Arizona is coming off its best season since 1998, winning 10 games and claiming its first Pac-12 division title in 2014 by emerging from the pack in the deep and dangerous South. It did so with a relatively young team, one that was expected to be a year away from competing but instead got ahead of schedule.
But two straight losses to end the year, first to Oregon in the conference title game and then to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, put a sour end to the 2014 campaign and served as motivation to improve during the offseason.
Despite bringing back most of its skill players and the nation's most decorated defender from 2014 in linebacker Scooby Wright, the Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South and opened at No. 22 in both the Associated Press and Amway Coaches preseason polls.
Read on, as we go in-depth on what Arizona has in store for 2015.
Stability breeds success, and Arizona certainly has had plenty of the former. The coaching staff that Rich Rodriguez assembled when he took over the program before the 2012 season has remained almost entirely intact, with just one change after the first year and nothing else since.
Several of the coaches have worked with Rodriguez at past schools, most notably Jeff Casteel, who was Rodriguez's defensive coordinator from 2003-07 at West Virginia.
What to watch for on offense
Arizona started freshmen at quarterback and running back last year, while its receiving corps was mostly sophomores, yet that group managed to put up big numbers, as the spread offense operated at one of the fastest paces in the country.
Now the Wildcats will get to see how those youngsters perform with a very successful year under their belts, particularly quarterback Anu Solomon. In 2014 he threw for 3,793 yards and 28 touchdowns but completed just 58 percent of his passes and was sacked 38 times, often when trying to extend a play rather than throw the ball away.
Solomon is the first returning starter at QB that Arizona has had under Rodriguez, so this training camp was less about teaching and more about fine-tuning.
"I think the coaches are comfortable with me, checking plays myself," Solomon told Gabe Encinas of Arizona Desert Swarm. "I think that just goes on with repetition in practice, being successful and executing the play."
Nick Wilson ran for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs as a true freshman last year, despite missing time with head and leg injuries. He's not a workhorse back who can carry it 30 times a game, but he fits perfectly in the spread because of his quickness and footwork.
The wide receiver corps is one of the deepest in the country, so much so that junior DaVonte' Neal (who caught 27 passes and had two TDs a year ago) was switched to defense. Junior Cayleb Jones is the big target, both in numbers (73 receptions, 1,019 yards, nine TDs) and size (6'3", 215 pounds), and the Wildcats also have a litany of small but speedy guys to cycle through the slot receiver positions.
Arizona's only offensive question mark comes with its offensive line, which graduated three starters and has gotten thinner in depth since then.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Poland was dismissed in July after being arrested for trafficking in stolen property, while senior Carter Wood was ruled out for the year with a chronic foot injury. Wood was expected to start at center, and without him the Wildcats have had to shuffle players around—moving Cayman Bundage from guard to center—which leaves them with very few viable backup options.
What to watch for on defense
Arizona's 3-3-5 alignment starts and ends with the man in the middle, junior linebacker Scooby Wright. The reigning Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski award winner led the nation in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29) and forced fumbles (six) in 2014 and was a part of nearly every big defensive play the Wildcats made in 2014.
But Wright can't do it all, as evidenced by Arizona's overall defensive numbers last season. It allowed 451 yards and 28.2 points per game, had only nine sacks from down linemen (compared to 14 from Wright alone) and failed to stop opponents on more than 40 percent of third-down conversions.
"Coordinator Jeff Casteel has worked wonders with Wright leading his 3-3-5 scheme, but the Wildcats still need a talent upgrade on the defensive line and lack an A-list pass-rusher, other than Wright," ESPN.com's Ted Miller wrote.
The return of Reggie Gilbert—who was given a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA this spring—will help up front, but more help must come from the linemen in terms of pressuring quarterbacks and giving what will be a relatively inexperienced secondary some much-needed support.
Senior spur safety Will Parks will anchor the back line with his hard-hitting and great vision, but Arizona's cornerbacks have a combined 12 starts between them.
What to watch for on special teams
The Wildcats are very solid at kicker and punter, with seniors Casey Skowron and Drew Riggleman holding down those spots. Skowron missed eight field goals last season, including one in the final moments of a home loss to USC (after making one as Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian iced him with a timeout), but he also hit a game-winner to beat Washington and had at least three field goals in four different games.
Riggleman ranked fourth in FBS with a 46.07-yard average.
Arizona's return game wasn't strong in 2014, averaging just 21.5 yards on kickoffs and 10.2 yards on punts. DaVonte' Neal muffed several punts, and the protection in front of returners rarely led to big plays.
The loss of Carter Wood to a season-ending foot injury at the start of training camp was by far Arizona's most significant injury, since it caused an already thin offensive line to require shuffling. Tyrell Johnson, a track star who was expected to contribute at receiver, in the run game and on returns, has been shut down since mid-August.
If Rich Rodriguez were to be part of the NCAA rules committee for college football at some point, he might advocate to ban huddling on offense. Or at least reduce the play clock to where doing so wouldn't make sense.
Arizona runs at one of the fastest paces in the country. Last year the Wildcats ran an FBS-leading 1,139 offensive plays and used just over 27 minutes of possession time each game, which was 119th out of 128 teams. That comes out to 20.08 seconds per snap.
By being able to operate at such a swift tempo, the Wildcats keep opposing defenses on their toes and prevent them from being able to sub as easily or catch their breaths. But there's a major downside to this approach: If that offense is struggling, it provides Arizona's defense with very little time to recuperate between drives, which can wear it down.
Arizona drew the short end of the stick in the Pac-12 as one of two teams in the conference without a bye during the season. The other is Colorado, which because of a game played in Hawaii elected to add a 13th contest instead of take a week off.
The Wildcats technically have a bye, but it comes during the final week of the regular season, after 12 consecutive games have been played. Because of this, they could find themselves in a position where an attempt to avoid fatigue will result in sitting some players or reducing their snaps against easier opponents as the year goes on.
That could come during a three-game stretch—two home, one away—against teams that failed to make bowl games in 2014. Between Oct. 10-24 Arizona hosts Oregon State, visits Colorado and then is home for Washington State, but right before that is a tough start to the conference schedule by hosting UCLA and then playing at Stanford.
The end is even more difficult, as Arizona plays three of four on the road, including at USC and rival Arizona State.
