Can Michigan's 6'8" under-the-radar offensive weapon power the Wolverines past rival Ohio State? How many head coaching jobs will open up after this weekend? And what about Week 13's must-watch games? Adam Kramer explores what's happening in college football in his weekly notebook, the Thursday Tailgate.
It is hard to fathom that a football player who stands 6'8" and weighs 262 pounds could be overlooked. But on a College Football Playoff contender full of star power and robust personalities, Michigan tight end Zach Gentry is still somehow one of the nation's best-kept secrets—at least to those outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. For as atypical as his measurements are for the position, Gentry's transformation is stranger still.
In 2015, he was Jim Harbaugh's quarterback of the future. A 4-star prospect out of Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gentry was 247Sports' No. 8 pro-style signal-caller in the '15 class. The prospect was also the first QB Harbaugh offered when he returned to coach at his alma mater.
Gentry also held offers from Alabama, Texas and other Power Five schools. He verbally committed to the Longhorns before he eventually flipped to Michigan just before national signing day.
"I talked to my family about Jim Harbaugh and the way he used a big, mobile quarterback like Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers," Gentry says. "That was enticing, and it just kind of felt right in the moment."
When he arrived in the fall of 2015, Gentry worked out with the quarterbacks. But when Michigan prepared for its late-September game against BYU—which had an offense with a handful of massive wideouts—the coaching staff put Gentry on the scout team as a receiver to give its defense a look at a tall target.
During that week, Gentry shined. Despite his size, he was athletic enough to beat defenders and catch passes, and he made enough of an impression that Harbaugh later asked him if he had interest in changing positions.
While many quarterbacks—especially those with plenty of options coming out of high school—would have transferred or dismissed the idea, Gentry had a different reaction. "I trusted him [Harbaugh] and believed in him that it was going to work out," Gentry says. "He thought that I could make a difference and that it would be the best decision for my future."
Gentry did not play as a freshman while he transitioned. The following year, he played on special teams as he adjusted to his new role—learning the art of route running and blocking along the way. For the first time, he wasn't playing quarterback.
"The toughest thing was doing a lot of things I've never done before," Gentry says. "So a lot of times, I obviously wasn't very good at it."
In 2017, even though he was still picking up the position's nuances, Gentry caught 17 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. He started 11 games and was named Michigan's Most Improved Offensive Player.
This year, Gentry has morphed into a matchup nightmare. His 475 receiving yards are two shy of the team lead, held by wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones. His 30 catches are also second on the squad.
"If you would've told me years ago that I would be a contributor as a tight end, I wouldn't have believed you," Gentry says. "It's definitely been a roller-coaster ride for me, but I'm happy with it."
His development has turned him into a legitimate NFL draft prospect. With one season of eligibility remaining, Gentry could depart for the NFL or return and develop at the position for one more year.
At the moment, however, that decision couldn't feel further away. After losing to Ohio State the past three years, Michigan and Gentry are putting everything into ending the losing streak and staying in the College Football Playoff discussion.
Come Saturday, don't be surprised if the tallest player in Ohio Stadium helps make this possible.
Welcome Back, Les Miles…Now What?
In the short term, Kansas will lose a lot more football games. That is not meant to be critical of Les Miles, who was named the Jayhawks head coach Sunday. It's the reality of the rebuild ahead at a program that has won 18 games since the start of 2010.
Miles has won 142 contests and lost only 55 during his coaching tenures at Oklahoma State and LSU from 2001 to 2016. The narrative that surrounded his departure from LSU was that he wasn't willing to adapt his conservative offense to an in vogue, more wide-open style. This is worth watching at Kansas.
But the scope of this project is so much larger than what plays he calls. Miles will teach and recruit and help to raise funds—all things Kansas needs to do to regularly to compete in the Big 12.
Sure, he's 65 years old. So it's difficult to predict how much longer he'll coach. What is certain is he will give direction to a program that desperately needs it.
What that will ultimately mean is hard to forecast. But in five years, it would be shocking if Kansas is not light-years ahead of where it is today.
College Football's Silly Season Approaches
The process of firing and hiring college football coaches has become almost as absorbing as the games themselves, and it has already been set in motion.
Here's what we know: Louisville, Colorado and Maryland are looking for head coaches. Other programs will follow, though the market doesn't feel as defined as it normally does.
While teams such as Michigan and Notre Dame will play for their playoff lives this weekend, other staffs could be coaching for their jobs. Here are a handful of situations to keep an eye on as the regular season winds down.
Clay Helton, USC: The loss to UCLA was a massive blow, and a potential loss to Notre Dame will cap off what feels like a lost season. If athletic director Lynn Swann makes a change, this will be a fascinating opening.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina: The Tar Heels just won their second game of the season, and they will finish against North Carolina State in a contest that won't affect Fedora's future one way or the other. If North Carolina wants (or can afford) to make a move, it will.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech: At times, Texas Tech has looked as though it was turning a corner under Kingsbury, but the overall results haven't been there. Four consecutive Big 12 losses leading into this week don't help his cause much. This will be interesting.
