Articles By Steven Lassan
West Virginia enters its third season in the Big 12 with plenty of work to do. The Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play over the last two years and finished 4-8 overall in 2013.
Coach Dana Holgorsen is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the nation. However, quarterback play is a question mark for West Virginia in 2014, especially if Clint Trickett struggles to return to full strength early in the year.
The Mountaineers weren’t as bad on defense as the numbers indicated last season. Injuries played a role in the final statistics, but this unit is primed for improvement under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson.
Coming off a 4-8 mark last year, there’s enormous pressure on Holgorsen to show improvement in 2014.
Of course, that’s not going to be easy with a schedule that features games against Alabama and Maryland in non-conference play.
Related: WVU 2014 Preview | Big 12 Predictions | Big 12 All-Conference Team
The Expert Panel:
Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Early Game-by-Game Predictions for West Virginia in 2014
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|at Iowa State|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of Texas, West Virginia is the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 this year. The Mountaineers have the talent to top last year’s record, but the schedule is just brutal. I think it’s likely this team will be more competitive on the field and struggle to show any improvement on the win column. Non-conference games against Alabama and Maryland leave little room for error to get to a bowl, and West Virginia plays swing games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road. Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell should help the rushing attack, and the defense returns six starters, while rising stars in cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph should help bolster a secondary that finished last in the Big 12 in 2013. Admittedly, my projection of West Virginia to get to three wins seems low. However, I’m just not sure the schedule is conducive to major improvement in the win column. This will be a better team in 2014, but it may not show in the final win tally.
Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Fit is an extremely underrated aspect of any coaching hire in college football -- just ask Tommy Tuberville -- and I think West Virginia's last 18 games have shown that Dana Holgorsen isn't a great fit for the Mountaineers. Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to coach in the last two years, but for whatever reason the 'Eers are trending downward and his tenure seems destined to end sooner than later.
The cruel part is that WVU would probably be a bowl team were it not for non-conference games away from Morgantown against Alabama and Maryland. Give Baylor's non-conference schedule to the 'Eers and there's little doubt in my mind that the Mountaineers would hit the six-win mark.
Clint Trickett is an obvious X-factor for WVU. He was seemingly learning Holgorsen's system on the fly last season and was further limited by a nagging shoulder injury. Trickett is fully healthy -- he sat out spring practice -- and is presumably more comfortable in Holgorsen's Air Raid offense, so it will be interesting to see how much he has improved.
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Dana Holgorsen was an offensive genius for over a decade. I don't believe he suddenly lost it. I look for WVU's offense to get back up and running, and an improved defense will be adequate enough to help when the offense sputters.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Mountaineers should be much better in 2014 but I'm not sure if the record will show that. A brutal non-conference slate makes getting to a bowl game or improving on last year's record highly unlikely. Kansas and TCU at home are the best shots at wins within the league while road wins in Ames and Lubbock will be tough to come by. Five wins feels like a best case scenario and that feels like a big reach for a team that has fallen off the map competitively.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
After a disastrous end to the 2012 season and an equally awful 2013, West Virginia should be an improved team in 2014. Unfortunately, that won't show up in the Mountaineers' record.
WVU was plagued by subpar quarterback play last season, enabling opposing defenses to key in on what could have been a decent running game. If senior Clint Trickett can stay healthy, it should at least give Dana Holgorsen's team a little stability under center. The players at the skill positions won't exactly keep opponents up at night, though, which means Holgo will have to rely on this patented creativity to manufacture some points. Defensively, the 'Eers have experience and should be solid. A wildcard will be what long-time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley brings to the D as WVU's new defensive line coach.
The biggest hurdle for Holgo's crew looks to be the schedule. Notably, WVU is playing almost anything resembling a 50-50 game on the road: Maryland, Texas Tech, OSU and ISU all host the Mountaineers this year. Factor in almost assured loss to Alabama in a neutral site contest and bowl eligibility starts to appear more and more remote.
On the whole, the last 18 games or so haven't been kind to West Virginia. Right now, it's hard to see things turning around quickly.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
West Virginia still has a long way to go before the Mountaineers get back to where they were before joining the Big 12. Enough went wrong last season that it’s tough to picture West Virginia struggling as much as it did last season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State. A bowl game is an uphill battle. Clint Trickett’s toughness and the arrival of Rushel Shell should solidify the backfield, enough to tease a bowl game as long as West Virginia can beat teams like Maryland, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State here. I’ve picked West Virginia to split those toss-up games to fall to 5-7.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
It could be another long season for West Virginia fans, and that doesn't bode well for head coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers sputtered on offense and imploded on defense last season, and it's tough for me to see things getting better this fall. A strong start to the season would be huge, but that's not going to happen with Alabama on tap in the Georgia Dome. The one home non-conference game (Towson) and the date with Kansas are the only "guaranteed" wins that I see. I'm not saying that West Virginia won't finish with more than two wins, but with a home slate that includes Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, it's hard for me to see this Mountaineers team pile up the wins on the road.
Baylor is coming off its first outright conference title since 1980. The Bears finished 11-2 last year, which included victories over Oklahoma and Texas, along with a 35-25 win over Kansas State in early October.
The expectations at Baylor are on the rise. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have played in four consecutive bowls, upgraded their recruiting, and there’s a new stadium on the way for 2014.
Baylor is considered by most to be a frontrunner for the Big 12 title, but there are holes to fill. The offensive line lost standout guard Cyril Richardson, and the defense returns only four starters.
With a trip to Oklahoma in late November on tap, Baylor should have plenty of time to fill the voids on both sides of the ball.
Related: Baylor 2014 Preview | Big 12 Predictions | Big 12 All-Conference Team
The Expert Panel:
Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), EerSports.com
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Early Game-by-Game Predictions for Baylor in 2014
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Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 this season, but I think Baylor is just a small step behind Oklahoma. Offense and scoring points won’t be a problem in Waco in 2014, as Bryce Petty is considered the No. 1 quarterback in the Big 12, Shock Linwood is set to breakout at running back, and the receiving corps is among the best in the nation. The offensive line should be fine (eventually this year), but there’s definitely concern anytime you have to replace a guard of Cyril Richardson’s caliber, and left tackle Spencer Drango is coming off season-ending back surgery. And it’s a good thing Baylor’s offense is among the nation’s best, as the defense is a work in progress. In conference games last year, the Bears held opponents to only 4.8 yards per play. With just four starters back, the defense has significant holes to fill and leadership voids to replace. The defensive line could be the best in the Big 12, which should help ease the losses in the secondary. I think the road trip to Oklahoma will decide who wins the conference, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor stumbles at Texas or even to TCU in early October. This program is in good shape overall, as improved recruiting has upgraded the depth on the roster. The defense has its share of concerns, and the offensive line has a few question marks. However, Baylor should be a top-10 team in 2014 and could push for the Big 12 title if coordinator Phil Bennett quickly finds the right answers.
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Bryce Petty and Company will still be scoring points with the best of them, but a lack of depth on defense will result in a couple late season losses - and a couple close wins that should have been blowouts.
Aaron Dickens, (@AaronDickens), RedRaiderSports.com
No team looked better through the first two months of last season than Baylor. The Bears' assault on stats and records tailed off once the scheduled toughened in November but, outside of a 49-17 drubbing in Stillwater and the Fiesta Bowl meltdown to UCF, the wins kept coming.
Baylor has had a better four-year run than any other team in the Big 12 and there are plenty of reasons to expect that trend to continue for Art Briles' program.
I'll be interested to see how the Bears' defense fares this season. The team's defensive front should be among the league's best but the secondary was decimated by graduation and, obviously, that's always a concern in the Big 12. BU will also be facing a much-improved crop of quarterbacks in the Big 12 -- Bryce Petty and Kansas State's Jake Waters were the only quarterbacks in the league to start every game last season -- so it wouldn't surprise me much to see Phil Bennett's defense be a bit less aggressive than it was in 2013.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
After years of building a program that could challenge for the top of the Big 12, everything came together for Art Briles and his Bears in 2013. The Baylor offense scorched the earth en route to the league title, but it was the defense's emergence that really put the Bears over the top. BU still has the conference's reigning offensive player of the year, quarterback Bryce Petty, and plenty of weapons. The D, on the other hand, lost a host of standout veterans.
Petty and Co. have more than enough firepower to stay in the upper echelon of the Big 12. However, Briles and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett probably haven't stocked the other side of the ball well enough to repeat as champs. Catching Oklahoma and Texas on the road this year hurts the Bears' chances, too.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Baylor's entire schedule really comes down to two massive road games at Oklahoma and at Texas. The trip to Austin won't be nearly as challenging but the trip to Norman will likely end up exactly how the first 11 have gone — with Oklahoma wins. Still, if Baylor wins every other game, not only could it share a Big 12 title but could possibly sneak into the playoff. Can you imagine the backlash if two Big 12 teams landed in the playoff?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Baylor should cruise through the non-conference again. Buffalo is a strange road trip, but no Khalil Mack means no problem for Baylor. I like the way the conference schedule sets up. Matchups against TCU and Kansas State could give Baylor trouble, but both are in Waco. And that TCU matchup is early enough in the year where the Horned Frogs’ offense may be taking shape. That’s why I picked Texas Tech in Arlington as the upset. Teams have to be able to score 35 points or more to beat Baylor. The Red Raiders can do that.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
There's little doubt in my mind that Baylor will score a bunch of points again. Bryce Petty could very well earn an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York in December even though he will be throwing to a relatively inexperienced group of pass-catchers. My concerns with Baylor, however, come on the other side of the ball. Losing eight starters from a defense that more than held its own last season will be tough to replace, especially in a offensive-minded conference like the Big 12. Still, the Bears should score enough to get to double-digit wins, provided they take care of business in their new home, McLane Stadium. The Nov. 8 visit to Norman will be tough and could be what ends up deciding the Big 12 title, but Art Briles' team can't overlook a tricky back-to-back in October with Texas and TCU either.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was recently cited for possession of marijuana and was replaced at SEC Media Days by tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Marshall’s citation raised questions about his status for Auburn’s opener against Arkansas on Aug. 30, and coach Gus Malzahn did not clarify his quarterback situation in Hoover, Ala. on Monday.
“It is a privilege and a reward to represent Auburn here at the SEC Media Days,” Malzahn said.
“Last Friday Nick lost that privilege. We have high expectations for our players, but specifically our quarterback, being the face of our program.
Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, teammate, and citizen. Nick made a mistake and he'll have to deal with the consequences. I'm not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it. I know he's regretful and he feels very bad about it.”
In his first season at Auburn in 2013, Marshall threw for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 1,068 yards and 12 scores on the ground.
Marshall began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from the team due to off-the-field issues.
If Marshall is suspended or benched for the opener against Auburn, the Tigers will turn to sophomore Jeremy Johnson.
Johnson threw for 422 yards and six touchdowns in limited action last year.
Auburn’s defense is expected to improve in its second year under the direction of veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson, but the Tigers have suffered their first setback of the 2014 season. Coach Gus Malzahn announced at SEC Media Days that defensive end Carl Lawson suffered a torn ACL and is expected to miss most of the 2014 season.
“I'd like to confirm that Carl had successful ACL surgery the first part of May,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days.
“He injured his knee the last week of spring practice. Dr. Andrews looked at it, wanted to wait a couple weeks till the swelling went down to be sure. He confirmed he needed surgery. It was successful.
Carl is working extremely hard and he's determined to come back towards the end of this year.”
Lawson is expected to return at some point during the 2014 season, and it would be a surprise if he spent the year as a redshirt, especially with a likely early entry into the NFL Draft after his junior year. The sophomore could target a late-season return, especially with key conference games against South Carolina, Ole Miss and Georgia in the final half of the year.
As a true freshman last season, Lawson played in all 14 games, registered 20 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and recorded four sacks.
Lawson was projected to be a third-team Athlon Sports All-SEC performer in 2014. His emergence was critical for an Auburn defense that was already losing first-round pick Dee Ford and defensive tackle Nosa Eguae.
With Lawson out indefinitely, the Tigers need more from sophomore Elijah Daniel and senior LaDarius Owens off the edge.
Auburn’s defense allowed 5.9 yards per play last season and gave up 29.6 points per game in SEC contests.
Despite the yards and points allowed, the Tigers made stops when it counted. Auburn led the SEC in third-down defense and finished second in redzone defense.
There’s a new era upon college football in 2014. The BCS era ended with Florida State’s victory over Auburn in Pasadena, and the playoff era is set to begin at the end of this season.
There are plenty of changes for the new format, which features a four-team playoff, with a championship game that’s bid out to cities similar to the Super Bowl.
And of course, there’s the hardware.
The crystal ball trophy was an easily recognizable piece of hardware that was awarded to the champion in previous years. However, starting in 2014, the champion of college football’s playoff will get to hoist a new trophy.
Check out college football’s new trophy, which was unveiled on Monday in Dallas:
A new era, a new trophy. pic.twitter.com/anXBuxO7uV— CFB Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) July 14, 2014
A new era, a new trophy. pic.twitter.com/anXBuxO7uV— CFB Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) July 14, 2014
Fact sheet for the new trophy pic.twitter.com/uhOfdVMBbc— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) July 14, 2014
The College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy has been unveiled! pic.twitter.com/VYbjhXGCh7— CFB Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) July 14, 2014
The 2014 season represents the 25th anniversary of Duke’s ACC Championship team from 1989.
To honor the 1989 team, Duke is making a few alterations to its jersey for the 2014 season.
The Blue Devils recently unveiled three new (white, blue and black) jerseys for 2014, a new chrome decal on the black helmet, and stripes on the jersey sleeves.
Here are the new photos from Duke’s uniform release for 2014:
Hot seat talk among any college football fanbase never seems to end. Of course, it’s the offseason, so everyone is discussing preseason expectations and predictions. And with expectations of records and bowl games comes the pressure on head coaches.
Every head coach is faced with a different set of obstacles and expectations. For example, Alabama’s Nick Saban is held to a higher standard than Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.
Keeping realistic program expectations in mind is something that factors into the hot seat talk every year.
As the 2014 season approaches, it’s clear the No. 1 coach on the hot seat is Florida’s Will Muschamp. The Gators went 4-8 last season, which included a surprising defeat to FCS (now FBS) opponent Georgia Southern. Despite all of Florida's injuries, going 4-8 with one of the nation's top rosters (in terms of recruiting rankings), didn't sit well in Gainesville. Muschamp needs to show the program is headed in the right direction in order to return in 2015.
After Muschamp, Virginia’s Mike London, Kansas' Charlie Weis, Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Rutgers’ Kyle Flood and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen are just a few names to remember for the hot seat watch in 2014.
Which coaches have the hottest seats in the nation? Athlon Sports has ranked the top 10 coaches on the hot seat for 2014, along with a few names that are starting to feel a little pressure.
College Football’s Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings for 2014
1. Will Muschamp, Florida (22-16, 3 years)
Even though Florida was hit hard by injuries last season, it’s still difficult to comprehend how this team went 4-8. Yes, the offense struggled, and the injuries took a toll, but the Gators recruit as well as any team in the nation. With the talent in place at Florida, losing records in SEC play should be rare. However, in three years, Muschamp is only 22-16 and has two 3-5 records in SEC play. Fixing the offense has to be Muschamp’s top priority in order to return to Gainesville in 2015. Kurt Roper (hired from Duke as the new play-caller) has to provide a quick repair on an offense that has finished eighth or worse in the SEC in scoring four consecutive years. Considering four of the Gators’ eight losses came by a touchdown or less, any improvement on offense should result in a bowl. Another losing season or 6-6 record would likely spell the end of Muschamp’s tenure in Gainesville. With crossover games against Alabama and LSU, Florida won’t have much margin for error if it hopes to double its win total from 2013.
