Who knew the best place to mine top recruits these days might be in the halls of graduate schools?
The playoff field of the 2015 season may very well be decided by quarterbacks who wore another uniform in the 2014 season. Yes, thanks to the graduate transfer rule that allows players to be immediately eligible, more teams – among them national title contenders – are going for the quick fix.
Oregon took Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams and immediately inserted him as the starter in the season opener against … Eastern Washington. A year after a heartbreaking loss to Florida State, former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is now starting for … Florida State.
Alabama is starting a former Florida State quarterback, but Jake Coker is now in his second year with the Tide after losing the battle to Blake Sims last season. Jim Harbaugh’s starting quarterback at Michigan, Jake Rudock, started for Big Ten rival Iowa last year.
In fact, uncertainty at quarterback is the theme for teams eyeing for a playoff berth in 2015. Nine potential contenders came into camp in August still undecided on the starting quarterback. Two teams that made the playoff field and are expected to return did not even unveil their starters until kickoff of their respective games (Alabama with Coker and Ohio State with Cardale Jones).
In fact, of the more than one dozen teams in the playoff race, only three have their starting quarterbacks back from last season: TCU’s Trevone Boykin, USC’s Cody Kessler and Michigan State’s Connor Cook. While Ohio State had the luxury of picking between two potential Heisman candidates before settling on Cardale Jones, other teams are trying to make do with true freshmen, former backups or grad transfers.
While many coaches complained about how grad transfers have unwittingly created a free agency market in college football, as a pragmatic lot, they’re using the rule to their fullest advantage. As long as their new guy learns the school fight song in a hurry, it’s all good.
Now we know the Pac-12 isn’t quite ready to dethrone the SEC as the self-proclaimed “toughest conference in college football.” Heck, after going 0-2 against the Mountain West, we’re not even sure if it’s the best conference west of the Rocky Mountains.
The Big Ten should not get too giddy about Ohio State being the defending national champion. It’s looking a lot like the Big One and Little 13 (like what the Pac-10 used to be in USC’s heyday). Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State all lost their respective openers in the same season for the first time in history. In six matchups against Power 5 opponents, only Ohio State and Northwestern(!) won.
But before we all bow before the all-mighty SEC, let’s reveal its dirty little secret. SEC powerhouses rarely stray too far away from home. At most, they’ll venture to “neutral sites” that serve as virtual home games, such as Texas A&M’s encounter with Arizona State in Houston. Whereas four Pac-12 teams went on the road and six Big Ten teams did the same in the opening weekend, the SEC will play all of three true road games against nonconference opponents in the entire month of September.
SEC 12-1 (4-0 vs. Power 5)
Pac-12 7-5 (2-2)
Big 12 8-2 (1-1)
Big Ten 8-6 (2-4)
ACC 10-4 (0-4)
*Counting Notre Dame and BYU as Power 5 teams
Game of the Week
BYU 33, Nebraska 28: The Cougars handed the Huskers their first opening-game loss since 1985 when 22-year-old freshman Tanner Mangum’s Hail Mary pass found receiver Mitch Mathews in the end zone as time expired. Despite seven Nebraska defenders in the area, Mathews managed to corral the ball and fell on top of the goal line for the winning score.
Mangum, who only joined the team three months ago after serving his Mormon mission, was pressed into service when starter Taysom Hill once again came down with a season-ending injury during the game. Mangum managed to reprise what Jim McMahon did 35 years ago in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, when his Hail Mary found the hands of Clay Brown in the end zone, giving BYU a 46-45 victory over SMU and putting the program on the map (a.k.a. two Catholics helping the Mormons beat the Methodists).
By the way, Tanner wasn’t the only Mangum to make a sensational play on Saturday. His brother Madison did pretty well for Idaho State, too.
Player of the Week
Josh Rosen, UCLA: The Bruins’ highly touted true freshman quarterback was as sensational as advertised, and then some, in a 34-16 drubbing of Virginia at the Rose Bowl. Rosen, a 5-star recruit out of St. John Bosco (a Jewish kid with a Quaker mother playing for a Catholic school), completed 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
UCLA has a loaded team that returned every starter but quarterback on offense. Looks like even without Brett Hundley, Jim Mora’s team is in good hands.
Completely unchanged from our preseason rankings. We’re that good.
1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Oregon, 4. Georgia, 5. Alabama, 6. USC, 7. Michigan State, 8. Notre Dame, 9. Clemson, 10. UCLA, 11. Auburn, 12. Florida State, 13. LSU, 14. Baylor, 15. BYU.