies with students and signing everything from body parts to babies.
Here in his hometown, Harbaugh appears genuinely content.
But what happens if the Wolverines, who open the season Thursday at Utah, lose three straight games at some point in 2015? The talent level isn’t high in Ann Arbor—Michigan has gone 24-32 in the last seven years in Big Ten play—so how will Harbaugh react if the team struggles, which seems likely?
In 1989 Schembechler, then the athletic director, famously yelled at a press conference, “A Michigan man will coach Michigan!” He was upset that basketball coach Bill Frieder, whom he had just fired, had signed a clandestine deal to coach Arizona State the next season. And over time Schembechler’s proclamation has been used against other coaches at the school who weren’t viewed as “Michigan men.”
Rodriguez, who was fired at Michigan after going 7-6 in 2010, remembers being chastised by alumni for using the word “ain’t” in a press conference.
“Where I come from in West Virginia, the first four-letter you learn after birth is ‘ain’t,’ ” said Rodriguez, who is now the head coach at Arizona. “I was just trying to be descriptive about something, but I ended up getting calls from alums about it. They thought I should be more eloquent with my word choice. But everything is so public at Michigan when you are the head coach. If you sneeze it will get out there on social media. It can be a hard place to coach, evenfor Jim Harbaugh.”
But unlike Rich Rod, Harbaugh is a Michigan man to the marrow of his bones. In Ann Arbor he’s still remembered as the Wolverines quarterback who guaranteed a victory over Ohio State in 1986 and delivered the W. He's still known as the player who left school as Michigan’s all-time leader in passing yards (5,449).
Yes, he’s one of them.
“It’s a foregone conclusion that Jim will be successful at Michigan,” said Lamb. “But along the way he’ll wipe some people out. His adrenaline will create the rise of the program, and his adrenaline will also cause problems with some people who can’t take it. Players, coaches and administrators better get on board; if they don’t, they’ll be gone.”
On a recent summer evening, Jim and Sarah Harbaugh were enjoying a quiet meal at an Ann Arbor restaurant. But then a commotion erupted, and it had nothing to do with the town’s most famous resident.
A mouse was on the loose.
Harbaugh leapt into action. The single-minded coach grabbed a to-go box and began a great chase. He cornered the mouse and, displaying his trademark tenacity, eventually captured it in the styrofoam box.
“I caught it!” he yelled to the other patrons. “I caught it!”
The crowd cheered, and Harbaugh—who released the mouse across the street in an open field—once again played the role of the conquering hero. In Ann Arbor, everywhere he goes, it’s like Caesar being hailed in Rome.
And on Thursday night, Michigan’s Caesar will stride back into college football in his khakis, leading the maize and blue out of the tunnel at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Wolverines fans will swear that this moment will mark the rebirth of Michigan football as it should be—relevant and proud and winning again.
But then Harbaugh will be interviewed on the sideline. Eyes bulging, adrenaline pumping, he will open his mouth and...
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Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Overall Top 250.
Other CFB 250 Positions
- Pro-Style QBs
- Offensive Linemen
- Running Backs
- Defensive Ends
- Defensive Tackles
- Tight Ends
- Wide Receivers
- Dual-Threat QBs
After breaking down it by position, we've finally reached the end: the top 250 players in college football.
In cases where two or more players had the same final grade, a subjective call was made by the authors. This call was based on an abstract "Wins Above Replacement" formula: Which players most exceed a replacement-level starter at their position?
Also remember that these players were graded for their college abilities, not on how they project to the NFL.
Targeted skills such as QB arm strength are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college arm strength and professional arm strength. If a quarterback slings it well enough to hit his marks in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't stretch the field against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.
This is all about college performance.
Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now. Also, all recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Few better ways to help kick off the 2015 college football season exist than to rekindle a rivalry with roots dating back to 1903. The Battle of the Carolinas takes center stage Thursday when the North Carolina Tar Heels encounter the South Carolina Gamecocks.