2. Mike London, Virginia (18-31, 4 years)
London appeared to have Virginia’s program moving in the right direction after winning 12 games in his first two years. The Cavaliers won four games in London’s debut (2010) and finished 8-5 with an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2011. Virginia’s 5-3 record in ACC play in 2011 was only its second winning record in conference games since '05. Since 2011 however, this program has been trending the wrong way. The Cavaliers are 6-18 in the last two years and went winless in ACC play in 2013. But despite the on-field struggles, Virginia’s recruiting hasn’t suffered. London has signed four consecutive top-35 classes, and the Cavaliers’ roster ranks No. 6 in the ACC. Tough non-conference scheduling, inconsistency at quarterback and staff turnover have all contributed to London’s struggles at Virginia. Without a winning record, it’s tough to see London back in Charlottesville in 2015.
Listen to the latest Athlon Sports' Cover 2 College Football Podcast:
3. Tim Beckman, Illinois (6-18, 2 years)
There have been small signs of progress through Beckman’s first two years in Champaign. The Fighting Illini went 2-10 in a disastrous debut for Beckman in 2012, with only one of the eight Big Ten losses coming by 13 points or less. Illinois was more competitive in 2013, largely thanks to the hire of Bill Cubit as the team’s offensive coordinator. The Fighting Illini ranked second in the Big Ten in passing offense and averaged 29.7 points per game. But the defense continues to be problematic for Beckman, as Illinois has allowed at least 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons. A similar theme could play out in 2014, as Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt should thrive at quarterback in Cubit’s offense, while the defense has question marks at each level. Although a winning record would serve Beckman well, getting to 5-7 and being more competitive against the top teams in the Big Ten might be enough to save his job.
4. Charlie Weis, Kansas (4-20, 2 years)
Much like Tim Beckman at Illinois, Weis has made small bits of progress over the last two years. But small progress has resulted in just one Big 12 win for the Jayhawks and an overall 4-20 mark. Weis didn’t inherit a wealth of talent, but the program has yet to take a big step forward. Kansas lost nine games in 2013 and only two – Rice and TCU – came by 10 points or less. Weis is handing over play-calling duties to new coordinator John Reagan, which should allow the third-year coach to be more of a program CEO. Considering Weis went 35-27 in five years at Notre Dame, doubts exist about his ability to turn Kansas into a consistent winner. With 14 starters back, the Jayhawks should have enough returning talent to be more competitive in conference play. But if this team goes winless in the Big 12, Weis may not see a fourth season in Lawrence.
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (21-17, 3 years)
With the program shifting from the Big East to the Big 12, it’s tough to evaluate Holgorsen as a head coach after just three seasons. West Virginia went from being the No. 1 program in the Big East to the No. 5 program in the Big 12. And it’s not easy being at a geographic disadvantage in a tougher conference. Holgorsen’s tenure started with a promising 10-3 record and a Big East championship, along with a huge Orange Bowl win over Clemson in 2011. The Mountaineers carried that momentum from the bowl win in 2012 by starting 5-0, but West Virginia finished the season 2-6 and was dominated in the Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse. In 2013, the Mountaineers slipped to 4-8 and won just two conference games. In an odd storyline, West Virginia has struggled to find a quarterback since Geno Smith expired his eligibility. Considering Holgorsen’s background, it’s a surprise quarterback play is a concern heading into 2014. There is hope for West Virginia to get back to the postseason this year, especially if Clint Trickett can stay healthy at quarterback, and the defense takes a step forward under new coordinator Tony Gibson. Interestingly enough, athletic director Oliver Luck is trying to downplay expectations for 2014. The Mountaineers need some time to get acclimated to their new conference, as well as improve their recruiting to push for a Big 12 championship. If Holgorsen can show on-field progress – which figures to be difficult with a challenging schedule – in 2014, he should move safely away from the hot seat for 2015.
6. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (15-11, 2 years)
The Scarlet Knights were one of the biggest winners of the latest round of realignment, landing in the Big Ten’s new 14-team setup. But moving from the Big East/American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten means the stakes and competition are higher. Flood was appointed to the top spot after Greg Schiano left for the NFL in late January (2012) and managed to sign the No. 24 recruiting class. The Scarlet Knights tied for the Big East title in Flood’s first season (2012) and finished 9-4 overall. Rutgers slid to 6-7 in Flood’s second year and its recruiting class dipped to No. 60 nationally in 2014. Both sides of the ball will have new coordinators this season, including former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as the offensive play-caller. Friedgen should help bolster an offense that managed only 26.5 points per game in 2013, but the defense – especially the secondary – will be a work in progress. Flood has a tough assignment ahead, as he guides the program through a difficult conference transition. With Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State on the schedule every year, Rutgers is facing an uphill battle just to get to a bowl game on a consistent basis.
7. Norm Chow, Hawaii (4-20, 2 years)
Chow’s hire was greeted with much fanfare in Honolulu. As a native of Hawaii, this was viewed as a good fit for a program looking to rebound after Greg McMackin posted three seasons of at least seven losses from 2008-11. However, two years into his tenure with the Rainbow Warriors, Chow has struggled to get the program on track. Hawaii went 3-9 in Chow’s debut and won just one game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors were more competitive on the scoreboard last year, losing five games by a touchdown or less. For Hawaii to increase its win total in 2014, Chow needs to find a quarterback and hope new defensive coordinator Kevin Clune can solidify a unit that gave up 38.8 points per game in 2013. With three Pac-12 non-conference games, along with a road trip to Rice in early October, Hawaii could be 1-4 before opening Mountain West play against an improving Wyoming team. Chow likely has a longer leash than some coaches on this list, but he needs to show the Rainbow Warriors are moving closer to the top teams in the Mountain West this year.
8. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa (22-17, 3 years)
Blankenship inherited plenty of talent from former coach Todd Graham and went 19-8 in his first two seasons at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went 14-2 in conference play during that span and won the Liberty Bowl in 2012. However, Tulsa struggled mightily last year. The Golden Hurricane had a significant amount of roster turnover and slumped to 3-9 (2-6 in C-USA play). Blankenship isn’t to blame for all of the struggles last year, but with Tulsa moving to the American Athletic Conference, he needs to show marked improvement in 2014. Of course, that’s easier said than done with a non-conference schedule that includes Oklahoma and a tough road date at Colorado State, while road trips to UCF and Houston await in American Athletic play.
9. Ron Turner, FIU (1-11, 1 year)
Turner was an odd hire after the surprising dismissal of Mario Cristobal. Prior to the 2013 season, Turner had stops as a head coach at San Jose State and Illinois, recording a 42-61 mark in nine seasons. Turner was hired at FIU after one season as an assistant at Tampa Bay, and the Panthers finished 1-11 in his debut. FIU’s only win was a one-point victory over Southern Miss (1-11 in 2013), and the Panthers lost to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman 34-13. FIU also ranked near the bottom nationally in scoring offense (9.8 points a game) and scoring defense (37 points allowed per game). The Panthers still have talent in the program and 15 starters return for 2014. If Turner can win a couple games and show the team is headed in the right direction, he should be safe in the 2014 offseason. However, another one- or two-win season would likely end his tenure at FIU.
10. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (47-32, 6 years)
Considering Johnson has never finished below .500 in ACC play at Georgia Tech, it seems odd to place the seventh-year coach on the hot seat. But the Yellow Jackets failed to build off a strong start to Johnson’s tenure, which included a 19-7 mark and an ACC title (2009) through the first two years. Only once over the last four seasons has Georgia Tech finished with more than seven wins, while the program has just one bowl victory under Johnson’s watch. Recruiting has slipped over the last two years for Johnson, as he inked two top-50 classes from 2010-11, but the Yellow Jackets have signed the Nos. 52, 76 and 54 recruiting hauls over the last three seasons. Although the option offense is often criticized, Georgia Tech has ranked among the top five in the ACC in yards per play (conference-only games) in six out of the last seven years.
Dan Enos, Central Michigan (19-30, 4 years)
After starting his tenure 6-18, Enos has made slight improvement in the win column over the last two years. The Chippewas have gone 13-12 the past two seasons and won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2012. However, a deeper look at Enos’ results shows Central Michigan has defeated only two teams with winning records over the last two years. With 16 starters returning, along with Northern Illinois and Ball State losing some key personnel, the Chippewas have the potential to climb in the MAC West standings this year. Central Michigan went 32-7 in MAC games from 2005-09 but is only 13-19 under Enos in conference play over the last four years.
Brady Hoke, Michigan (26-13, 3 years)
Hoke’s tenure at Michigan started on a high note, as the Wolverines finished 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in 2011. But that’s been the peak of Hoke’s three-year run in Ann Arbor so far. Michigan is just 15-11 over the last two seasons and finished 3-5 in Big Ten play in 2013. Recruiting certainly hasn’t been an issue for Hoke, as the Wolverines have inked two top-10 classes over the last three years. Despite the edge in talent, Michigan’s win total has declined since the 2011 season, and the offense ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in total yards per game last year. The talent is there for the Wolverines to make a jump in wins. But can Hoke find answers on the offensive line and help the defense reach its potential in 2014?
Bo Pelini, Nebraska (58-24, 6 years)
Pelini might be the toughest coach in the nation to judge for either of these sections. He’s 58-24 in six seasons with the Cornhuskers and has won at least nine games every year. Nebraska has also finished in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll for five consecutive years. Despite all of Pelini’s highlights, there are lofty expectations in Lincoln. Is nine wins the best-case scenario for this program in the current climate of college football? Or is Nebraska still capable of being a top 10-15 team on a consistent basis? If you believe the recruiting rankings, the Cornhuskers are winning at an appropriate level relative to their talent (No. 26 nationally over the last five seasons).
Kyle Whittingham, Utah (76-39, 9 years)
It’s hard to place Whittingham anywhere near the hot seat given his track record at Utah prior to the move to the Pac-12. But since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 18-19 and the win total has declined in conference play for two consecutive years. Moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 wasn’t an easy task for Utah, so it will take some time to recruit and develop depth to compete with the top teams in the Pac-12 South. However, in a slight surprise, the Utes have not improved their national recruiting since joining the Pac-12. Utah inked the No. 42 class in 2010 and slipped to No. 47 in '13 and No. 63 in '14. Whittingham shouldn’t be in any danger, but he could move to the hot seat section if the Utes miss out on a bowl for the third consecutive year.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana (10-26, 3 years)
Indiana has made noticeable improvement in Wilson’s three years. The Hoosiers went 1-11 in 2001 but improved to 4-8 in '12 and 5-7 last year. Indiana was just a few plays away from making the postseason, losing to Navy by six and to Minnesota by three points. Make no mistake: This is not an easy job. Wilson has transformed Indiana into one of the Big Ten’s best offenses (38.4 points per game in 2013), but the defense continues to struggle. Although there has been progress, the Big Ten’s new divisional alignment will present a challenge for Wilson. Playing Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State every year won’t leave much room for error in terms of wins and losses for Indiana. Wilson shouldn’t be on the hot seat, but with a tough division, the Hoosiers can’t afford to slip too far behind in 2015.
Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason, and several big names switched addresses.
And whether it was coaching moves in the SEC or the Sun Belt, this offseason wasn’t short on impact additions or subtractions among teams. Several of these coordinator hires could help a team win a couple of extra games in 2014.
Utah and Rutgers were two of the biggest winners in the coordinator carousel, as the Utes added former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen as their offensive play-caller, while the Scarlet Knights hired Ralph Friedgen as their offensive coordinator.
Georgia also made one of the top hires of the offseason by pulling defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State.
Athlon examines the top 15 coordinator hires for 2014, as well as some of the other notable moves from the offseason.
College Football’s Top 15 Coordinator Hires for 2014
Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Fixing the defense is a priority for Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes allowed 24 points a game last year (conference-only games) and allowed 34 or more points in each of the last three contests. Ash returns to the Big Ten after a season at Arkansas, and he is expected to help coordinate the defense with Luke Fickell. Ash’s specialty is coaching defensive backs, which is a specific area of need for the Buckeyes after this unit gave up 20 passing scores in Big Ten games in 2013. Ash isn’t the only key addition to Ohio State’s coaching staff, as former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. was also hired in the offseason.
Dave Christensen, Offensive Coordinator, Utah
The former Wyoming coach takes over the reins of a Utah offense that averaged less than five yards per play in conference games in two out of the last three years. Prior to his stint as Wyoming’s head coach, Christensen worked as the play-caller for Missouri from 2001-08 and at Toledo from 1997-2000. The veteran assistant is tasked with fixing an offense that has struggled to find consistency since joining the Pac-12. Christensen wants to speed up the tempo, and in order for that to happen, he needs to help quarterback Travis Wilson take the next step in his development.
Ralph Friedgen, Offensive Coordinator, Rutgers
Friedgen is easily one of the top – if not No. 1 – coordinator hires for 2014. Rutgers has not averaged more than 5.2 yards per play in a season since 2008, and the Scarlet Knights lost 30 turnovers in 2013. Friedgen has been out of coaching since 2010, but he had a strong track record of success at Georgia Tech and Maryland as a play-caller. The New York native has a tough assignment to fix Rutgers’ offense, but there is talent at the skill positions and an experienced quarterback in Gary Nova returning.
Art Kaufman, Defensive Coordinator, California
Injuries played a role in California’s defensive struggles in 2013, but this unit needed a change at coordinator. In steps Kaufman, who was surprisingly fired after a solid 2013 season at Cincinnati. And prior to his one year with the Bearcats, Kaufman’s defense at Texas Tech allowed 5.4 yards per play in 2012. Kaufman’s arrival should immediately help the Golden Bears take a step forward on defense, but it’s unrealistic to expect a quick turnaround to finish as one of the Pac-12’s best defenses for 2014.
Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
Without question, Kiffin is the most polarizing coordinator hire of the offseason. After a failed stint as USC’s coach, Kiffin will attempt to rebuild his resume with a stop at Alabama. Although Kiffin’s shortcomings are documented, this role is a good landing spot for the embattled coach. Yes, Kiffin’s offenses were criticized at USC, but he should be able to put the Crimson Tide’s playmakers in position to succeed. Also, Kiffin’s recruiting ability should shine in Tuscaloosa.
Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Coaches on the hot seat, on the rise and top coordinator hires for 2014:
Pete Kwiatkowski, Defensive Coordinator, Washington
Kwiatkowski followed Chris Petersen from Boise State to Washington and inherits a defense that ranked fourth in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 22.8 points per game in 2013. Kwiatkowski called the plays for Petersen’s defense in Boise from 2010-13, and the Broncos did not finish a season by allowing more than 25 points per game. There’s plenty of talent returning to Seattle, and Kwatkowski’s track record suggests Washington’s defense will be among the best in the Pac-12 in 2014.
Seth Littrell, Offensive Coordinator, North Carolina
Littrell was an excellent addition for coach Larry Fedora. The Oklahoma native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Mark Mangino at Kansas and spent time at Texas Tech under Mike Leach from 2005-08. Littrell worked under Mike Stoops at Arizona from 2009-11 and left for Indiana in 2012. Over the last two seasons, the Hoosiers have averaged at least 30 points per game and led the Big Ten (conference-only matchups) in 2013 with 22 touchdown tosses. Littrell’s background in developing passing attacks should be a huge boost for quarterback Marquise Williams.
Mark Mangino, Offensive Coordinator, Iowa State
Mangino returns to the Big 12 after a four-year absence. After he was forced out at Kansas (50 wins in eight years), Mangino did not coach on the collegiate level from 2010-12 and landed at Youngstown State in 2013. He is tasked with fixing an Iowa State offense that managed just 4.7 yards per play in conference games and averaged just 24.8 points per game in 2013. Mangino has a strong track record of success from stops at Oklahoma and Kansas as a play-caller, and Iowa State’s offense should be better in 2014.
Doug Meacham, Offensive Coordinator, TCU
Meacham shares the offensive coordinator title with former Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, but the former Houston and Oklahoma State assistant will call the plays. Meacham worked from 2005-12 as an assistant under Mike Gundy in Stillwater and served as Houston’s play-caller in 2013. The Cougars averaged 33.2 points a game last year and had 14 passing plays that went 40 yards or more – with a true freshman at quarterback (John O’Korn).