Bill Snyder, Kansas State: A win over Iowa State will give Kansas State six victories, but this decision is more about whether Snyder wants to keep coaching. He will turn 80 in October, which is remarkable longevity regardless of what happens.
Lovie Smith, Illinois: Smith is still owed significant money on the six-year, $21 million contract he signed in 2016, which might prolong this decision at least one more year. But the 63-0 home loss to Iowa on Saturday's senior day was about as bad as it gets. His 9-26 record is getting harder to ignore.
Five Games to Watch This Weekend
After this Saturday, many teams will not play another game until next year. Consider that unfortunate dose of reality a reminder that each matchup this week should be savored.
Here's what you should watch in Week 13, summarized in tweet-length form. (All game times Eastern, and all rankings courtesy of the College Football Playoff selection committee).
No. 4 Michigan at No. 10 Ohio State (Saturday, noon): The hate between these two is a delightful sort of hate—the kind that applies regardless of record or coaches or stakes attached. But when the stakes are this high—with a CFP spot to be earned and Big Ten East to be won—it makes it that much sweeter.
No. 6 Oklahoma at No. 13 West Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m.): By the time this game ends, the scoreboard might be broken. Sure, this massive Big 12 matchup lost some luster when West Virginia fell at Oklahoma State on Saturday, but don't let that deter you from consuming what might be one of the season's most exciting games.
No. 16 Washington at No. 8 Washington State (Friday, 8:30 p.m.): The team with a Heisman Trophy contender and CFP hopes is not Washington. But here we are, 13 weeks later, and Cougars coach Mike Leach has the stage. Sit back and enjoy.
No. 1 Alabama vs. Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): The point spread is robust, per OddsShark, and the expectations are that this game will be remarkably one-sided in Alabama's favor. That seems possible if not likely, but the Iron Bowl is always required viewing. Plus, maybe Auburn can muster some first-half Citadel magic. Maybe?
No. 23 Utah State at No. 25 Boise State (Saturday, 10:15 p.m.): Don't go to bed. Stay up late and watch two ranked teams with a combined record of 19-3 close Week 13 on that majestic blue turf. A flag bailed out Utah State last week after it looked like the Aggies lost on a Hail Mary. This next test won't get any easier.
What Else to Watch This Weekend
First, Notre Dame's Final College Football Playoff Hurdle
If Notre Dame beats USC on Saturday at 8 p.m., it will punch its ticket to the CFP. No controversy. No debate.
But USC's Helton can throw some chaos into the playoff—and perhaps save his job—with an upset. This will not be easy, considering a) USC just lost to UCLA and looked woeful in the process and b) Notre Dame appears to be an excellent football team.
Either way, it's worth watching.
Second, Can Mustachioed Gardner Minshew II Cement Himself as a Heisman Finalist?
His facial hair is almost as good as his stat line. Washington State's starting quarterback has thrown for nearly 500 more yards than any player in the FBS. He has also completed 407 passes. Next on the completions list? Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who has 294.
Sure, Minshew plays in a system that is conducive to enormous numbers, and he has made a lot more throws than anyone else. But his performance (36 passing touchdowns) on one of the nation's best teams might earn him a spot in New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
And to think, the former East Carolina quarterback almost transferred to Alabama before the season to back up Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. It appears he chose wisely.
Third, Jonathan Taylor's 2K Watch
It has been a bizarre, disappointing season for Wisconsin, but running back Jonathan Taylor is not to blame. After rushing for a ridiculous 321 yards against Purdue on Saturday, Taylor has quietly put himself in striking distance of 2,000 yards for the season.
At 1,869 rushing yards, he needs 131 to join the club that only nine players have entered since 2009. (He's averaging nearly 170 yards per game, and Minnesota is allowing 5.2 yards per carry. The math says this is more than possible.)
Gambling Locks of the Week
Last Week: 3-3
Season to date: 37-32-2
Look, it's time to go 6-0. No, wait. Make that 7-0.
We were hot for a while, and we've been simply treading water these last few weeks. That has to end, and there is no better time to end it than the last full slate of games this year. So we're upping the total selections and diving right in.
Here are this week's (winning) picks, using lines provided by OddsShark.
Miami (-5.5) vs. Pittsburgh: Given how well Pitt has played, this point spread is a doozy. Going with the ol' contrarian underdog.
Texas A&M (-2.5) vs. LSU: This will be a fun, underrated game in a loaded week. Love home field in this spot for the Aggies.
West Virginia (+1.5) vs. Oklahoma: Once more, with feeling: I love home field. West Virginia is a different team in Morgantown. The Mountaineers will bounce back.
North Carolina (+6.5) vs. NC State: Fedora's last stand will be good one. I'll take UNC with the points. The Tar Heels will also win this outright.
Penn State (-13.5) vs. Maryland: The Terps will be physically and emotionally spent after the loss to Ohio State. Penn State cruises.
Arizona (+2) vs. Arizona State: This is a classic buy-low situation. And given how badly Arizona just lost to Washington State (69-28), we are buying really, really low.
Boise State (-3) vs. Utah State: The blue turf has gobbled up great seasons before, and it will do so again. Boise by a touchdown.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.