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Welcome to the Most Mysterious College Football Season in Recent Memory

One of the top Heisman Trophy candidates is a guy who might be standing on the sidelines. Another is a quarterback who was a receiver not long ago. It seems that half of the top teams are still trying to figure out who their quarterback is.        

Coaches are behaving badly and one of them was already fired. And the dominant SEC? Maybe not so much anymore. Or maybe it still will be.

Welcome to the start of the strangest, most mysterious college football season anyone can remember. It starts Thursday night in full, though a small-college offensive innovator, Montana's Bob Stitt, already beat the back-to-back-to-back-to-back FCS national champ, North Dakota State, in his first game as a head coach, making him a cult figure behind the hashtag #stitthappens.

Maybe that's the motto for this entire season.

It isn't like college football to have this many unknowns. This isn't a sport bent on parity. The worst team doesn't get the first pick in the draft—instead, the best teams get the best recruits. Things don't change.

But things are changing now.

In the South, college football fans feel that the sport is their birthright. But after watching the SEC gets its, well, rear end handed to it in the bowl season last year, who even knows what the best conference is anymore? The Pac-12? The Big 12, with TCU and Baylor flying around and above everyone? Or even the Big Ten, the sport's joke the past several years, which produced national champ Ohio State and now has the most mysterious man in football: Jim Harbaugh.

Most people figure Harbaugh will turn Michigan around and that it won't take long. Going 6-6 or 7-5 this year would be a first-step improvement in line with most expectations, but look at the Wolverines' lenient schedule. Based on it and Harbaugh's past success rate, couldn't Michigan have just one loss—and the entire nation's attention—when it faces Ohio State in the final game of the regular season?

The face of college football isn't just the person who gets on the cover of magazines and onto SportsCenter highlights. He's the person who defines the identity of the sport. Usually, we have a pretty good idea going into the season who that is.

This year? There is no more Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, who were the faces of last season. One brought focus to off-field troubles (and great play) while the other brought focus to humility (and greater play). They became the identity of the entire sport, as the player, or person, with all the attention always does.

Johnny Manziel's speed and flamboyance defined a season. Nick Saban's bullying, methodical genius identified a year or two before that. Not too far in the past, it was Tim Tebow.

But now? Maybe Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones? That's who I'd pick—a new-age guy who is big, powerful and fast all at the same time, at the quarterback position of all places.

One problem:

He might not play.

J.T. Barrett, already named one of Ohio State's team captains, might be the starter. Coach Urban Meyerisn't telling reporters. But if Barrett doesn't play, then the national champions will have a captain sitting on the bench.

It could be TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, who used to be a receiver but now might be the prototype for the Heisman, a running/passing QB. Unless Jones changes the prototype.

If he plays.

Some people like USC quarterback Cody Kessler to define the season. He has the Heisman skills and the Hollywood spotlight. But his team starts the year under controversy after coach Steve Sarkisian's alcohol-fueled, f-bomb-laced speech. Sark is getting treatment, and the players got to pick a coach's punishment, which amounted to burpees.

It was better than Illinois coach Tim Beckman, already fired for his alleged mistreatment of player injuries.

Can anyone catch Ohio State? Well, it could be Oregon now that Vernon Adams Jr. passed his math test.

Seriously. Mariota is gone and Davis was able to transfer to Oregon and play immediately only after he officially graduated from Eastern Washington.

The Ducks aren't a sure thing either, though. Coach Mark Helfrich was able to keep program from regressing after Chip Kelly left, but he still had Kelly's QB. Now that Mariota has joined Kelly in the NFL, too, Helfrich needs to prove it's his program and a winning one. (Hint: He will.)

As everyone knows, the quarterback is almost always the team leader, the face of the team, the identity. Well, it took until Monday for Florida State to name Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson as the face of its team:

Also on Monday, Georgia named Greyson Lambert starting QB, and Ole Miss named Chad Kelly. LSU coach Les Miles rushed to the hospital—he told reporters he had a bad reaction to having too much coffee—and then came back and named Brandon Harris.

Last we saw, UCLA coach Jim Mora was tearing into his freshman quarterback, Josh Rosen, in practice. And Meyer isn't the only power-program coach who has yet to name a starting QB: Michigan still hasn't, and Saban has three quarterbacks listed as the starter for Alabama's game Saturday against Wisconsin.

There's a word for all of this—a word we try to avoid, a swear word in sports: parity. Though that's better than what the Big Ten had heard for years: laughingstock.

Not anymore. It might be hard to figure out from the start who to cheer for—other than your own team—and who against. It might be exciting or just confusing. But more than ever, almost everyone gets a fair shake this time.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

DFS College Football 2015: Best Value Sleepers to Target Early This Season

That giddy sensation you're feeling comes from daily fantasy college football about to kick off. On Thursday night, DFS players all across the country will cash in on unpaid athletes—and it feels so good.

In order to see a big payday, owners will need to know big-name players like Deshaun Watson or Pharoh Cooper. But to build a winning lineup over the next several weeks, finding value players can be a difficult task with so many moving parts in college football. Here's a look at our value plays to start the season.


Quarterback: Maty Mauk, Missouri ($6,500)

Looking for a consistent quarterback who is far below the $9,000 mark? Maty Mauk is your man. The Missouri signal-caller was solid last year and heads into his junior season with plenty of expectations and enough talent to carry the Tigers.

Much like several college quarterbacks, Mauk faces easy opponents to start the season before entering SEC play. If he maintains his $6,500 price tag against cupcakes like Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas State and UConn, expect Mauk to outperform his value early on.


Running Back: A.J. Ouellette, Ohio ($6,400)

You may not know his name now, but A.J. Ouellette has a chance to emerge as a fantasy stud this season. The sophomore tailback exploded for Ohio as a walk-on during his freshman campaign. He'll show why he earned a scholarship last season when he explodes against Idaho.

In 2014, Idaho ranked 119th in the country (that's out of 125 teams) in rushing yards allowed with 246.2 per game. Meanwhile, Ouellette averaged 126 rushing yards with five total touchdowns in his final three games of 2014. Even at over $6,000, Ouellette is a great value play for any lineup.


Running Back: De'Veon Smith, Michigan ($4,500)

New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has a quarterback battle on his hands for the season opener against Utah. But there is no question who will start at running back with De'Veon Smith emerging this offseason. The 5'11", 228-pound junior is ready to start his third collegiate game and make a statement against Utah.

Last year in the season opener, Smith rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just eight attempts. Don't expect those exact numbers against Utah, a decent rushing defense in 2014, but look for Smith to prove why he's worthy of keeping the starting job. That makes him an ideal start as an RB2 or flex for just $4,500 on DraftKings.


Wide Receiver: Mitch Mathews, BYU ($6,700)

What is there not to like about Mitch Mathews? At 6'6", Mathews towers over defensive backs. With 73 receptions for 922 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, he's a force for BYU's dynamic offense. Oh, and he has Taysom Hill throwing him the ball again after a season-ending injury six games into last season.

Another positive, as Mathews pointed out to Talo Steves of Scout.com, is that he has help now at receiver and should put together a complete game against Nebraska.

"We’ll be able to rotate a lot of receivers to keep us fresh and be as effective as we can be," Mathews said. "Last season I was playing almost 70 plays a game and that’s a lot. At the end of the game you’re exhausted and your routes aren’t as crisp. We’ve got a lot of depth at receiver, which will help."