Doug Nussmeier, Offensive Coordinator, Michigan
Not only is Nussmeier one of the top coordinator hires for 2014, but he’s also one of the play-callers under the most pressure in the nation this year. Michigan’s offense averaged only 5.4 yards per play in 2013, which was the team’s lowest mark since 2008 when the offense averaged just 4.4 yards per play. Nussmeier comes to Ann Arbor after two seasons with Alabama, where the Crimson Tide averaged 7.4 yards per play in SEC games in 2013. And he also had a stint as Fresno State’s play-caller in 2008 and at Washington from 2009-11.
Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator, Georgia
Pruitt inherited a veteran defense at Florida State and certainly made all of the right calls in 2013. The Seminoles’ defense allowed only 4.1 yards per play and only two opponents scored more than 20 points, as Florida State closed out the BCS era with a national championship. Prior to his one-year stint in Tallahassee, Pruitt worked under Nick Saban at Alabama and plans to implement a similar 3-4 approach in Athens. Pruitt has work to do this offseason, as Georgia allowed 31.8 points per game in eight SEC contests in 2013. The Bulldogs aren’t as strong in the secondary as Florida State was last year, but this team should be set in the front seven in 2014. Expect Pruitt to make a big impact on Georgia's defense this year.
Kurt Roper, Offensive Coordinator, Florida
Roper is a pivotal hire for Florida coach Will Muschamp. After the Gators finished 4-8 and averaged only 18.8 points per game last season, Muschamp needs a big year or there could be a coaching change in Gainesville at the end of 2014. Roper plans to speed up Florida’s tempo and allow quarterback Jeff Driskel to work more out of the shotgun. Under Roper’s direction, Duke’s offense averaged at least 30 points per game in 2012-13. Roper also has experience in the SEC, spending 1999-04 as an assistant on David Cutcliffe’s staff at Ole Miss.
Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator, Penn State
Most of new Penn State coach James Franklin’s staff followed him to Happy Valley from Vanderbilt, including Shoop who worked as the defensive coordinator for the Commodores for the last three years. Vanderbilt’s defense was underrated during Shoop’s watch, as the Commodores ranked fifth in the SEC in 2012 by holding opponents to 18.7 points per game. Vanderbilt also twice ranked among the top-five teams in the SEC against the run from 2011-13. Shoop inherits a Penn State defense that is short on depth, but the starting unit could be one of the best in the Big Ten.
Joe Wickline, Offensive Coordinator, Texas
Wickline carries the offensive coordinator title, but Shawn Watson is expected to call plays. Even though Wickline won’t be calling the plays, he remains a key piece of new coach Charlie Strong’s staff. Wickline is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation, which is a valuable asset for a Texas team that has struggled to develop talent in the trenches in recent years and has not had a lineman drafted since 2008.
Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator, USC
Wilcox followed Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC, and the former Oregon safety is a rising star in the coaching ranks. Wilcox started his coaching career in 2001 at Boise State and made a stop at California from 2003-05 before returning to work with Chris Petersen. From 2006-09, Wilcox worked as Boise State’s defensive coordinator and later spent two seasons (2010-11) at Tennessee. Washington’s defense finished No. 4 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed in 2012 and allowed only 4.9 yards per play in 2013. In the year prior to Wilcox’s arrival (2011), Washington ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 in total defense. Wilcox made a huge impact with the Huskies in just two years, and he should coordinate one of the nation’s top defenses at USC in 2014.
Other Key Coordinator Hires for 2014
Lance Anderson, Defensive Coordinator, Stanford
Much like Pac-12 North rival Oregon, Stanford stayed in-house to fill a vacancy at defensive coordinator. Derek Mason left to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, and David Shaw promoted Anderson to play-caller. Anderson has worked on Stanford’s staff since 2007.
Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Louisiana Tech
Solid hire for Skip Holtz, as Diaz looks to rebound after a rough stint as Texas’ defensive coordinator.
Mike Elko, Defensive Coordinator, Wake Forest
Elko followed coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green to Wake Forest. Under Elko’s direction, the Falcons defense led the MAC in fewest points allowed for two consecutive seasons (2012-13).
Hank Hughes, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati
Hughes will share the defensive coordinator title with Robert Prunty, and the New York native joins Cincinnati’s staff after spending the 2001-11 seasons at UConn.
Charles Kelly, Defensive Coordinator, Florida State
Kelly was promoted to call the defensive signals in Tallahassee after Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia. Kelly has a wealth of experience as an assistant, including stops at Jacksonville State, Henderson State, Nicholls State and Georgia Tech. Kelly has been regarded as an excellent teacher, and he should ensure Florida State’s defense will continue to rank among the best in the ACC.
Scottie Montgomery, Offensive Coordinator, Duke
A rising star in the coaching ranks, Montgomery takes control of the offensive coordinator role for the Blue Devils.
Don Pellum, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon
Coach Mark Helfrich stayed in-house to replace veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Pellum has over 20 years of coaching experience in Eugene, but this will be his first chance to coordinate the Ducks’ defense.
John Reagan, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas
Coach Charlie Weis plans to hand the play-calling duties to Reagan, who returns to Lawrence after four years at Rice. Reagan helped coordinate an offense that averaged 31.4 points per game in C-USA play last season.
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Boise State
Sanford is known as an ace recruiter and joins Bryan Harsin’s coaching staff after spending the last three years at Stanford.
John Thompson, Defensive Coordinator, Texas State
A key pickup for Texas State and coach Dennis Franchione. Thompson has a wealth of experience in the coordinator ranks and coordinated an Arkansas State defense that led the Sun Belt in fewest points allowed in 2012.
Brian VanGorder, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
VanGorder is a well traveled assistant, as his defensive coordinator assignment will be his third job in three years. Prior to taking over the Notre Dame defense, VanGorder worked as the Jets’ linebackers coach in 2013 and coordinated Auburn’s defense in 2012. VanGorder worked with coach Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State from 1989-91.
Brent Vigen, Offensive Coordinator, Wyoming
Vigen followed Craig Bohl from North Dakota State to Wyoming after coordinating one of the top offenses in the FCS in 2013. The Bison averaged 38.7 points per game last year. Vigen was the play-caller for each of North Dakota State’s three FCS titles.
Paul Wulff, Offensive Coordinator, USF
Wulff returns to the college ranks after two years with the 49ers. The former Washington State coach will help Willie Taggart ignite a USF offense that averaged just 13.4 points per game in American Athletic games last season.
Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Pac-12 is top heavy at quarterback in 2014, featuring Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly. But there’s room for some of the names to move around in the middle of the quarterback rankings, including Colorado’s Sefo Liufau or California’s Jared Goff.
On the defensive side, keep an eye on players like Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, USC’s Delvon Simmons and Arizona State’s Salamo Fiso.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Pac-12 Breakout Players for 2014
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
With a knee injury expected to sideline Bralon Addison for the 2014 season, the Ducks need new targets to emerge for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Addison isn’t the only loss at receiver in Eugene, as Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins (85 receptions in 2013) have expired their eligibility. Allen closed out a breakout spring with two catches for 94 yards and two scores in the spring game. And the gridiron isn’t the only place Allen is making news this offseason. He won the U.S. track title in 110 hurdles in late June and won USA Track & Field athlete of the week honors in early July. Allen has the speed and athleticism to become one of the Ducks’ top playmakers in 2014.
Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks earned the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s No. 1 receiver last season, so Bolden and the other Oregon State receivers have big shoes to fill in 2014. Despite the loss of Cooks, the Beavers still have options in the passing game. Junior Richard Mullaney caught 52 passes last season, and tight end Connor Hamlett is back after grabbing 40 catches in 2013. Bolden caught only six passes for 62 yards, but he averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return. The sophomore is projected for a bigger role in the passing game in 2014, and his explosiveness will help quarterback Sean Mannion stretch the field this year.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker has traveled an interesting route to Utah, as he signed with Washington State out of high school but failed to qualify. After a stint at American River College, Booker is finally in Salt Lake City. The Sacramento native capped a breakout offseason with 103 yards and two scores on 19 attempts in the spring game. Utah averaged only 3.7 yards per carry in Pac-12 contests last year. Booker should help that total in 2014 and will push Bubba Poole for the starting job this fall.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
New coordinator Don Pellum’s first assignment this offseason was to solidify the defensive line after the departures of Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi. The Ducks still need to bolster the depth in the trenches, but Pellum’s starting trio could be among the best in the Pac-12. Buckner played in all 13 contests in 2013 and recorded 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. After starting the final eight games last season, Buckner is still developing as a player but continued to progress with a sack and a forced fumble in the spring game. We mentioned Buckner as a breakout player here, but junior Arik Armstead is another name to remember. Entering his junior year, Buckner is poised to emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top defensive ends.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens was one of the top defensive players in the 2013 recruiting class and ranked as a five-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. And as a true freshman, Cravens certainly didn’t disappoint last year. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after recording 52 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Cravens should benefit from the addition of coordinator Justin Wilcox, as well as another year to participate in offseason practices. Expect Cravens to push for All-America honors this year.
Salamo Fiso, LB, Arizona State
Fiso was a standout freshman performer for Arizona State last season, recording 71 stops and three sacks in 14 games. Fiso only got better throughout the 2013 campaign and is one of just two returning starters for the Sun Devils in 2014. Fiso will anchor a linebacking corps that is talented, but inexperienced. The sophomore should be in the mix for all-conference honors and could lead the team in tackles after finishing third on the stat sheet last year. Another Arizona State linebacker to keep in mind for this list: D.J. Calhoun.
Joshua Garnett/Kyle Murphy, OL, Stanford
Four starters depart from a Stanford offensive line that was one of the best in the nation last year. However, there’s not much concern from coach David Shaw about the protection for quarterback Kevin Hogan. Left tackle Andrus Peat is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2014, and the line has breakout players like Garnett and Murphy ready to emerge. Murphy played in 13 contests last year, while Garnett made an appearance in 14 and started against Washington State. Both Garnett and Murphy should push for All-Pac-12 honors this year.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Some may not consider Goff a breakout player after he threw for 3,488 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. However, with California expected to improve overall in the second year under coach Sonny Dykes, along with the return of a talented receiving corps, Goff could approach 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014. As expected with any freshman quarterback, Goff had his share of ups and downs last season. He threw for 336 yards and one touchdown against Washington and completed 32 of 58 passes for 489 yards against Washington State. Goff finished the year by throwing for less than 200 yards in back-to-back games against Colorado and Stanford. With another offseason under his belt, look for Goff to take a step forward in his development and show a better overall command of the offense.
Tahaan Goodman, S, UCLA
We could pick a number of UCLA defenders here, but let’s go with Goodman as the breakout player from Jim Mora’s defense. Goodman ranked as the No. 65 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and played in 13 games as a true freshman. The California native recorded only 12 tackles and one forced fumble last season, but he is primed for a bigger role in UCLA’s secondary. With Fabian Moreau returning at cornerback, along with talented players like senior Anthony Jefferson, junior Randall Goforth and sophomore Priest Willis, the Bruins’ secondary should be one of the best in the Pac-12 this season.
Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado
It’s not easy being a true freshman quarterback in the Pac-12, but Liufau was thrown into the fire in 2013 and performed well in his first season in Boulder. Liufau finished with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns on 149 completions. The Washington native threw for 364 yards and three scores against California and finished the season by completing 23 of 46 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns against Utah. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren helped to turn David Fales from a two-star junior college quarterback into one of the top passers in the WAC/Mountain West. Top receiver Paul Richardson will be missed, but MacIntyre and Lindgren should help Liufau take a step forward in his development in 2014.
Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State
With quarterback Connor Halliday and one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps returning, the Cougars’ offense will be tough to stop in 2014. Washington State led the nation with 756 pass attempts last year, so there’s plenty of opportunities for players like Mayle to catch passes. Gabe Marks led the team with 74 receptions last season, but Mayle is a name to remember after finishing his first season in Pullman with 42 catches for 539 yards and seven scores. The 6-foot-3 target slimmed down during the offseason, and all signs point to Mayle becoming a more prominent target for Halliday.
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Miles was suspended for spring practice due to an off-the-field incident but was reinstated to the team in May. The sophomore is behind Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in learning Washington’s new offense, but Miles is expected to claim the starting job by the season opener. The Colorado native ranked as the No. 105 overall prospect in the 2012 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and worked as the backup to Keith Price in 2013. Price missed time against UCLA due to injury, and Miles completed 15 of 22 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns in relief. A week later, Miles threw for 162 yards and one score in a 69-27 victory over Oregon State. The sophomore has plenty of upside, and with an ability to hurt defenses through the air or on the ground with his legs, Miles is a quarterback to watch in 2014.
DaVonte’ Neal, WR, Arizona
After a one-year stint at Notre Dame, Neal transferred to Arizona and sat out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Neal didn’t make a huge impact in his one year with the Fighting Irish, but he’s poised to emerge as a key contributor for the Wildcats. Arizona is loaded with talent at receiver, including senior Austin Hill who returns after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL. In addition to Hill, the Wildcats return Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey in the receiving corps. With a crowded receiving corps, expect Arizona coaches to use Neal some in the backfield to take advantage of his athleticism and speed.
Tyree Robinson, S, Oregon
The Ducks have a few holes to fill in the secondary, but this unit is headlined by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Three starting spots were up for grabs this spring, with Robinson in the mix at the safety position. The California native ranked as the No. 150 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite and used a redshirt year in his first season on campus. At 6-foot-4, Robinson has the size and athleticism to be a future star in Oregon’s secondary.
Delvon Simmons, DL, USC
With Leonard Williams on one side, and Simmons expected to emerge at the other end position, USC’s defensive line will be among the best in the nation. Simmons sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules but recorded 27 tackles (six for a loss) at Texas Tech in 2012. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound defensive end should help to anchor USC’s 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Other Breakout Players to Watch
Budda Baker, CB, Washington
Baker was a huge pickup for new coach Chris Petersen. The Washington native ranked as the No. 55 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and has the athleticism to line up at defensive back or on offense at receiver. Marcus Peters is the only proven commodity in the secondary, which means three jobs will be up for grabs in the fall. Expect Baker to push for time at cornerback or safety.
Marcus Ball, S, Arizona State
Ball was expected to play a significant role in the Arizona State secondary last season, but a shoulder injury forced him to take a redshirt year. The Ohio native is poised to start in 2014, as the Sun Devils have a significant amount of turnover on defense this year. Ball has the necessary speed and athleticism to quickly blossom into one of the top freshman defensive backs in the Pac-12.
Bryce Bobo, WR, Colorado
The Buffaloes are searching for a new No. 1 receiver after the departure of Paul Richardson to the NFL. Bobo and teammate Nelson Spruce appear to be up to the task, as this trio combined for 13 receptions in the spring game. Bobo’s eligibility is a concern, but all signs point to him playing in the opening game against Colorado State in August.
Daquawn Brown, CB, Washington State
Washington State’s secondary must be revamped after the departure of four starters, including standout safety Deone Bucannon. Brown should be the headliner for the Cougars’ secondary after playing in 13 games as a true freshman last year. Brown recorded 50 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups in 2013 and is poised for an even bigger sophomore campaign.
Thomas Duarte, WR, UCLA
Duarte played in 13 games as a true freshman last season and caught 16 passes for 214 yards and three scores. Expect Duarte to be an even bigger part of the passing attack this year, especially if UCLA’s offensive line plays with more consistency and gives junior quarterback Brett Hundley more time to throw.
Gionni Paul, LB, Utah
Miami transfer was slated to play a significant role at linebacker for the Utes in 2014. However, Paul suffered a broken foot in April and is expected to miss at least five months. If Paul returns to full strength in time for the season opener, he should be able to regain a spot in Utah’s starting 11 on defense.
