With no running back drafted in the first round last year and none projected this season, Gordon is best positioned to break that hex in 2015. He'll also be on most preseason Heisman Trophy and All-America lists. Gordon said that he thought long and hard about the NFL this year, but he returned to Wisconsin to lead the Badgers to a Big Ten title and beyond. He also posted a picture of the new College Football Playoff logo on the wall of his apartment.
Breakdown: Fresno's Fat Guy Touchdown
We've all seen endless highlights of Auburn's hat trick of miracle finishes last season, but in terms of sheer fun there was no better play in 2013 than Fresno State's "Fat Guy Touchdown" against Cal Poly in September. It even led to one of the season's best quotes, after 306-pound Fresno left tackle Austin Wentworth rumbled in for a 7-yard score on a straight-to-GIF hook-and-ladder.
"Big guys have feelings too," Wentworth told The Fresno Bee. "It should be a 'big-boned guy touchdown.'"
The play was actually called "Mustang" because Fresno offensive coordinator Dave Schramm installed it prior to playing the SMU Mustangs in the Hawaii bowl two years ago. Here's how the play went down: On a first-and-10 from the Cal Poly 13-yard line in the second quarter, Fresno quarterback Derek Carr zipped a hitch route to receiver Davante Adams, who deftly lateraled to the lumbering Wentworth, who strolled in for the touchdown.
A few nuances stuck with Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter. He was initially skeptical that the play would "time up," meaning he didn't know if Wentworth could get to the outside fast enough. He did, and DeRuyter complimented Adams' seamless pitch. What made DeRuyter most giddy? "I loved how Austin was so nonchalant," he said, as the big man sauntered into the end zone like he'd scored twice already that day.
• Consider this your first opportunity to hop on the Marshall bandwagon. No team in college football appears to have a better chance to go undefeated next season. The Thundering Herd went 10-4 in 2013, with two of losses coming by a field goal or less and another a triple-overtime defeat at Virginia Tech. Marshall coach Doc Holliday returns nine starters on defense and nine on offense, none more important than star quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Cato, a senior from Miami Central High, finished last season with 39 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The only returning player in college football who threw for more touchdowns was Florida State's Jameis Winston. In his career, Cato has 91 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. He's thrown touchdown passes in 32 consecutive games, which puts him on track to break Russell Wilson's FBS record of 38. He could break the record at FIU, in his hometown of Miami on Oct. 18. He's also on track to break a slew of Marshall career quarterback records, no small feat considering Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich both starred there.
"He is maybe the most competitive player I've been around," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday. "That includes all the kids at Florida and West Virginia I coached."
The schedule sets up well for Cato and Marshall as the Herd doesn't play any teams from the Big Five conferences. Marshall's non-league schedule features road games at Miami (Ohio) and Akron and home games against Rhode Island and Ohio. Defending Conference USA champion Rice comes to Huntington, W.V.
When Cato arrived at Marshall he was about 150 pounds and Holliday said he couldn't bench the bar. Now he's raising the bar for Marshall's program.
• South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and his staff were in Austin last Friday, Saturday and Sunday to talk strategy with new Texas coach Charlie Strong and his defensive staff.
With the departure of defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, Ward is looking at using three down linemen more this season, one fewer than usual for his 4-2-5 defense.
"We're just not going to have the horses at defensive end as we have had in the past," Ward says.
Ward's visit traces back to he and Strong's long-time friendship. "Charlie's probably done as good of a job as anybody we've seen in the three-down, but still use a lot of that four-down personnel," Ward says.
• New Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who jumped from Alabama after Brady Hoke fired Al Borges, has energized the program. Nussmeier has stood out with his relentless energy and attention to detail, hallmarks of his former boss, Nick Saban as the Wolverines started spring practice last week. "He's got an aura about him that relates to players," said Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski. "The players relate to everything that he's doing right now."
The arrival of Nussmeier, 43, who left Alabama in early January, comes at a critical time for Hoke. In each of three seasons, Michigan's win total has declined. Nussmeier's work will start with Michigan's run game, which ranked 102nd nationally (125.7 ypg). Highly touted tailback Derrick Green, who struggled with his conditioning and injuries as a freshman last season, fits that tough-nosed mold Michigan is trying to develop. De'Veon Smith, another sophomore tailback, will also get a long look this spring.
"The players have got a different bounce in their step," Hecklinski said. "They're ready to go."
• Ohio State lost four starting offensive linemen and bruising power back Carlos Hyde. So as the Buckeyes re-make themselves into a more balanced offense this spring, the key player to watch will be the Buckeyes' most talented wide receiver from last season, Corey Smith. Who? The 6-1, 191-pound Smith, a junior college transfer from East Mississippi Community College, redshirted last year; he's the first JUCO Ohio State took since Larry Grant in 2006.
Playing on the scout team last fall, Smith held his own against Bradley Roby, OSU's star corner and potential first-round pick. When spring ball starts Tuesday, OSU's coaches need Smith's flashes of brilliance to transition to stretches of consistency.