Despite its overall success in 2014, Arizona had a very up-and-down season that saw it win some big games but also look very shaky in other contests. "The Wildcats were great, lucky, mediocre and just about everything else in 2014," SB Nation's Bill Connelly wrote.
With more experience to tap into on offense, it would stand to reason that the Wildcats will be even better this time around, but only with a defense that can provide support on occasion. Scooby Wright is great, but if he's somehow taken out of a play, others have to step up.
Arizona has a big opportunity to make a splash at the outset of the Pac-12 schedule by hosting UCLA, but a loss there could also set it down a path of trying to play catch-up in the South Division. Road trips to Stanford, USC and Arizona State will all be played on grass, and since 2012 the Wildcats are 1-7 when playing on natural turf.
Overall record: 9-3
Conference record: 6-3
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Let's make one thing abundantly clear: Student-athletes—college football players, specifically, as it pertains to this discussion—are not employees. Now, whether you think they should be is a discussion for another day. But, as it stands in August 2015, they are amateurs, not professionals.
In light of the Ed O'Bannon class-action lawsuit and Northwestern unionization push, the NCAA has dug its heels in regarding this philosophy. So why are some coaches acting like their players are employees with regards to the full cost-of-attendance stipend?
It started Wednesday when Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster made a bold statement that the coaching staff was looking into "fining" players from their cost-of-attendance money for disciplinary issues. Here's the entire Q&A exchange with Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times:
Foster's answer reads:
We're going to look at that. Instead of... you know, some people got in trouble for getting up and punishing people at 6 in the morning. And obviously you need some discipline. I think that's one way that you could potentially do that, to control that a little bit. These guys now, they haven't had access to money unless they've been Pell Grant recipients. So they'll want that when it's all said and done at the end of the day.
The outcry was about what you'd expect: brutal. However, it's a fair criticism. The concept of docking players from their full cost-of-attendance stipend, which is financial aid players are entitled to, is absurd. (Furthermore, where does the money go?)
On Thursday, a picture from the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed a list of things for which Hokies players could be fined. Whether this was enforced or not isn't known, but it does include performance-based fines such as unsportsmanlike/flagrant penalties. That could be a major problem.
At best, that type of punishment scale is impermissible unless it's written into grant-in-aid agreements, as noted by two compliance Twitter accounts:
At worst, it's an odd disciplinary move that shows just how in the dark some are about what cost of attendance really means. What it certainly does not mean is pay for play.
Did they not get the memo?
It's at least understandable that a head coach wouldn't know all the do's and don'ts of scholarship money, but for an athletic director to double-down on this issue is eye-opening.
Make no mistake—this disciplinary measure is never going to happen on a widespread scale. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock has already struck it down. Rest assured Babcock will verify that any of the Hokies coaching staff's future off-the-wall ideas will be in concert with compliance rules before they go public.
Another part of this conversation raises the question: Why would any coach want to make this his platform? In what universe is announcing plans to take money away from players smart, especially with such disparity among cost-of-attendance numbers throughout the U.S.? That's a one-way ticket to getting crushed on the recruiting trail.
The other thing it does is provide a cop-out to coaches. Get busted for pot? Violate team rules? It's easier to fine a player his scholarship money and put him on the field Saturday to help win a game, as Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com tweeted:
The notion of a "fine" ultimately adds more ammo to the argument that college football players are more employees than students. Whether it's in the O'Bannon trial or unionization push, the term "amateurism" has been put on blast.
Now, we have two coaches and an athletic director who want to discipline players as if they were paid employees—even if they state otherwise on the record.
If coaches want to treat their players like professionals, we need to have a serious conversation about changing titles and the direction of college football. If those coaches are hellbent on calling student-athletes "amateurs," however, then the No. 1 job should be to protect them, not take away what's theirs.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Ohio State wide receiver Noah Brown wasn't a household name after a relatively quiet freshman season in 2014, but that was expected to change after the 6'2", 222-pound pass-catcher broke out during spring and fall camp.
"Noah Brown has had probably as good of a spring as I could've wanted," receivers coach Zach Smith said last April, according to Bill Landis of Northeast Ohio Media Group. "He's dropped 25 pounds. He's at a different level than he was in the fall. He's come a long way and still has a lot to do, but he looks like a guy who's going to contribute in the fall."
Everything was lining up for Brown to make a big impact in Ohio State's explosive offense, but that fell apart on Wednesday when the promising wideout fractured his leg in practice—an injury that will sideline him for the entire 2015 season.
It wasn't just a tough blow for the emerging sophomore, about whom coaches and teammates have consistently raved all offseason. It's also a big loss for the Buckeyes as a whole, and they'll feel that loss the moment they kick off the season on the road against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies, of course, were the only team to beat the Buckeyes during their championship run in 2014. Head coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster devised a scheme that put a ton of pressure on the Buckeyes receivers—a scheme that worked to perfection as the Hokies stymied Ohio State in a 35-21 victory.
Collectively, the Buckeyes hauled in just nine receptions against Virginia Tech that night . And with the success the Hokies had last year in Columbus, they're expected to adapt a similar strategy when the two teams meet in prime time on Labor Day.
The Buckeyes were already working to replace Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, two receivers who graduated last year before respectively going in the second and sixth rounds of the NFL draft. Add to that the Week 1 suspensions of wideouts Corey Smith, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, and Ohio State was already severely shorthanded at wideout for the season opener.
But Brown's injury has left Urban Meyer in an even more desperate situation.
That's not to say there aren't talented replacements to choose from. Since taking over in the winter of 2012, Meyer has made a concerted effort to improve the perimeter talent in Columbus, so there's certainly no shortage of potential fill-ins.
But none of those players were having the kind of fall camp that Brown was putting together.
"I would say Noah Brown is probably the most improved receiver right now," cornerback Eli Apple said the day before Brown's injury, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "There was a point early in camp where nobody could cover him for a little bit. He was just so physical, really good with his hands, and he catches everything."
And his absence won't just impact the passing game—it'll also hamper the running game.
More than most teams around the country, Ohio State's rushing attack relies heavily upon downfield blocking from its receivers. That's why Spencer was such a valued asset for Ohio State and eventually named the team's MVP. He brought a physicality to the receiver position that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to hit the second level with fewer obstacles.
