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Potential QB Transfer Jake Rudock Gives Michigan Best Chance to Win in 2015

Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock, according to Clint Brewster of 247Sports, is expected to visit Michigan this weekend with the intent to transfer if offered. Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down who gives the Wolverines the best chance to win during the 2015 season.

Who do you think should lead the Wolverines in 2015?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football About to Become the Everett Golson vs. Malik Zaire Show

The old axiom that unequivocally states that having two quarterbacks essentially means you have none never envisioned having Everett Golson and Malik Zaire on the same depth chart. 

And as Notre Dame opened spring practice early Wednesday morning, fans and media members took their first look at Golson and Zaire, rebooting a position battle that will be one of the most high-profile quarterback races in the country. 

It's hard to reach any conclusions after scouring YouTube for clips of drills performed in shorts and helmets. But you can't blame fans for getting a little crazy about one of the most important decisions atop coach Brian Kelly's spring objectives. 

On Tuesday, Kelly met with the media to answer questions about his team. It was no surprise that the first two questions he answered were about "the quarterback situation," and it was an even smaller surprise when Kelly remained non-committal about the position. 

"I really don't know," Kelly said when asked about the position battle. "I think it's going to take us some time to get a feel for how this competition is going to go."

What Notre Dame's head coach is doing makes sense—especially as the offense infuses ideas from former Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, brought to South Bend to shake things up and solve the turnover bug that has plagued the Irish offense since Kelly came to town. 

In 2012, the Irish rode an offense equipped with training wheels to the national title game. Going vanilla, a young Golson played facilitator, handing the ball to Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood while looking to All-American tight end Tyler Eifert in single coverage.

Last year, Kelly opened things up for Golson...and the Irish proceeded to turn the ball over 26 times, finishing 101st in the country. The same thing happened in 2011 when the Irish tried to run Kelly's idealized spread.

So even with an early-season highlight reel that had Golson among the country's finest playmakers, coughing up the football at the rate Golson did put his starting job in question moving into his final season of collegiate eligibility. 

Enter Sanford.

An outsider on a staff that's long involved coaches with years of connectivity to the Irish head coach, the 33-year-old assistant's job this spring is to bring uniformity to a quarterback position that's long looked like a grab bag.

"I want to see a consistency and attention to detail more than anything else. Eradicate any of the gray area as it relates to the fundamentals of the quarterback position," Kelly said Wednesday. "We're not going to open it up to interpretation. ... There's no misunderstanding about what's being taught, how it's being taught or what's expected." 

Those expectations have those who watch Notre Dame football already handicapping the race for the starting job against Texas. But those actually in charge in South Bend have done the opposite. 

When pressed for specifics, Kelly did his best to remove any assumptions—especially when it came to the future of Golson, who has a transfer and immediate eligibility available to him after he graduates this May. 

"The only thing that I've ever said to Everett is that you have to come in here and compete for the starting quarterback position," Kelly said. "He has bought in 100 percent to competing for the quarterback position here at Notre Dame. ... His actions, what he's communicated to me, verbally communicated to me, he's 100 percent committed to competing for the quarterback job here at Notre Dame." 

As we saw from Zaire in his gutty effort against LSU, a competitive nature flows through his veins. Now it's up to the young quarterback to treat this spring like the bowl game, taking his passion from the playing field back to practice. 

With 14 practices left in spring and only limited windows of viewing to peek inside the race, expect every statement to be parsed for meaning and every rep shared on social media to be evaluated. 

Today, Golson ran with the first team. Come Friday? Who knows.

Let the (spring practice) games begin. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bold Predictions for 2015 Florida Gators Spring Practice

The Florida Gators have started spring practice under new head football coach Jim McElwain. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee offers his bold predictions for the team this spring. 

What are your bold predictions for the Florida Gators this spring?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Michigan or Boise State the Better Option for Iowa Transfer QB Jake Rudock?

It looks like former Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock could still be a Big Ten quarterback in 2015. 