This one looks far more important than the usual run-of-the-mill opener. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has never lost to the Tar Heels, but it's a different animal this week with his program entering a year of transition.
On the flip side, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora enters the biggest non-conference game of his tenure with an experienced and loaded roster looking to make a statement.
This showdown doesn't just set the tone for two programs looking to contend in their respective conferences, but for the early season as a whole. Here's a look at the info to know.
Diving Into the Unknown
South Carolina continues to stand as one of the bigger mysteries going into the season.
Spurrier dominates the Tar Heels no matter where he coaches, but it's murky otherwise. It starts under center, where the Gamecocks will roll with Connor Mitch after Dylan Thompson's departure.
The coach spoke about the decision, per Kevin McGuire of NBCSports.com:
Connor will have every opportunity to take the reins and run with it. The competition was extremely close but we had to make a decision. We will give him all the support we can. As long as he takes care of the ball, keeps his head calm, he very easily could be the quarterback the entire year.
It's easy to write off a new starter, but don't forget about wideout Pharoh Cooper, by far one of the best players in the country at his position. Last year alone, Cooper caught 72 passes for 1,136 yards and 10 scores.
Maybe the real concern for the unknown should come on the defensive side of affairs. Those faithful to the team will cringe, but everyone remembers what happened in South Carolina's season opener last year—Spurrier's defense surrendered 680 yards and seven scores in a 52-28 loss to Texas A&M.
Early this season, the offense might not be able to bail out the defense, which should especially concern Spurrier going into Thursday.
Building on the Past
Fedora and Co. want to play the role of Texas A&M this year.
The offense looks stacked enough to do so. Marquise Williams returns under center with another year of experience under his belt. In a quiet manner, he completed 63.1 percent of his passes last year with 21 scores to nine picks and added another 788 yards and 13 scores as a runner.
Williams isn't the only explosive player to return. Back T.J. Logan returns one year removed from averaging 4.9 yards per carry with 582 yards and three scores. Ryan Switzer, the team's leading receiver last year, and 6'4", 220-pound Quinshad Davis return, too.
Granted, the Tar Heels struggled against big competition last year. Experience and an opponent with more questions than answers is a good way to turn things around, though.
If Williams can capitalize on those question marks with familiar connections, North Carolina will pull off a major win and head into the rest of the schedule with droves of momentum.
When: Thursday, September 3, at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 64
- Spread: South Carolina (-2)
Team Injury Reports
Injury reports via USA Today.
The line out of Las Vegas says it all—this won't be a blowout for either side.
South Carolina's defense features plenty of talent, but going up against such an experienced squad to start the season is never an easy task. Like last year showed, it can take a defense longer to work out the early season kinks than an offense.
Look for Williams to show up big. He already has a strong rapport with the surrounding offense, and the Gamecocks just won't have the firepower to overtake their bordering state rivals.
Williams threw two interceptions in a game just once last season. So long as he takes care of the football and dictates the pace, there's an upset brewing. By Las Vegas' definition, at least.
Prediction: North Carolina 34, South Carolina 30
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.
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The 2015 college football season is finally here. In a much-anticipated rematch from 2014, the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes head to Blacksburg, Virginia, to face the Virginia Tech Hokies on Monday. In one of the bigger upsets from last season, Tech defeated the Buckeyes 35-21 in Columbus.
Can the Hokies pull it off yet again?
Ohio State will surely be ready.
But, regardless of what most think, it won't be easy. Ohio State heads into the season opener minus several key contributors. Most notably, All-American defensive end Joey Bosa—along with Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson—were suspended for the first week of the season for a violation of athletic department policies.
Another blow hit the champs last week when sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown was lost for the season with a broken leg, per Sam Cooper of Yahoo Sports.
The Hokies have been a bit more fortunate on the injury end. None of Tech's presumed starters—or key contributors—are expected to miss the season opener.
- When: Monday, September 7
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Buckeyes are presently 12-point favorites, via Odds Shark.