Expect a fresh Mathews at the beginning and end of his matchup with Nebraska. In four must-win games for the Cougars to compete on the national stage, Mathews will have to shine against Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan. Even at $6,700 for the opener, Mathews is a massive value for DraftKings owners.


Wide Receiver: Marquez North, Tennessee ($4,200)

Hello, opportunity. Marquez North got just that when Pig Howard was suspended for the season opener against Bowling Green. Despite battling through an offseason injury and missing multiple games to close out last season, North is ready to go against Bowling Green, according to head coach Butch Jones.

As the top option for Joshua Dobbs, North should thrive against Bowling Green. Owners will have to play wait and see after that with Howard likely returning and a wealth of playmakers on the roster. But at $4,200, North is a low-risk, high-reward receiver on DraftKings to slot at either WR2 or WR3 in Week 1.


Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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College Football Week 1 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

At long last, college football is back. The new season kicks off Thursday night, and it's sure to provide many twists and turns over the next five months as the journey to crown the second annual playoff champion takes center stage.

Reigning champion Ohio State begins its title defense with a tricky matchup against Virginia Tech. That highly anticipated clash will close out the opening week Monday night with plenty of drama sure to unfold before the Buckeyes and Hokies take the field.

So let's check out the complete slate of action for Week 1, along with viewing details for each contest. That's followed by a look at some of the best games to keep tabs on over the next handful of days.


Week 1 TV Schedule


Top Games to Watch

Texas vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

Texas is trending in the right direction under Charlie Strong, as evidenced by a top-10 incoming class of recruits, per 247Sports. The question is how long will it take for the talent to start translating into results. Expectations for this season are low by Longhorns standards after missing out on the preseason top 25.

A Week 1 upset over Notre Dame would go a long way in changing that outlook. A senior-laden defensive group and some big-play weapons at the skill positions, led by running back Johnathan Gray, makes Texas dangerous. But a lot will depend on the play of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

While there were flashes of potential from Swoopes last season, he lacked the game-to-game consistency necessary to push Texas into contention. A talented Fighting Irish front seven is going to test him immediately with a lot of pressure.

Notre Dame should have more stability on both sides of the ball, especially if Malik Zaire lives up to the hype under center. As a result, Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports forecasts a blowout:

Don't be surprised if Texas puts up more of a fight than that projection suggests. The talent is there for the Longhorns to give the Irish some trouble, but the question is whether they are going to hit the ground running or if it's going to take some time for them to showcase the progress.


No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama

Alabama opens the season with the first of seven games against teams ranked inside the preseason top 25. As always, the difficult schedule is both a blessing and a curse. Life in the SEC can help build a strong résumé, but it also means there are few weeks where the Crimson Tide will be on cruise control.

One of the biggest questions in the nation is how they will replace Amari Cooper, who caught 124 of the team's 290 completed passes last season. Whether another wideout, should it be ArDarius Stewart, Robert Foster or somebody else, can rise to the occasion will be a huge factor.

It's a facet of Bama's game that could get tested right away. Wisconsin finished 23rd in rush defense last season and returns a majority of its starts in the front seven. The Badgers should be able to slow the Tide down enough on the ground to force them into several key third-and-long situations.

The game is crucial for the underdogs too, of course. Jesse Temple of ESPN explains why this game could be a season-changer for the Badgers:

To play teams like Alabama is one thing. To win is another—something that could help elevate Wisconsin's national perception and provide the program with visions of a truly meaningful post-New Year's Day game.

Wisconsin could make a quick vault into the top 10 with a victory, and its schedule this season looks favorable, at least for now. Add in the fact Alabama doesn't want to drop a game to make the rest of the season even more daunting and you have a recipe for an intense battle.


No. 1 Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech

Yes, this is a game any national title contender should win. Virginia Tech has the appearance of a good, but not great, team, and the Buckeyes should hold the edge in most areas. There are a lot of other factors in play as Ohio State begins the title defense, though.

Along with the difficulty of getting back into game mode after a long, grueling road to a championship last season, the Buckeyes have to deal with the added pressure of being the champs. Moving from the intangible to the tangible, they also have four key suspensions, including star defender Joey Bosa.

As for the quarterback situation, it seems head coach Urban Meyer isn't going to provide any more information. He'll just wait until the offense takes the field to let everybody find out his starter, per Austin Ward of ESPN.

"We'll announce the starter when the first guy takes the snap," Meyer said. "It's still very close, both guys are performing very well.

"If it was different skill sets, we probably would [need to decide], but they're not. If you look at J.T.'s game plan when he was our quarterback and Cardale's, it was very similar. There's a chance they'll both play, as well, so that hasn't really [been a factor] with our mindset with a game plan on offense."

All of those variables at least open the door a crack for Virginia Tech to pull off a shocker. Make no mistake, it's going to take a near perfect performance from Michael Brewer, Deon Clarke and Co. to turn the season upside down right away, but the opportunity is there.


Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Longhorns vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Complete Game Preview


Texas and Notre Dame each will battle for second place on the all-time wins list on Saturday, but that's the only thing these two teams have in common.

After a finishing the season strong against LSU in the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly returns one of the most experienced rosters in the country. That, along with the emergence of quarterback Malik Zaire, has the Fighting Irish within a stone's throw of a top-10 ranking.

Charlie Strong doesn't have it quite so good. A weak 2014 finish has many looking down on the Longhorns, who will replace 10 starters from last year's 6-7 squad. With 24 freshmen on the two-deep, the rebuild is still very much on.

So while the all-time implications may not live up to the hype, the first impressions provided by these teams should be plenty interesting.


When Texas Has the Ball

The Longhorns' best hope on offense is to find success against Notre Dame's depleted defensive front. If they can't, then they're going to put a ton of pressure on their defense.

As noted by the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis, it hasn't been a great offseason for the Irish up front. NFL prospect Ishaq Williams has been declared ineligible for this season, Jarron Jones tore his MCL in fall camp, two pass-rushers transferred out and one JUCO recruit never enrolled. 

Kelly still has seniors Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara holding it down, but everyone else is a sophomore or younger. That's where Texas will try to assert its edge and spring its running backs, especially senior Johnathan Gray.

The question is whether the Longhorn line is up to the task. Texas returns three starters up front, but will trot out two true freshmen who will be charged with trying to create running lanes against the likes of Jaylon Smith.

If the running game can't get going, the onus falls on Swoopes, who struggled when he had to be a one-man show in 2014. It's no coincidence that against TCU and Arkansas, his two worst performances of the year, the Horns ran for a total of 92 yards on 54 attempts.

But if Texas can create room, and possibly keep the Irish guessing by deploying Swoopes on a runner, this team's defense gives it a chance.


When Notre Dame Has the Ball

Make no mistake—the Irish can hurt the Longhorns in a variety of ways.

Led by running back Tarean Folston, the Irish return all six of last season's leaders in yards from scrimmage. On top of that, dual-threat terror Malik Zaire returns after a full season to learn Kelly's system.

Heading into this matchup, Kelly feels good about where Zaire is with the offense:

Yeah, it's a totally different Malik Zaire. A lot of it was first start [against LSU], not sure what to expect from him. We knew that he was a young man that had the ability to do some things in the run game. Weren't sure what he could do in the passing game. We saw that certainly he was capable.

But his development has been so much more since that game through the spring, through the summer and now in pregame, he's much more developed in all phases of the game, a lot more confident and certainly a lot more in tune with all of the receivers and the offensive line and just much more comfortable.