Brown was going to be Ohio State's enforcer in a similar fashion.
Now that Brown is out, the Buckeyes will need to find someone who will not only provide a spark in the passing game but in the running game as well.
And with Virginia Tech looming, they'll need to do that in a hurry.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas will all get a crack to host the nation’s No. 2 outside linebacker and No. 17 player overall in the 2016 cycle.
The 6’3”, 215-pounder already visited Michigan and Oklahoma in the offseason. However, with his fall agenda now in focus, which program currently has the inside track on landing one of the nation’s top defenders?
The Wolverines and the Sooners appear to be the two teams that have grabbed Kelly’s interest from the beginning of his recruitment, as detailed by Bleacher Report’s Damon Sayles.
"I know Michigan will probably be in there, and Oklahoma because they've been there for forever," Kelly told Sayles. "But there are a lot of schools that I haven't had a chance to visit. I'm going to Notre Dame hopefully soon. I want to go to a few places before the end of the summer."
Additionally, Stoops and his staff have recruited the state of California aggressively and with a good amount of success. Since 2012, the Sooners have signed 15 players from the Golden State and have 4-star linebacker Bryce Youngquist already committed in the current cycle.
Included in the pipeline of California standouts heading to Norman are fellow Fresno natives in receiver Michiah Quick and safety Hatari Byrd, as detailed by Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.
Playing time also appears to be something that could work in the Sooners' favor. As detailed by Ourlads, five of the Sooners' top eight linebackers are upperclassmen.
With Michigan, new Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff made a strong impression on Kelly when he visited Ann Arbor back in March, according to Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247.
What I liked is that the coaches weren't about themselves. They were laughing and joking and having a really good time. They're funny guys. You can tell they've worked with each other before and know each other really well. I wondered what it would be like around them because they've been in the NFL, but you can tell they all love being there and are glad they are at Michigan. When it's time to get serious with the players and at practice, they flip the switch on and get to work, but they have fun doing it.
Of the other trio of suitors he will visit, Notre Dame—which gets the last crack at Kelly on Dec. 11—may have the best chance to make a move with him.
As Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports notes, the Irish will finally get him on campus after planned trips in the summer fell through.
While both the Irish and the Wolverines have a chance to wow Kelly on his visits, it’s the Sooners who have the edge heading into the stretch run of his recruitment.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
In just one week, college football will be back, and so will the eye-popping individual performances that will have fans everywhere talking for days.
"Hey, did you see how many yards (star player) had against (downtrodden opponent) on Saturday? Or what about (breakout player) for (Group of Five team), who had (nearly record-breaking statistic)?"
The opening weekend of the season is a perfect time for top performers to pick back up where they left off a season ago and for some less-heralded players to command some attention for themselves.
Here are 15 college football players—three each for the major categories of passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, sacks and interceptions—who have great chances at shining the brightest in Week 1. These players were chosen based on their individual success in a statistical category and their opponents' strength for a particular matchup.
Let us know who you think will have the biggest Week 1 performances in college football in the comments below.
We are a week away from toe meeting leather and the kickoff of the 2015 college football season.
Opening weekend has brought us several surprise stars over the last few seasons, including former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, former Georgia star Todd Gurley, current Auburn wide receiver "Duke" Williams and current Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
The SEC has plenty of big games in Week 1 this year that can vault players into college football stardom in 2015.
Who will be the stars of Week 1? Our picks based on talent, matchup and exposure are in this slideshow.
With students around the country going back to school and football season quickly approaching, Oregon Ducks mascot Puddles made a video to get students to pledge their allegiance to the best house at Oregon—Autzen Stadium.
And he had some fun making it at the University of Alabama's expense.
Alabama's Alpha Phi sorority received a lot of backlash for its recruitment video. That video inspired Puddles to make a recruitment video—well, a spoof—of his own.
It's just a Duck having fun in the place he loves most. Now he's hoping for some friends to join him.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
ATLANTA — Could a non-BCS bowl game played eight years prior to Nick Saban's first SEC West title at Alabama provide the foundation for the Crimson Tide dynasty?
One certainly had an impact.
Saban's first LSU team in 2000 topped Georgia Tech 28-14 in the Peach Bowl, capping off an 8-4 season that set up the Tigers for an SEC title run in 2001.
It seems crazy considering how much Saban's coaching star has risen since, but it took a lot of work and some lobbying from Saban to get his Tigers into that bowl game in the first place.
"In 2000, [Saban] called me when he was the head coach of LSU," said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl president Gary Stokan, who is a friend of Saban. "He said 'Gary, we have got to get to your bowl game. It's the best bowl game we can get to, we need to start to change the culture around here.' It's the only time I met with the chancellor. Mark Emmert was the chancellor at LSU, and I met with him and Nick."
Saban wanted the Peach Bowl badly due to its unopposed New Year's Eve time slot on ESPN and its location in the fertile recruiting ground of Atlanta.
"I go back a month later to see Nick," Stokan, explained, "and he says 'everybody that we signed this year in the recruiting class watched that game. They signed because they liked what they saw. We closed on every single one of them.' That team [that signed] was the one that helped LSU win the 2003 national championship."
Fast forward eight years, and Saban again saw opportunity knocking in Atlanta.
The NCAA passed legislation in 2005 that allowed schools to schedule a 12th regular-season game effective in 2006. Stokan, whose Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl was steadily climbing to become one of the more prominent non-BCS bowls due in part to the same reasons Saban wanted to play in it in 2000, began brainstorming on how to capitalize on an extra game.
Because of the addition of the 12th game, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game was born.
But where would Stokan turn to fill the slot in 2008? He already had Clemson on board, Alabama was interested and Stokan wanted to replicate the traditional ACC vs. SEC matchup that had helped the postseason bowl game ascend to its current level.
"When I called [Nick] about 2008, I said 'Nick we're doing this kickoff game, we'd love to have you come over and play against Clemson,'" Stokan said. "He was coming off a 7-6 season and had lost to Louisiana-Monroe. He said, 'OK, I'll do it. You helped me out, I'll do it."'
Saban's reasoning was simple.
When the game was announced in January 2008, Clemson was coming off an overtime loss to Auburn in the bowl game but expected to contend for the ACC and national titles in the upcoming season. It'd be a huge test to open his second season in Tuscaloosa, but it would serve as a huge benefit to the future of the program.