The past decade has not been kind to teams replacing a Heisman Trophy winner.
It's even worse if you narrow down the list to teams replacing a Heisman-winning quarterback, which, in this era of the prestigious award, is most of them.
Who could forget life after Johnny Football for Texas A&M? Well, some Aggies certainly would like to after the program experienced plenty of growing pains in an 8-5 season without Johnny Manziel under center. As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, Robert Griffin III was racking up accolades as an NFL rookie, while Baylor dropped to 8-5 with quarterback Nick Florence following a 10-win campaign.
Auburn after Cam Newton left the Plains? You guessed it, 8-5 the following season.
Florida after Tim Tebow left the Swamp? Yup, 8-5.
In fact, if one includes Oklahoma's 8-5 mark in 2009, when Sam Bradford was injured in the first half of the Sooners' first game, the past five teams replacing a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback have finished 8-5.
That is a remarkable coincidence. It's also one that should put a scare into Florida State and Oregon fans on the eve of a new season as those programs look to replace Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
The Seminoles and Ducks, however, are not just standing by, hoping and praying the highly touted players they recruited will ably fill the shoes of their record-setting predecessors.
Following Monday's news that former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was named the starter for Florida State's opener against Texas State on Saturday, per Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat, it's official that each program will trot out a transfer player as its starting signal-caller.
It's a different approach as each program begins a new era without its former star running the offense.
Debating the merits of seeking out a free-agent quarterback—and that is what Golson and new Oregon starter Vernon Adams were earlier this year—at the college level is best left for the offseason. What has become apparent, though, is that head coaches like the Seminoles' Jimbo Fisher seem comfortable taking this route.
It's a risky bet but a calculated one.
"We're very pleased with [Golson's] progress and where he's at right now," Fisher told reporters after Monday's practice. "He's got a good grasp of things. ...
"I think that's always the part that's the toughest: how you fit in with the success of what was going on here and coming from the outside. I think this shows to his character and what kind of young man he is."
Fisher knows better than anybody what Golson is capable of—and not just because he's watched every move the player has made over the past month.
After all, the former Fighting Irish starter came within a controversial pass-interference call of knocking off Florida State last season, throwing for 313 yards and three touchdowns. That performance in Tallahassee caused some to elevate Golson into the Heisman Trophy conversation and Notre Dame into the playoff discussion at the season's midway point.
And there was plenty of merit to that talk too, considering the loss was only the second of Golson's college career.
But then the wheels fell off for both Golson and the Irish.
The quarterback struggled with turnovers (22 in all) as the team lost four of its final five games and fell well short of expectations. After Malik Zaire led Notre Dame to an upset win over LSU in the Music City Bowl and emerged as the team's starting quarterback this spring, the writing was on the wall for the player who had led the program back to national prominence in 2012.
The result of those moves is an unlikely marriage between a dual-threat quarterback in Golson and Fisher's pro-style offense. While Fisher maintained that he was comfortable with Sean Maguire replacing Winston, there are few coaches who'd pass up the chance to add a veteran who has been around the block.
Who can blame him?
Golson was one of the most decorated prep quarterbacks in his recruiting class and led Notre Dame to the national title game as a redshirt freshman. There's no getting around his 20 career interceptions, but it seems like one hardly hears about the 55 touchdowns he accounted for in his two seasons in South Bend.
Besides, Fisher and the Seminoles went 13-1 last season, with their quarterback throwing 18 interceptions. Surely they're used to a little adversity following a turnover.
"[With] where we're at right now and the things [Golson] did, I think it's what's best for our team at this particular time," Fisher added Monday. "I'm very pleased. It was a tougher decision [between Golson and Maguire] because of how well they were playing, not things they weren't doing."
Who knows if Golson will blossom under Fisher's tutelage? Chances are he will be better than what he showed in the latter half of 2014. But even an average season might be enough for a squad still stocked with 5-star recruits to have every opportunity to repeat as ACC champions.