And while Kelly feels like he sees a different Zaire, it's the junior's legs that should scare the Longhorns. Taysom Hill, Sam B. Richardson and Trevone Boykin all had big games against the Horns in 2014, and that team had far more veteran talent than this squad.

The Longhorn defense should be fine next season, but corralling all this explosive talent with nine freshmen on the two-deep will be tough. Texas' best bet is to crowd the line of scrimmage and force Zaire to prove how much he's really developed.

If Zaire can pick the Horns apart with his arm, then so be it.


Key Players for Texas: The Offensive Line

Nothing takes the air out of an opposing stadium like some old-fashioned ground-and-pound. And that's the only way Texas is going to take out the Irish on the road.

Texas has to be able to run to win this game. Even if Tyrone Swoopes is a new guy, he's missing his top-two receivers from last season, and he has a freshman protecting his blindside in Connor Williams. He can't win this game throwing 40-plus passes.

On the flip side, Williams and fellow freshman starter were brought up because they're real maulers. They're also going to be blocking for a probable 1,000-yard back in Gray, a rising star in D'Onta Foreman and a freak-show athlete in Chris Warren. Against a depleted defensive front, this team has a chance to move the chains.

Truly, it'd be one of the year's bigger upsets for Texas to run up to Notre Dame, with one of the nation's youngest rosters in the country, and tie up the all-time series. If it happens, it'll be because the offensive line set the tone.


Key Player for Notre Dame: RB Tarean Folston

With Greg Bryant possibly gone for good, it's Tarean Folston's show in the backfield. That means it's his job to make Zaire's job easy in the first game of the season.

Running behind an elite offensive line, Folston can end this one early. He's going to get the ball for as long as he's productive, and that will open things up for his quarterback down the field. 

If Folston can't break through Texas' sneaky deep defensive line, then this offense could be in trouble. Not only are Horns underrated up front, but they return three starters from a secondary that gave up only 5.7 yards per attempt last season. That was good enough to tie for fourth in the nation, per cfbstats.com.

So, much like Swoopes, Zaire could easily throw his way into a lot of trouble. Or Folston can run like the feature back he wants to be, and the Irish will handle their business.


Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Texas 23

Two things are pretty obvious about this matchup.

The first is that whoever can control the ball will force the other team to get away from what it really wants to do. The other is that Notre Dame has much more talent and experience that says it'll get this done.

However, Texas isn't going to lay down. This is a young team, but it's a young team composed of exactly the type of players Strong wants to go to war with. Even last season, when his defense was shoving opposing offenses into quicksand, there were still some issues with guys being fully committed to the team.

This time around, Strong feels like his team is buying in:

It's been fun to watch, even with the offensive linemen where guys are still coaching the younger players. But when you take on that type of personality and you start seeing it form as a team, that's what you want to see. What you're developing for them as a team and you watch the confidence, you watch the consistency and you watch guys just all of a sudden begin to pull everybody in and become as one.

These Horns will figure out a way to make this closer than it should be, but the Irish will emerge with a comfortable win. There's just too much skill and experience on that sideline.


Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com and UND.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Complete Game Preview

An offseason of hype will finally come to an end on Monday when No. 1 Ohio State invades Blacksburg, Virginia, for a prime-time matchup against Virginia Tech.

The Buckeyes, fresh off their run through the first-ever College Football Playoff, are looking to avenge their only loss of their championship season—a stunning 35-21 defeat in last year's home opener. The Hokies, coming off a disappointing 7-6 campaign, are hoping to prove that last year's game wasn't a fluke.

Beyond that, the highly anticipated season opener should answer a lot of the offseason's biggest questions. Which of the elite quarterbacks will take the field first as Ohio State's starter? Will the suspensions of Joey Bosa and a trio of pivotal receivers play a huge (and potentially decisive) role? Is Virginia Tech ready to reemerge as the national contender it was a decade ago?


Date: Monday, Sept. 7

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia


Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkVirginia Tech Radio Network

Spread: Ohio State State (-11), via Odds Shark 

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Bowling Green Falcons Complete Game Preview

The Tennessee Volunteers will finally end all this hype and speculation when they take the field Saturday in a neutral-site season opener that will still have a hometown feel.

Coach Butch Jones' Vols will open in Nashville's Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, in a game that will showcase plenty of UT's young talent on display against Mid-American Conference upstart Bowling Green.

It's only fitting that the Vols open in the Midstate considering all the talent on the roster that hails from there.

After a preseason camp that featured far too many injuries, plenty of physical position battles and a wealth of attention from national media in nearly every major publication, it's good to finally be playing football. UT begins the season ranked 25th, and it'll kick right into full-throttle action.

The Falcons finished 8-6 a season ago with a win over South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl, and that was without star quarterback Matt Johnson, who'll return from a season-ending injury suffered last year.

"They're a very, very explosive offense," Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.

Tennessee, meanwhile, took an important step forward, finishing 7-6 to have its first winning season since 2009 and win its first bowl game since two years before that.

It was just the tip of expectations on Rocky Top, and this offseason already has come to a head of excitement ready to explode. UT fans are hungry to contend for an SEC title. That may still be a year away, but a strong start against BGSU may get the Vols believing.

Let's take a look at everything you need to know for the matchup.


Date: Saturday, Sep. 5

Time: 4 ET

Place: Nissan Stadium, Nashville

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, Bowling Green Falcons Sports Network, Sirius 119/XM 192

Spread: Tennessee by 20.5 points, according to Oddsshark.com.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Betting Props: Win Total Odds Analysis for UCLA, TCU

When breaking down 2015 college football win totals and trying to assess best bets for the upcoming season, one of the most important factors to address is the juice you might need to lay to wager on the over or under when favored.

For this reason, bettors would be wise to look for value on the underdog side of the equation and hope oddsmakers missed the boat when setting their opening numbers.

However, one school that stands out this year with the same number on both sides for a pick’em at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark is the UCLA Bruins at nine over/under (20-23). The Bruins appear to be undervalued despite being public darlings because they underachieved last season.

Former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was an early Heisman Trophy candidate but left school early after his junior year and went from being a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft to a fifth-round pick. The Bruins finished with a 10-3 record last season, but that included a 40-35 win over the Kansas State Wildcats in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Keep in mind that conference championships and bowl games do not count in the final win total tally at most sportsbooks, so make sure to check the rules.

This year, UCLA has one of the most prized freshmen in the country replacing Hundley in Josh Rosen. The Bruins are hoping the buzz around Rosen will help them play a lot better at the Rose Bowl this season after going just 3-3 there compared to 5-0 on the road.

If this team comes together and the offensive line protects Rosen better than it did Hundley, then going over nine wins is a solid play for this top Pac-12 contender.

Another school that looks to be over-hyped in 2015 is the Big 12’s TCU Horned Frogs at 10 over (2-3).

Even though the Horned Frogs are coming off a 12-win season and should be motivated after missing the College Football Playoff a year ago, they have tough road games against the Kansas State Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners along with a difficult home matchup with the Baylor Bears in their home finale.

TCU going 9-3 does not seem like a long shot, although the betting odds have that possibility listed at 6-5.

With quarterback Trevone Boykin getting a lot of love as the early Heisman Trophy favorite, the Horned Frogs are receiving more media attention than ever. That has a tendency to backfire, so take a shot on the under with value.


Odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Utah, Not Jim Harbaugh, Is the Most Important Thing to Watch on Opening Night

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the college football season kicks into high gear on Thursday night.

Yes, we’ve once again made it through another offseason and finally can put a halt to the bloviating and pondering to sit down and watch a real, live, actual football game.

One of the most anticipated contests of Week 1 has been the much-anticipated debut of Jim Harbaugh as the head coach at his alma mater, Michigan. You’d actually be hard-pressed not to know the game is happening judging by the amount of media coverage that has been generated by Harbaugh-mania.

While the return of a conquering hero (in the minds of the Maize and Blue faithful) is a notable storyline heading into Thursday night’s game, it is not the only one. In fact, if that’s all you know about the game, you might want to keep an eye out for the home team. 

You know, the one that we know is actually good.

Utah isn’t ranked in the top 25 to start the year, but they should be and enter 2015 as one of a number of teams which legitimately earn the label of “Pac-12 contender.” Head coach Kyle Whittingham’s squad is coming off a 9-4 season, has a ton of starters returning and will be led on the field by a Heisman hopeful in running back Devontae Booker.

Sadly for the Utes, the most notable media coverage they’ve gotten about their opener may have been about cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes.

In this month’s edition of Popular Mechanics, editors noted that the college football season will get underway with Michigan taking on a “cupcake” opponent in Utah. The line did not go unnoticed in Salt Lake City, and it was promptly posted on the team’s bulletin board, according to local station Fox 13.

While the team and the magazine later had a good laugh over the whole matter, the incident was quite indicative of what most fans’ thinking is coming into the game: Michigan, Michigan and more Michigan.

Even Fox Sports, which is broadcasting the game, has trotted out a Harbaugh-inspired bus with a khaki paint scheme to promote the game. Tune into a show on the network this week, and you could even be treated to a promo shot of a handful of people dressed up like the Wolverines’ new coach—complete with a whistle. Heck, Fox Sports’ press release for the game noted the company would be tracking Harbaugh’s every move by streaming a camera locked on the coach that they dubbed the “Khaki Cam.”

There was no mention of any Whitting-cam, it should be noted.

Despite all the attention on Big Blue, you won’t find the Utes playing the overlooked card as motivation. 

“Our guys know what’s out there,” Whittingham said on Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call. “You shouldn’t really need much to motivate a football team to get ready for a game like this. We’ve just been going through our normal preparation process.”

Every opener is big. It sets the tone for the season in more ways than one. This game, however, means far more for Utah than a rebuilding Big Blue program. Expectations are high long-term for Michigan but decidedly mid-level for 2015.

That isn’t the case for Utah, which is looking to prove that last season’s breakthrough campaign in the Pac-12 was no fluke.

The Utes have every expectation of being in the thick of the Pac-12 South race. Their schedule is manageable—Arizona State and UCLA both come to Rice Eccles Stadium this year—and Booker figures to be one of the headliners on a team with plenty of potential. Quarterback Travis Wilson will start under center for his senior season and, if nothing else, has plenty of experience under his belt. 

The defense will miss defensive end Nate Orchard and his FBS-leading sack total from 2014 but still returns enough to be one of the saltier units opposing offenses will face. There's plenty more to be optimistic about in Salt Lake City, too.

Harbaugh is a legitimate national storyline to follow this season as he tries to revive an historic power in Michigan. Don’t be surprised if the Wolverines are better than expected record-wise (they have plenty of top recruits on the roster, after all) and play well in the opener and beyond.

Just remember that as you settle in to watch Utah and Michigan on Thursday night, the game isn’t all about the Maize and Blue. The home team will shape the national landscape of the college football season more on the field than Harbaugh's khaki's ever will off it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Utah, Not Jim Harbaugh, Is the Most Important Thing to Watch on Opening Night

In case you’ ve been living under a rock, the college football season kicks into high gear on Thursday night...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Who Will Be College Football's Best Graduate Transfer Quarterback in 2015?

The year of the grad transfer quarterback in college football is officially a go. Now the question is which one rises to the top of the landscape? After all, the idea of the grad transfer quarterback as a quick fix is popular, but not always accurate, as diagrammed by Matt Hinton of Grantland.com

Not every one is the new Russell Wilson, but that hasn't stopped anyone from hoping they've landed him. 

In preparation for Week 1 games, depth charts from around the country were released. Specifically, three high-profile programs named a grad transfer quarterback as their starter: Georgia (Greyson Lambert), Florida State (Everett Golson) and Oregon (Vernon Adams Jr.). 

Additionally, Alabama and Michigan have a pair of grad transfers—Jake Coker and Jake Rudock, respectively—who are still in a quarterback battle, at least publicly. It's entirely possible that five major programs, many of which are in the preseason College Football Playoff conversation, will start a first-year transfer quarterback in Week 1. 

Which one has the best year? It depends on how you define "best," but Vernon Adams fills out some critical areas.


He Can Put up Video Game Stats

We've already seen this on a limited basis when Adams played two Pac-12 opponents: Oregon State (2013) and Washington (2014). Put one way, he's a one-man machine of the NCAA Football video game variety whose overall rating is 99. 

For his career at Eastern Washington, Adams compiled 11,670 total yards. He joins an Oregon team that, despite losing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, returns plenty of skill players at running back and wide receiver. There's no shortage of speed and playmaking ability in Eugene. Royce Freeman, Charles Nelson, Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall are more than capable of scoring on every touch. 

Adams gives the offense something extra that longtime backup Jeff Lockie simply doesn't, as evident by his highlight videos from Eastern Washington and comments from former coach Beau Baldwin. 

"He's just so good in so many ways, that part of it is going to be a challenge," Baldwin told Andrew Greif of the Oregonian." It's a challenge for any team when they play Vernon Adams—you're up against one of the best in the country at any level."

All the same, he won't have to be a one-man show, either. And that's an important difference. 

Still, Adams is a two-time runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, which is the FCS version of the Heisman. If Adams can eclipse, say, 4,000 total yards in 2015, who's to say he won't have a shot at the actual Heisman?


He's Showing Natural Leadership

Despite the popular narrative, there's nothing guaranteed about a grad transfer quarterback coming into a new environment and starting. Earlier this month, I spoke to B/R colleague Michael Felder, a former college player at North Carolina, about what Adams was facing in his new home. Long story short, Adams had to come in humble, ready to work and willing to show the utmost respect to Lockie—and that was on top of mastering the playbook. 

That's a tough task. It doesn't matter who you are. Complicating things more was that Adams was late (albeit only by a few days) arriving to preseason camp because of a math test. There's a lot of trust he had to earn right away. 

But by being named the starter so quickly, Adams has showed he's gained the respect of the locker room. As Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports tweeted, that's a good sign for him moving forward: 

Now, that leadership must show itself during the season when Oregon finds itself in tight games. Most players on the Ducks roster have been together for two to four years. They trust one other. As a newcomer, Adams is in a position of leadership that requires instant trust. 


Oregon is Primed for Another Playoff Run

Yes, Mariota is gone. Even Adams can't "replace" him. No one can. Mariota was a once-in-a-generation player for the Ducks who had a season unlike any other before him. But that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare in Eugene. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports stated a case for why Oregon could return to the playoff this year. In summary, it boils down to the experience returning to the field:

Better still, the Ducks will surround Adams -- or understudy Jeff Lockie -- with even more skill talent than Mariota had last year. Royce Freeman is no longer a freshman, and he should prove to be one of the best RBs in college football. The guy who would've been the Ducks' top wideout last year, Bralon Addison (who missed all of 2014) returns, and he should lead a deep, fast, talented WR group.