"He did it for all the right reason for Alabama—the payout and the opportunity to play a good Clemson team would help them, but he also said, 'If I can finish No. 1 in Alabama in recruiting and second in Georgia, we'll play for national championships,'" Stokan said.
Saban's 24th-ranked Crimson Tide knocked that opportunity out of the park.
They throttled No. 9 Clemson 34-10 on prime time on ABC in that inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and set the tone for an undefeated regular season, SEC West title and a return trip to Atlanta to take on Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
"It gave us reassurance that we could contend with anyone," said former Crimson Tide quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who was a sophomore on that 2008 team. "Coach Saban was always preaching the process and the importance of preparation. We wanted to leave no doubt."
It also reassured the players that what Saban was selling was working.
"He always says, 'Everybody has sight, but very few people have vision,'" said former wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who was a redshirt freshman in 2008. "He set the vision for us and said that we'd win national championships if we did the right things and bought into the process. Beating Clemson in the way that we did, that was just the first step."
They fell to the Gators in that SEC Championship Game but kept momentum going in February by reeling in the nation's second-best recruiting class.
That class included offensive guard and Georgia native Chance Warmack, who was a big part of the Tide's title run. He followed it up with another stellar recruiting class the following year that included linebacker Adrian Hubbard, tight end Brian Vogler, quarterback Blake Sims and offensive tackle Austin Shepherd—all Peach State products.
"We're recruiting Atlanta because it's three hours away and they've got a lot of great football players and a lot of good football programs," Saban said in September 2008, according to Gentry Estes, formerly of the Huntsville Times. "Georgia is fourth (nationally), I think, maybe in prospects, and it's relatively close to us."
What seemed like a meaningless LSU vs. Georgia Tech bowl game in 2000 might not have seemed like a big deal to Alabama fans at the time, but that game proved to Saban just how big a national stage in a fertile recruiting ground is for the future of a program.
When kickoff games were reborn with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2008, it was only natural for Stokan to offer an invitation to the man who shared the same vision to help launch the event.
Would Alabama have played in the 2008 kickoff game if Saban hadn't pleaded to receive a 2000 Peach Bowl invitation? Maybe. But the impact of that showdown with Georgia Tech was part of what built Saban to what he has become and played a part in a magical five-year run for Alabama between 2008-2012, in which Saban brought three national titles to Tuscaloosa.
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 SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Sachse, Texas, 4-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay doesn't say much. Unless he has down time with friends or family, no one should expect him to say more than 20 words at a time.
There are athletes who epitomize the phrase "silent assassin," where literal verbiage takes a back seat to first-class performance, whether it's on the football field, the track or wherever the athlete excels.
"I don't really say a lot," Duvernay said while lacing up his cleats to prepare for drills. "I just want to go out and work."
Duvernay isn't a talker. He's the classic doer. Ask those who try to catch him in the open field—whether it's as a versatile football standout or as a sprinter with potential world-class speed at Sachse High School.
And when he's dialed in, consider Duvernay nearly unstoppable.
At least, that's been the case so far throughout his high school career. He's compiled nearly 1,800 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns the last two seasons. He's also is averaging nearly 10 yards a rush (58 rushes, 557 yards, five touchdowns) as a varsity athlete.
And then there's his track resume. Duvernay's the reigning UIL Texas Class 6A 100-meter dash state champion. He won Texas' largest classification in the spring with a blazing time of 10.27 seconds, the third-fastest high school time in the nation.
Duvernay's athletic success is recognized with nearly 40 offers from schools from coast to coast, as well as the invitation to play in the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game in Florida in January. Recruiting-wise, Duvernay said schools like Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Oregon have peaked his interest early, but he's keeping all options open.
The key to his success? Setting a goal and doing everything possible to reach it.
"I envision success," he said. "I envisioned running a 10.29, and I got a 10.27. Normally, with my visions, I expect to get them."
High expectations at a young age
Duvernay is the son of Henry and Zena Duvernay. He's also the twin brother of Donovan Duvernay, who is a two-way athlete at cornerback and receiver for Sachse.
Henry was a multisport athlete at Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School in New Orleans. He didn't play football but was a sprinter for the track team and also played basketball and baseball.
Zena's athletic past wasn't as decorated, but she had four brothers who were either football standouts, baseball standouts or both. Calvin Murray played professional baseball for the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Kevin Murray was an all-conference quarterback for Texas A&M who eventually signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. His son, Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyler Murray, led Allen High School to three consecutive state championships. Allen is currently riding a 43-game winning streak.
In short, the talent genes are there for Duvernay. But with the talent came training—tons of training.
"It didn't come overnight. It was a process," Henry Duvernay said. "Both Devin and Donovan have run track all their lives, and they know if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard at it."
"I feel like because of my genetics, I'd still be fast," Devin added, "but it's my training that pushes me further."
Zena remembers the first time the "it factor" was displayed with Devin and Donovan. They were four-year-olds playing soccer, and a basic task from their soccer coach turned into their first athletic "wow" moment.
"One of the coaches threw the ball down the field and told the players to run for the ball and bring it back," she said. "Devin and Donovan just took off, and they pretty much were on their way back with the ball before the other kids had even gotten down to where the ball was.
"Since then, it seemed like whatever they were doing, they excelled at. Even at an early age."
It's now come to the point where every time the brothers touch the football, they are expected to either score or make a big play. Devin, the nation's No. 4 receiver and the No. 40 player overall, caught 62 passes for 990 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, according to the Dallas Morning News' stats. He also rushed 33 times for 290 yards and three scores.
Consider last year's success as routine around the Duvernay house.
"It's just a natural habit with what we've seen over the years," Henry said. "Playing in Garland peewee football, if any one of them touched the ball, something was going to happen. We expect that now with them in high school. Any time they touch the ball, we expect something positive."
"He's just so dynamic"
Kevin Murray has spent his life shaping his son and molding him to be a great quarterback at the next level, but he knows a quarterback is only as good as a reliable wide receiver.
So when he talks about his nephew's ability to be great, it's not a fluke, nor is it a nepotic bias.