Golson's mobility should help a retooled offensive line, and he'll have plenty of weapons on the outside with budding stars such as Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane. And running back Dalvin Cook, whose legal issues have been cleared up, will take some of the load off the backfield.
Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback is a tall task for any program. At Oregon and especially Florida State, though, a free-agent pickup under center might just make the transition a little easier.
Because one needs to think outside the box to avoid the Heisman curse of 8-5 in 2015.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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When the LSU Tigers open their 2015 season against the McNeese State Cowboys on Sept. 5, Brandon Harris will take the first snap under center. Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune reported the sophomore has won the starting quarterback job over Anthony Jennings.
Harris played in eight games last year, going 25-of-42 for 452 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Jennings received the bulk of the playing time but wasn't convincing in the role, throwing for 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Jennings found himself in legal trouble earlier in the summer but avoided any charges following an incident in which he was alleged to have committed simple burglary. As a result, Miles reinstated the junior as a member of the football team.
While Jennings earned his way back into the QB race, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee argued earlier in the month that Harris was the better of the two choices:
CBS Sports' Matthew Coca believes Harris can take the team to great heights in 2015:
While Harris always looked to be the likelier option, Miles did leave open the possibility that he could reverse course about his starting quarterback midway through the season.
"As you get through a season, you're certainly going to have ebb and flow of play and it's going to be interesting to see if one guy separates himself so significantly that there's no question he's the guy," Miles said before announcing his decision, per ESPN.com's David Ching. "If you look at the necessity of both quarterbacks playing, you just have to guess at some point in time, both guys are going to have to shoulder the load."
LSU should have little trouble dispatching the Cowboys in its season opener, so it wouldn't be surprising if both Harris and Jennings play for extended stretches.
That could impact Miles' thought process as he prepares for a road game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sept. 12. He'll want to be 100 percent confident in the guy he has at quarterback with such a tough opponent on the horizon.
If Harris looks shaky against McNeese State, a demotion isn't out of the question before the Mississippi State game or when LSU welcomes in the Auburn Tigers on Sept. 19.
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Expectations are high for the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2015. Tech, coming off three consecutive lackluster years, opens the season on Labor Day night in Blacksburg against defending national champion Ohio State. If the Hokies can upset the Buckeyes for the second year in a row, the sky's the limit for this year's team.
The Hokies return 16 starters and get two former starters back from injury in defensive tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson. VT's defensive line is arguably the best in the country, as the Hokies can easily go two-deep at each position and face only a slight drop in production. Facyson will team with Kendall Fuller to provide one of the better cornerback tandems in the nation.
Can Virginia Tech return to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011, or better yet, make its first appearance in the College Football Playoff?
Bleacher Report offers a comprehensive 2015 preview for Virginia Tech, including a prediction for the Hokies' season at the end.
Frank Beamer returns for his 29th season in charge of his alma mater. Results haven't been that great over the past three seasons for the legendary Beamer. After a run of eight consecutive 10-win seasons from 2004-2011, Tech is just 22-17 since.
The good news for Hokies fans is that's been just enough to extend Tech's bowl streak to 22 consecutive appearances, good for the second-longest active streak behind only Florida State.
There's a lot of talk around Blacksburg about how much longer Beamer will coach. He had a throat procedure in December that kept him on the sideline for Tech's bowl win, and the recovery cost him 40 pounds. But Beamer said he's never felt better, according to ESPN's Mark Schlabach.
"My job has never been better," Beamer said. "My health is good, I feel good and I'm looking forward to getting it going again. Right now, my job is the best it's ever been at Virginia Tech. Hopefully, we can have some great wins and great years."
Fortunately for Beamer, longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster is back, too. That almost didn't happen, as Foster mulled an offer from Texas A&M to be its defensive coordinator.
Over the years, Foster has received numerous lucrative overtures, but this one was different.