John Ross, WR, Washington
With Kasen Williams returning from a leg injury, along with the departure of Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ross is primed for a bigger role in Washington’s offense in 2014. As a true freshman last year, he caught 16 passes for 208 yards and one score. Ross also averaged 23.2 yards per kickoff return in 2013.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
There’s not much in the way of proven options in Arizona’s running back stable for 2014. Ka’Deem Carey left early for the NFL, and Pierre Cormier retired due to a medical condition. Wilson and fellow freshmen Zach Green and Jonathan Haden will compete for carries this fall, but Wilson – the No. 246 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – could emerge as the No. 1 back.
College football’s postseason format has changed significantly last year, with 2014 the first season of a four-team playoff.
As a result of the new playoff format, the changes in the postseason extended to the bowl games.
Whether it was a change in date or conference affiliation, nearly every bowl game was impacted by the new format.
While there will be an adjustment period on remembering all of the new tie-ins and bowl affiliations, the bowl lineup for 2014 and beyond has improved.
Counting the three playoff games, there will be 39 bowl games for 2014. The postseason is set to start on Dec. 20, with five games scheduled to take place, starting with the New Orleans Bowl between the Sun Belt and Mountain West.
Listen to the latest Athlon Sports' Cover 2 College Football Podcast:
Related Content: Everything You Need to Know About the College Football Playoff
Conference Predictions: ACC | American | Big 12 | Big Ten | C-USA | MAC | MW | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt
College Football's 2014 Bowl Projections
Bowl Date Tie-In Projection New Orleans
Dec. 20 Sun Belt vs.
UL Lafayette vs.
New Mexico Dec. 20 C-USA vs.
North Texas vs.
San Diego State
Las Vegas Dec. 20 Mountain West
vs. Pac-12 No. 6
Famous Idaho Potato Dec. 20 MAC vs.
Ball State vs.
Camellia Dec. 20 MAC vs.
Arkansas State vs.
Miami Beach Dec. 23 American vs.
Boca Raton Dec. 23 C-USA vs.
Poinsettia Dec. 23 Mountain West vs.
Fresno State vs.
Bahamas Dec. 24 C-USA vs.
Hawaii Dec. 24 C-USA vs.
Colorado State vs.
Heart of Dallas Dec. 26 Big Ten vs.
Bitcoin St. Petersburg Dec. 26 ACC No. 10 vs.
Georgia Tech vs.
Military Dec. 27 ACC No. 7-9 vs.
Sun Dec. 27 ACC No. 3-6 vs.
Pac-12 No. 5
Pinstripe Dec. 27 ACC No. 3-6 vs.
Big Ten No. 5-7
Independence Dec. 27 ACC No. 7-9 vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Holiday Dec. 27 Big Ten No. 2-4 vs.
Pac-12 No. 3
Liberty Dec. 29 Big 12 No. 5 vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Oklahoma State vs.
Russell Athletic Dec. 29 ACC No. 2 vs.
Big 12 No. 3
Notre Dame vs.
Texas Dec. 29 Big 12 No. 4 vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Texas A&M vs.
Detroit Dec. 30 ACC No. 7-9 vs.
Belk Dec. 30 ACC No. 3-6 vs.
SEC No. 3-8
San Francisco Dec. 30 Big Ten No. 5-7 vs.
Pac-12 No. 4
Arizona State vs.
Music City Dec. 30 ACC/Big Ten vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Capital One Jan. 1 SEC No. 2 vs
Ohio State vs.
Outback Jan. 1 Big Ten No. 2-4 vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Armed Forces Jan. 2 American/Army vs.
Big 12 No. 7
TaxSlayer Jan. 2 ACC/Big Ten vs.
SEC No. 3-8
Virginia Tech vs.
Alamo Jan. 2 Big 12 No. 2 vs.
Pac-12 No. 2
Cactus Jan. 2 Big 12 No. 6 vs.
Pac-12 No. 7
Texas Tech vs.
Birmingham Jan. 3 American vs.
SEC No. 9
GoDaddy Jan. 4 MAC vs.
Bowling Green vs.
Related Content: Everything You Need to Know About the College Football Playoff
New Year's Bowls
Chick-fil-A Peach Dec. 31 At-large vs.
Fiesta Dec. 31 At-large vs.
Orange Dec. 31 ACC No. 1 vs.
Cotton Jan. 1 At-large vs.
Michigan State vs.
College Football Playoff
Rose Jan. 1 Playoff Semifinal Alabama vs.
Sugar Jan. 1 Playoff Semifinal Florida State vs.
CFB Championship Jan. 12 Semifinal Winner vs.
Florida State over
Former Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham has officially landed at Oklahoma. Green-Beckham was dismissed at Missouri after an off-the-field incident in April and will have to sit out the 2014 season as a result of NCAA transfer rules.
Green-Beckham was regarded as one of the top receivers in the nation in 2013, catching 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 scores. As a junior entering 2014, Green-Beckham was expected to be a first-team All-American and the top target for new Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk.
There’s no question Green-Beckham comes with baggage. His dismissal at Missouri stemmed from an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down the stairs. He also had two marijuana arrests during his time with the Tigers, but charges from the first arrest were never filed.
Bringing Green-Beckham to Oklahoma is a big risk for coach Bob Stoops. But considering Green-Beckham’s talent level and upside, it’s a risk that could pay off.
The Sooners are a young team in 2014 and could have only five or six senior starters this year.
Barring a surprise win on his waiver for eligibility, Green-Beckham will have to sit out the 2014 season. Add Green-Beckham to an offense that features quarterback Trevor Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard and it’s easy to think Oklahoma could be picked near the top of most preseason polls in 2015.
Of course, this move could backfire for Oklahoma. If Green-Beckham lands in trouble again, this move will be a hit in public relations for Stoops. But there’s also a solid support system in place in Norman, including Stoops and receivers coach Jay Norvell.
If Green-Beckham manages to stay out of trouble in 2014 and has a huge season, it will go a long way to improving his draft stock that took a hit after the dismissal in April.
Oklahoma announces Dorial Green-Beckham has been added to the Sooners roster.— CollegeFootballTalk (@CFTalk) July 3, 2014
DGB in release: "The university has made the expectations clear and I want to live up to them and be a positive part of the campus and team"— Guerin Emig (@GuerinEmig) July 3, 2014
The Big Ten is well-stocked with talent at running back for 2014. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is a projected first-team All-American, while Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah isn’t far behind. Gordon and Abdullah each averaged over six yards per carry in Big Ten games last year.
The depth at running back extends beyond Gordon and Abdullah with Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford, Northwestern’s Venric Mark and a rising star in Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, Athlon Sports has ranked the top 20 running backs in the Big Ten.
How were the rankings compiled? Glad you asked.
Something important to remember: This is not a career ranking heading into the 2014 season. Instead, several factors were considered. How the player projects in 2014, value to the team, overall talent level and production so far in his career. Past performance is critical, but a large portion of the rankings was based on what we think these running backs will do in 2014. And a slight bump in ranking was handed to the projected starter of a team.
Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2014
|1||Melvin Gordon||Gordon will assume the No. 1 role in the Wisconsin backfield after sharing time with James White last year. In 125 carries during conference play, Gordon rushed for 903 yards and eight scores. He finished No. 2 in the Big Ten with a 7.8 yards per carry and recorded six runs of 40 yards or more.|
|2||Ameer Abdullah||If Melvin Gordon is No. 1, then Abdullah is No. 1A. In eight Big Ten games last season, Abdullah finished No. 2 in the conference with 1,103 yards. Abdullah scored only five times in conference play but showcased his versatility by finishing 2013 with 26 catches.|
|3||Jeremy Langford||The emergence of Langford and quarterback Connor Cook were a big reason why Michigan State claimed the Big Ten title. Langford rushed for 1,070 yards in nine Big Ten contests and led all backs within the conference with 292 carries in 14 games.|
|4||Venric Mark||Mark was expected to be one of the top running backs in the Big Ten last season, but his 2013 campaign never got on track due to injury. Mark finished with just 97 rushing yards and earned a medical hardship after missing nine games. When healthy, Mark is one of the Big Ten's most explosive runners and is a valuable asset on returns.|
|5||Tevin Coleman||Coleman was on his way to a 1,000-yard season when an ankle injury forced him to miss the final three games. In 131 carries, Coleman averaged a healthy 7.3 yards per carry and led the Big Ten with eight runs of 40 yards or more.|
|6||Ezekiel Elliott||Since we are all about projecting what will happen in 2014, it's safe to say Elliott is in for a breakout year. As a backup to Carlos Hyde last season, Elliott rushed for 262 yards and two scores. Elliott was a top-100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and has the skill-set to thrive in Urban Meyer's offense. Yes, Elliott needs to prove he can handle 220-250 carries in a season, but the potential is there for a huge year.|
|7||David Cobb||With Abdullah, Hyde, Gordon, Langford and James White stealing the headlines in the Big Ten last year, Cobb's numbers were overlooked. The Minnesota back rushed for 1,202 yards, seven scores and posted six 100-yard performances.|
|8||Mark Weisman||Weisman started 2013 with three consecutive 100-yard efforts and rushed for 147 yards on 24 attempts against Minnesota in late September. However, Weisman did not record a 100-yard performance the rest of the way and fell just short of a 1,000-yard season. Weisman leads a deep Iowa backfield that includes Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock.|
|9||Corey Clement||Clement impressed in limited action last season, averaging 8.2 yards per carry on 67 attempts. With James White departing, Clement is set to be the top backup to Melvin Gordon in 2014. Clement will likely see at least 150 carries in this role, and all signs point to this sophomore becoming a star in Madison over the next two years.|
|10||Zach Zwinak||It's a tossup for the No. 1 spot in the Penn State backfield. Zwinak, Belton and Akeel Lynch are all in the mix. Zwinak rushed for 692 yards and four scores in Big Ten play and finished the year by recording four consecutive 100-yard efforts. If new coach James Franklin settles on one running back, the leading rusher could finish higher on this list.|
|11||Bill Belton||Belton finished just 186 yards behind Zach Zwinak in last year's rushing totals and should push for a split in carries in 2014. Belton recorded only 20 carries through his first three games in 2013 but rushed for 201 yards against Illinois and 98 against Ohio State. The senior had a good spring and appears poised to build off his best statistical season.|
|12||Josh Ferguson||Considering Illinois won only six games over the last two years, Ferguson has been overlooked at times among the stable of Big Ten running backs. But after finishing with back-to-back 100-yard efforts in 2013, the junior is primed for a breakout year in 2014. In addition to his solid 5.5 yards per carry, Ferguson is one of the team's top receivers (50 catches in 2013).|
|13||Imani Cross||Cross is one of the top backup running backs in the Big Ten. The 230-pound I-back scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 447 yards on 85 attempts last season. Cross will work as the backup to Ameer Abdullah once again but should see his share of carries (85-100) in 2014.|
|14||Derrick Green||If Michigan's offense wants to take a step forward in 2014, improving the rushing attack is a priority. The Wolverines averaged only 2.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play and had only one run of 40 yards or more the entire season. Green was a huge recruit for coach Brady Hoke and managed only 270 yards in his debut. Even though Green has the talent to be a 1,000-yard rusher, he needs more help from the offensive line to reach that potential in 2014.|
|15||Wes Brown||Upside is the keyword to remember here. Brown rushed for 382 yards on 90 attempts as a freshman in 2012 but was suspended for all of 2013. The Baltimore native was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and showed plenty of promise by recording a 100-yard effort against NC State and a 74-yard effort against UConn as a freshman. Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Vei will also factor in the mix with Brown.|
|16||Paul James||James has an interesting backstory, starting at Rutgers as a walk-on and eventually moving into the starting lineup last season. Despite missing three games, he rushed for 881 yards and nine scores on 156 attempts. If James can stay healthy, and regains the form that led him to three 100-yard efforts to start 2013, he will rank higher on this list in December.|
|17||Jordan Canzeri||Canzeri will team with Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock to form one of the Big Ten's top backfields in 2014. The New York native missed 2012 due to a torn ACL but quickly rebounded in 2013 by recording 481 yards and two touchdowns. Canzeri averaged 6.5 yards per carry and gashed Purdue for 165 yards.|
|18||Rod Smith||Smith was regarded as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, but he's yet to rush for more than 215 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? With Carlos Hyde departing, the Buckeyes will turn to Ezekiel Elliott and another running back to carry the workload. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Smith has the talent and size to produce when called upon in 2014.|
|19||Damon Bullock||Bullock is the third Iowa back to make this list. He's rushed for at least 460 yards in each of the last two years and recorded 85 yards on 10 carries against Purdue in 2013. Bullock is also a solid receiver out of the backfield (39 catches in three years).|
|20||Akeem Hunt||Considering Purdue was often playing from behind last year, the Boilermakers never had a chance to establish the run. However, coach Darrell Hazell has two intriguing options in Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Hunt averaged at least eight yards per carry in 2011 and 2012 but managed only 3.8 yards per rush in 2013.|
|Others to Watch: Raheem Mostert, Purdue; Nick Hill, Michigan State; Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State; Warren Ball, Ohio State; Akeel Lynch, Penn State; Brandon Ross, Maryland; Trevyon Green, Northwestern; De'Veon Smith, Michigan; Delton Williams, Michigan State|
Note: Dontre Wilson, Ohio State was considered a wide receiver for this article
The SEC is home to four of Athlon Sports’ national top-five offensive lines for 2014. The top spot belongs to Florida State, but Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and South Carolina rank among the best offensive lines in the nation.
As cliché as it sounds, elite offensive line play is common in the SEC and critical to a national championship. Auburn’s featured one of the best groups in the nation last year and guided the Tigers to an appearance in the BCS Championship.
Six offensive linemen on Athlon Sports’ 2014 All-America team hail from the SEC, including guard A.J. Cann and tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Line play should be a strength in the SEC this year, especially if groups like Ole Miss, Missouri and Mississippi State replace some key losses from 2013. And the conference’s overall depth extends to teams like Arkansas and Vanderbilt, as both teams should be better in the trenches in 2014.
To help prepare for the 2014 season, we will take a look at the 14 teams in the SEC and rank the offensive lines for the upcoming year. An important note: This is not a preseason ranking of accomplishments so far. This is a projection of what will happen in 2014.
Ranking the SEC’s Offensive Lines for 2014
(Note: This is a projection of how these lines will perform in 2014 – not a preseason ranking of where they stand.)
First-round pick Greg Robinson is a huge loss at left tackle, but the Tigers return four starters from a unit that paved the way for rushers to average 5.9 yards per carry in SEC play last season. Center Reese Dismukes is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2014, while sophomore guard Alex Kozan is one of the SEC’s rising stars. According to Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly, Auburn’s line ranked No. 3 nationally in 2013 in stuff rate and No. 2 in adjusted line yards.
2. Texas A&M
Another year, another first-round tackle departs. But just like 2013, there’s little concern in College Station about the offensive line. With Jake Matthews taking snaps for the Atlanta Falcons, the Aggies will turn to senior Cedric Ogbuehi to anchor the left tackle position. Ogbuehi is expected to be one of the top linemen selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Three other starters return, including senior Jarvis Harrison at guard and right tackle Germain Ifedi. Center Mike Matthews should be in the mix for All-SEC honors after starting all 13 games in 2013.
Considering the inexperience at quarterback, expect to see coach Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron lean on the ground game and offensive line in 2014. This group is plenty capable and should rank among the best in the nation. Four starters are back from a unit that helped LSU rushers average 4.5 yards per touch in SEC play last season. Left tackle La’el Collins is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014, guard Vadal Alexander is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors, while right tackle Jerald Hawkins returns after starting all 13 games as a redshirt freshman. Hoko Fanaika is expected to replace Trai Turner at right guard. Improving the pass protection is a priority after allowing a sack every 11 pass attempts in SEC play last year.
This unit has made considerable progress for coach Steve Spurrier in recent years. The Gamecocks are expected to take another step forward up front in 2014, as four starters return from a unit that helped running back Mike Davis rush for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. A.J. Cann is one of the top guards in the nation, and tackle Corey Robinson is projected to earn third-team All-SEC honors. The return of guard Mike Matulis should help to stabilize the right side of the line.