According to Clint Brewster of 247Sports, Rudock will have an important visit with Michigan this weekend and could receive a grant-in-aid offer from the Wolverines: 

Sources have told Wolverine247 that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz will release transfer quarterback Jake Rudock to any school in the country including Michigan.

Rudock will visit Michigan this weekend and the source also indicated that if Michigan does offer Rudock a spot on the roster that he will accept. With the uncertainty at quarterback for Michigan in 2015, the Wolverines are expected to offer Rudock.

Rudock will be a graduate transfer and eligible to play right away. It's a big deal that Ferentz is letting Rudock go anywhere he wants, though the fact that Michigan and Iowa do not play next season is notable. Rudock's transfer to the Wolverines has been the subject of message-board rumors for a while but gained traction last week via Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports. Per Brewster, Rudock is also considering Boise State. 

Which school would be a be a better fit for Rudock? It depends on what he's looking for. One would think Rudock will transfer to the place where he'll have the best chance to start, but there are other factors as well.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin are both "quarterback guys." Either way, Rudock will be playing in a style of offense that should be more aggressive than the one he played in at Iowa. 

That said, Michigan's offer would be a hard one to pass up. Since Rudock has one season of eligibility left, being coached by Harbaugh could pay major dividends for him down the road.  

Harbaugh is also a straight shooter. He'll tell a recruit exactly what he thinks of him from an evaluation standpoint. There's very little butt-kissing. If Harbaugh thinks a player can start or play in the NFL, he'll tell him. If he thinks Michigan isn't for him, he'll tell him. 

So if Michigan really does extend an offer to Rudock, that should tell you a lot about what Harbaugh thinks of him. It doesn't mean Rudock is guaranteed to start, but it would mean that he and Harbaugh are on the same wavelength. 

That, and the fact that Harbaugh needs bodies at quarterback. Houston transfer John O'Korn won't be eligible until 2016, and early enrollee Alex Malzone will still be learning the ropes.

If Rudock does transfer to Ann Arbor, Shane Morris could be his biggest competition. Morris is a talented kid, but it's clear he needs more development. How quickly he develops under Harbaugh will dictate his position on the depth chart. 

The good thing for Rudock is that he's not going to be the only one learning a new offense; everyone is going to be starting from scratch. In February, Harbaugh called the upcoming quarterback competition a "meritocracy," according to ESPN.com's Dan Murphy. 

"It's going to take a lot. All of that will be determined on the field," Harbaugh said, per Murphy. "This will be a lot of fun. We'll throw the balls out there, and the guys will compete."

Rudock has had his ups and downs, but when he's on he looked like one of the better pure passers in the Big Ten. Last season, he finished fourth with a 133.46 passer rating. He can manage an offense.

Considering that Michigan could barely move the chains last season, that would be a good start. 

There shouldn't be any doubt that Rudock can play at that level. It might just be a matter of pairing him with the right coach. Certainly, Rudock and Harbaugh could be a solid combination in Year 1 of the Wolverines' rebuilding project. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Alabama Football Players Are Up to on Spring Break

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Spring break can be an exciting and nerve-wracking time around a football program like Alabama’s.

The week off is nice, even though the Crimson Tide have had just one practice of their 15 allotted for spring so far. Even then, it can be some nice down time from classes and the other burdens of being a student-athlete before the grind of practice and end-of-semester coursework kicks in.

But, as we’ve seen recently, it can also mean unwanted negative attention, no matter who is at fault. Last year, for example, now-former running back Altee Tenpenny was arrested on possession charges when he was back home in Arkansas.

So after Alabama’s first practice of the spring last Friday, Nick Saban had a message for his team about the week off:

"Well my message to them was, you know, we need everybody to make good choices and decisions about what they do and what they don’t do so that they’re always making choices and decisions that are going to help them be who they want to be. When you know you’re not supposed to do something that you want to do and you know it’s the wrong thing to do, please don’t allow yourself to do that so you won’t have issues and problems and you won’t have to deal with negative consequences relative to your behavior. So that’s kind of the message that we give to our players and I’m hopeful that—and I’m really almost confident that we’ve got pretty good guys on our team, we haven’t had a lot of issues, and hopefully we won’t have any over the next nine-10 days.