"Devin and Kyler are alike in that they're introverts until you get them on the field," Murray said. "They let their actions speak for themselves. They're not attention-seekers, and from our perspective, that's kind of unusual from some successful kids this day and age.
"With Devin, I've seen him make so many plays in the open field. When he gets into space, it's bye-bye. He does what great players do."
Duvernay, in addition to the training outside of regular workouts at Sachse, gets extra work in by snagging passes at his uncle's quarterback academy. Murray runs Air 14 Football Quarterback Academy, which helped to develop Kyler Murray, Baylor's Seth Russell, LSU's Justin McMillan and Houston 2016 commit Bowman Sells.
For Duvernay, the time spent with his uncle not only gives him extra repetitions but also sound advice from someone who has made it to the professional football ranks.
"We'll catch up and have just normal family time," Duvernay said of Murray. "He's a really competitive guy, but he has that cool side to him where you can just relax with him."
The same rules apply when Duvernay is with his older cousin. Kyler Murray left Allen High School as one of the most prolific, competitive quarterbacks in Texas high school history. Duvernay, however, knows him as the guy who imparted knowledge and allowed Duvernay to bounce ideas off him in an effort to get better.
"He played in an age group above us, so we never played together, but we've always been around to watch each other play," Duvernay said.
"When we are together, everything is just chill. We talk about life, football sometimes, maybe recruiting sometimes. It's cool to just catch up with each other."
Many who follow Duvernay focus on his speed as his primary asset. After all, Duvernay did win the state track championship in the 100, and he did run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at The Opening last month in Oregon.
Kevin Murray, however, believes it will be his other attributes that will enhance his future star-caliber potential.
"You've got to look at his hands and his ability to catch the football and ability to run routes," he said. "Initially, I think when he was a sophomore, there was talk of him being a running back. At the high school level, you can put him anywhere you want, but his position at the collegiate level is receiver.
"He's just so dynamic."
Inseparable since birth
One advantage of having a twin brother, Devin said, is always having someone around who is equally driven. Devin and Donovan have been teammates since they were in preschool.
"We've always been competitive and always played together," Devin said. "We've always wanted to win and be great. That's something we always try to do: keep working and keep getting better."
As the oldest brother by four minutes, Donovan is a 3-star athlete with double-digit offers, including ones from Baylor, TCU, Michigan and Kansas. Much of his work came as a defensive back last season, but when called to play receiver he delivered, finishing the year with 20 catches for 452 yards and five touchdowns. In other words, Donovan averaged a touchdown every fourth reception.
The twins hold each other accountable and are competitive in everything they do, from athletics to academics to video games.
Especially video games.
"We play everything. Madden, 2K (basketball), FIFA (soccer)...and we hate losing," Donovan said. We're real competitive, but at the end of the day, we know it's just a game, so we don't get too mad about it."
While the two share that competitive fire, Zena said there's a noticeable difference in personality. While Donovan is more laid-back, Devin is always moving. It's been that way since they were toddlers.
"Devin was always the child with all the energy. He was always wired," Zena said. "They always played well together, but Devin was always my little busybody. He'd always take toys from Donovan, and I'd make him give them back. It was so funny how one was so wired, but the other was so relaxed."
That level of energy has been a catalyst for Devin during his recruiting process. You can see that second gear during the yards after the catch or 40 meters into a sprint.
It helps, Devin added, to have a brother who motivates him to find that next level. Donovan is more than a twin brother to Devin. He's a muse, a confidant and a best friend.
"We do everything together. With him, you don't have much to worry about,' Devin said. "It's like another you out there. You know what he can do, and he knows what you can do. You can trust him."
To which Donovan responded: "I'm really excited for him. He has a lot of things ahead of him with the season and the Under Armour game. He deserves it. He's earned it."
Picking the right school
Duvernay wants to be a record-breaking wide receiver and a legendary sprinter at the college level. Along with playing receiver, he said he also wants to return punts and kicks wherever he plays. He added that every school he's interested in has given him the green light to run track during the offseason.
So now the question is: Where will he go?
With so many options, recruiting can be a silent distraction, but Duvernay doesn't let the process wear him down. He's already pushed a decision back to after his senior season and isn't opposed to waiting until national signing day.
"I'm taking my time," he said. "I'm looking for a winning team where I can succeed and play. I want to develop and get to the next level, and I want to have fun."
Duvernay is quick to add that while he has a shortlist of interested schools, no school is out of the running. Many Texas A&M fans are hoping he will join his cousin to form a solid, one-two punch in Kevin Sumlin's offense.
Making the right decision is key for Duvernay. Part of that decision will involve his twin. He has stressed the fact that he wants to play college ball with his brother, although he isn't opposed to seeing his brother make the best decision for himself.
Don't be surprised, however, if their parents are making only one college trip each week to watch their sons line up as teammates.
"They want to go to school together, and hopefully that'll happen," Henry said. "As a parent, you want to keep them close. Every weekend, we'll be headed somewhere."
"I can't tell the future, but if it happens, it happens," Donovan added. "We're trying to go to school together, though."
Of Devin's nine interested schools, Baylor is the only one that has offered both Duvernays thus far. That can change in the upcoming weeks, as schools will get additional looks at Donovan with Sachse's regular season starting.
If they do make the same choice, the winning school will get not one but two playmakers. They'll also get athletes who understand the true definition of hard work and dedication.
And while Devin may not vocally address the masses with his intentions, look for him to make an impact that will be heard loudly.
"I just want to be someone who changes the game," he said.
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 via Twitter: @DamonSayles
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — If Penn State no longer deserves to be considered one of college football's premier programs, somebody forgot to tell James Franklin.
Observing the Nittany Lions' practice on Wednesday, you'd never know that this was a team just eight months removed from needing an overtime win over Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl to secure a winning season.
After three seasons marred by unprecedented sanctions and a combined 22-15 record, it's back to football—and only football—for Penn State, which will open its 2015 season next Saturday against Temple with a newfound optimism surrounding its program.
"I think we've had a really good camp," Franklin said. "I feel completely different about our team at this point than we did last year."
From a numbers standpoint, it'd be tough for the second-year Nittany Lions head coach not to.
Back at 85 scholarship players for the first time since the NCAA trimmed Penn State's roster starting in 2012 following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions are finally fielding a full football team once again.