The Crimson Tide enter 2014 with just two returning starters in the trenches, but there’s no doubt this unit will emerge as a strength. Center Ryan Kelly is the anchor after starting nine games in 2013, while right tackle Austin Shepherd is expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. The other three spots on the line are up for grabs, but there’s no shortage of talent. Freshman Cam Robinson – the No. 4 incoming freshman in the 247Sports Composite – could start at left tackle. Alabama’s line allowed the fewest sacks in SEC play last year (four), while paving the way for rushers to average 6.4 yards per carry.
6. Ole Miss
Health will be critical to Ole Miss’ offensive line this season, as there’s little in the way of proven depth. However, if the starting five stays healthy, the Rebels should have one of the top groups in the SEC. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil started nine games as a true freshman last year and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Expect Tunsil to only get better as a sophomore. Guard Aaron Morris was lost for the season due to a knee injury in the opener against Vanderbilt, but he should return at full strength for 2014. When healthy, Morris is an All-SEC performer. Junior Justin Bell is expected to start at right guard and could slide to center if Ben Still struggles. Coach Hugh Freeze needs incoming recruits Fahn Cooper (JC) and Rod Taylor (freshman) to provide depth.
What a difference a year makes. After injuries took its toll on Missouri’s offensive line in 2012, the Tigers had better luck in the health department and performed as one of the better groups in the SEC. Left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are huge losses, but three starters are back for coach Gary Pinkel. Center Evan Boehm has started all 26 games in his career and is expected to be one of the top centers in the league this year. Mitch Morse and Conner McGovern are proven options at the tackle spots, with Anthony Gatti and Mitch L. Hall leading the way at guard. The Tigers averaged 5.5 yards per carry in SEC play and allowed a sack every 16.6 pass attempts in 2013.
The No. 7-9 spots in this ranking are very close, so we could easily switch Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi State around in a different order. The Bulldogs need more help from their line, especially with a new quarterback (Hutson Mason) taking over. Center David Andrews is one of the best in the SEC, and junior John Theus is ready for a breakout year at left tackle. The other three spots are up for grabs this fall, but there are experienced options (Mark Beard and Kolton Houston) vying for spots on the line. The Bulldogs ranked No. 4 in Football Study Hall’s power success rate last season.
Coach Dan Mullen has some work to do upfront this fall, but the Bulldogs should be solid in the trenches. Guard Gabe Jackson (first-team All-SEC in 2013) is a huge loss, and Justin Malone, Jamaal Clayborn and Ben Beckwith are likely vying for the right to replace Jackson, as well as start on the other side. Malone missed nearly all of last season due to injury, and his health is crucial to this unit performing at a high level post-Jackson. Seniors Blaine Clausell and Dillon Day are back as Mississippi State’s top linemen and both should push for all-conference honors.
Line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the nation, and the Razorbacks have some promising young talent on the way. There’s a good bit of potential with this group, especially if tackle Dan Skipper and guard Denver Kirkland build off promising freshman campaigns. Senior Brey Cook is expected to start at right tackle and could push for all-conference honors. UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson joins the competition for time at left guard, while Mitch Smothers and Luke Charpentier will battle to replace Travis Swanson at center.
Wesley Johnson will be tough to replace, but the Commodores return four starters from a group that has made significant strides over the last few seasons. Sophomore Andrew Jelks is expected to replace Johnson at left tackle, while Spencer Pulley and Jake Bernstein anchor the guard spots. Senior Joe Townsend is back at center after starting all 13 games in the middle last season. Vanderbilt has room to improve on the stat sheet, allowing 3.6 sacks per game and averaging only 3.1 yards per carry in SEC play.
In addition to Jeff Driskel’s injury and inconsistency at wide receiver, the struggles of the offensive line factored prominently into Florida’s 4-8 record in 2013. The Gators ranked No. 102 in adjusted line yards and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in SEC games. This unit also allowed 22 sacks in conference play. Even with just one returning starter, there’s hope for improvement in 2014. Left tackle D.J. Humphries was a key pickup on the recruiting trail in 2012 and missed most of last season due to a knee injury. With Humphries and right tackle Chaz Green back to full strength, Max Garcia is expected to slide to center. This unit is also under the direction of a new coach in former Kentucky and USC assistant Mike Summers.
Butch Jones has some work to do this fall. All five starters from Tennessee’s offensive line are gone, leaving little in the way of proven options. Guard Marcus Jackson redshirted last season after playing in 24 games from 2011-12, and the Florida native is expected to be one of the leaders for this unit in 2014. Junior college transfer Dontavius Blair was a key pickup on the recruiting trail and is penciled in at left tackle. With a tough schedule, this unit will have little time to jell.
The Wildcats rank last on this list, but there’s plenty of optimism. Four starters are back, and guard Zach West (21 career starts) is a candidate for all-conference honors. Senior Darrian Miller and junior Jordan Swindle should form a solid duo at tackle. Kentucky tied Vanderbilt for the most sacks allowed in SEC play last year (29), and its rushers averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.
Oklahoma’s uniforms and helmets haven’t changed much in recent years, but that’s about to change. Somewhat.
On Tuesday, the Sooners unveiled new alternate uniforms, which are a slightly different look at the usual appearance for the program.
The alternate uniforms feature two different helmets (red and white), along with small tweaks to the jersey and pants. Oklahoma’s usual uniforms read “Sooners” across the front of the jersey, but the alternate jersey will feature “Oklahoma” in that space.
The new red helmet for the alternate uniform also features a wood-grained pattern.
Below are a few photos of the new uniforms. Be sure to visit Oklahoma’s official site for more background on the new release for the Sooners.
New Oklahoma Sooner Alt Helmets pic.twitter.com/4lqzjnYtbq— Phil Hecken (@PhilHecken) July 1, 2014
A rocky period in college football has recently passed. Conference realignment seemingly dominated the headlines since 2011, forcing changes in membership for every league.
The Big East and WAC are no more in football, and the SEC, ACC and Big Ten have all expanded to 14 teams.
BYU decided to go Independent in football, while Notre Dame joined the ACC as a partial member.
Those are just a few of the changes that have taken place over the last few years.
What has the last few seasons in college football brought in realignment and what is the impact for the future? Let’s take a look at the changes, impact and grades for each of the Power 5 leagues in realignment over the last few years.
Grading College Football’s Conferences in Realignment
The Changes: The ACC added Louisville (2014), Syracuse and Pittsburgh (2013). Maryland left for the Big Ten (2014). Notre Dame joined as a member in all sports but football and hockey.
The Impact: Maryland was a founding member of the ACC, and the decision to leave for the Big Ten caught some off guard. However, Louisville is a solid all-around addition to the conference and ranks higher on Athlon’s program ranking (No. 29 for Cardinals, No. 40 for Terrapins). Syracuse and Pittsburgh help the ACC increase its footprint in the Northeast.
As a 14-team league, along with the Notre Dame affiliation, the ACC has stabilized after a period of uncertainty. The conference also has a solid bowl setup, including an agreement with the Orange Bowl. Having a period of 10-15 years without any changes would help the conference continue to develop its identity. The divisional alignment has been a source of debate in recent years, and there could be changes to the Atlantic-Coastal setup.
What’s Next: Will the ACC stay as a 14-team league? Unless there is a major shift again in conferences, the ACC seems unlikely to expand. Of course, if the ACC wanted to expand, Notre Dame would be its first call to become a full-time member. UConn was mentioned with Louisville as a possible replacement for Maryland, and if the ACC wanted to expand to 16, the Huskies would likely be in the mix again.
Grade: B. Losing a founding member was a surprise, but the ACC added three solid programs in Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Most importantly, the rumors about Florida State and Clemson possibly leaving the conference never came to fruition.
Related Content: History of ACC Realignment
The Changes: The Big Ten hasn’t seen many changes in its conference history. Penn State officially joined the league for football in 1993, but prior to that, the last addition to the conference was Michigan State in 1950. However, there have been three changes to the league's membership in the last four years. Nebraska joined in 2011, and Maryland and Rutgers will debut in the Big Ten in 2014.
The Impact: The reaction to the Big Ten’s additions were mixed. Nebraska – a top 25 program – was a huge positive for the conference on the gridiron. Maryland and Rutgers? Not so much excitement among college football fans. Since 2000, the Terrapins are 93-80, and the Scarlet Knights are 86-86. While both programs have upside, neither is expected to make a huge impact in terms of winning a national championship on a consistent basis. Instead, the additions of Rutgers and Maryland are a key component for the Big Ten’s Northeast/East Coast expansion. Even though success on the field matters, realignment isn’t necessarily about wins and losses. Media markets and expanding the footprint can be just as valuable for a conference.
What’s Next: Much like the ACC, the next question for the Big Ten is to stay at 14 or expand to 16? If a 16-team set up is in the Big Ten’s future, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Grade: B. Again, not everything in conference realignment makes sense in terms of wins and losses. Adding Rutgers and Maryland adds two valuable media markets, along with a key recruiting area. Nebraska had one of the top dynasties of the Associated Press poll era and can be a consistent contender for the Big Ten title. Also, the additions of Rutgers and Maryland helped to align the Big Ten into an easier-to-remember East/West format.
Related Content: History of Big Ten Realignment
The Changes: The Big 12 has been reduced from 12 teams to 10. In 2011, Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado departed for the Pac-12. Missouri and Texas A&M departed for the SEC in 2012. TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 to bolster the league’s lineup to 10 teams.
The Impact: With Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri departing, the Big 12 has lost three top-30 programs. West Virginia and TCU are solid additions, but the conference no longer has some outstanding rivalry games between Texas A&M-Texas, Baylor-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma and Missouri-Kansas. Not having a conference title game could hurt the Big 12 in the future, especially if that factors into the playoff committee’s criteria.
What’s Next: Expect the debate about the Big 12 and a 10- or 12-team set up to continue. The conference continues to insist it's content with a 10-team setup, but realignment rumors will never go away – at least from the fans. If the Big 12 does decide to expand in the future, it’s all about adding value. So which programs could do that? BYU and UCF? South Florida? Cincinnati? Perhaps the Big 12 would make a run at teams like Florida State and Clemson (igniting old message board rumors again). Adding East Coast teams to bridge the gap from West Virginia to the rest of the conference would seem to be a top priority – if the Big 12 expands.
Grade: C. The Big 12 has two things going for it. The conference seems to be stable – for now – and Oklahoma and Texas are still in the conference. Losing Texas A&M, Missouri and Nebraska was a setback, but West Virginia and TCU are good additions, especially after both programs have time to adjust to their new conference. The Big 12 probably isn’t as powerful as it once was. However, as long as Oklahoma and Texas are top-20 teams on a consistent basis, the conference should be in good shape.
Related Content: West Virginia Searches for Answers After Rocky Start in Big 12
The Changes: The Pac-12 didn’t lose a member and added Colorado and Utah to become a 12-team league in 2011.
The Impact: The Pac-12 is one of the biggest winners in college football over the last five years. Colorado and Utah haven’t experienced a ton of success so far, but the rest of the conference is on the rise. Thanks to an improved television deal, improved revenue and better facilities, the Pac-12 is now the No. 2 conference in college football. Expect Colorado and Utah to improve over the next few years, adding to what is one of the deepest conferences in the nation.
What’s Next: Further realignment seems unlikely, largely because there are few candidates that could join the conference. Remember the Pac-16 proposal that included Texas and Oklahoma? Maybe that’s a possibility in the future. However, the Pac-12 is stable and clearly entrenched as one of the premier conferences.
Grade: B+. We could easily upgrade this to an A. The Pac-12 has moved up the ladder in conference hierarchy, and Utah and Colorado will improve over time. Not much has gone wrong for the conference over the last few seasons.
The Changes: The SEC made its first changes in membership since 1991 by adding Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012. The league did not lose any members.
The Impact: The addition of the Aggies and Tigers gave the SEC two valuable media markets in Missouri (St. Louis/Kansas City) and Texas (Houston). And both programs also have experienced plenty of success over the last two years. Texas A&M is 20-6 since joining the SEC and had a Heisman winner in Johnny Manziel, while Missouri claimed the East Division title in 2013.
What’s Next: Just like the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, the only question surrounding the SEC in the future is whether or not the conference will expand to 16 teams. If the SEC does expand to 16 teams, there has been plenty of discussion that teams in Virginia and North Carolina are the next targets.
Grade: A+. The SEC was the No. 1 conference in the nation prior to realignment and solidified its place at the top with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. The conference is deeper and has expanded its footprint into Texas – one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting areas.
The offseason is an ideal time to unveil any new uniforms, helmets or logos for college football teams.
Ball State is the latest to showcase a new look for 2014, as the Cardinals unveiled on Friday a black helmet to go with their black jersey.
Here’s a look at the helmet, along with the full black uniform.
We don't wear all black for "black out" games. We wear all black because it's another game for us to SHINE!! 1T1M pic.twitter.com/oxtW45iEiF— Daryl Dixon (@CoachDDixon) June 27, 2014
Out early for Ball State football breaking out these beauties. Video to come pic.twitter.com/ZgkP6NGuDK— Ben Breiner (@BenBreinerTSP) June 27, 2014
College football’s 2014 season is still a few months away, but kickoff is fast approaching in late August. Now that the preseason magazines are on newsstands, it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming season.
The unpredictable nature of college football is challenging for any preseason prognostication. However, that’s also what makes this sport unique.
As fall practice approaches, Athlon will be identifying some of the key players on the rise or on the verge of a breakout season.
The list of defenders on the rise could span all 10 conferences and include plenty of players from the Independent ranks, but we had to limit the list to 20 and a few others to watch.
Players like Mississippi State’s Chris Jones and Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche were big-time recruits, so it’s no surprise they made this list. However, names like West Virginia’s Daryl Worley and Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas are probably not as well-known from across the nation.
20 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2014
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Had Alexander not suffered a groin injury in fall camp, it’s likely he would have played a major role in Clemson’s secondary last season. Alexander ranked as the No. 30 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and was widely considered one of the nation’s top freshmen on the defensive side. Although the groin injury prevented Alexander from getting involved last year, it allowed him extra time to learn the defense. The redshirt freshman is slated to crack the starting lineup for the opener against Georgia.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
New coordinator Don Pellum must replace two starters up front, but Buckner and junior tackle Arik Armstead are a solid duo to build around in 2014. Buckner played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2012 and recorded 29 tackles. He took a step forward in his development last year by playing in all 13 games and recording 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The Hawaii native shined in the spring game, forcing a fumble and recording a sack. One of Pellum’s priorities for 2014 is to find a way to slow down opposing rushing attacks after the Ducks allowed 175.9 rushing yards per game in Pac-12 play last year. At 286 pounds, Buckner’s size and ability should help Oregon win its share of battles at the point of attack.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
In an offensive-minded conference like the Pac-12, you can never have enough elite defensive backs. USC already has one of the top cornerbacks in the conference in Josh Shaw, and it’s clear Cravens is poised to contend for All-America honors this year. The California native was the No. 5 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in the 2013 signing class and recorded 52 stops and four interceptions. New coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive backs coach Keith Heyward helped to develop standouts at Washington like Desmond Trufant, Marcus Peters and Sean Parker. Expect both coaches to help Cravens reach his potential – which could be in 2014.
Durell Eskridge, S, Syracuse
Syracuse fans are certainly aware of Eskridge’s potential after he nearly declared for the draft following the 2013 season. However, it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. Eskridge led the team with 78 tackles and intercepted four passes last year. The Florida native also forced a fumble and was selected as a third-team All-ACC safety. The ACC has several all-conference contenders returning at defensive back, but Eskridge should be a lock for first- or second-team honors at the end of 2014.