"The rumors were there, but they were real," said Foster per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. "It was probably as close as I’ve ever been to leaving this place."
With Foster back in Blacksburg, there was only one other move on Tech's coaching staff.
Aaron Moorehead left VT after two years as the wide receivers coach for the same position at Texas A&M. Replacing Moorehead is Virginia native Zohn Burden.
Burden comes to Tech with good results. He spent the past three seasons coaching wide receivers and was the passing-game coordinator at Old Dominion. The Monarchs featured an explosive passing offense and were one of the top-scoring offenses in college football during Burden's time there.
Burden is a Virginia Beach native, a graduate of VMI and is just 31 years old. The Hokies hope Burden gives them a leg up, recruiting-wise, in the talent-rich "757" where the Hokies used to dominate.
What to Watch Out for on Offense
Michael Brewer is back at quarterback for the Hokies. Brewer had an up-and-down season in 2014. The best part of last season was his performance in the win over Ohio State. However, that was largely forgotten by the time the Hokies lost to Wake Forest, 6-3, in overtime in November.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler hopes Brewer's knowledge of the offense and comfort level in his receivers results in a better 2015 season. Last fall, Brewer had just transferred to the Hokies from Texas Tech and didn't really have time to learn the complete playbook before winning the job.
Brewer will certainly have a lot of young talent around him. Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges all return. All three are sophomores and combined for 141 receptions, 1,733 yards and 16 touchdowns as freshmen last season.
Ford and Phillips will start at receiver, while Hodges—a tight end—will also see plenty of time in the slot. Senior tight end Ryan Malleck is also a talented pass-catcher.
At running back, Tech has a plethora of options.
J.C. Coleman returns as the starter after breaking out in a big way over the last four games of the 2014 season. Coleman ran for 468 yards in VT's final four games last fall. He and former starter Trey Edmunds give the Hokies two good—and different—options at tailback.
Edmunds has battled injuries in his career, but he is a big, physical runner who excels between the tackles.
Behind them are a pair of rising sophomores in Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams. Both players were coming on last year before each player tore an ACL, therefore ending two promising debut campaigns.
With the options the Hokies have, coaches may decide to redshirt McKenzie and/or Williams, especially with the emergence of redshirt freshman Travon McMillian.
McMillian, a former high school quarterback, is a big play waiting to happen every time he touches the football, according to running backs coach Shane Beamer, per Bitter.
“He’s got a home run ability,” Beamer said. “Not that Trey Edmunds and J.C. and those other guys don’t, but Travon’s got an ability to make people miss.”
The offensive line returns three starters in 2015. Jonathan McLaughlin, a two-year starter at tackle, is back on the left side after playing on the right side last year. He's big and athletic and continues to improve in pass protection.
Left guard Wyatt Teller is the best player of this group. He's big (6'5", 304 lbs), agile and has a nasty streak. He's still acclimating himself to the position, as he was recruited to Virginia Tech as a defensive end. The running game really took off last season once he was inserted into the starting lineup.
Augie Conte is the starter at right guard, while Wade Hansen—also a former defensive lineman—starts at right tackle.
Sophomore Eric Gallo is the line's most inexperienced player, and he is the Hokies' new starting center.
What to Watch Out for on Defense
The two biggest keys to a strong defense are a formidable pass rush and cornerbacks who can cover. Virginia Tech has each of those things.
The Hokies have arguably the top defensive line in the country. Defensive ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem return this season. The pair combined for 33 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks in 2014.
It's almost an embarrassment of riches for VT at defensive tackle.
Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy return as the starters. Marshall had an outstanding 2014 season and can play defensive end in a pinch, too. He's undersized, but his quickness is often too much to handle for opposing offensive linemen.
Maddy returns after missing most of last season due to a knee injury. He was slated for a big year, but his knee never felt right, and coaches decided to keep him out and attempt to get a medical redshirt for him.
A former All-ACC player, Maddy is equally adept at rushing the passer as he is as stopping the run. If healthy, he could be the best player on the talented defensive line.