DeForest Buckner is back to spark the D-line, and folks around the UO program are gushing about huge freshman DL Canton Kaumatule. The Ducks' front seven, with four seniors at linebacker, should be very stout, better than the group they had that made it to the title game.

What does that have to do with Adams? It shows he doesn't have to carry the entire team on his back. The pieces are in place for another run at a Pac-12 North title...which could lead to a Pac-12 title...which could lead to a playoff appearance...which could, well, you get the point. 

What Oregon has in Adams is a unique individual talent who can change and take over games like few others can. Surrounding him is a supporting cast of players who have what it takes to win at the highest level. 

The numbers, the intangibles, the national profile—it's all there for Adams to have a monumental year in his only FBS appearance. Not every grad transfer quarterback in 2015 will have things line up for him that way. That's what separates the Russell Wilsons of the college football world from everyone else. 


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless noted otherwise. 

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5-Star Darnay Holmes Shares Advice from His Mentor, Oregon QB Vernon Adams

When Oregon announced Vernon Adams as its starting quarterback late last week, Darnay Holmes instantly beamed with pride. 

The 2017 5-star athlete shares the same hometown of Pasadena, California, with the new Ducks passer.

Adams’ journey from little-known recruit to the edge of superstardom has resonated with the 5’11”, 190-pound rising junior at Calabasas (California) High School.

“That’s a great honor for Pasadena,” Holmes told Bleacher Report. “I definitely know he is going to put on for the city and try to win the Heisman and bring that back to Pasadena. Oregon is definitely going to be a contender to win it all in my opinion. “

Holmes said the communication between he and Adams has been infrequent. However, he notes that Adams has given him some helpful advice on the recruiting process and finding success at the next level.

“When we do [talk], it’s about football and just trying become a better man,” Holmes said.

While Adams came up as an unknown in the recruiting world, Holmes—who is the nation’s No. 2 corner and No. 8 prospect overall in the 2017 class—is one of the biggest prizes in the country in his class. Still, he admits watching Adams overcome a series of hurdles to win the Ducks quarterback job has inspired him.

“He’s just telling me not to take anything for granted,” Holmes said. “He just tells me to keep working hard. He came from a lower-division school and I’m getting recruited from a higher-division school. So he worked his tail off to get to Oregon, so that definitely motivates me that no matter where I’m at, just to try and do my absolute best and play my heart out. He’s proof that if you do that, you can achieve great things.”

A two-way standout who plays both corner and receiver, Holmes appears to have a bright future ahead of him on the gridiron.

He’s already amassed more than 20 offers heading into his junior season, and his recruitment is beginning to take shape.

As noted by Brad Allis of 247Sports, Holmes released a list of his top 10 schools in late July. Alabama, Arizona, Miami, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, Stanford, USC, UCLA and Washington were the lucky schools that made his list.

However, he said his list could change if and when new schools enter the picture with offers.

His two most recent summer visits were to Ohio State and Stanford.

He came away impressed with his time spent in Columbus.

“They are a great program,” Holmes said of the Buckeyes. “They know how to groom players into men. They know what they are doing over there. They just have that dog mentality. When I went up there, it was just a different environment. Everybody was hungry. When I went to the camp, I was just acting like I was one of their players who already have that type of same mentality and I performed well.”

The Cardinal represent the in-state school that seems to have the most traction with him at the moment.

“When I was there on campus, it just gave me that feeling of wanting to strive for greatness,” Holmes said. “Stanford is definitely one of those schools that has great academics and the football side of it is also great now. They have a great 2016 class coming in, and that’s something a lot of the guys in the 2017 class are looking into and paying attention to. Stanford is definitely a school that is going to be on the rise in the next couple of years.” 

He has a tentative visit planned to Virginia Tech for the Labor Day matchup with Ohio State, which he said he will know for sure whether or not he will be able to attend by Wednesday. That trip is the only one on his agenda currently.

He tentatively mentioned next summer as a time that he would like to make a decision, but there are a few more visits he wants to take and schools such as Florida State and Texas he is hoping to hear from in the future.

For now, he plans to help his club—which features fellow 2017 standouts in 4-star quarterback Tristan Gebbia and 4-star receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr.—try to win a state title.

His duties are likely to include making game-changing plays on both sides of the ball, which is something he hopes to continue to do at the next level.

“Whenever I get to college, I will see how I fit in going both ways,” Holmes said. “If I’m man enough to play both ways, I think they will let me do it. In my opinion, I was born a corner. But I’ve played on the offensive side since I was young. If they give me a chance to go offense, I will definitely try to take advantage of that opportunity.”


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


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Texas Freshman Malik Jefferson Makes Fun of Coach Charlie Strong's Height

Making fun of your coach probably isn't the best move for a freshman. But that's exactly what linebacker Malik Jefferson did Monday night.

Using this photo of Charlie Strong standing on a stool during a presser, Jefferson tweeted: "He didn't drink his milk."

Teammate Connor Williams may have said it best:


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Which CFB Playoff Contender Can Make the Biggest Statement in Week 1?

Teams don't win championships in September. But that doesn't mean they can't get a head start in the race.

Week 1 of the college football season is prime time for programs who want to set the tone for a playoff push. While early losses won't put an end to those title dreams, teams can cement themselves as serious contenders with big opening-week wins.

So which team has the most to gain from a Week 1 victory?

As John Solomon of CBS Sports noted Tuesday, the first week of the 2015 season only has one game between top-25 teams—No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. According to Solomon, fans were treated to three top-25 matchups to open 2014.

Being the only preseason contender to play a ranked team to open the season, Alabama would be the easy answer here.

But according to Odds Shark, Alabama is a 10-point favorite over Wisconsin, which is breaking in a new head coach and must replace half its starters from last season. While a loss for the Tide would produce some nuclear-level hot takes, few would be impressed if Alabama takes care of business in Arlington on Saturday.

The same goes for No. 2 TCU, which opened as a 16-point road favorite for Thursday night's game at Minnesota. No. 1 Ohio State is favored between 11 and 12 points on the road against a Virginia Tech team it lost to last season, and No. 6 Auburn is steady as a 10.5-point favorite over Louisville in neutral-site Atlanta.

Later on down the list, No. 11 Notre Dame is a nine-point favorite at home against Texas, and No. 13 UCLA has a slightly larger advantage on Virginia. If all six of these teams record multi-score wins this weekend, don't expect to see a big shakeup in the polls or the national conversation.

The rest of the major contenders, from No. 2 Baylor down to No. 19 Oklahoma, will feast on an easy and steady diet of Group of Five and FCS programs—except for one.

No. 15 Arizona State is becoming a trendier playoff dark-horse pick, and the Sun Devils have the best opportunity to make a huge statement on Saturday night.

Arizona State will face Texas A&M, which is ranked just outside the AP's preseason top 25, in a virtual road game at neutral-site NRG Stadium in Houston.

Spoiler alert: The crowd will mostly be made up of Aggie fans.

And that in-state advantage for Texas A&M makes Arizona State the underdog in this matchup. The Aggies opened as three-point favorites over the Sun Devils and are holding steady there, even though Arizona State is the higher-ranked team in all the major polls.