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt isn’t inheriting the same amount of proven talent as he did at Florida State in 2013, but the Bulldogs certainly aren’t hurting for defensive standouts. Pruitt’s experience at Alabama suggests he will implement a similar blueprint in Athens, especially once he has time to recruit. Floyd started eight games as a true freshman in 2013, recording 55 tackles (9.5 for a loss), 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. The Georgia native also earned SEC All-Freshman honors. Floyd and Jordan Jenkins form a dynamic pair of pass-rushers off the edge, which should help Georgia cover for some of its concerns in the secondary. Expect Floyd to push for 10 sacks in Pruitt’s 3-4 approach.
Markus Golden, DE, Missouri
Even though Missouri loses Michael Sam and Kony Ealy at defensive end, there’s not much concern in Columbia about the pass rush. Coordinator Dave Steckel has an intriguing group of options remaining, with Golden expected to make the jump to all-conference contention. In 14 games last season, Golden recorded 55 tackles (13 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. Transitioning from a part-time position into a starter’s role with increased snaps, while maintaining (and increasing) his production will be a challenge for Golden. Line coach Craig Kuligowski’s has developed several standouts in his career at Missouri, and Golden is already on the radar as a potential first-round pick in the 2015 draft.
Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
It’s a bit of a cliché, but to win in the Big Ten, you have to be solid on both lines of scrimmage. With the Big Ten brand to sell, it should help Rutgers on the recruiting trail, allowing the Scarlet Knights to add more talent to the trenches. While Rutgers may not match Ohio State or Michigan State’s defensive line, the cupboard isn’t bare for new coordinator Joe Rossi. Hamilton started 12 games in 2013 and recorded 48 tackles (11.5 tackles for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. His presence on the interior was also a key reason why Rutgers held opponents to just 3.3 yards per rush in American Athletic Conference games last year. The New Jersey native took a step forward in his development last season and should push for all-conference honors in 2014.
Alec James, DE, Wisconsin
The front seven of the Badgers’ defense is in need of a major overhaul with just three starters returning. Replacing key players like linebacker Chris Borland won’t be easy, but coordinator Dave Aranda and coach Gary Andersen should have this defense performing at a high level by midseason. James is expected to be a key cog in the rebuilding effort in Madison, as the Wisconsin native will slide from linebacker to defensive end to provide a speed rusher off the edge. James redshirted in his first season on campus and will be tested right away with a matchup against LSU in the opener.
Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
Jones was a key pick up on the recruiting trail for coach Dan Mullen, ranking as the No. 18 overall player in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. And the Mississippi native didn’t disappoint as a true freshman, recording 32 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and three pass breakups. Jones was at his best late in the year, recording three tackles for a loss and a sack against Ole Miss. After a solid freshman year, the best is yet to come from Jones. With a full offseason to work in the weight room and learn under coordinator Geoff Collins, Jones is expected to push for All-America honors.
Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina
South Carolina coordinator Lorenzo Ward is tinkering with his defense with the departures of linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. The Gamecocks may use more 3-4 alignments to compensate for the losses in the trenches, especially with rising stars like Moore ready to step up in 2014. The Florida native made an instant impact as a true freshman last year, recording 56 tackles in 13 games. Moore started only four games but is expected to play in a full-time role in 2014.
Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech
In a wide-open ACC Coastal Division, the one constant among the contenders is Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies have finished first or second in scoring defense (conference-only games) in the ACC for six consecutive seasons. With one of the conference’s top defensive backfields and lines in 2014, expect much of the same from the Hokies. Nicolas appears to be the next star on the front line for Virginia Tech, recording 32 tackles and four sacks in 13 games last year. The Florida native should easily shatter those totals in a full-time role in 2014.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Yes, as the No. 1 recruit from the 2013 signing class, it seems obvious to mention Nkemdiche in this space. However, the Georgia native seemed to find his role late last year. Nkemdiche finished with 34 tackles (eight for a loss), two sacks and one forced fumble. Six of Nkemdiche’s 10 starts came at defensive end, with the other four coming at tackle. The Rebels will regain the services of end C.J. Johnson (missed most of last year due to injury), and the other end spot is expected to go to FIU transfer Fadol Brown. With Brown and Johnson anchoring the end positions, Nkemdiche should settle back into the interior. The sophomore played better as the season progressed in 2013 and should build off that momentum.
Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas
Running back Alex Collins garnered most of the freshman headlines in Fayetteville last season, but Philon quietly turned in an impressive campaign. The Alabama native appeared in all 12 games and finished with 46 tackles and three sacks. Nine of Philon’s tackles went for a loss. After starting the final five games of 2013 and earning SEC All-Freshman honors, Philon is poised to challenge for all-conference honors. The 283-pound defensive tackle can only get better with more snaps, but he has the talent to be a disruption in the backfield for new coordinator Robb Smith.
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
Since 2010, six LSU defensive backs have been selected in the NFL Draft. The Tigers should have no trouble adding to that total in recent years, as cornerbacks Tre’Davious White and Robinson are future stars in Baton Rouge. White was named to Athlon’s preseason first-team All-SEC squad for 2014, while Robinson earned second-team honors. Robinson played in 12 contests last year, with both of his starts coming late in the season. He was instrumental in containing Texas A&M’s offense to just 10 points in late November and finished 2013 with 16 tackles, one interception and three pass breakups. After a NCAA clearinghouse issue delayed his arrival in Baton Rouge, Robinson will benefit from a full offseason to work under defensive backs coach Corey Raymond.
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Sanchez was thrown into fire as a redshirt freshman and started all 13 games for Bob Stoops. The Texas native recorded 46 tackles, picked off two interceptions and tied for third in the Big 12 with 15 passes defended. With Aaron Colvin expiring his eligibility, Sanchez will assume the role as Oklahoma’s No. 1 cornerback. And as last year showed, Sanchez is ready for that assignment.
Vince Taylor, NG, Vanderbilt
New coach Derek Mason plans on shifting Vanderbilt’s defense to a 3-4 look. Transitioning from the 4-3 to a 3-4 can be challenging, but the Commodores have the personnel to make a successful (and swift) switch. As with any 3-4 scheme, there’s extra attention placed on the nose guard as the key cog on the interior. Taylor appears to be a perfect fit at nose guard, as his 6-foot-2 and 310-pound frame can handle the interior. The Mississippi native has just 44 tackles in his career and one fumble recovery. Don’t expect Taylor to impress on the stat sheet, but the senior should be a force in the middle for Mason’s defense.
Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett will be missed, but there’s optimism in Fort Worth that TCU’s secondary is still the best in the Big 12. The safety spots are in good hands with Sam Carter and Chris Hackett, and cornerback Kevin White is a second-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports for 2014. Texada was a spring standout for the Horned Frogs after redshirting in 2013, and the Texas native should team with White to help the defense ease the loss of Verrett.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
The Seminoles have to retool at linebacker with the departures of Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. New coordinator Charles Kelly isn’t inheriting a bare cupboard, as Terrance Smith should push for All-ACC honors, and there’s plenty of talent waiting to emerge. Thomas played in four games last season but suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. In limited action in 2013, Thomas recorded two tackles for a loss and a sack. At 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, the Miami native has the size to stop the run, while possessing the speed and explosiveness to get to the quarterback off the edge.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska
Nebraska’s defensive line will have three new starters in 2014, but the rebuilding effort is made easier with the return of end Randy Gregory and the emergence of Valentine, Maliek Collins and Aaron Curry at tackle. Valentine played in all 13 games in 2013 and recorded 21 stops (five for a loss) and one sack. The Illinois native had a breakout performance against Iowa in the regular season finale, recording five tackles and a sack. If Valentine picks up where he left off against the Hawkeyes, combined with Gregory’s continued dominance at end, Nebraska’s defensive line should emerge as one of the best in the Big Ten.
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
With an unsettled quarterback situation, the Mountaineers need to rely on their rushing attack and defense – at least early on – to help West Virginia return to a bowl. New coordinator Tony Gibson has not called the plays for a defense since 2000 at West Virginia Tech, but he will have help from veteran assistant Tom Bradley. Gibson and Bradley have pieces to work with, including six returning starters and an intriguing FCS transfer in Shaquille Riddick from Gardner-Webb to help the pass rush. But the player generating the most buzz this offseason might be Worley. The 6-foot-1 cornerback from Philadelphia played in 11 games in 2013 and made 45 tackles and broke up five passes. Considering the offensive firepower in the Big 12, having a shutdown corner with the size to matchup against big receivers is a valuable asset for any defense. With another year to progress, expect Worley to challenge for all-conference honors this year.
Other Players to Watch
T.T. Barber, LB, MTSU
Barber earned first-team All-Conference USA honors after recording 119 tackles and three sacks last year. The junior is already on the radar for NFL scouts and should be one of the top defenders from outside the five power conferences in 2014.
Salamo Fiso, LB, Arizona State
Sun Devils were hit hard by departures on defense with just two returning starters. Fiso is one of the few returning commodities for coordinator Keith Patterson after ranking third on the team with 71 stops as a freshman.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Rated as one of the top defenders in the 2013 signing class, Foster appeared in nine games and recorded 12 tackles. With C.J. Mosley off to the NFL, Foster is expected to push for a starting job.
Jacoby Glenn, CB, UCF
UCF won’t have Blake Bortles to lean on in 2014, but the Knights should still be in the mix to win the American Athletic Conference. Look for the defense to take a step forward, and Glenn is an emerging star in the secondary. As a redshirt freshman, he earned American Athletic Conference first-team honors in 2013.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Lawson played in 14 games as a true freshman and recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. He is expected to be a key piece in Auburn’s defensive front but recently underwent offseason knee surgery.
Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn
Melifonwu started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season and finished with 70 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He should be one of the key pieces in new coach Bob Diaco’s rebuilding effort at UConn in 2014.
Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert was selected by the Browns in the first round of the draft, but the Cowboys still have talent at cornerback with Peterson and Ashton Lampkin returning. Peterson recorded two picks and four pass breakups last year. He is a second-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports for 2014.
Max Redfield, S, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish already received a huge impact from one of their top freshmen in last year’s class (Jaylon Smith), and Redfield – a top-100 recruit – is poised to take on a bigger role. The California native played in 12 games (one start) and recorded nine tackles. Redfield is expected to start in 2014.
Reggie Spearman, LB, Iowa
The Hawkeyes must replace three starters at linebacker, including standout James Morris. Spearman was just one of four Iowa true freshmen to play in 2013 and recorded 10 tackles in 10 appearances. The sophomore is expected to start for coordinator Phil Parker.
Ben Weaver, LB, Boise State
Weaver shined in his redshirt freshman campaign by leading the Broncos with 89 stops. The sophomore should be an All-Mountain West performer this year.
Projecting the outcome of a college football season is no easy task. Several factors go into predictions, including the schedule, returning starters, in-depth statistics, results from the previous year, breakout players and recruiting – just to name a few.
Experience and star power at quarterback is another factor that most would consider important for preseason predictions.
But is it time to rethink that theory?
Six of the last eight teams to play in the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. Alabama’s Greg McElroy took home the title in 2009, while Auburn’s Cam Newton won the Heisman and national championship in 2011. Notre Dame’s Everett Golson took the Fighting Irish to the BCS title last season but lost to Alabama. The final BCS title game featured two first-year starters in Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Auburn’s Nick Marshall.
In the BCS era, 12 quarterbacks played for the national title in their first season:
1998: Tee Martin, Tennessee - W
1999: Michael Vick, Virginia Tech - L
2002: Craig Krenzel, Ohio State - W
2007: Matt Flynn, LSU - W; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
2009: Greg McElroy, Alabama - W
2010: Cam Newton, Auburn - W; Darron Thomas, Oregon
2011: AJ McCarron, Alabama – W
2012: Everett Golson, Notre Dame – L
2013: Jameis Winston, Florida State – W; Nick Marshall, Auburn – L
Is the emergence of first-year quarterbacks as national champs a new trend in college football? Considering the unpredictability of teams and coaching from year-to-year, it’s hard to say if this trend will continue. However, the success of Winston, Marshall McElroy, Newton and McCarron show different options can lift a team to the title. Newton carried Auburn, while McElroy and McCarron were steady for Alabama team’s that boasted one of the nation’s best rushing attacks and defenses. Golson improved as the year progressed for Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish were simply overwhelmed by a better Alabama team in 2012. Winston was clearly the best player in college football last season and was instrumental in leading Florida State’s second-half comeback against Auburn. Marshall developed as the season progressed in 2013, but the Tigers’ rushing attack was the reason why Gus Malzahn’s team won the SEC title.
Will this trend continue in 2014? There is a reasonable possibility a first-year starter at quarterback will make it to the national title game in 2014. Which teams are the most likely to have a first-year starter at quarterback and play for the national championship? Here are five teams that fit the mold in 2014.
Top Five Contenders to Win National Title with a First-Year Starter at QB
(Note: To be considered a returning starter at quarterback, a player must have started seven overall games or the last six contests of last season)
1. Alabama – Jacob Coker
Much has been made about Alabama’s quarterback situation this offseason. Yes, the Crimson Tide struggled to execute the passing game in the spring, and this team needs to find an answer under center in the fall. But just how critical is quarterback play with a team that boasts the No. 1 backfield in the nation, a deep receiving corps and a defense that will rank among the best in college football once again? With the rest of the team in good shape, Alabama doesn’t need elite quarterback play to win the national title. After transferring in from Florida State this summer, Coker is the favorite to take the opening snap for the Crimson Tide against West Virginia. As a graduate transfer, Coker is eligible to play immediately. In two years with the Seminoles, he completed 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown. Coker is still largely unproven, but former coach Jimbo Fisher gave the Mobile native plenty of praise earlier this offseason. Fisher also has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks, as his last two starters at Florida State (EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder) were first-round draft picks, and Jameis Winston could be the No. 1 pick in 2015. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Coker has the physical traits coordinators want in a starting quarterback. And with key SEC games against Auburn and LSU late in the season, Coker will have plenty of time to learn on the job in the SEC.
2. Oklahoma – Trevor Knight
Knight enters 2014 as one of the nation’s most polarizing quarterbacks. Oklahoma won 11 games in 2013 – a year most would consider a rebuilding effort with just 11 returning starters heading into the opener. Knight and Blake Bell shared the quarterback duties for the Sooners last season, with Knight finishing the year on a high note by earning MVP honors against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It’s hard to put a ton of stock in bowl games due to the extended layoff and motivation questions for some teams. Nearly half of Knight’s passing yards (819 for the season) came in the Sugar Bowl (348) against the Crimson Tide. Additionally, Knight tossed four touchdowns against Alabama and finished the year with just nine. While it’s easy to suggest Knight was a one-game wonder, there’s also evidence to suggest that’s not the case. Against Kansas State, Knight completed 14 of 20 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown and added 82 yards and one score on the ground. While it’s fair to doubt if Knight’s performance in the Sugar Bowl can be repeated on a consistent basis, let’s also note Oklahoma doesn’t need 400 yards from their passing attack each week. The Sooners have one of the nation’s top defenses, a solid offensive line and a favorable schedule. If Knight takes a step forward as a passer, continues to attack opponents with his mobility and limits his mistakes, Oklahoma should be a playoff team in 2014.
Listen to Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Quarterback Breakdown for 2014
3. Georgia – Hutson Mason
Bad luck and injuries played a huge part in Georgia’s 8-5 record last season. With better luck on the injury side, along with a solid performance from Mason in his first year as the starter, the Bulldogs could push for the SEC title. After waiting his turn to start, Mason was called upon earlier than expected due to a torn ACL to Aaron Murray against Kentucky last year. Mason threw for 189 yards against the Wildcats and followed up that performance with 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-34 win over rival Georgia Tech. Despite awful weather conditions in the Gator Bowl, Mason threw for 320 yards on 21 completions in a 24-19 loss to Nebraska. The sample size is limited, but Mason’s early returns are positive. The senior is surrounded by a deep supporting cast, including running back Todd Gurley and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Georgia’s defense is also expected to improve under the direction of first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Mason’s late-season experience should be valuable with games against Clemson and South Carolina to open the year.