Linebacker Reggie Ragland said defensive coordinator Kirby Smart told the linebackers to “be smart about what you're doing. If you're going down there, don't do nothing crazy, just be respectful to everyone."

Center Ryan Kelly said the best thing to do in most situations is to just walk away.

“Worst-case scenario, you just walk away, bite the bullet, I guess,” he said. “A lot of guys, we haven’t had a whole lot of problems around here, but things do happen. It’s always a nerve-racking thing for those guys, I guess.”

So far, so good for Alabama discipline-wise, now halfway through spring break. Let’s get a glimpse of what Crimson Tide players are doing with their break through social media. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but rather a snapshot into the lives of Alabama’s football team.

Several Alabama players have hit the beach. Freshman cornerback Marlon Humphrey shared a picture of him, Da’Shawn Hand, Reggie Ragland, Derrick Henry and Rashaan Evans enjoying the sun:

Other players shared that they were on their way or already there:

Kenyan Drake is in Powder Spring, Georgia, drinking Kool-Aid and watching some old games. He watched this year's Ole Miss game, where he suffered a brutal leg break. Drake, though, is already back practicing with the team and should be in line for a big year.

Drake and nose tackle Josh Frazier dropped in on their old high schools while they are back in their respective home towns:

Shaun Dion Hamilton is back in Montgomery:

Blake Barnett is heading back to California and experiencing the joys of air travel along the way:

While Henry and Evans are at the beach, they aren’t forgetting to stay in shape either:

Alabama players have chosen to spend their spring break in different ways, hitting the beach or going home. But they'll all be back together again on Monday, when spring practice cranks up into high gear, and they won't have an extended break like this until the summer.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and reporting were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 SEC Football Coaches Facing the Toughest Tasks This Spring

There aren't any SEC head coaches entering spring practice in 2015 on the proverbial "hot seat," but there's still plenty of work to do.

Several coaches in the nation's toughest football conference have plenty to fix this spring, with the eyeballs of the college football world on them.

Which coaches are facing the toughest tasks this spring?

Our picks, based on job security, personnel and pressure to win, are in this slideshow.

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Expect Monster 6'5 ½", 295-Pound OT Brey Walker to Be 5-Star Recruit for 2018

Offensive tackle Brey Walker is a recruit you will want to remember from the 2018 class. This 6'5 ½", 295-pound monster still has three more years of high school before he heads to the collegiate level.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder breaks down what he saw from Walker in Dallas at The Opening.

How big of a recruit do you think he will become in the 2018 class?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Chris Borland's Early NFL Retirement Should Spark Changes at the College Level

It still feels odd typing the phrase "former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland." Yet, here we are again, conversing about football's future because one of its brightest stars examined the road ahead and didn't like the risk. 

After one year in the NFL, Borland, 24, told ESPN's Outside the Lines on Monday that he was retiring from football because of "concerns about the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma."

Despite the popular narrative, Borland's decision doesn't mark the end of football. However, Jeff Borland, Chris' father, told Ken Belson of The New York Times that it could be the "beginning of the beginning." That could specifically mean a number of things. Perhaps parents continue to be more reluctant to let their kids play football. Maybe more players follow Borland's lead and pre-emptively call it a career. What those numbers will be is impossible to predict, though. 

What it means to me is that change is coming in terms of how athletes are treated, especially at the college level. 

College football has a future just as the NFL has a future, but it will be an evolved one. The trickle-down effect of Borland's announcement revolves around empathy. As Dan Diamond of Forbes.com wrote, there's a newfound acceptance among fans that these athletes aren't gladiators, objects used solely for our entertainment. They're people with very real needs. 

And what college athletes need is as much assistance as possible for the destruction of their bodies. 

We're not talking about a new type of helmet that cushions impact, limiting tackling during practices or placing third-party doctors on every sideline. Those things are important, but they're also immediate solutions for what we know to be a long-term issue. 