Junior Woody Baron is Tech's third defensive tackle. He's experienced and is a playmaker according to defensive line coach Charley Wiles, per Joey Coogan of The Key Play.
"It's about making plays. It's about turning plays. It's a production-based business," said Wiles. "Woody's made a lot of plays for us."
Nigel Williams, another experienced backup, returns, too. He will battle redshirt freshman Steve Sobczak—a fall-camp standout—for the fourth spot among Tech's defensive tackles.
The depth is so good that incoming freshman Tim Settle will likely redshirt.
At linebacker, Andrew Motuapuaka gets his chance to man the middle. When Chase Williams went down last season, Motuapuaka had his moments. He was a strong tackler—finishing with 10 or more tackles in four straight games—and had a strong grasp of Foster's defense.
However, he sometimes played too fast and got himself out of position. That was more than likely a result of just being a young player seeing extended action for the first time.
Deon Clarke is Tech's top playmaker at linebacker. The senior had a good year in 2014 and made plays throughout Tech's spring- and fall-camp sessions.
All-American Kendall Fuller is back for what is likely his last season in Blacksburg. The junior will likely be a high pick in next year's NFL draft.
A starter since arriving on campus in 2013, Fuller doesn't just shadow opposing wide receivers around the field, he's also an outstanding tackler. The Hokies hope his running-mate, Brandon Facyson, is back at full health this fall.
After watching him over the summer, Foster seems to think he is, according to Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post.
“I saw the Brandon Facyson I saw two years ago,” Foster said.
Facyson returning to the player he was as a true freshman in 2013 could give Tech the top cornerback duo in the nation.
The safety position is a little unsettled at the moment.
Chuck Clark, starter at cornerback last fall, has the free safety position locked down. A Swiss Army knife for the Hokies' secondary the last two seasons, Clark can play all over the secondary. He is good in coverage and strong in run support as well.
At rover, junior Desmond Frye is the starter. While Frye possesses good size and speed, he is currently the starter by default.
C.J. Reavis won the starting position after a strong spring. Unfortunately for Reavis and the Hokies, the student-conduct committee dismissed Reavis back in July, leaving Foster in a tough position.
Keep an eye on true freshman Adonis Alexander at rover. At 6'3", 192 pounds, Alexander has outstanding size and enjoys contact—a must for this position. He also enrolled in January and is up to speed on Foster's defensive schemes.
Unlike the last two seasons, Virginia Tech is in good shape on the injury front. Some guys have missed practice time with various ailments, but nothing that will keep anyone out long-term.
Sophomore tight end Kalvin Cline, expected to be Tech's No. 3 tight end this fall, is nursing a knee injury. The severity of that isn't known, but it's worth noting that he isn't listed third on the depth chart at his position.
Nicolas (hand), Hansen (foot) and Marshall (shoulder) all missed some time this summer. However, none of the injuries are serious; expect all three players to suit up on Labor Day against the Buckeyes.
As mentioned earlier, McKenzie and Williams are still recovering from ACL tears. McKenzie is ready for action, but Williams is a litter further behind. Don't be surprised if one or both redshirt, although it's more likely for Williams.
Hodges is a 6'7", 242-pound wide receiver/tight end who can run. The former quarterback made a seamless transition to tight end last fall, catching 45 passes and seven touchdowns.
He is a matchup nightmare for any defensive coordinator.
Hodges caught game-winning touchdowns—or the go-ahead score—on more than one occasion last fall. And he didn't just do it based on sheer size and athletic ability.
Hodges showed a keen understanding of how to use his size to his advantage. Like a power forward in basketball, Hodges would box out opposing defensive backs in the end zone to make touchdown grabs.
His blocking is still a work in progress, but he will rarely leave the field this fall. He's too valuable in the passing game.
Hodges is sure to see more double-teams this season, leading to more opportunities for Ford, Phillips and Malleck.