4. South Carolina – Dylan Thompson
The gap between Georgia and South Carolina for the No. 1 spot in Athlon’s projected East standings is very small. The Bulldogs have a slight edge over the Gamecocks, but South Carolina still ranks as a top-10 team for 2014. Connor Shaw capped a solid career in Columbia with 2,447 passing yards and 24 touchdowns last year. Thompson is no stranger to the starting lineup, as he made one start in relief of Shaw in 2013 and two in 2012. The South Carolina native is 3-0 as a starter and has tossed 14 touchdowns over the last two years. Although Thompson tossed nearly as many interceptions (three) as touchdowns (four) last year, his career average on completions is a healthy 15.3 yards. The Gamecocks have one of the SEC’s top offensive lines, along with an all-conference running back in Mike Davis. Thompson needs to be more efficient as a passer (55 career completion percentage), but all signs point to a big senior year under coach Steve Spurrier.
5. LSU – Brandon Harris
We list Harris as the starter here, but sophomore Anthony Jennings finished spring with an edge for the No. 1 job. Whether it’s Jennings or Harris taking the first snap against Wisconsin, LSU will have a first-year starter under center. Jennings led the Tigers’ comeback against Arkansas after Zach Mettenberger was injured, finishing 4 of 7 for 76 yards and one score. Jennings started the bowl victory over Iowa and completed just 7 of 19 throws for 82 yards and one pick. As we mentioned under Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, we have to be careful to put too much stock in bowl games, so it’s unfair to judge Jennings’ potential based on that performance. Harris ranked as the No. 75 prospect and the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports 2014 Composite rankings. The Louisiana native enrolled in time to compete in spring practice and threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns in the Purple vs. White game. LSU will have a strong rushing attack and offensive line once again, which should allow Les Miles and coordinator Cam Cameron to ease their young quarterbacks into the season. There’s always plenty of talent in Baton Rouge. How quickly can the Tigers develop and find stability at quarterback?
5 Longshot National Title Contenders with a First-Year Starter at QB
Clemson (Cole Stoudt)
Even though the Tigers lose quarterback Tajh Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, expect the offense to rank among the best in the ACC once again. If Stoudt continues to hold off touted freshman Deshaun Watson, he should push for all-conference honors. With road trips to Florida State and Georgia in 2014 and a home game against South Carolina, Clemson has three huge opportunities to earn marquee wins in 2014.
Missouri (Maty Mauk)
The defending SEC East Division champions return only eight starters, but in a wide-open division, don’t count the Tigers out for a repeat trip to Atlanta. Missouri has a strong track record of success at the quarterback spot under coach Gary Pinkel, and Mauk is the next standout passer. He threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns and started four games in relief of James Franklin in 2013.
Texas A&M (Kyle Allen)
After finishing 4-4 in the SEC with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews, the Aggies and coach Kevin Sumlin will have their hands full in 2014. The schedule isn’t kind in conference action, as trading Vanderbilt for South Carolina in crossover play is just another obstacle for a team in rebuild mode. Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill are battling to replace Manziel, and both quarterbacks should be capable options for Sumlin. Allen – the No. 10 player in the 247Sports Composite – is the projected starter. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Aggies. However, the defense is still a major concern, and the overall youth on the roster suggests Texas A&M’s year to contend will be 2015.
Washington (Cyler Miles)
Miles rated as a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and spent his first year on campus learning behind Keith Price. And after an injury sidelined Price for a short stint last year, Miles played well in his first extended work at Washington. He threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA and completed 15 of 24 throws for 162 yards and one touchdown against Oregon State. Miles was suspended for the spring, but new coach Chris Petersen reinstated the sophomore back onto the team this summer. Miles has to learn a new offense and missed valuable reps in the spring. However, the talent is certainly there, and if Miles is on the same page as new coordinator Jonathan Smith, Washington will be a sleeper to watch in the Pac-12 North.
Wisconsin (Tanner McEvoy?)
The Badgers were hit hard by personnel departures, but Gary Andersen’s team is Athlon’s pick to win the Big Ten West Division in 2014. Making the jump from division winner to Big Ten/national title contender is a huge hurdle for Wisconsin, especially with a potential date against Michigan State or Ohio State in the conference title game. For the Badgers to take a step forward in 2014, the coaching staff wants more out of the passing game. Of course, Wisconsin doesn’t need 300 yards a week from Tanner McEvoy or returning starter Joel Stave to win, as Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement combine for one of the nation’s top one-two duos at running back. McEvoy played safety last year but shifted back to quarterback in the spring. With Stave recovering a shoulder injury, McEvoy will have a chance to close the gap in the fall.
Kansas coach Charlie Weis isn’t incredibly active on Twitter. As of June 25, he has 570 tweets and follows 15 accounts.
The life of a college football coach is busy, so we certainly understand if he doesn’t know all of the ins and outs of Twitter.
However, Weis’ tweet from a June 25 camp at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is an odd one.
Here’s the tweet with photo attached:
Huge turnout at Arrowhead. Much greater than expected. Boys are ready to compete. This should be fun. Rock Chalk. pic.twitter.com/k79MXEExWD— Coach Charlie Weis (@CoachWeisKansas) June 25, 2014
So where do we start?
“Huge” turnout? It looks like there are less than 50 people in the picture.
Much greater than expected? So how many did he really expect?
Who knows, maybe Weis is trying to have a little fun. And at a football camp, he's not allowed to tweet photos of the recruits. However, we aren't sure that's the best photo to promote Kansas football.
Here are a few tweets from the web:
Maybe Charlie Weis was having a camp for chairs?— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) June 25, 2014
That Charlie Weis tweet is starting to make the rounds nationally. People know he can't take a picture of the recruits, right?— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) June 25, 2014
After some bad luck and injuries at the quarterback position in recent years, Utah finally received some good news. Travis Wilson, who missed the final three games of 2013 due to an intracranial artery condition, has been cleared to play in 2014. The announcement was made through Utah’s official athletic page.
In Wilson’s first full season as the Utes’ starting quarterback, he finished with 1,827 passing yards and 16 touchdowns and added 386 yards and five scores on the ground.
Wilson has deceptive mobility for a quarterback that checks in at 6-foot-6 but perhaps Utah will look to use Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson in a change-of-pace role. If Thompson is up to the task, his mobility will allow the Utes to limit some of the hits Wilson takes over the course of the season. Wilson’s health and playing in all 12 regular season games could be the difference between Utah making the postseason or missing out on a bowl.
What does Athlon Sports project for Utah in 2014?
Adding another element of intrigue to Utah’s quarterback situation in 2014 is new coordinator Dave Christensen. The former Wyoming head coach and Missouri play-caller should help Utah’s offense take a step forward in 2014. The Utes have ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 (conference-only) in yards per play in each of the last three seasons and averaged only 25.6 points per game during Pac-12 play last year.
Christensen’s first task this season is to help Wilson eliminate the interceptions. He tossed 13 picks over the final five games and failed to complete more than six passes in each of his last three starts.
The talent is certainly there for Wilson, now it’s time for Christensen to harness the junior’s ability. And with weapons like running back Devontae Booker and receiver Dres Anderson, Wilson isn’t hurting for talent at the skill positions.
Although Wilson’s announcement by the school indicated Thompson, redshirt freshmen Connor Manning and Brandon Cox, junior Adam Schulz and true freshman Donovan Isom are battling for the starting job, it would be a huge surprise if anyone other than Wilson takes the opening snap for Utah in 2014.
Utah QB Travis Wilson Medically Cleared http://t.co/SfaDItefZA— Block U (@BlockU) June 24, 2014
Utah Utes embark on 2014 season with QB stability http://t.co/Kc0DiepLZl— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) June 25, 2014
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has already answered one of the Mountaineers’ biggest question marks for the 2014 season by naming Clint Trickett as the team’s starting quarterback.
Trickett played in eight games for West Virginia in 2013 and completed 123 of 233 passes for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns. Additionally, he completed only 52.8 percent of his throws and tossed seven picks.
Considering Trickett didn’t arrive on campus until after spring practice last year, it’s no surprise he struggled at times in Holgorsen’s pass-first offense. While Trickett needs to be more consistent, he led West Virginia to an upset win over Oklahoma State and threw for 356 yards in a 52-44 loss to Iowa State in the regular season finale.
Although this announcement isn’t too surprising, the timing is odd. It’s rare to see a team pick a starter in the summer. However, this move makes sense for West Virginia.
Outside of Trickett, there aren’t many proven options in Morgantown. Paul Millard threw for 1,119 yards and six touchdowns last season and wasn’t able to stake his claim for the job in the spring. Junior college recruit Skyler Howard appears headed for a redshirt year, and it’s uncertain if true freshman William Crest will be up-to-speed on the offense to factor onto the depth chart. Former walk-on Logan Moore is also in the mix and completed 10 of 21 passes for 109 yards in the spring game.
With limited options and a tough opener against Alabama ahead, having an experienced quarterback like Trickett is the right way to go for Holgorsen. Of course, that could change over the course of the season if Howard or Crest proves ready to play.
Although Trickett has been picked as the starter, a quarterback recovering from shoulder surgery isn’t guaranteed to have immediate success. Case study: Missouri’s James Franklin struggled in 2012 after having offseason shoulder surgery but rebounded in 2013.
Allowing Trickett the opportunity to prepare as the starter all summer should pay dividends for West Virginia. But how much will it make a difference in the win column? Probably not much. The Mountaineers have a brutal schedule, and quarterback play has to be the top concern for Holgorsen. And as surprising as this may sound, West Virginia's best offense might be its rushing attack this year - not the passing game that is a staple of Holgorsen's offenses at Houston and Oklahoma State.
There’s no downside for Holgorsen picking Trickett now and avoiding the ongoing questions or debate once camp opens for the fall.
However, West Virginia needs Trickett to be more efficient and effective than he was in 2013, especially as the depth chart isn’t overflowing with potential candidates ready to play in 2014.
The SEC has been home to several of college football’s top running backs in recent years, and 2014 is another loaded group of rushers for the No. 1 conference in the nation.
Georgia’s Todd Gurley projects as Athlon’s No. 1 running back in the SEC for 2014, and the junior could be a Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy after an injury-riddled 2013 campaign.
Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry take two of the top-four spots, with South Carolina’s Mike Davis sandwiched between the Crimson Tide duo at No. 3. The underrated pair of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams round out the top six options in the SEC for 2014.
How were the rankings compiled? Something important to remember: This is not a career ranking heading into the 2014 season. Instead, several factors were considered. How the player projects in 2014, value to the team, overall talent level and production so far in his career. Past performance is critical, but a large portion of the rankings were based on what we think these running backs will do in 2014.
Ranking the SEC's Top 25 Running Backs for 2014
|1||Todd Gurley||Injuries limited Gurley in 2013, but he still averaged six yards per carry. Gurley has scored 27 rushing touchdowns in two years and is an underrated receiver out of the backfield.|
|2||T.J. Yeldon||Yeldon has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and averages 6.1 yards per carry in his career. Expect Yeldon to see a similar workload once again in 2014, but Derrick Henry will be a bigger factor in Alabama's backfield.|
|3||Mike Davis||Davis missed one game due to injury in 2013 but finished with 1,183 yards and 11 scores. Davis started last year with seven 100-yard performances in his first nine games, including 167 yards against UCF.|
|4||Derrick Henry||Expected to be one of the SEC's top breakout players in 2014. At 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds, Henry possesses a unique blend of size and power. Rushed for 100 yards on eight attempts against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.|
|5||Alex Collins||Prize recruit of Bret Bielema's first class led the way for the Razorbacks on the ground in 2013. Collins rushed for 1,026 yards and four scores but failed to record a 100-yard effort over the final seven games. Expected to team with Jonathan Williams to form one of the SEC's top duos at running back.|
|6||Jonathan Williams||Expected to share carries with sophomore Alex Collins in 2014. Williams rushed for 900 yards and four scores last season, including 104 yards on 15 attempts against Auburn. Sophomore Korliss Marshall is a name to remember this fall, giving Arkansas three solid options at running back.|
|7||Kelvin Taylor||Played sparingly through first five weeks of last season. Taylor was one of the few bright spots for the Gators, finishing 2013 with 508 yards and four scores. Also averaged 4.6 yards per carry behind a struggling offensive line. Expect Taylor to be more involved (and more productive) in the offense in 2014.|
|8||Leonard Fournette||Ranked as the No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings in the 2014 signing class. With Jeremy Hill leaving, combined with LSU's standout offensive line, Fournette could have a huge season if he manages 175-200 carries. Easily could rank higher on this list by the end of 2014.|
|9||Keith Marshall||Marshall had a promising debut in 2012 by rushing for 759 yards and eight touchdowns. A torn ACL against Tennessee ended his 2013 campaign after only five games. If healthy, Marshall is one of the SEC's top-10 running backs.|
|10||Kenyan Drake||Drake is the third Alabama running back to make this list for 2014. He recorded 694 yards and eight scores on just 92 attempts last season. With Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon leading the way, Drake may finish 2014 with under 100 carries. However, the talent is certainly there to be a feature back on any other team in the SEC.|
|11||Jerron Seymour||Seymour is one of the SEC's underrated running backs, finishing with 716 yards on 164 attempts in 2013. Despite his 5-foot-7 frame, Seymour was effective around the goal-line with 14 rushing scores. New coach Derek Mason is expected to lean on the rushing attack to help ease the pressure on new quarterback Stephen Rivers. Seymour and backup Brian Kimbrow are up to the task.|
|12||Cameron Artis-Payne||Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are essentially co-starters in Auburn's quest to replace Tre Mason. In his first year with the Tigers, Artis-Payne rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. Expect to see Artis-Payne and Grant share the lead role, while Peyton Barber and Roc Thomas are two freshmen to watch in the fall.|
|13||Corey Grant||Grant is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry in 2013 and tied for third in the SEC with five runs of at least 30 yards. It's unlikely Grant shoulders 25 carries a week, but his speed and playmaking ability will allow him to share carries with Cameron Artis-Payne, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber in 2014.|
|14||Terrence Magee||Magee or Kenny Hilliard is expected to help spell Fournette in 2014. And of course, it's possible all three backs finish with the same amount of carries. Magee was impressive in limited work last year, averaging 6.6 yards per rush on 86 attempts. He also posted two 100-yard efforts in 2013. We are guessing Fournette handles the No. 1 role, but if Magee earns a split, he needs to be higher on this list.|
|15||Tra Carson||Carson ranked fourth on the team in rushing yards last season, but all signs point to a breakout year in 2014. The Oregon transfer is regarded as Texas A&M's most versatile running back and scored seven rushing scores on 62 carries last season.|
|16||Russell Hansbrough||Hansbrough finished second on the team with 685 rushing yards in 2013. With Henry Josey departing, the door is open for Hansbrough or Marcus Murphy to emerge as a No. 1 back. Expect both Hansbrough and Murphy to each surpass 700 rushing yards, but our guess is Hansbrough leads the team in rushing in 2014.|
|17||Marlin Lane||Lane has been an effective option for the Volunteers in a timeshare with Rajion Neal the last two years. From 2012-13, Lane averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored six rushing scores. With Neal out of eligibility, Lane will slide into the 1A role with freshman Jalen Hurd pushing for time. The talent is certainly there, but will Lane manage more than 120 carries in a season for the first time in his career?|
|18||Marcus Murphy||Murphy is one of the SEC's top all-around threats. He rushed for 601 yards and nine scores last year, averaged seven yards per punt return, caught 11 passes for 79 yards and averaged 22.2 yards on kickoff returns. Murphy is slated for an increased role in the backfield with Henry Josey departing.|
|19||Josh Robinson||Looking for a player who could have a breakout season in 2014? Look no further than Starkville, as Robinson is set to takeover for LaDarius Perkins as Mississippi State's No. 1 back. Robinson rushed for 459 yards on 78 attempts last year, including 101 in the 24-17 victory over Arkansas. Freshman Aeris Williams will be a name to watch in the fall.|
|20||Braylon Heard||Heard was a four-star recruit by 247Sports in the 2010 signing class and spent the first two years of his career at Nebraska. During his short stint with the Cornhuskers, Heard rushed for 462 yards and four touchdowns. And after sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Heard is poised to make an impact in Kentucky's backfield. The Ohio native rushed for 55 yards in the spring game.|
|21||Jalen Hurd||Hurd is expected to be one of the key pieces in Butch Jones' rebuilding effort on Rocky Top. The Tennessee native ranked as the No. 40 incoming freshman in the 247Sports Composite and rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. Expect Hurd to push Marlin Lane for carries in 2014.|
|22||I'Tavius Mathers||The Rebels are expected to employ a backfield-by-committee approach in 2014, with Mathers, Jaylen Walton and junior college transfer Akeem Judd battling for carries. Mathers edged Walton by 42 yards for the team rushing lead in 2013. Ole Miss has solid depth here and a true No. 1 workhorse isn't necessarily needed in Oxford this year.|
|23||Jojo Kemp||Combine Kemp's development with Braylon Heard's arrival and it's easy to see why Kentucky is expected to take a step forward on offense this year. As a true freshman in 2013, Kemp led the team with 482 yards. He also dealt with an ankle injury for most of his freshman campaign. With an offseason to heal, Kemp should be an even bigger part of the Wildcats' offense.|
|24||Trey Williams||With Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans off to the NFL, the Aggies may lean a little more on their rushing attack in 2014. Tra Carson appears to be entrenched as the starter, but Trey and Brandon Williams will have a role in the backfield. Trey Williams is a big-play threat, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in 2013. He also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return.|
|25||Jaylen Walton||Walton ranked second on the team with 522 yards behind I'Tavius Mathers last season and led all Rebels with 1,360 total yards. The Memphis native brings speed and elusiveness to the backfield and is a reliable pass-catcher (28 receptions in 2013).|
The term “hot seat” is no stranger to college football fans. Hot seat talk usually revolves around coaches, but quarterbacks can be grouped into the same conversation. Without a good coach or quarterback, it’s not easy to win games on the FBS level.
