Some of these predictions are bold. Some of them might seem obvious. Some are not predictions at all. Hopefully this is a good primer for the season and can be examined at the end of the season. Luke Carlton will be writing a What We Learned piece each Monday, so be sure to check it out.
1. Urban Meyer shows his hand with QB selection
Ohio State’s impending quarterback decision is the biggest story in college football, and the discussion will carry beyond week one against Virginia Tech. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones should both be starters at the college level. The big takeaway: head coach urban Meyer shows his hand, and preference (with this roster), in whatever decision he makes.
Barrett’s best trait is understanding where to go with the football and getting it there in a timely manner. His passing is efficient and his running is efficient. Theoretically, teams could play single high safety looks against Barrett, in the hopes of stacking the box to limit the running game (Ezekiel Elliott) and short passes, forcing a Barrett led offense to win on the sideline if run perfectly.
As we saw in the final three games of the season, Cardale creates and is the facilitator for big plays. He meshed perfectly with vertical dynamo Devin Smith last season, taking advantage of single high safety looks and man coverage outside and downfield. Again, theoretically this helped back up the defense, which contributed to Ezekiel Elliott running wild on defenses down the stretch. To put it into numbers, in his 12 starts Barrett completed 17 of 49 attempts 20-plus yards downfield. Cardale completed 11 of 21 attempts 20-plus yards downfield in three starts.
Thanks to CFB Film Room for those figures.
There’s another piece to the puzzle, the loss of Devin Smith. He was the best in the country in this area of the field, and even more so with Jones (6 of 7 20-plus yard targets for 258 yards and four touchdowns in three games). Ohio State does not have a clear replacement for Smith in sight, which could force Meyer’s hand in selecting Barrett. But a stalled running game could then change shift the decision towards Cardale Jones’ favor. Prediction? I’ll defer to writing friend Ross Fulton....
Also calling my shot that Barrett, Jones, and Miller will all take snaps at QB for OSU v. Virginia Tech
— Ross Fulton (@RossRFulton) August 31, 2015
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2. One Big 10 QB emerges. Hopefully.
The previous statement is not as pessimistic or negative as it reads. Even Jameis Winston posted poor performances last season. In fact, if you went into every season stating a long term quality starter would not emerge from the class (or at least as many pegged as such), you would be correct more than incorrect. Cook and Hackenberg have built in excuses heading into the season. Cook has unproven skill position players around him, and Hackenberg can carry over the ones used last year. But at some point top shelf talents need to compensate for the deficiencies rather than be taken down with them.
3. Running backs, running backs, running backs
Just in time for the NFL to once again acknowledging the existence of running backs in the first-round, college programs are ripe with talent at the position. Sophomore Nick Chubb leads the way, with fellow second year runners Leonard Fournette, Samaje Perine, Royce Freeman and Jalen Hurd showing promise. For draft-eligibles, Ezekiel Elliott is a budding star thanks to his combination of vision and footwork. He turns so many shorter runs into quality gains. Watch for Kareem Hunt out of Toledo to surprise after his two game suspension is up, and Wayne Gallman out of Clemson to possibly breakout.
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4. Everett Golson looks better than you expect
Now that he is officially the starter, Everett Golson will surprise you with his play this season. It will be good. I think.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher added his starting quarterback will not have a short leash. Many pointed to Golson’s turnovers and Brian Kelly’s subsequent frustration. We all saw Jimbo go through the same thing with Jameis Winston last season. The head coach believes turnovers change the course of the game more than any other outcome, but the next most impactful result? Big plays. Jimbo believes play calls hoping to result in big gains can be high percentage if the quarterback understands and utilizes his checkdown. Golson offers this big play ability, while Sean Maguire does not.
5. Rocky (on) Top?
If I had to pick one team who could rise to title contention that is currently outside of the top 20, it would be the Vols. It might be considered one year early for Tennessee, who boast a number of sophomores and juniors. I really question the team’s offensive line, as it could really hold back their skill position talent. Also, I did not love the play of Joshua Dobbs last season. However, few teams boast a similar combination of corner and pass rushing talent as well as running back and receiver talent.
Oklahoma, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are on the schedule.
6. Kemoko Turay breaks out
Running backs who juke defenders in space, undersized receivers, big hitting SEC safeties and edge rushers who can bend to turn the corner. Each captures the hearts of football viewers and evaluators. Some of these crutches translate, some do not. Rutgers redshirt sophomore edge player Kemoko Turay fits the bendy pass rushing mold, and the NFL covets those types. Don’t be surprised if he draws Von Miller comparisons by season’s end. Turay could come from obscurity to be a top 20 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
7. Rashard Higgins’ production drop?
Who led the FBS in receiving yards in 2014 while posting an average of 18.2 yards per reception? Not Amari Cooper, Kevin White, Tyler Lockett or Justin Hardy. It was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins. However, CSU is without quarterback Garrett Grayson and sophisticatedly simple Jim McElwain. It will be interesting to see if Higgins can continue to produce at a high level with Mike Bobo at the helm. As a whole, I do not think the receiver talent at the college level is as good as it was in 2014 and 2013.
8. New Coaches deserve patience
Speaking of Jim McElwain, it is time to practice patience with new coaches. New hires mean new system and concepts. New concepts mean new players. And new recruits take time.
I would listen to an argument stating coaches should coach more to their players than to their own ideas. But that can be difficult at the college level, where systems rule and coaches come from trees and have foundations they rely on. Could a fusion of old and new be the answer early on, while recruiting for the future? Yes, and I think the good coaches can recognize this. So expect to see flashes of vintage Jim Harbaugh and McElwain and many others. But schools should do their part and exhibit patience as well.
9. James Conner's weight loss
Le’Veon Bell reportedly joined the Steelers around 244 lbs and played his rookie year at that weight. Combining returns, receptions, and rushes, Bell touched the ball 421 times during his final season at Michigan State, presumably at a similar weight. Later, Bell stated he dropped close to 20 lbs.
James Conner was listed at 250 lbs on Pitt’s roster last year. He touched the ball 303 times last season. Conner says he could balloon up to 270 lbs if he wanted to, but instead dropped 10 lbs (20 lbs?) during the spring. Could he be on the Le’Veon Bell path? Watch to see if Conner looks more agile and explosive this season, but I do not think he offers the same ability Bell does in the passing game.
Open with Ohio State, close with Ohio State. From what those close to the program report, Urban Meyer loves Braxton Miller. It reads like Miller is one of Meyer’s favorite players of all time. So what should we expect from Miller as he transitions to receiver? For Braxton to also see snaps at quarterback and running back, of course.
I would wager that Meyer manufactures touches for Miller early in the season, either out of the backfield or in space. We all have seen what Miller does in the open field. He is electric. 10 to 15 targets and/or touches per game is absolutely a possibility for Braxton Miller this season.