College football’s long offseason is almost over. Kickoff for the 2015 season is less than 25 days away, and fall camps are underway across the nation. While every team is 0-0 and hopes of an undefeated season are still alive, all 128 FBS programs have key question marks to answer in fall camp. Optimism can only run high for so long. Eventually, the position concerns have to be answered this fall.
With kickoff just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at some of the biggest storylines to watch in fall camp. Whether it’s quarterback battles, new coach hires or offensive line development, every concern is under the spotlight with the season fast approaching.
Here’s what you need to pay attention to in fall camps:
College Football's Top 10 Fall Practice Storylines
1. Quarterback Battles at Top Programs
Every coach would prefer to open the season with clarity at quarterback, and fall camp is the final chance to develop a clear pecking order under center. And with some big names departing the quarterback position after 2014, several playoff contenders are looking for a new starter.
Here’s a look at some of the top quarterback battles to watch in fall practice:
1. Ohio State: J.T. Barrett vs. Cardale Jones
2. Alabama: Jake Coker vs. David Cornwell
3. Oregon: Vernon Adams vs. Jeff Lockie
4. Florida State: Everett Golson vs. Sean Maguire
5. LSU: Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris
6. Georgia: Brice Ramsey vs. Greyson Lambert vs. Faton Bauta
7. Ole Miss: Chad Kelly vs. Ryan Buchanan vs. DeVante Kincade
8. Michigan: Jake Rudock vs. Shane Morris
9. Oklahoma: Baker Mayfield vs. Trevor Knight vs. Cody Thomas
10. Texas: Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard
2. Jim Harbaugh's Work Continues at Michigan
After the summer of Jim Harbaugh, it’s time for new Michigan coach to get back to work on a team that finished a disappointing 5-7 in 2014. Harbaugh’s impact on the Wolverines should be noticeable in 2015. The Wolverines have enough talent to push for eight wins during the regular season. How quickly will Harbaugh and his staff find the right answers for an offense that generated only 20.9 points per game last year? Solidifying the quarterback spot – Iowa transfer Jake Rudock or Shane Morris – would go a long ways to helping Michigan’s offense in 2015.
Related: Michigan 2015 Fall Camp Preview
3. Taking the Next Step at Baylor and TCU
After missing out on the playoffs last season, TCU and Baylor begin 2015 among the favorites to reach the top four. And after the Bears and Horned Frogs finished 2014 with identical records in conference play, little separates these two teams this fall. Athlon picked Baylor to win the Big 12, but the Coaches Poll selected TCU at No. 2 to open 2015. How quickly can both teams answer key question marks in camp? For TCU, reloading the back seven is coach Gary Patterson’s biggest priority. A new starting quarterback (Seth Russell) takes over at Baylor, but there's little concern under center. The biggest question mark for the Bears remains on defense, as this unit has to take a step forward after allowing 29.2 points per game in conference matchups last season.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2015
4. Braxton Miller’s Transition, Ohio State’s Repeat Bid
Ohio State’s road to a repeat is favorable, but coach Urban Meyer’s team has a few issues to address in fall camp. The defensive end position was already a concern with the departure of Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier, and the Buckeyes won’t have All-American Joey Bosa in the opener against Virginia Tech due to a suspension. This is a critical fall for players like Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes to emerge at end. On offense, Meyer and new co-coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner are working to settle the quarterback battle, as well as sort out the options at receiver for the opener with Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson suspended. Enter Braxton Miller. The converted quarterback will play a huge role in the opener, and the transition to receiver will be under the spotlight in fall camp.
5. Separation in the SEC West?
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, and the path to a playoff spot for any of the contenders won’t be easy. Alabama and Auburn are considered the frontrunners, but both programs have their share of concerns. Can the Crimson Tide find a replacement for Amari Cooper at receiver? How much will Auburn’s defense improve under new coordinator Will Muschamp? Ole Miss has the defense to win the SEC. However, question marks remain at quarterback and running back. Will Mississippi State quickly reload after losing a handful of key players from last year? Is LSU’s passing attack on the right path? How much will Texas A&M’s defense improve under John Chavis? The depth and overall strength of this division is no secret. However, all seven teams enter fall camp with key questions to answer.