Last season, Penn State was allowed 75 scholarship players, and the addition of 10 roster spots has been noticeable for Franklin's squad this preseason—whether it's been at wide receiver, defensive back or, most importantly, on the offensive line.
But while the increased depth alone should aid Penn State in its attempted to return to prominence, the culture it's helped create—or recreate—could prove to be just as important.
"It's becoming a lot more competitive," Franklin said.
That competition is crucial and something the Nittany Lions have been without for the past three years. The sanction-stricken numbers simply wouldn't allow it, eliminating a key element football coaches are constantly searching for in order to create an atmosphere where iron sharpens iron.
Asked by Bleacher Report about the benefits that competition within a program brings, Penn State wide receivers coach Josh Gattis could hardly contain his smile.
"It's our No. 1 job to create the most competitive environment in all of college football," Gattis said. "That's how you build a roster, with depth that's not only going to be able to help you win games in Week 1 but help you win games in Week 12."
The absence of such in Franklin's first season with the Nittany Lions was evidenced by its highs and lows, which included a 4-0 start followed by a four-game losing streak and eventually back-to-back losses to Illinois and Michigan State to close out the Big Ten campaign.
Due to injuries, Penn State was fielding just 41 scholarship players by the end of the year.
But with more fresh bodies now readily available, Franklin believes his team is set up for the duration of a season.
Even if the makeup of his roster is still relatively young due to the timing of the sanctions—Franklin signed 26 players in 2014 and 25 last February—the newfound depth is apparent with just one look at the collection of players.
"We went in the [Beaver Stadium] last night because I wanted to make sure the first night game we played there wasn't that game. So we had a practice in that environment," Franklin said. "Just standing out there looking at our D-line, they look different. Looking at our safeties, they look different. You look at the wide receivers. The whole group has improved."
This depth has also allowed Franklin to be more flexible when it's come to roster management, as he's already given the green light to true freshmen Saquon Barkley, Brandon Polk, Juwan Johnson and cornerback John Reid to play this season rather than redshirt.
According to PennLive.com's Bob Flounders, he also moved redshirt freshman Koa Farmer from linebacker to safety midway through camp based on the needs of his team, a move he may not have been able to make a year ago.
But while the Nittany Lions' influx of talent and a manageable schedule—not to mention star quarterback Christian Hackenberg—could make them a sleeper team in the top-heavy Big Ten East, it's not just the makeup of the roster that creates the appearance of an elite program in Happy Valley once again.
A lot of that has to do with the presence of Franklin, who is every bit as much the CEO of Penn State football as he is the head coach.
With a calm and collected demeanor while dealing with the press, it's not hard to see how the former Vanderbilt head coach has put together a 2016 recruiting class that currently ranks fifth in the country. Franklin picks his spots and focuses on what he wants to, typically only elaborating on the positives of his program.
Of course, it's helped that media access to the Nittany Lions has been limited in training camp, with only 10 minutes of practice and interview sessions with Franklin and a chosen assistant being available to reporters each week.
That makes Penn State more open than Michigan has been—the Wolverines have entered a fall camp "submarine" under Jim Harbaugh—but less so than Ohio State and Michigan State, who have each made players available for interviews on a weekly basis.
It may seem silly to read into media availability when judging a program, but for the Nittany Lions, it's somewhat telling. No longer is Penn State concerned about putting positive headlines in the press post-sanctions. Rather, it is insulating itself as much as possible to prepare for the upcoming season.
For the Nittany Lions, it's football—and only football—once again.
Just how long it will take Penn State to return to playing like an elite program remains to be seen.
But thanks to their finally full roster and the confident head coach in charge of it, the Nittany Lions are already acting like one.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Cincinnati head football coach Tommy Tuberville stated Thursday that he's considering a plan to withhold a portion of a player's cost-of-attendance money for off-field issues or other violations.
"We are holding them accountable," he said.
Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn called the plan an "accountability measure" for student-athletes and tried to explain it further, via Schad.
"It's not a fine. It's not a threat. It's a tool," Bohn said.
Steve Berkowitz of USA Today notes the NCAA's five wealthiest conferences agreed to a plan in January that allows them to provide scholarships that cover the full cost of attending the school. All Division I programs can offer the additional benefits, but it's not required.
The plan is already causing concerns in the college community. Jake New of Inside Higher Ed reported some schools with high-profile athletic programs "are sharply increasing" the cost of attendance this year, thus making more available for the scholarships.
Brian Murphy of Yahoo Sports points out that "college coaches sounding more and more like employers/bosses every day."
Tuberville's comments will surely raise some questions about these guidelines, but it's currently unclear how much of an impact this will have on his team and elsewhere in college athletics.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Halfway down the hill from the nearly 100-year-old stadium where the University of California plays its football games, Jared Goff points to the patch of grass and trees where his family used to tailgate when he was a kid.
This wasn’t really that long ago, considering that Goff won’t turn 21 until October. The players he grew up watching in that stadium, among them Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson, are at the peaks of their NFL careers, and it’s possible that by the time Goff finishes two more semesters at Cal he'll be ready to join them.
This will be Goff’s third year as the starting quarterback at the university his father, an ex-Major League Baseball catcher, and mother attended, and he enters the 2015 season as a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
There is enough speculation about the NFL swirling around him (including a Mel Kiper column that rated him the top quarterback prospect among underclassmen, ahead of Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones) that Cal felt the need to issue a statement from Goff declaring that he wouldn’t talk about such things until after the season.
Were he playing anywhere other than Cal—if he were at USC or UCLA or Oregon or somewhere in the Big Ten or SEC—the crush of attention might be even heavier, the Heisman hopes even more concrete. But in a way, Goff is lucky, because he plays at a school where major college football is often a secondary concern for the student body.
“Most of the time,” Goff says, “they’re focused on splitting the atom.”
This is an attitude Goff, who grew up in nearby Marin County, hopes to alter at least somewhat this fall, as those other star players did before him and as the Bears did from time to time under former coach Jeff Tedford, maximizing their resources and building around a few marquee talents to win 10 games in both 2004 and 2006.
Still, this is a Cal program that hasn’t played in a Rose Bowl since 1958 and played in only one other bowl between 1959 and 1990. Even their successes are shrouded in geekdom and weirdness.