According to Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham is already well aware of the challenge his team will face from those "Aggies" who aren't lining up on the field Saturday night:

Obviously, I'm very familiar with what type of atmosphere we're going into; it's why we took the game. It's going to be one of the loudest places we've ever played. It'll be a big-time atmosphere, which we hope to get a lot of opportunities in.

There's a reason why they call [Texas A&M's crowd] the 12th man. They've got one of the best home atmospheres. Even though we're playing at a so-called neutral site, with their alumni base there, it will be a major crowd for them.

While they don't have the name value of a USC or an Oregon out of the Pac-12, the Sun Devils have the potential to make a serious run at championships this season.

Last year, Arizona State overachieved in a huge way, winning 10 games in a season in which it had just eight returning starters—with just two on defense. The Sun Devils beat four ranked teams in the span of five weeks.

Now, they have 16 returning starters, including their top two rushers, three of their top five receivers, four offensive linemen and all but two of their top playmakers from last year's defense.

Arizona State's offense is both balanced and explosive. The Sun Devils ranked No. 33 nationally in passing and No. 58 in rushing last season while finishing No. 20 for offensive plays of 10 yards or more.

One of Arizona State's few new full-time starters, senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, threw for more than 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns last season in just three starts. Now he's ready to take over an offense that returns plenty of weapons and veteran linemen.

"I know one thing: If I was an NFL coach, that's the kind of quarterback I'd look for—a guy that's not just talked about character, but has demonstrated it by his walk," Graham said, via Haller. "Mike's getting better every day. He's like having a coach on the field."

Bercovici and the veteran Arizona State offense will take on a Texas A&M defense that has struggled in recent seasons but has a new coordinator in veteran John Chavis. If the Sun Devils can hit the Aggies with their speed and power on offense, big plays will come against a unit in transition.

Arizona State should get the most trouble from Texas A&M when the Aggies have the ball, but the Sun Devils are experienced on defense.

Texas A&M will look to push the ball through the air Saturday night with sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen and a deep corps of talented receivers including Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones.

Arizona State returns its top six linebackers from a season ago and all but one starter in the secondary. The back seven will be busy, but it's the most veteran, battle-tested unit on the entire team.

As Ian Boyd of SB Nation wrote earlier this year, Arizona State is "perfectly designed to ruin (the Aggies') day," even though it's are considered the underdog in this matchup away from home.

"The Arizona State game plan will be simple: attack the Aggies with exotic blitzes on defense and motion/misdirection on offense," Boyd wrote. "Look for a lead, then pound the ball on the ground to avoid having to block (Texas A&M defensive end Myles) Garrett in crunch time."

If Arizona State can move the ball efficiently against the Chavis defense and frustrate what should be another high-powered offense from Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, the upset is there for the taking.

A big win in a virtual road game would give Arizona State huge momentum heading into a trio of home games—the last of which is a matchup with Pac-12 favorite USC.

Get the early-season hype train rolling, and these Sun Devils will be more than dark horses in the race for the national championship.


All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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College Football Week 1 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

It's officially Week 1 of handicapping season, which of course means the return of college football!

(Wait…I think I might have had the backward.)

But seriously, welcome back for another year of picks against the spread, where each week we attempt to pick winners for the games involving Top 25 college football teams.

Last year I subbed in for Adam Kramer, who left the column to care for his newborn, and managed not to spit on his grave. I started slow in October, but a hot streak at the end of the year (31-13 over the final three weeks) landed me at 59 percent for the season.

That is a percentage I can live with.

Everyone who picks games against the spread has a unique handicapping philosophy. Mine relies heavily on numbers, but all numbers require context. I'll explain to the best of my ability why I make each pick I make, and I welcome any comments or criticism.

Just remember: We are all on the same team here. The line is our only enemy.


Note: Top 25 rankings refer to the Associated Press Poll. All Week 1 spreads via Odds Shark. All historical spread info via TeamRankings.com.

Begin Slideshow

Can Florida State Reclaim the No. 1 2016 Recruiting Ranking?

You hear it all the time. Big-time commit, stressed out about the recruiting process, announces his verbal commitment and feels as if a 500-pound weight is no longer on his shoulders.

Philadelphia standout Naseir Upshur fit the description perfectly. And when the 4-star tight end announced Tuesday afternoon that he has verbally committed to Florida State, it gave him a second wind of sorts, one that allows him to focus solely on his senior year at Imhotep Institute.

"I just feel free now," Upshur said. "No more stress."

Upshur chose Florida State over Michigan. He also gave the Seminoles and head coach Jimbo Fisher their 18th pledge—13 of those 18 are ranked as at least 4-star athletes. Cornerback Levonta Taylor is the team's only 5-star pledge.

Upshur's commitment also put Florida State in a good position to retake the top spot in the 247Sports team rankings for the 2016 class. Entering Tuesday, Florida State (253.19 points) trailed Ohio State (277.05) and LSU (266.15) for the top spot.

The Seminoles are still at No. 3 after Upshur's commitment, but the team now has 260.8 points.

Sure, the rankings are solely for entertainment, strictly for bragging rights, but in a game that thrives off of competitive natures, having the top spot is something every class wants.

And it's something within reach for the Seminoles.

The recruiting process is only in September, which means there are still five months remaining for coaches to gain—and potentially lose—top-ranked recruits. Florida State has done a solid job with its class thus far, particularly despite watching 5-star tight end Isaac Nauta and 4-star wide receiver Keith Gavin reopen their recruiting in July and August, respectively.

Landing Upshur could be the first step in Florida State overtaking the top spot. A few 5-star talents would boost the ranking. The No. 1 spot could be in reach with commitments of defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Shavar Manuel, as well as wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers. Lawrence and Manuel are ranked the Nos. 2 and 3 defensive tackles, and Craig-Myers is ranked the No. 1 receiver nationally.

The Seminoles still have room to also land 4-star players like cornerback Trayvon Mullen, linebacker Keion Joyner and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson. While those players can help Florida State's rise, potential decommitments from Ohio State and LSU also could play a role in the Seminoles being the top-ranked team.

It's still early to determine whether or not the Seminoles will be ranked No. 1 when it's time for athletes to sign national letters of intent. It is, however, safe to say that the Seminoles will be in the running for the top spot deep into the recruiting season.

Upshur was a big get Tuesday. Fisher and the rest of the coaching staff are hoping the good news doesn't stop there.


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



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Where Michigan Turns After Missing on 4-Star Naseir Upshur

The Michigan Wolverines football team hasn't suffered many setbacks on the 2016 recruiting trail, soaring near the top of national class rankings

Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh faced a rare dose of adversity on that front Tuesday afternoon, when elite tight end target Naseir Upshur announced intentions to attend Florida State.

The 4-star Philadelphia prospect picked the Seminoles over Michigan in an exclusive commitment video with Bleacher Report:

Upshur, a 6'2", 233-pound senior at Imhotep Institute, received interest from the Wolverines as an underclassman. The program's pursuit intensified upon the arrival of a new coaching regime, as tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh made him a priority.

"I talk to Michigan just about every day, so I'm very comfortable with them," Upshur told Bleacher Report in April. "I talk to Jay Harbaugh on the phone at least twice a week for like an hour. We have a great relationship."

Michigan seemed to be in the driver's seat for this recruitment when summer arrived. A June visit to Ann Arbor further solidified his strong rapport with the Wolverines:

Just a month ago, Upshur discussed plans to spend an official visit at Michigan. He told Bleacher Report the goal was to attend a Wolverines home game against either Michigan State or Ohio State.