6. On the Mend
Injuries are a big part of any college football season. Whether it’s spring practice, fall camp or in-season ailments, the injury bug will take a toll on all 128 teams. But with fall practice starting, this is a key milestone in the health of some players returning from injury. Just how healthy are the players on the mend? Fall camp should give everyone a clear picture of what to expect after recovery. Here’s a look at 12 of college football’s top returning players from injury to monitor in fall camp:
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
3. Laremy Tunsil, OL, Ole Miss
4. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
5. Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech
6. Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
7. Braxton Miller, WR/QB, Ohio State
8. Tyler Johnstone, OT, Oregon
9. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
10. Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State
11. Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
12. Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State
7. Freshmen Emergence
The next wave of talent in the college football ranks arrived on campus this summer, and fall camp will be the first opportunity for some to impress in front of the coaching staff. Of course, some freshmen enrolled early and participated in spring practice to get early jump on staking a claim for playing time. Every season, there’s no shortage of an impact freshmen making an impression in fall practice or moving up the depth chart to see major snaps in the opener. Here’s a look at six freshmen to watch in fall camp:
1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
3. Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
4. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
5. Martez Ivey, OT, Florida
6. Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
8. Impact of New Coach and Coordinator Hires
As we mentioned above, new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has been in the news quite a bit this summer. While Harbaugh has dominated the buzz around new coaching hires, there are several other names that should make an impact in their new home. After a spring practice to build the foundation for their team, fall camp is the next opportunity to make adjustments and prepare a team for the upcoming season. What type of changes will the new staffs make? How quickly will the new coaches or coordinators find the right answers for the team’s biggest question marks?
Here’s a look at the top 10 coach hires for 2015, as well as the top coordinator moves:
Top 10 Coach Hires for 2015
1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
2. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
3. Tom Herman, Houston
4. Chad Morris, SMU
5. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
6. Jim McElwain, Florida
7. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
8. Mike Riley, Nebraska
9. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
10. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Best Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Will Muschamp, Auburn (Defense)
2. John Chavis, Texas A&M (Defense)
3. Gene Chizik, North Carolina (Defense)
4. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma (Offense)
5. Barry Odom, Missouri (Defense)
6. David Gibbs, Texas Tech (Defense)
Related: Top Coordinator Hires for 2015
9. Offensive Lines in the ACC
Will an ACC team play its way into playoff consideration this year? The development of the offensive line at a few programs will be critical in answering that question. Clemson lost tackle Isaiah Battle to the supplemental draft, leaving just one starter (Ryan Norton) back for 2015. Florida State also returns just one starter (Roderick Johnson), while Louisville’s line allowed 40 sacks last season and lost three key performers. In the Coastal Division, can Miami and Virginia Tech find the right answers up front to push Georgia Tech for the title?
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
10. USC…Back Among the Nation’s Elite?
With Oregon replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota, two standout offensive linemen and a few key performers on defense from last year’s playoff run, it’s hard to pinpoint a clear favorite in the Pac-12. The Ducks are near the top, but USC, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA and Stanford are all contenders for the league crown. The Trojans finished 9-4 in coach Steve Sarkisian’s debut, with three losses coming by six points or less. Can USC capitalize off a tough, but open Pac-12 title race? The necessary pieces are in place for Sarkisian, starting with quarterback Cody Kessler and a talented array of skill players. But is the defense ready to challenge for a playoff bid without star end Leonard Williams? Additionally, USC’s path to a spot among the top four isn’t easy. Road trips to Arizona State, Notre Dame, California and Oregon dot the schedule in 2015, while Utah, Arizona, Stanford and UCLA visit the Coliseum. This may not be an elite USC team, but Sarkisian has enough firepower and talent to guide this team into the top four. Will USC emerge as the clear favorite? Or will the conference simply have too many good teams and not a standout playoff contender?