B/R CFB Mailbag: Impact Sophomores, Dark-Horse Title Contenders

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B/R CFB Mailbag: Impact Sophomores, Dark-Horse Title Contenders
Lynne Sladky

Our good pal Michael Felder, who normally handles the "Your Best 11" mailbag, is off, so this week's college football mailbag will be operated by yours truly. Have college football questions? Tweet me @BenKercheval or email me at benkerch@gmail.com. Together, we'll make the offseason go by quicker. 

Now, let's get to those questions!

 

Baylor wide receiver Robbie Rhodes was the prize recruit in Baylor's 2013 class and considered one of the top wideout prospects in the country. With all the success the Bears have had with wide receivers coming through the program lately, Rhodes had that next-big-thing vibe to him. 

There was a growing buzz about Rhodes during fall camp, too. However, Rhodes only hauled in 10 catches for 157 yards and no touchdowns. He had some trouble with nagging injuries and Baylor was stacked at wide receiver, so there wasn't a need to push him into significant playing time. With Tevin Reese gone, though, Rhodes' role should expand. 

Defensive back Vonn Bell gave Ohio State a glimpse of what could be toward the end of last season. Like Rhodes, Bell was a blue-chip recruit who many expected could play right away. It didn't quite pan out that way as Bell played in just three games. 

Ohio State's coaching staff indicated at the end of last year that it probably would have been beneficial to get Bell more playing time earlier than they did. Unfortunately, Bell suffered a torn MCL at the beginning of spring practices and is out until preseason camp. Still, he figures to be a major player in the Buckeyes' secondary. 

If you're looking for an under-the-radar guy, try Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens. The Golden Eagles were awful last season, with just one win against UAB to end the year. The bright side, however, is that win snapped a 23-game losing streak—not to mention it was Mullens' best game (370 yards, five touchdowns). Yes, it was against UAB, but it does give Mullens some confidence heading into next year.

Mullens was tossed early into the proverbial fire and made a lot of freshman mistakes. In Todd Monken's offense, though, he has a chance to put up video game numbers.

 

Is it still too cliche to say UCLA? How about Notre Dame?

In all seriousness, the more I read about the Irish, the more I like. It can be easy to dismiss Notre Dame based on a couple of issues: scheduling and returning starters. However, I also believe those hurdles aren't insurmountable. With the exception of an Oct. 18 trip to Florida State, Notre Dame should be favored in most, if not all of its games. Either way, the Irish have a nice-looking schedule. That's something the College Football Playoff selection committee should theoretically appreciate. 

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Everett Golson

And even though Phil Steele says Notre Dame has five guys returning on defense, mostly in the secondary, Matthew Ehalt of ESPN.com noted that head coach Brian Kelly actually started 19 different players on defense last season. In addition to defensive depth, quarterback Everett Golson returns, though he'll be challenged by Malik Zaire. 

Also, I'm buying into Marshall. The Thundering Herd are coming off a 10-win season with one of the most exciting, yet underappreciated, players in the game: quarterback Rakeem Cato. If you missed it, B/R's Adam Kramer wrote up a great feature on Cato that pushed me over the edge. So, if you're going to be all "Yawn, do it against a real defense in a real conference #ROLLTIDE!" please direct those complaints HERE.

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on: Nebraska, Texas A&M and Utah State. 

 

This is a rather intriguing question, but with a fairly simple answer—which is "no." 

The most obvious example of why that won't happen was the situation at Grambling State last year. In particular, the school's dire problem with facilities and funding made it sound like it couldn't sponsor a football program at all—at any level. 

Not every historically black college and university (HBCU) is in the same boat as Grambling, but it is a common theme for universities that are under-funded and swept under the rug. In fact, Michael Felder wrote a great piece about that very thing last fall. 

These are small-budget program problems. These are problems that affect schools whose alumni bases are too small/unwilling to donate/can't donate. As much as the NCAA may want to lump Division I schools into one big pot, not all programs can function the same. 

The catch-22 is that eliminating football may also eliminate the best chance for exposure/funding/etc. that a school has. 

Lately, a lot of schools have tried to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (nee Division 1A), viewing it as some sort of promised land. As UMass will attest, that's not guaranteed to work. There are more head-count scholarships to account for, among other expenses. Those expenses may not be covered, even with lucrative television deals. 

In short, moving up to the FBS for any program does not guarantee future riches or competitiveness.  

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report.

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