While Hodges is listed as a tight end, expect coaches to move him around a lot in 2015. He could spend a good portion of the season playing in the slot. Also, there's a good chance he'll be the Hokies' No. 3 wide receiver on occasion, allowing Malleck to come in and play tight end. It's a creative way to get more talented pass-catchers on the field together.
If Hodges were to sustain an injury that would cause him to miss any time, it would be a significant blow to Virginia Tech's offense. He has the kind of talent that forces opposing teams to change everything about their defense just to account for him.
A healthy Hodges is one reason Hokies fans are expecting a bounce-back season in 2015.
It begins with a home date against defending national champion Ohio State. In a rematch from 2014, the Hokies should expect the Buckeyes to come to Blacksburg full of rage with redemption on their minds.
OSU's loss to Virginia Tech last fall was its only defeat of the season. It was also J.T. Barrett's second career start.
Barrett is back, as is Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller. Miller switched to wide receiver, but the Hokies could see a lot of both Barrett and Jones. Jones has the bigger arm, and Barrett is the better overall runner. Both do outstanding jobs of running head coach Urban Meyer's spread offense.
The Hokies head to Purdue in Week 3. It's the first-ever matchup between the two schools. The Boilermakers have been cellar-dwellers recently, but third-year coach Darrell Hazell is looking to get Purdue back on track.
The following week, Tech looks for revenge as it heads south to face East Carolina. The Pirates, of course, upset the Hokies last fall. While ECU is always a tough opponent, things should be a bit easier this time around, as the Pirates had to replace several key starters from a year ago.
Pittsburgh, another team that defeated the Hokies in 2014, heads to Blacksburg in Week 5. James Conner and Tyler Boyd both return for the Panthers, and new head coach Pat Narduzzi will have a much-improved defense.
NC State is on the schedule in 2015 for the first time since 2010. The Hokies won the past three meetings between the schools and three of four since Tech entered the ACC back in 2004.
An October 17 contest against Miami should have huge Coastal Division implications. The 'Canes and Hokies have been bitter rivals since their days in the Big East.
Since the inception of the ACC Championship Game back in 2005, either the Hokies or the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have represented the Coastal in the title game with the exception of one season. Expect their Thursday, November 12 clash to have similar repercussions.
In the season finale, VT heads to Charlottesville to face in-state rival Virginia. The Hokies have won the past 11 meetings and 15 of the last 16.
Is this the year UVA finally takes possession of the Commonwealth Cup?
Outside of the season opener against OSU, the 2015 schedule isn't a particularly daunting one for the Hokies. There are games against Miami, Pitt and Georgia Tech that will be tough battles, but the Hokies can win all of those games.
Don't expect Tech to pull off the shocker next week. Defeating the Buckeyes in two consecutive seasons just doesn't seem possible. However, look for VT to make it much closer than many think.
The Hokies have strong depth at several key positions this fall. So, in theory, they're better prepared to withstand injuries than in the past few seasons. Unfortunately, Tech does lack depth at defensive end, the offensive line and wide receiver. One injury at any of these positions could create chaos for the Hokies' season.
Virginia Tech will lose the season opener against Ohio State but go on a run winning eight straight games before falling to Georgia Tech in November. The Hokies will bounce back, winning their final two games to finish 10-2 (7-1) on the season. With the loss to Georgia Tech, though, the Hokies won't be competing in the ACC title game.
Instead, Tech keeps its bowl streak alive and begins another string of 10-win seasons.
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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher officially named Everett Golson as the team’s starting quarterback a mere five days before the Seminoles open their 2015 campaign against Texas State on Saturday, according to Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat.
Golson is a graduate transfer and former Notre Dame signal-caller and beat out Sean Maguire, redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino and freshman Deondre Francois for the position. Maguire was largely seen as the stiffest competition considering he knocked off Clemson last year when starter Jameis Winston was suspended.