The easiest solution is to, quite literally, throw money at the problem. A side story of the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit over the use of a college athletes' name/image/likeness is that compensation is a tangible form of relief. If college football players leave school with $20,000 in their pocket out of a trust fund, that's money that could be used to pay medical bills down the line. 

This isn't about players being paid in the value of an education. In fact, that's irrelevant when it comes to player health. The value of an education isn't in an undergraduate degree, anyway; it's what the individual actually learns from their time in college, academically and socially. Those two concepts aren't necessarily the same. Furthermore, neither guarantees that someone can afford medical expenses because they took repeated blows to the head over a number of years. 

But along those lines, Borland's story should make colleges at least take a good, hard look at how they're guiding student-athletes. Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett tweeted a series of thoughts about this very subject. (If you have the time, Clarett's whole timeline is worth a read.) 

In short, Borland felt like he had options outside of football. Not everyone else is so fortunate. 

This may sound like trying to shove the toothpaste back in the tube, but self-evaluation about the role of academic and social opportunity in college athletics is crucial. When we talk about athletes "choosing" to play football, and thus assuming all of its risks, we often neglect to note that it shares a blurred line with necessity. Football isn't everyone's one and only path to a better life, but it is for some. 

What are high schools and colleges alike doing to ensure that players have as many options as possible? That's the question that needs to be asked—and asked again—more than anything else. Depending on the answer, the socio-economic makeup of future rosters could shift. 

We'll still have football, though. How it looks is what will be different. Depending on how we value players now, we can dictate whether that change will be positive or not. If a player feels like he has options financially and professionally, he may still retire sooner than usual. But it could also mean that more players are willing to keep giving football a chance. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson TE Commit, Grandson of Gene Stallings, Talks Texas A&M, Alabama Offers

The latest offer for Clemson tight end commit J.C. Chalk seemed to be the missing piece of a three-team recruiting degree of separation.

Chalk told Bleacher Report that he was offered by Alabama on Tuesday. That offer gave Chalk, a 3-star prospect from Argyle, Texas, three offers with major connections to his famous grandfather.

Chalk is the grandson of legendary football coach Gene Stallings, who played and coached at Texas A&M and also spent two coaching stints at Alabama. One of Stallings’ former players at Alabama was Dabo Swinney, who now is Clemson’s head coach.

Three great offers with ties to Stallings. How does a recruit choose?

If you ask Chalk, the decision is easy.

"I'm still just as firm with [Clemson] as when I first committed back when I was a sophomore," said Chalk, who was the first 2016 athlete to commit to the Tigers, announcing his decision on June 11, 2014. "I just want to continue to get closer and closer to the coaching staff there."

Chalk, who measured at The Opening Dallas regional Sunday at 6'4" and 224 pounds, has been the topic of discussion for Texas A&M fans since before he officially landed an offer on March 2. Aggies fans believe it's a matter of time before Chalk flips and follows his grandfather's footsteps. Stallings, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month, played at Texas A&M in the 1950s and returned to College Station to coach there from 1965-71.

Now, Alabama fans can have the same feeling. Stallings didn't play home games in Tuscaloosa, but he began his coaching career there in the late 1950s and helped the Crimson Tide win national titles in 1961 and 1964 as a defensive assistant coach. Stallings came back to Alabama in the 1990s after professional coaching stops with the Dallas Cowboys as a secondary coach and with the St. Louis (later moved to Phoenix) Cardinals.

"[With Texas A&M], I like how much they can offer you after football is over with the degree you'll get there and the Aggie network with all the connections," Chalk said. "They also have a great veterinarian program, which is what I want to do. They also have nice facilities.

"With Alabama, it's the history they have with winning. You can't really find a better program than Alabama. Them being able to say that if you come here for four years, there's a great chance you can win a national championship at least once...there aren't a lot of programs that can say that."