The most memorable play in Cal history—maybe the most memorable in college football history—is a flukish convergence of luck and physics that ended with a wayward trombone player getting mauled. And one of the enduring nationally televised moments under Tedford came when broadcaster Brent Musburger went on a rant against environmental protesters (“aging hippies,” he called them) who were protesting the destruction of trees around the stadium.
Goff was originally recruited by Tedford’s staff, but Tedford was fired shortly after, as the Bears went searching once more for a new identity, for someone who could elevate their program in the Pac-12 hierarchy.
And while Stanford, Cal’s private-school analogue (and fierce rival) in Bay Area nerdiness, has managed to construct a first-tier Pac-12 program by embracing physicality over the conference-wide trend of offensive prowess, Cal hired a native Texan and Mike Leach disciple named Sonny Dykes, who immediately instilled a wide-open Air Raid offense and put Goff at the center of it, as in his freshman year.
In that first season, with Goff essentially learning on the job, the 2013 Bears were a mess, the worst team in the Pac-12, going 1-11 and losing all of their Pac-12 contests. Last year, they improved to 5-7, and if ever there were a time for the Bears to turn the corner, it would be now, in what could well be Goff’s final season before professional football lures him away.
“Growing up watching guys like Rodgers and Lynch and Jackson, and seeing them win 10 games every year, that’s kind of what we want to bring it back to,” Goff says. “There’s no time to waste. This is the year to do it.”
Cal has always been a bit off an odd fit for a major college football program, given its location at the radical epicenter of American culture and the hardcore academic environment of the place (it is continually ranked as the top public school in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report). The culture of football isn’t infused with the same urgency at Cal as it is at nearly any other school in the South or the Midwest, or even among certain rivals in the Pac-12.
When the Bears are good, the student body tends to focus in a little more deeply and trudge up the hill to Memorial Stadium on Saturdays. But most of the time, football exists on the periphery of a campus where certain parking spaces are specifically reserved for Nobel laureates.
“It’s not like Florida State or LSU, where they’re just driven by the football program,” says Jerry Goff, Jared’s father, who was a walk-on punter at Cal for a season and now works as a firefighter in the Bay Area. “You gotta remember, you’re in class with these kids who are super-geniuses, four-point whatevers, you’re competing against that in the classroom, and you’re competing against the rest of the Pac-12 on the field.”
This is especially apparent to Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, a quarterback guru who spent most of his career coaching in the South at places like Kentucky and Auburn. Since coming to Berkeley, Franklin has embraced the spirit of the place to the point that he told CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon last spring that he’s transformed from a Republican to a Democrat (Goff calls Franklin “the most unique coach I’ve ever had”).
This is an ethos that Franklin says he’s tried to pass on to his players; he looks out at them, he says, and sees a future generation of world leaders. My age group has screwed the world up, he sometimes tells them. You guys get a chance to fix it.
“When (Jared) goes to class, he knows he’s sitting beside someone who may change the world with a medical discovery or may be the leader of a foreign country,” Franklin says. “When he walks to class, he doesn’t get bombarded. He doesn’t have an entourage.”
Indeed, while Goff and I are talking on campus next to the Campanile, the tower that’s perhaps the most recognizable building in Berkeley, no one interrupts our conversation. There are other things happening, summer classes in session, and that sense of perspective is part of the reason Goff chose Cal in the first place (perhaps his most recognizable moment among Bay Area sports fans to date came when he celebrated after catching a ground-rule double at a Giants game at nearby AT&T Park).
He wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, with offers coming in from places like Washington State and Boise State, but when Cal offered, it made so much sense to both him and his family that he couldn’t refuse: hometown school, academics, a chance to play in the Pac-12.
His first day on campus, he says, “was Coach Dykes’ first day. Coach Franklin came in and said, ‘I don’t care how old any of you are. I don’t care if you’re a freshman or a 25-year-old, whoever’s gonna play is gonna play.”
And so Goff immediately competed for the job, and immediately won it. Franklin was impressed by his “sneaky” mobility, his ability to keep plays alive in the way Peyton Manning often does. In the first game of his career in 2013, against Northwestern, Goff threw for 450 yards, and he continued to put up huge numbers game after game as the Bears struggled to stop any Pac-12 offenses.
In back-to-back weeks last season, he threw for 458 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-56 overtime win over Colorado, then threw for 527 yards and five touchdowns in a wild 60-59 victory over Washington State. At that point, Cal found itself with a 4-1 record; suddenly, the campus began to flare with excitement.
“It was like we’d won the Super Bowl,” Goff said.
In the wake of the win over Colorado, Goff went back to the house he shared last year with several roommates. He was sitting on a bench, talking to some friends, when some members of the school’s marching band happened by. One of them asked, “Do you want us to come in and play?”
And so they did just that. Goff still has the photos on his phone of him conducting the band inside the house, the kind of glorious and spontaneous collegiate moment he hopes can inspire an oft-indifferent campus again this fall.
The Bears struggled through the remainder of the Pac-12 schedule in 2014, losing six of their final seven games in large part because of a suspect defense. Still, Goff finished the year with 35 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions, and Franklin says his 6'4" quarterback has only gotten bigger and stronger and more confident since then.
“I’m a lot more comfortable at the line of scrimmage,” Goff says. “(Coach Franklin) will say I have the best view of the field from where we’re at. The plays are more complicated, a lot more decisions to be made, stuff I wasn’t able to do two years ago.”
Two years ago as a freshman, says receiver Bryce Treggs, Goff would often try to air the ball out rather than check down a throw to his running back. “He used to like to show his arm off,” Treggs says. “He was trying to score on every play.”
Perhaps the biggest positive for Goff is that his teammates have grown up around him. Cal has fielded one of the youngest rosters in the country the past couple of seasons, as Dykes has attempted to rebuild the program in his own image, and so Goff has gotten to know his receivers, just as his receivers have gotten to know him.
They’ve worked together enough by now that tight end Stephen Anderson says all Goff has to do is give him a look for him to know the ball is coming to him. “Just a silent signal,” Anderson says.
Because of that—because they’ve worked together for so long—Goff has already been more critical of his receivers (and of himself) when they have made mistakes in fall camp. His demeanor, his manner, even his posture is more commanding than it has been in the past, according to his coach.