Golson threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdown passes as a member of the Fighting Irish in 2014. He also added eight touchdowns on the ground, although he was turnover-prone with 14 interceptions.
Fisher previously commented on what it would take to win the starting quarterback spot, per Jared Shanker of ESPN.com: "It's a combination of things that one guy has that allows him to have a certain personality that translates to the team. Quarterback is too complex to only have one or two things you do well to be successful."
As a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, Golson brings plenty of experience in high-pressure situations to the table. That, along with his ability to keep plays alive with his feet in the face of blitzes, will prove important since the Seminoles will replace all five starters from the 2014 offensive line.
Fisher spoke with reporters following the decision:
Given Golson’s experience, willingness to transfer to Florida State this offseason and overall skill set, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach and Ryen Russillo were not surprised he was named the starter:
As long as Golson cuts down on his turnovers and continues to hurt opposing defenses in a variety of ways, he should keep Florida State squarely in the discussion for another College Football Playoff berth.
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Richt commented on the competition, saying it was "very, very close," adding the battle was still going on in his mind despite Lambert being named the starter, per Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lambert, a junior who transferred from Virginia, beat out Brice Ramsey for the starting gig. His experience at Virginia was certainly a differentiating factor between the two players.
Ramsey certainly came into the spring as the favorite to win the job given his potential, but Lambert's experience and competitive drive convinced Georgia to wait on handing the reins over to Ramsey.
While Lambert's numbers at Virginia weren't exactly impressive, he also wasn't surrounded by the talent the Bulldogs have on offense with tailback Nick Chubb, wideout Malcolm Mitchell and the four starters on the offensive line.
Lambert's job is hardly safe, however, and it's very possible the two players could even split snaps throughout the season. Richt hinted as much after the team's final preseason scrimmage, per Chip Towers of DawgNation.com, saying then, “There may be more than one guy playing. If it was today, my feeling is we’d play more than one guy.”
In other words, Lambert shouldn't get too comfortable with his starting gig. It's possible he'll simply be sharing the job with Ramsey throughout the season unless one of the pair truly distinguishes himself at some point. And if Lambert falters, Georgia won't hesitate to sit him in favor of Ramsey to maintain its national title aspirations.
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With just a few days before the return of the college football season, fans and analysts everywhere are locking in their preseason picks for the second playoff bracket and conference championships.
As we get closer to Thursday's kickoff of the FBS campaign, it's time to unveil some final bowl and playoff predictions for 2015.
After going through each schedule and tallying up bowl eligibility and tie-ins, the following slides contain potential matchups for all 40 postseason games set for later this year—including the New Year's Six and the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Many of these tie-ins are grouped into tiers by the conferences, so there isn't a respective order to the selections—standings don't necessarily matter for the standard bowl games. These predictions have been based on personal preference on what matchups would be the most entertaining, given the possibilities for each game.
Post your final College Football Playoff predictions and predict which bowl your favorite team is going to land this season in the comments below. Enjoy some of the final heated debates of the 2015 preseason.
UCLA Bruins defensive back Ishmael Adams was arrested for suspicion of robbery on campus stemming from an incident early Monday morning.
Daily Bruin Sports initially reported the news and noted bail was set at $100,000. ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura cited UCLA police in specifying Adams allegedly used force to steal a cellphone from an Uber driver and was placed under arrest at around 3:30 a.m. local time.
Edward Lewis of Rivals.com passed along a statement from UCLA on the matter:
The Los Angeles Daily News' Jack Wang reported Adams "is scheduled to appear in court at 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. website."
Adams is entering his redshirt junior season with the Bruins and has been a two-year starter in the secondary. He also returned punts and kicks for UCLA in 2014, so the Bruins would miss Adams' presence in multiple phases of the game if he faces disciplinary consequences.
The Bruins ranked 93rd in the country versus the pass last season, per NCAA.com. Having an experienced leader in Adams is vital to the defensive backfield's improvement in 2015. UCLA opens the season this Saturday against Virginia.
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