With all of that, however, Chalk said his heart is with Clemson. He's had extensive discussions with Swinney, who played wide receiver at Alabama under Stallings and won a national title with him in 1992. Per his 247Sports timeline, Chalk was at Clemson in January for junior day. He told Bleacher Report that he's planning to return to the campus next weekend.

Chalk has heard many stories about his grandfather, but it has been the ones from Swinney that have stood out.

"He talked about how much of a man my grandpa shaped him into," Chalk said of Swinney. "He said my grandpa made him a better football player and then a better man and future husband. The toughness, he brought out, but he said my grandpa was always there for him. The player-coach relationship was the best he had.

"Everyone looks at my grandpa and thinks he's a great person. To hear that from [Swinney] and all the other people in the football world, it really makes you appreciate how great he is. He made a lot of men who are now shaping other young men."

In addition to outside offers from Texas A&M and Alabama, Chalk has offers from Ole Miss and Oklahoma State that he considers attractive.

Chalk's relationship with Stallings is unbreakable. The two are very close, and Chalk said he values the time spent with Stallings, who lives on a farm in Paris, Texas.

"The one thing a lot of people don't know is how much he generally cares for his family," Chalk said. "His love for us is crazy. I can call him whenever, and we can talk about anything. We'll go fishing a lot, and if football is usually in the conversation, I'm the one bringing it up. He hardly ever mentions it."

Whether or not Chalk stays with Clemson by next February is still to be determined, but Chalk said Stallings won't have a dog in the race. He currently has seven offers—and all seven know of Stallings' legendary status.

"It's going to be hard to go anywhere and not have my grandpa with some kind of connection," Chalk said. "Being able to go to Clemson kind of gives me my own start. I think that's kind of cool."

 

Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst with Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. Player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting College Football's Cinderellas for 2015 Season

Who is college football's Cinderella?

It has to be someone—doesn't it? TCU finished 4-8 in 2013 and ranked No. 7 in last year's Preseason Big 12 media poll, but that didn't stop it from going 12-1 and winning the Peach Bowl.

The five teams that follow stand the best chance of following TCU's footsteps. Based on how many players they return, which players they return, the changes they made this offseason and myriad statistical factors, they have the highest ceilings of all under-the-radar teams, i.e., the best chance to win 10 games and make an Access Bowl.

One important team we omitted: Michigan. Why? It feels wrong calling the winningest program in college football history "Cinderella." Yes, the Wolverines went 5-7 in 2014, but they're also only three years removed from winning the Sugar Bowl.

These other teams are starving for success.

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The 3-Star CB Sure to Shoot Up Recruiting Ranks During 2016 Cycle

The Opening in Dallas was a great showcase from top football recruits, as well as a proving ground for one under-the-radar recruit. Chris Brown is a 3-star cornerback, as per 247Sports' composite rankings, that will be shooting up recruiting boards this offseason. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses what makes Brown such a dynamic CB prospect. 

Where do you think Chris Brown will land?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Georgia Recruit Josh Imatorbhebhe Sets West Coast Spring Break Visit Tour

Premier Peach State prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe plans to expand his recruitment process next month.

The 4-star wide receiver will spend spring break traveling through Pac-12 territory. His itinerary includes campus visits to three universities during a week-long trip.

"I'll be visiting Arizona State, USC and Stanford," Imatorbhebhe told Bleacher Report. 

The 6'3", 202-pound playmaker departs from Georgia on April 3 and will remain on the West Coast until April 9. Imatorbhebhe revealed Arizona State as his first destination, followed by stops at USC and Stanford.

Though he's made a name for himself on the football fields of Georgia as a North Gwinnett High School standout, Imatorbhebhe has West Coast roots. His family lived in California early in his childhood.

He's already gained firsthand knowledge of the frenzied recruiting experience from older brother Daniel, a 2015 tight end prospect who signed with Florida and enrolled early. Josh accompanied him on trips to Gainesville and Ohio State.

"What I took away from joining him for the process is that it’s a big deal," he said. "You can’t take it lightly. People roll out the red carpet and overextend themselves to get you on their campus. It shows just how huge of a decision this is."

