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Thursday, July 18, 2013

NCAA Sleeper Alert!

Wild on Sports
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NCAA Sleeper Alert!
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

With the college season on the horizon, the top-tier of quarterbacks has already been anointed, a group including Tedy Bridgewater; two-time defending national champ A.J. McCarron, and the defending Heisman Trophy Winner, Johnny Manziel. However, a small group of second-tier quarterbacks look ready to take the step necessary to challenge for a national championship, as well as a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Michigan’s Devin Gardner, and Miami’s Stephen Morris all have the potential to be top-10 talents, but each have to show improvements this year.

Miller is probably the most recognizable of the three because of his season with Ohio State last year, which ended in a 12-0 record. Miller threw for over 2,000 yards with 15 touchdowns as well as rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. Miller has shown he can break games open with his legs, but he needs to develop his passing game if he wants to replicate his success from last year. Miller needs to specifically improve his accuracy, after completing only 58% of his passes last year. Miller should be able to thrive in his second year under Urban Meyer and the fast offense that he likes to run. Miller has shown his toughness and his ability to win, but he and Ohio State will have a big target on their back after last season. Last season, Miller was able to play without pressure because of the postseason ban that Ohio State had, and thrived. This year, Miller will have the added pressure of playing a season in which each game means everything because of conference and BCS rankings. Ohio State is obviously extremely talented, and Miller will find himself in contention for the Heisman if he can replicate last year’s record while improving his personal statistics. He should be able to take advantage of a weakened Big 10 and weak out of conference schedule to pad his stats and elevate his standing in college football.

Devin Gardner has to be the most intriguing quarterback in college football this year, because of the raw potential he possesses and his pure athleticism. Gardner came in as a multiple threat player, with the ability to catch, run, and throw the ball. Last year, Gardner had a strong start to the season as a receiver until an injury to Denard Robinson forced Gardner into the starting quarterback role. In five games, Gardner threw for over 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as rushing for another 7. Gardner was able to reinvigorate the Michigan offense after everyone thought that the loss of Robinson would end the Wolverines season. People have been making Ryan Tannehill comparisons because of the position change and relative size. Gardner will have to continue to try to put on weight to solidify his frame, but he has a strong arm. He puts zip and a tight spiral on every pass, no matter the distance, but also has a strong arm, giving him the ability to stretch the field. His legs make him another threat, and with the offense shifting from Robinson’s quickness and agility, to Gardner’s speed and power running ability. Gardner, like Miller, plays in the weakened Big 10 and can use his talents to lead Michigan into the showdown with Ohio State. In reality, these teams could play twice for a place in the Rose Bowl, and if Gardner is able to lead Michigan to a Rose Bowl, NFL teams may take a risk on him in the Top 10 of next year’s draft.

Stephen Morris is likely a name you don’t know, but he may have the most talent out of any of the other college quarterbacks. Morris started his first full season last year for Miami, and put up big numbers, throwing for over 3,300 yards and 21 touchdowns, winning 7 games. Morris also only threw 7 interceptions, less than one per game; which is impressive for a first-year starter. Though Manziel has gotten all the headlines, Morris may have been the star of the Manning Passing Academy, showing off his velocity, as well as his touch. He even won the “air-it-out” competition, requiring him to hit moving targets, and managed to impress NFL with his intermediate and deep throws. Morris will start this season overshadowed by another ACC quarterback, Taj Boyd, but as the year progresses, Morris could be the most talked about quarterback in the country. He is looking to improve on his completion percentage this year, and has the ability to lead Miami to a bowl game after a two-year self imposed ban. The advantage Morris has over the other two is his stud running back, Duke Johnson, who is also a preseason Heisman contender. Having a strong running game behind him should allow Morris more time in the pocket, as well as the ability to improve his play-action pass game. Don’t be surprised if Miami climbs the ACC because of the strong play of Morris, and he finds himself in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy.

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