"We'll see how he is when the lights come on," said OSU receivers coach Zach Smith. "This spring is going to be the introductory chapter to the book of his career at Ohio State. It will be the most critical five weeks of his college football career."
Ohio State will try to open up the passing game, something senior quarterback Braxton Miller is eager to do. (Miller is expected to miss all of spring ball after minor shoulder surgery). There seems to be more playmakers as well. The Buckeyes have a proven tight end in Jeff Heuerman and Zach Smith raves about the potential of young sophomore receivers Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall and early enrollee Johnnie Dixon. All three have thrived in off-season conditioning, even leading drills at times.
But Corey Smith is perhaps the most intriguing prospect, as Zach Smith said he's as talented as any player he coached, including New England wideout Aaron Dobson (Marshall) and Raiders receiver Rod Streater (Temple). OSU coaches just need to see more, on and off the field.
"He's making progress," Zach Smith said, "but he's not there yet."
• The Senior Bowl may switch up its traditional practice schedule. Officials are considering the elimination of a day of practice, meaning player weigh-ins and the first practice would be on Tuesday instead of the usual Monday, according to Senior Bowl spokesman Rob Lehocky. Practices would also continue to be held Wednesday and Thursday leading up to Saturday's game. Personnel from NFL teams scouting for the NFL draft attend the game's practices early in the week, but most typically leave Wednesday under the current schedule. Next year's game will be played Jan. 24.
• It's an eternal spring practice storyline, the replacement of a transcendent star. But it's hard to imagine a more daunting transition this spring than the one Fresno State faces at quarterback. Outgoing senior Derek Carr threw for 50 touchdowns, 5,082 yards and completed 68.7 percent of his passes last year. What's next?
"I told our guys, 'We're not the Fighting Derek Carrs," said coach Tim DeRuyter. "We're the Fighting Fresno State Bulldogs."
DeRutyer expects a three-way battle this spring that will stretch into the summer. He said that Brian Burrell, a 6-4 redshirt junior, has a "leg up" in the competition over redshirt sophomore Myles Carr (no relation) and redshirt freshman Zack Greenlee. There's a lot of buzz about Greenlee, a former Elite 11 quarterback who has worked with former Bulldog Trent Dilfer.
"It's going to be interesting to see who steps up," DeRuyter said. "It'll probably go two weeks into fall camp."
• Another program with a giant void at quarterback is Virginia Tech, as Logan Thomas' big arm, elite athleticism and tantalizing talent are off to the NFL -- along with his inconsistency.
The leader to replace Thomas is Mark Leal (6-1, 217), a fifth-year senior who has waited his turn. He could end up being pushed by Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who chose Virginia Tech over Kentucky as a fifth-year graduate transfer. Leal's pinch-hit performance in the Sun Bowl went poorly, as he completed just 12-of-25 passes for 130 yards and two interceptions in a blowout loss to UCLA.
There are two promising Tech true freshmen quarterbacks, early enrollee Andrew Ford and June-enrollee Chris Durkin. Both are four-star prospects. Durkin is the quarterback with the most upside, but Ford is considered more accurate and will have the edge of spring ball.
• When Ellis Johnson arrived at Auburn to be the defensive coordinator a year ago, he wasn't sure what to expect. Two years removed from a national title, the Tigers were coming off a 3-9 season that led to the firing of Gene Chizik. But what Johnson found was the most depth on a team in his 30-plus years of coaching.
"I had never seen as many healthy bodies on a spring practice field on a college level since the new scholarship rules," Johnson said. "It was unbelievable."
Johnson said the depth allowed Auburn to be more physical in their practices last season. This year, he said the Tigers aren't as deep and will be without seven players rehabbing from injuries when they start spring practice on March 18.
The latest causality is senior defensive end LaDarius Owens, who broke a bone in his foot two weeks ago during off-season drills. He had been expected to compete in the two-deep. "We'll have to be a little less physical in our practice routine," Johnson said. "Maybe not as much live scrimmaging going on."
Meet Canton Kaumatule
Canton Kaumatule, the nation's most promising defensive line recruit in the Class of 2015, will soon be stalking quarterbacks on one of college football's biggest stages. The 6-7, 280-pound defensive end has received a gamut of offers from Alabama to Notre Dame to Stanford, where his brother Luke plays.
But in Honolulu at Punahou School, whose most famous alum is Barack Obama, Kaumatule is best known for a different type of stage work. He founded the Punahou Polynesian Club, which performs traditional dances like Haka and hula at birthdays, graduations and even the wedding of football coach Kale Ane's daughter. Kaumatule also auditioned for a role in the school's rendition of Guys and Dolls this spring, earning the part of Benny Southstreet, a rough-and-tumble gambling sidekick.
"I love performing for others," Kaumatule said. "I thought I'd mix it up a bit."
"I have a feeling my cholesterol is up," Johnson said. "She's going to kill me. She knows my spot now."