Imatorbhebhe has assembled an offer list that features more than 20 programs. Auburn, Ohio State, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama are among his options. 

He enjoyed a breakout junior campaign, establishing career highs across the board. Imatorbhebhe caught 59 passes for 1,072 yards and 15 touchdowns in 10 games, per MaxPreps.

Rated 46th nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, Imatorbhebhe is a candidate to see his stock soar as summer approaches with strong camp performances.

He intends to participate at the Nike Opening Regional in Atlanta this weekend and will be competing for an invitation to The Opening at Nike's world headquarters. He'll also be in attendance for a regional Rivals camp in Charlotte, North Carolina, days after he returns from his cross-country trip.

Imatorbhebhe entered high school primarily focused on basketball, but he's quickly become a coveted pass-catcher. After initially dealing with growing pains, his development on the field has him in position to command nationwide collegiate interest, as evidenced by the upcoming journey.

"I thought football would be mostly about athletic ability, but it’s so much more than that," he said. "Now I’ve matured to understand how to handle situations. I'm more meticulous in my craft and trying to actualize my potential."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

4-Star Georgia Recruit Josh Imatorbhebhe Sets West Coast Spring Break Visit Tour

Premier Peach State prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe plans to expand his recruitment process next month. The 4-star wide receiver will spend spring break traveling through Pac -12 territory...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Mississippi State Football: Complete 2015 Spring Practice Primer

Was Mississippi State's magical run to a 10-win season, the first No. 1 ranking in program history and its first Orange Bowl berth since 1941 a sign that the program has arrived, or simply a product of unique SEC West circumstances that allowed the Bulldogs to finish second behind Alabama in the division?

Head coach Dan Mullen began the quest to answer that question, when his Bulldogs opened spring practice on Tuesday in Starkville.

Star quarterback Dak Prescott is back to lead Mullen's potent offense that returns several stars, including wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson. Meanwhile, the defense must overcome massive roster attrition in the front seven.

What should you look for this spring in Starkville?

 

What to Watch on Offense

The battle to replace running back Josh Robinson will take center stage, as Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams will battle to be the primary tailback in Starkville. Shumpert (6'2", 218 lbs) and Holloway (5'8", 160 lbs) split second-team carries last year behind Robinson and could provide a thunder-and-lighting combo that can kick the offense into overdrive.

Keep an eye on Williams, though. 

The 6'1", 215-pound redshirt freshman is a true all-purpose back and could provide the total package that Robinson did a year ago.

"Aeris always has a great attitude. He’s going to go as hard as he can with whatever he is doing," Mullen said in quotes released by Mississippi State. "When you look at a guy Aeris, we want to get the pads on him. He’s a physical-type player so you’re not going to see much out of his game until the pads come on."

Outside, De'Runnya Wilson—better known as "Bear Force One"—leads a talented wide receiving corps that includes Fred Ross, Fred Brown, Joe Morrow and junior college transfer Donald Gray. 

Up front, though, is the real concern. 

Mississippi State lost three starters off of last season's offensive line, but it still could get tackle Damien Robinson back after the presumptive starter tore his ACL in fall camp last year and sat out the entire 2014 season. Mullen told Logan Lowery of InsideMSUSports.com that Robinson is still recovering, and the school is awaiting word on whether or not he will receive a sixth year of eligibility.

The loss of star center Dillon Day is a big concern, and all eyes up front will be on former guard Jamaal Clayborn in the middle of the offensive line.

"I think we experimented with that in bowl prep a little bit to give him some opportunities there and see if he was comfortable," Mullen said in quotes released by Mississippi State. "He’s worked all offseason snapping. I think that’s a starting point, but I think we also have to create some depth at that position."

If that offensive line can come together this spring, it will allow Prescott to get comfortable in the pocket. You saw what happens last year when the dual-threat star—who finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting—gets comfortable.

 

What to Watch on Defense

The front seven is undergoing a massive overhaul, after five of the seven starters from last year's final two-deep moved on to the NFL.