It remains to be seen whether Upshur, rated fifth nationally among tight ends in 2016 composite rankings, will still visit other universities. For now, his decision fills a need at Florida State and leaves Michigan searching for an alternative tight end option.

Ultimately, this entire process may come full circle.

Isaac Nauta, the nation's top overall tight end prospect, backed off an eight-month verbal pledge to the Seminoles in late July. The coaching staff suffered a major blow but quickly moved on to Upshur, who told Bleacher Report he frequently heard from Florida State even when Nauta remained committed.

This development turned the tide of his recruitment, gradually shifting momentum from Ann Arbor to Tallahassee. Rather than wait to weigh things further, Upshur elected to make a decision before the season.

As a result, Nauta now becomes the Wolverines' chief offensive concern. He already revealed plans to use an official visit at Michigan in October. 

The 5-star IMG Academy (Florida) standout will travel north for the team's Oct. 17 matchup with Michigan State. Nauta also locked in official visits to TCU, Georgia and USC.

He isn't just the country's No. 1 tight end recruit, as Nauta also sits atop the entire crop of receiver rankings in this cycle. His skill set and stout 6'4" physical frame will provide an immediate boost for whichever offensive attack he joins next season.

Michigan already claims a pair of 4-star running backs and an Elite 11 quarterback in its 2016 class. Solid pieces are in place, but none would arrive in Ann Arbor with greater initial expectations than Nauta, who is also mulling visits to Alabama, Oregon, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.

A rough 2014 season and eventual coaching change cost Michigan top-tier 2015 tight end Chris Clark, who decommitted and eventually signed with UCLA. Nauta carries even more potential than Clark and could warrant all-conference consideration as a true freshman if he arrives healthy and motivated.

Expect Jim and Jay Harbaugh to heavily recruit Clark for the duration of this cycle. He and 5-star New Jersey defensive tackle Rashan Gary likely own the top two spots on the Wolverines' recruiting board.

Nauta's decommitment may have inadvertently derailed Michigan's chances with Upshur on Tuesday. Still, there's a possibility Wolverines fans will ultimately sing his praises on national signing day.


Quotes and info obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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Why Auburn Starting RB Roc Thomas Will Explode in 2015

Another one bites the dust.

Game week has answered several lingering questions around the SEC, including ones surrounding quarterbacks at LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss.

Despite losing two-year starter Nick Marshall, Auburn didn't have that question hanging over its head. Head coach Gus Malzahn tabbed junior Jeremy Johnson as his No. 1 signal-caller shortly after spring practice.

Now we know who's going to be lining up behind (or alongside) him.

Auburn released its depth chart for the first week of the season via email, and the three-man running back battle taking place this fall among junior Jovon Robinson and sophomores Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas appears to be down to one.

With Thomas as the No. 1 and Barber and Robinson bracketed with "or," it's a clear indication that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have faith that their 5'10", 203-pound sophomore is ready for the big time.

Get ready for Thomas to become a star, because he's in the perfect place for instant success on the Plains


True All-Purpose Back

If you're looking for a home run hitter, Thomas is it.

He was "Mr. Football" in the state of Alabama in 2013 and was a 5-star prospect in the class of 2014 out of Oxford (Alabama) High School. He rushed for an eye-popping 5,515 yards and 76 touchdowns in three high school seasons and has the potential to be one of the most electric running backs in college football.

Johnson is excited about what Thomas is bringing to the table, according to Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News.

That's not good enough to be Auburn's feature back, though.

Former Tigers Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne each led the SEC in rushing attempts in 2013 and 2014, respectively. For Auburn to operate at the tempo that Malzahn likes, he needs to find a running back who can do everything and prevent the staff from substituting within drives.

Thomas ran much more north/south in the spring game than he did during his freshman season, and according to Lashlee, has improved as a pass-blocker as well.

"Hopefully, having more weight will help keep him healthy through the season," Lashlee said last month according to Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "He's not small—he's over 200 pounds, 5"11"—and 200-something pounds is a good sized back. Some guys that run hard and violent and with a lot of cutting like him sometimes you’re more concerned about them with durability.

"I think that's No. 1 thing we're most excited about. We hope that will help keep him healthy. And two, it has probably given him confidence to be tougher. He's been tough all fall camp. He's been great in pass protection. He's been great in short yardage situations. He's really grown up so far in practice from where he was in the spring."

Is he the same kind of back as Mason and Artis-Payne were for Malzahn?

No, of course not. But he has the burst to be a superstar, can do some of the things they thrived doing for their Tiger teams and has clearly won over a staff that knows a thing or two (or 12) about running backs.


The Perfect System

Malzahn gets pegged as a spread guru and perhaps labeled as gimmicky at times. Make no mistake, though, at his core, Malzahn is a two-back, power coach who operates out of the spread with tempo.

Over Malzahn's nine seasons as a college head or assistant coach, he's produced 12 1,000-yard rushers during stints at Arkansas, Tulsa, Auburn and Arkansas State.

There's no shortage of talent on the Plains. Thomas has a ton of hype, Robinson set the junior college rushing record in 2013 with 2,387 yards, according to his Auburn bio, and freshman Kerryon Johnson is carrying virtually the same hype to the Plains as Thomas did a year ago including the "Mr. Football" title.

Despite that dangerous backfield, Thomas has emerged as the starter despite only limited game action in college.

But wait, isn't Auburn going to be more balanced this year thanks to new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson?

Balance is the wrong word. As my colleague Michael Felder noted in our Auburn preview video below, it's not going to be different, it's going to be better and more complete. 

Don't forget, Malzahn became the first offensive coordinator in FBS history to produce a 5,000-yard passer (Paul Smith, 5,065), 1,000-yard rusher (Tarrion Adams, 1,225) and three, 1,000-yard receivers (Brennan Marion, 1,244; Trae Johnson, 1,088; Charles Clay, 1,024) in the same season when he did it at Tulsa in 2007.

The running game won't be diminished by a more complete attack, the Auburn offense as a whole will simply be better.


Let's Get Creative

Thomas is an all-around back and will get the first snaps, but neither a preseason depth chart nor a game-week press conference can properly indicate just how players are going to be used.

Expect Thomas to get plenty of looks not just as a running back out of the backfield, but as a receiver/safety valve for Johnson and in the speed sweep role splitting time with wide receiver Ricardo Louis.

While he has evolved into a true all-purpose back, his ability to move in tight spaces will be a huge benefit to Auburn on screen passes and in traffic off the edge. In the spring game highlights above, you see just how dangerous he is in space including at the 0:09 mark, when he stumbles, regains his feet, cuts outside, jukes one defender and takes it to the house.

That ability to be a home run threat, when combined with the creative ways Malzahn and Lashlee get the ball in the hands of playmakers in space, should vault Thomas into stardom in 2015.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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

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Odds on Where 4-Star DE McTelvin Agim Commits

A player like Hope, Arkansas, 4-star defensive end McTelvin Agim, with his speed and strength, can instantly help a defense at the next level. One of four schools will receive good news by the end of the week.

In four days, Agim is set to announce his college plans in front of family and friends at a family reunion in Texarkana, Texas. Agim, the top-ranked player from the state of Arkansas and the nation's No. 3 strong-side defensive end, will choose out of his final four of Arkansas, Baylor, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

While there is heavy assumption, according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball, that Agim will stay in state and play for the Razorbacks, Agim has an appreciation for the state of Texas. He took recent unofficial visits to Baylor and Texas A&M, and he told Bleacher Report at The Opening he likes the way the Ole Miss defense swarms around the football.