“He’s a different person this year,” Dykes says. “He just carries himself differently. The confidence that others have in him is different. From a leadership standpoint, he’s just a calming presence.”
No longer does Goff have to think through his progressions. He can make those decisions almost instinctively now and has Franklin’s permission to do so. He can more easily figure out when to audible and when to check down to a running play, as well as when to step up in the pocket and avoid the rush.
“His feet are definitely some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Treggs says. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he always keeps hot feet. His pocket presence is amazing.”
“He has a really good clock in his head,” Dykes says. “Just being able to anticipate the rush and being able to avoid it. Feeling the rush, but not feeling the rush.”
The obvious model for Goff growing up was Rodgers. The two have never met, in part because Rodgers largely backed away from the program in the wake of Tedford’s firing, but Goff has watched copious amounts of Rodgers on television and film and admires the fact that “he takes a lot of pride in every throw he makes. I don’t think he’s throwing the ball just to throw it.”
Still, when I ask Franklin if Goff reminds him of anyone he’s worked with in the past, he brings up a name that may cause certain NFL scouts to cringe.
“I didn’t coach Tim Couch (at Kentucky), but I was on the staff at that time, and he (Goff) reminds me of Tim,” Franklin says. “Tim had incredible footwork and leadership abilities and was able to extend plays in college. Jared has a better arm, but Tim was probably a better all-around athlete.”
Couch’s failures, of course, came after he’d molded himself into a top pick in the NFL draft, but no one around Goff is allowing him to think that far ahead. And he has the added benefit of professional perspective in his own household.
For six seasons, Jerry Goff was a borderline major leaguer, a backup catcher who would get a start here and there and put so much pressure on himself to make the most of those starts that he often couldn’t relax. One bad run of at-bats, he thought, and he could easily be sent down to Triple-A. “I was a mess,” he says.
In that way, Jerry tells me, he and his son are polar opposites; he never sees his son getting rattled in the way he did when he played.
And so he doesn’t imagine Jared will put too much pressure on himself to live up to the speculation of scouts like Kiper (who will no doubt scrutinize Jared more closely because he plays in a spread offense where numbers are often inflated, and of which NFL scouts are often skeptical). He sees, in his son, someone who’s embraced the challenge of elevating his hometown team into something special.
He also sees someone who’s willing to enjoy the moment he’s in, who has seemingly absorbed Franklin’s constant reminders that as a hometown kid quarterbacking his hometown team in a diverse and intellectually stimulating community, “You’re one of the luckiest humans alive.”
“He’s got so much room to grow,” Jerry Goff says, “and you can’t do that when you’re just looking to your future. And there’s no guarantee, you know? You want this to be fun as much as you can.”
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
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 Top Linebackers.
Other CFB 250 Positions
- Pro-Style QBs
- Offensive Linemen
- Running Backs
- Defensive Ends
- Defensive Tackles
- Tight Ends
Other than maybe running back, linebacker is the best position group in college football.
Although some great players left for the NFL this offseason—Eric Kendricks, Paul Dawson, et al.—so much talent returns that it was hard to find an order for this list. Any way we ranked it, multiple players felt too low.
Included among this year's linebackers are the reigning Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award winner (both of which are given to the nation's top defender), the No. 1 overall prospect on Matt Miller's NFL draft board, a converted safety with All-American potential and a pair of reigning national champions.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
But before we dig into that, a disclaimer: We graded these linebackers as college prospects, not as NFL prospects.
Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a linebacker can set the edge and make plays in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter if he can do so in 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.
Well, it's official.
On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Jim Mora announced true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting quarterback for the season opener versus Virginia on Sept. 5.
For some, it was a no-brainer decision. Rosen was a consensus 5-star recruit by virtually every publication. He starred at one of the top high school programs in the country in St. John Bosco. Not only did he throw for 29 touchdowns in one of the toughest high school leagues nationally, but he also accrued a 4.3 grade-point average.
Rosen's mother went to Princeton and is related to Joseph Wharton of the Wharton School of Business fame. Rosen's father went to Penn and is a spine surgeon.
Both of his parents were also excellent athletes during their younger days, with his father narrowly missing out in becoming an Olympian figure skater and his mother being a lacrosse player in college. Rosen himself was a tennis prodigy as a child before transitioning to other sports.
Everything screams "special" when it comes to this individual.
With this special thought comes special expectations. Rosen is given the keys to a car that includes 18 returning starters and a thirst for a Pac-12 Championship.
The media hype train will be in full swing the week before his first start. How will he manage expectations? Can he take care of the ball and make the proper reads? Can he lead UCLA to the promised land?
These are things he'll have to answer—one way or another.
He beat out Jerry Neuheisel for the job. A fan favorite, the floppy-haired blond personality is universally well-liked throughout the program. He doesn't possess the physical tools that Rosen has. However, Neuheisel is the perfect second-string quarterback in the sense he's intelligent, battle-tested and a great teammate.
Rosen will have his share of mistakes. It's expected considering he's a true freshman. It will be imperative for Rosen to not perpetuate these mistakes. He's afforded a deep group of receivers and arguably the best running back in the conference in Paul Perkins.
He doesn't have to win UCLA games…he just has to take care of the football.
There are some games on the schedule in which he'll be tested. Virginia figures to blitz him a lot, as does Arizona State. Early-season clashes at Arizona and versus BYU won't be easy. Road contests in inclement weather versus Oregon State and Utah will certainly test his mettle.
Of course, he'll end the season versus crosstown rival Southern Cal (assuming he stays healthy).
This is an exciting time for UCLA football. Mora has built this program virtually from the ground up. It's one rooted in energy, toughness and accountability. The results have spoken for themselves over the course of the past three seasons.
With that said, the Bruins under Mora have failed to win a conference crown. Mora can only hope the true freshman taking the reins of his team can live up the moniker of "The Rosen One" and lead the squad to new heights.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The UCLA football team will begin its quest for a Pac-12 title on Sept. 5 as the Bruins kick off the 2015 season at home versus Virginia.
Times are exciting for Jim Mora and the Bruins. The team returns 18 starters—including the likes of elite talent such as Jordan Payton, Myles Jack and Kenny Clark. Dually, UCLA has just named highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen as the starting signal-caller.
This piece will offer schedule analysis—and game predictions—for the 2015 season.