Specifically, star defensive tackle Chris Jones has to step up and become the leader.

The former star recruit played more of a rotational role last year in the veteran defensive tackle rotation, but he has all the talent in the world. At 6'5", 308 pounds, he has the size to play a 0-techinque and line up over center, but he has the quickness to play out at a 9-technique if defensive coordinator Manny Diaz lets him (he won't).

Another big loss is at linebacker, where Benardrick McKinney jumped early for the NFL. Keep an eye on freshman Gerri Green, a 6'4", 240-pound redshirt freshman from Greenville, Mississippi, to step up this spring and make a push for playing time. 

Mullen knows that his roster is loaded with youngsters.

"I bet 40 percent of our team has never played in a game," he said in quotes emailed by Mississippi State. "That’s redshirt freshmen, true freshmen and a lot of guys just graduated early and got in here as mid-year enrollees. A lot of guys that have never played in the game, and this is, to me, their first time to absorb it."

At the back end, Mississippi State lost starting cornerback Jamerson Love, safety Jay Hughes and Kendrick Market is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered late last season. That is going to put a ton of pressure on some young players, including safeties Deontay Evans and Kivon Coman, as well as converted safety Jahmere Irvin-Sills.

 

Freshman to Keep an Eye on

Redshirt freshman Brandon Bryant.

The 5'11", 200-pounder from Tunica, Mississippi, is in a perfect position to make waves this spring considering the uncertainty that exists at safety on the roster. Bryant is good in coverage, has a nose for the football and isn't afraid to stick his nose in on run support.

What's more, with so many teams operating out of the nickel now, there's an even bigger chance that Bryant—and any other safety on the roster—will earn some playing time this spring.

 

Coach Mullen's Toughest Task

Managing expectations.

As many have noted, there's going to be a $4 million head coach in the SEC West who finishes last in the division in 2015. Will that be Mullen?

Last season's success was phenomenal, but with so much roster turnover, there's a decent chance that the Bulldogs take a massive step back from a record standpoint in 2015. That doesn't mean it's truly a massive step back, though.

The return of Prescott, Wilson and Mullen's ability to make an offense click regardless of personnel should keep the Bulldogs in plenty of games—even against the SEC West's big boys. That experience last year, though, played a big role in them winning most of those contests, and that doesn't exist on this year's squad. 

Mullen's crew may only take a minor step back in terms of overall talent and production, but a big one in the win-loss column. Mullen's ability to keep Mississippi State competitive will signal that it's still in the mix and has staying power, which would be a tremendous statement for the Mississippi State program.

 

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

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: How Injuries Will Impact Vols' Spring

Injuries infiltrated Tennessee's football program last season, nearly derailing the Vols' hopes of a late-season rally and bowl run.

They overcame them thanks to some spectacular individual performances (such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs' against Vanderbilt) and an opportunistic defense.

UT wound up with a convincing TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa that reverberated good vibrations for the program into the offseason.

But reality is going to bite the Vols again this spring in the form of injuries. Even though head coach Butch Jones has built a talented roster, the depth is still not where it needs to be, and that will be obvious when drills begin March 24.

While the good news is there are no expected long-term effects that could threaten anybody's season, Tennessee is going to be razor-thin:

  • Only five scholarship defensive linemen are going to be healthy and green-lighted, and leaders Derek Barnett, Curt Maggitt and Danny O'Brien are out.
  • There's just one running back available and cleared for contact with Jalen Hurd limited.
  • Several of the highly touted mid-term enrollees, such as defensive end Kyle Phillips, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and offensive tackle Chance Hall are unavailable or hobbled.

The April 25 Orange & White spring game won't be the same format as it usually is. Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press' David Paschall it will be tweaked due to the injuries:

We do have to modify that, and I think that's symbolic in terms of where we still are as a program. We have a shortage of defensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers. The spring game will still be very entertaining. We'll still play football and scrimmage, but we'll also do more competitive one-on-one battles.

We did that a little bit last year, and our fans really enjoyed that. So we'll make it an event, but I think it will be more of a spring event than a spring game.