The winning school gets a player who has nearly 150 tackles and 40 sacks in the last two years. Agim recorded 72 tackles, 22 sacks and six forced fumbles as a junior for Hope.

Here are some odds on where Agim commits Saturday:


Arkansas (3-1)

The Razorbacks appear to be the leader, and head coach Bret Bielema could use a player of Agim's caliber in the 2016 class.

In fact, Agim could be the missing piece to what would be an outstanding defensive lineman class. Arkansas already has landed 4-star defensive tackles Austin Capps and Briston Guidry, and with 3-star defensive end Hayden Johnson, the Razorbacks are looking at the class with high expectation for the immediate future.

Most importantly, Arkansas is hoping to play the in-state card with Agim. The Razorbacks, a team that loves to work with in-state talent, only have three of their 13 committed players hailing from the Natural State. Grabbing a fourth in Agim would be huge for Bielema, defensive coordinator Robb Smith, defensive line coach Rory Segrest and the rest of the Arkansas staff.


Baylor (4-1)

If there was a team that could really use a quality defensive end commit in its 2016 class, it's Baylor. Reason being, the Bears have 13 commits, and while seven of them are defensive pledges, only one of those seven, Bravvion Roy, is not a skill-position player.

With Roy being a 4-star defensive tackle, Baylor could use Agim's services to help strengthen that defensive lineman class. Baylor should feel pretty good with where it stands with Agim, as he made two trips to the campus last month, per 247Sports.

Defensive tackles coach Chris Achuff has been Agim's primary contact. And with ends Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer finishing their senior years at the end of this season, there will be opportunity for Agim to receive early playing time.

To add, location could play a role in Agim playing for the Bears. While Arkansas is roughly a four-and-a-half-hour drive north of his hometown of Hope, Baylor is roughly the same distance going west. Hope is roughly a half-hour drive from the Texas-Arkansas border.


Ole Miss (5-1)

Some may consider Ole Miss a dark horse, but with a top-10 nationally ranked class, don't be surprised if Agim chooses to play college football in Oxford, Mississippi.

Agim competed at The Opening over the summer in Oregon, and he had a chance to meet Rebels commits like 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson and 4-star wide receiver DeKaylin Metcalf—two athletes who are quick to pump up the family atmosphere and fan support Ole Miss offers.

Add in the fact Agim would team up with 4-star defensive tackle Benito Jones and 4-star defensive end Charles Wiley, and the possibilities of playing in an Ole Miss uniform become even more attractive. The Rebels take pride in their defense with the "Landsharks" running the show, and Agim could be a big part of that growing trend.


Texas A&M (5-1)

Texas A&M has a lot going for it in that it does two things potential defensive targets love. First, head coach Kevin Sumlin doesn't mind playing his young athletes over his veterans. Second, adding John Chavis as the defensive coordinator has been a welcomed move by many.

Agim would be a nice piece in Texas A&M's 2016 class, which currently is 14 strong. The Aggies already have two defensive end pledges in 4-star Mark Jackson Jr. and 3-star Alton Robinson, but with the way Chavis likes to rotate his defenders, game time wouldn't be a concern. Plus, potentially learning from defensive end Myles Garrett—who broke the SEC record for sacks as a freshman last season—would be a major assist.

Sumlin, Chavis and defensive ends coach Terry Price will challenge Agim to be better than the stacked line already in place. You can bet it would be a challenge Agim would emphatically accept if he chooses Texas A&M on Saturday.


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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Washington Huskies vs. Boise State Broncos Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Boise State began the post-Chris Petersen era a bit slowly last season but picked up steam and won its last nine games in a row, and three of its last four outings against the spread. The Broncos will try to pick up where they left off when they host their former head coach and his Washington Huskies Friday night on the Smurf Turf at Albertsons Stadium.


Point spread: Broncos opened as 11-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (see line updates and matchup report).

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 25.9-21.6 Broncos


Why the Washington Huskies can cover the spread

Washington only returns nine starters this season, five on offense and four on defense. But this is the second season of the Coach Petersen era, and the familiarity with his systems should help overcome the lack of returning talent. The Huskies went 8-6 last year, but three of those losses came by one score or less, and they ended the season with a 4-1 run against the spread.

Petersen had a fantastic record on the blue turf as head coach of the Broncos, and he should know how to scheme against his former offensive coordinator, Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin.


Why the Boise State Broncos can cover the spread

Boise State carries a nine-game winning streak into this season after ending last season with a Fiesta Bowl upset of another Pac-12 outfit, Arizona. The Broncos return 17 starters from a team that went 12-2 last year, including the entire offensive line and eight on defense.

And while they have to replace their starting quarterback (Grant Hedrick) and last year's leading rusher (Jay Ajayi), they believe they have those holes filled. This is the first shot the Broncosmany of whom were recruited by Petersenhave had at their former head coach, which may provide a little added motivation.


Smart pick

Boise State would love nothing more than to show Petersen it's just fine without him, perhaps in tough fashion. And the Broncos hold a large advantage in returning talent. Pac-12 teams don't usually visit Mountain West schools, and this game might be a good example why. The smart betting choice is with the team with the motivation, the team that will probably win this game, and that's Boise State.


Betting trends

Washington is 3-0 ATS in its last three meetings with Boise State.

Boise State is 9-0 SU in its last nine games.

The over is 8-1 in Boise State’s last nine games.


All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Texas A&M Aggies Odds, College Football Pick

Arizona State ended last season on a 4-1 run on the totals, while Texas A&M played three over results for bettors in its last four games to close last season. So the defenses better be ready when the Sun Devils and Aggies meet for the first time ever on a supposedly neutral field in Houston on Saturday night.


Point spread: Aggies opened as three-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (see line updates and matchup report).


College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 31.1-22.8 Sun Devils


Why the Arizona State Sun Devils can cover the spread

Arizona State gets back 16 starters this season from a team that nearly won a second-straight Pac-12 South title last year. The Sun Devils return seven starters on offense, including three along the offensive line, and a senior at quarterback in Mike Bercovici, who's not exactly a newbie after throwing nearly 200 passes last season. Nine starters are also back on defense, including five of last year's top six tacklers.

Head coach Todd Graham has a good thing going in Tempe, and a victory over a quality opponent would certainly help in the grand scheme of things for this season.


Why the Texas A&M Aggies can cover the spread

Texas A&M also returns 16 starters this season, the most it's had in its four seasons under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Eight starters are back on offense, including quarterback Kyle Allen, last year's leading rusher Tra Carson and three along the offensive line. Also, eight starters return on defense, including the entire front line and three-quarters of the secondary.

The Aggies struggled through the second half of last season, with some turbulence at the quarterback position, but did manage to pull off a minor upset over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl to finish 8-5. This year A&M looks ready to roll right from the start.


Smart pick

Texas A&M figures to own a home-crowd advantage for this game, playing just an hour-and-a-half drive from College Station, but the oddsmakers might have the wrong team favored in this game. ASU went 10-3 last year with just eight returning starters; this year it has double that figure. The Sun Devils might just win this game outright.


Betting trends

The total has gone over in eight of Arizona State's last 12 games on the road.

Texas A&M is 2-7 ATS in its last nine games.

Arizona State is 0-4 SU in its last four games vs. the SEC.


All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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