The fallout from missed practice time could affect the season even if the injuries won't. Here are some areas to watch:

 

Immediate Impacts

Last year, the mid-term enrollees who arrived in Knoxville early got a head start and produced on the field.

Hurd, Dillon Bates, Von Pearson, Daniel Helm, Ethan Wolf, Dimarya Mixon, Coleman Thomas, Jakob Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley were all January arrivals who played key roles on last year's squad.

While the Vols have several more who should do the same in 2015, two of the players talented enough to play major roles right away who won't participate in spring drills are Phillips and Kirkland.

The latter is a 6'2", 235-pound middle linebacker who has all the elite skills needed to step in and play at one of the positions on UT's roster that will be wide open. The Indianapolis-born linebacker tore a pectoral muscle in winter workouts.

Phillips, on the other hand, is an in-state star who wasn't being depended on to start with Barnett and Maggitt manning the ends, but he has the ability to provide quality depth. Shoulder surgery will be an obstacle he must overcome in order to do that.

Neither is expected to miss any game action. But will they be hampered by missing time, and will it affect their roles on the 2015 Vols? The injuries could hurt them and the team.

 

D-Line Development

Tennessee really struggled against the run at times during 2014. Most of that was because of the lack of beef along the interior—a need UT addressed with the additions of Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle.

But part of the reason was the lack of depth.

Now, entering 15 spring practice sessions where Jones said the Vols will have just five scholarship linemen available doesn't give Tennessee fans a warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

With Barnett, Maggitt and Phillips out and Corey Vereen limited, that's four of the team's top five defensive ends. Only LaTroy Lewis will be full-go from last year's rotation.

The depth issues will produce a huge opportunity for mid-term enrollee Andrew Butcher to prove he should earn meaningful reps right away.

On the inside, McKenzie won't arrive until this summer. But O'Brien's injury issues mean UT will be down one starter.

Tuttle, Mixon and Kendal Vickers have shots to work into the rotation on the inside. That's good for depth and the future, but considering some key players are missing from the lineup, the Vols will have to fix run-defense issues in the month prior to kickoff.

 

Passing-Game Rapport

This spring is a pivotal period in the development of Dobbs. Not only is he needed and expected to be more accurate throwing the ball this year, he also has a new offensive coordinator in Mike DeBord.

With the defense extremely limited by injuries, spring's primary focus for the Vols needs to be on the offense humming along at the same frequency—quarterback, receivers, running backs, linemen and coaching staff.

That's why it's frustrating that two of UT's upperclassman receivers, including the team's most talented target in Marquez North, will be limited following season-ending surgeries.

If Tennessee's passing game is going to shine, North needs to be involved. He has elite skills, and if he puts everything together, he's talented enough to play in the NFL as soon as next year.

Also, Jason Croom is a 6'5", 243-pound specimen who could be a force inside the 20-yard line. He needs to develop consistency, and in order to do that, he needs to be healthy.

There is still more than enough talent in that Tennessee receiving corps to provide an abundance of assistance in Dobbs' development.

So, the Vols junior signal-caller will have to take some major strides without two of his biggest weapons at full-strength and just integrate them once they're healthy.

It shouldn't be a major deal, but any time a new offensive coordinator is thrown into the mix, there's at least a moderate concern warranted about everybody being on the same page.

That's another reason why the DeBord hire was a good one.

 

Middle Linebacker Battle

As if losing Kirkland for the spring wasn't a big enough blow, Bates is going to be limited, too.

That's the two most athletic players in the five-man battle to be heir to the middle linebacker throne vacated by A.J. Johnson.

Kenny Bynum, Jakob Johnson and Gavin Bryant all will be healthy and ready to vie for the job this spring, and Bates should get some action, too, if he's able. But the real race now has to begin this fall when all parties are available.

It's not an ideal situation, but it's that way at many different positions for the Vols this year. Unfortunately for Jones and a UT team with high expectations, it's the climate of this spring.

 

All statistics gathered from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted. All observations gathered firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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