Considering how valuable quarterbacks are to reaching a bowl game, conference title or national championship, let’s take a look at some of the signal-callers on the hot seat for 2014.
Something important to keep in mind: This list doesn’t necessarily reflect quarterbacks that are in danger of losing their job.
With different potential for teams, each quarterback has their own set of expectations for 2014. For instance, Georgia’s Hutson Mason is the clear No. 1 quarterback in Athens. If he’s just adequate, the Bulldogs are probably ticketed for No. 2 or even No. 3 finish in the SEC East. However, if Mason is an All-SEC candidate, Georgia could be a darkhorse in the national title picture. At Arkansas, Brandon Allen’s development will play a key role in determining whether or not the Razorbacks can win a game in SEC play in 2014. North Carolina's Marquise Williams played well in the final half of 2013. If he can pickup where he left off, expect the Tar Heels to finish near the top of the Coastal.
College Football's Top 20 QBs on the Hot Seat for 2014
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, so a rebuilding Arkansas team will have trouble earning a win in conference play for the second year in a row. The Razorbacks’ backfield is among the best in the nation with Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall leading the way. Allen started 2013 on a high note by completing 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards and three scores against UL Lafayette. However, Allen suffered a shoulder injury against Southern Miss and threw only eight touchdowns to nine interceptions over the final eight contests. In SEC play, Allen completed just 47.7 percent of his throws and only eight of his completions went for 30 yards or more. Arkansas’ receiving corps is still a work in progress, but sophomore tight end Hunter Henry is already among the best in the nation. With a potent ground attack and an emerging star at tight end, Allen’s development is critical for a team that needs to upgrade its passing game to push for a bowl in 2014.
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
With Wisconsin losing a few key pieces from last year’s team, Nebraska and Iowa have a good chance to push for the division crown. The Cornhuskers do have their share of personnel concerns, including a rebuilt offensive line and secondary, but this team has talent at the skill positions with running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell. Armstrong was thrown into the fire last year due to an injury to Taylor Martinez and performed well considering the circumstances. Armstrong finished 2013 with 966 passing yards and nine touchdowns and 202 yards on the ground. After learning on the job last season, Armstrong should be prepared for the week-to-week rigors of the Big Ten. And if the sophomore takes a step forward in his development, the Cornhuskers could emerge as the team to beat in the Big Ten’s West Division – and quiet some of the pressure on Bo Pelini.
David Ash, Texas
Ash never had a chance to build off a promising 2012 season, as a concussion prematurely ended his 2013 campaign. In 2012, Ash completed 67.3 percent of his throws for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns. Talent is never a question mark at Texas, and Charlie Strong seems to be the right coach to develop elite recruiting classes into production. However, if the Longhorns want to challenge Baylor or Oklahoma in the Big 12, quarterback play has to improve. Ash’s injury history is a concern, especially as there’s little in the way of proven options on the depth chart, and Max Wittek did not graduate in time to transfer to Austin for 2014. The defense should improve under Strong’s watch this season, and the backfield could be among the best in the nation. The Longhorns don’t need a huge statistical season from Ash, but they definitely need him on the field for all 12 regular season games.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
After five quarterbacks attempted a pass in a NC State uniform last season, second-year coach Dave Doeren is counting on Brissett to bring stability to the Wolfpack’s offense in 2014. Brissett ranked as a four-star recruit by 247Sports in the 2011 signing class and threw for 455 yards and three touchdowns in two years in Gainesville. With Jeff Driskel entrenched as the starter, Brissett transferred to Raleigh for more playing time. The junior should be a good fit in coordinator Matt Canada’s offense and will provide an immediate upgrade for the offense after NC State averaged only 221.6 passing yards per game in 2013. If Brissett struggles, it’s back to the drawing board for Doeren, as true freshman Jalan McClendon is slated to be the No. 2 option.
Brandon Connette, Fresno State
Derek Carr leaves big shoes to fill in Fresno State, and the Bulldogs had three quarterbacks vying for the No. 1 spot in the spring. Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee remain in the mix, with Myles Carr slated to move to receiver. Connette is eligible immediately after transferring from Duke and should have an impact for coach Tim DeRuyter. Connette’s best season with the Blue Devils came in 2013, as he threw for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 14 scores on the ground. It’s never easy replacing someone like Carr, who exited his career as one of the top players in school history. Connette will be asked to throw it a little more than he was at Duke, but his experience should help to provide an easy transition to the starting lineup. If he picks up where he left off in Durham, Connette could lead Fresno State to another Mountain West title.
Jeff Driskel, Florida
Even though Driskel missed nearly all of last season due to injury, it’s still hard to fathom why Florida’s offense averaged only 312.5 yards and 19.9 points per game in SEC play. Change was necessary after a horrific year on offense, with coach Will Muschamp hiring Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays in 2014. Roper’s first priority is to help Driskel (a five-star recruit by 247Sports in 2011) reach his potential. Driskel has displayed promise at times, and his dual-threat ability is an asset for a team struggling to find the right pieces up front. However, Driskel has only one performance of more than 220 passing yards and tossed three picks through the first two games last season. It’s unfair to blame Driskel for all of Florida’s offensive woes, especially since the receiving corps is thin on proven options. If Driskel thrives under Roper, Florida can easily double its win total from 2013. But if Driskel struggles, the Gators will have to turn to true freshman Will Grier or sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg – a move that will likely ensure someone other than Muschamp is on the Florida sideline in 2015.
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Gardner’s first full year as Michigan’s starter had its share of ups and downs, which included a late-season foot injury that pressed Shane Morris into starting duty against Kansas State in the bowl game. On the surface, Gardner wasn’t bad last year. He threw for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 483 yards and 11 scores. Gardner also led the Big Ten (conference-only games) with 269.9 passing yards per game and did not toss a pick in his final four starts. While his overall numbers were solid, Gardner needs to be more consistent. He threw for 97 yards and tossed two picks against UConn, which came one week after throwing three picks against Akron. Gardner went just 13 of 28 against Iowa (98 yards) and threw for only 196 yards on 18 completions against Nebraska. Of course, it’s unfair to blame Gardner for all of Michigan’s problems, as the offensive line, rushing attack and receiving corps each had their share of question marks. If Gardner plays with more consistency, the Wolverines will have a chance to win 10 games. But if the supporting cast struggles, and Gardner is up and down once again, the pressure will start to build even more on coach Brady Hoke.
Hutson Mason, Georgia
Why so much pressure on a first-year quarterback? Even though the Bulldogs are coming off an 8-5 record from 2013, this team has the pieces to be a factor for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff format. Georgia’s offense will have a healthy Todd Gurley at running back, along with receiver Malcolm Mitchell at full strength after missing nearly all of last year with a torn ACL. With Gurley and Mitchell back in the mix, combined with the addition of Jeremy Pruitt as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Bulldogs are poised to push for 10 wins. Of course, much of that depends on Mason. He showed plenty of progress in limited action last year, throwing for 320 yards in awful weather conditions against Nebraska and 299 yards in a victory against Georgia Tech. Georgia usually has no trouble developing solid quarterbacks. If Mason is as good as advertised this spring, the Bulldogs will be a factor in the mix for the SEC title.
Listen to Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Quarterback Breakdown for 2014
Cyler Miles, Washington
Chris Petersen’s first spring in Seattle was somewhat eventful. Miles was suspended for the spring after an off-the-field incident, which allowed Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams to get an early start on learning the new offense. Miles was reinstated earlier this summer and is expected to win the No. 1 job by the season opener. The sophomore was solid in his first taste of FBS action last year, completing 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. Most preseason predictions have Washington as the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Oregon. With the Cardinal visiting Seattle in 2014, the opportunity is there for the Huskies to surprise. But that largely depends on how quickly Miles can pickup the new offense and how fast Petersen can find a replacement for running back Bishop Sankey.
Gary Nova, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were a big winner in realignment by moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten, but it’s not an easy transition for a program coming off a 6-7 record in 2013. The hire of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator was one of the top assistant additions by any FBS team and should help the offense improve after managing only 23 points per game in conference play last season. Nova was benched late in 2013 and has tossed 30 interceptions over the last two seasons. There’s not much in the way of proven options behind Nova for Friedgen, as Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano have yet to complete a pass on the collegiate level. If Friedgen can help Nova limit his mistakes, Rutgers will have a chance to push for a bowl in its Big Ten debut. But if he struggles early in the year, Bimonte or Laviano will see plenty of playing time in 2014.
Kevin Olsen, Miami
Miami’s quarterback situation has already changed significantly since the start of spring practice. Ryan Williams was slated to replace Stephen Morris, but he suffered a torn ACL in the spring, and coach Al Golden added Kansas transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Olsen redshirted in his first season in Coral Gables last year and is on track to start the season opener at Louisville. Four-star recruit Brad Kaaya is set to join the battle this summer, and his development will be critical with Olsen’s inexperience and Heaps learning the offense after joining the team in June.
Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt
James Franklin set the bar high for new coach Derek Mason, and the first-year coach enters 2014 with a glaring question mark at quarterback. Mason hopes Rivers (a LSU transfer) is the answer under center, with redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary also pushing for time. Rivers has prototypical size for a quarterback (6-foot-7) and you may have heard of his brother (Philip) in NFL circles. Rivers played in only four games at LSU and misfired on both of his pass attempts. Making the junior’s job even tougher in 2014 is Vanderbilt’s receiving corps, which lost standout Jordan Matthews to the NFL. With a solid defense and rushing attack, Rivers won’t have to post All-SEC numbers for the Commodores to return to the postseason. However, for a program coming off 18 wins in the last two years and the departure of the team’s No. 1 player (Matthews), there’s extra pressure on the quarterbacks to perform in 2014.
Joel Stave, Wisconsin
The Badgers will once again own one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement headline a backfield that is the best in the Big Ten and is capable of carrying Wisconsin to a Big Ten West Division title. While there are no concerns about the ground attack, coach Gary Andersen is hoping to jumpstart a passing attack that averaged only 201.9 yards per game in Big Ten games last season. Stave certainly wasn’t awful last year, completing 208 passes for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, the staff would like more from its passing attack and is intrigued by Tanner McEvoy, a former junior college recruit who spent some time at safety in 2013. Stave missed part of spring practice due to a shoulder injury, which opened the door for McEvoy to state his case for the No. 1 spot. The Badgers must replace several key players, but the schedule is favorable and there’s a strong rushing attack to lean on. If Stave or McEvoy brings stability under center, Wisconsin can push for a final ranking among the top 10-15 teams in the nation.
Cole Stoudt, Clemson
After Florida State’s Jameis Winston, there is very little in the way of proven options in the ACC at quarterback for 2014. Stoudt is a darkhorse candidate for all-conference honors this year, especially under the direction of coordinator Chad Morris. The senior won a three-way competition in the spring to claim the starting job, which included touted freshman Deshaun Watson. In three years at Clemson, Stoudt has completed 86 of 119 passes for 742 yards and eight scores. If Stoudt successfully replaces Tajh Boyd, the Tigers should be the No. 2 team in the ACC and have a chance to win 10 games. But if he struggles early, expect to hear the calls for Watson increase.
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
There’s very little separation among the top-six teams in the Coastal Division, so the difference between No. 1 and No. 6 could be just a game or two in the final standings. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has recorded at least a .500 mark in ACC play in each of the last six years, but there’s a lot of pressure on the coaching staff to produce after going 14-13 over the last two seasons. Vad Lee decided to transfer after last season, leaving Thomas as the clear No. 1 in Atlanta. Thomas is regarded as an excellent athlete and averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2013. If Thomas runs Johnson’s offense and limits the turnovers, the Yellow Jackets should be in the mix to win the Coastal. However, if he struggles in the starter role, Georgia Tech could have a new coaching staff in 2015.
Dylan Thompson, South Carolina
Similar to Georgia’s Hutson Mason, Thompson isn’t in any danger of losing his starting job, but his play could be the difference in whether or not South Carolina wins the East. After throwing for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns in relief of Connor Shaw in 2012, Thompson wasn’t as sharp in 2013. He posted a better completion percentage in 2013 (58.4 percent after 52.0 in 2012), but his interception total increased by one on fewer attempts, and Thompson left room for improvement in his performances against Missouri and UCF. Coach Steve Spurrier has already anointed Thompson as the starter, so there’s little doubt about the depth chart. However, the Gamecocks hope a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback helps Thompson produce like an All-SEC passer.
Clint Trickett, West Virginia
Considering West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is known for his pass-first offenses, it seems odd for the Mountaineers to enter the season with so much uncertainty at quarterback. However, that’s the scenario playing out in Morgantown this offseason, as none of the quarterbacks claimed the job in spring practice. West Virginia finished 2013 ranked No. 3 in the Big 12 (conference-only games) in passing offense, but the Mountaineers tossed 13 picks and threw just 12 touchdowns in nine league games. Trickett led the team with 1,605 yards and seven touchdown passes last season but was forced to miss spring workouts due to shoulder surgery. With West Virginia facing a tough non-conference schedule (Alabama and Maryland), and the pressure to rebound after a 4-8 mark in 2013, the Mountaineers need Trickett to be the answer under center. If he isn’t, junior college recruit Skyler Howard or Paul Millard will move into the starting lineup. True freshman William Crest is a wildcard to watch.
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
With the personnel losses at LSU and Texas A&M, Ole Miss has a chance to make some noise in the SEC West. The Rebels have made steady improvement under coach Hugh Freeze and a healthy year from Wallace should make a difference. After offseason shoulder surgery, Wallace watched his touchdown total dip from 22 in 2012 to 18 last season, while he averaged just 11.8 yards per completion in 2013. Quarterbacks that have shoulder surgery seem to need a full year before returning to 100 percent. If Wallace builds off his progress from the last two seasons and stays healthy, the Rebels could push for nine wins in 2014.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
With victories in six out of their last seven games, North Carolina has momentum on its side in 2014. And there are many reasons to be optimistic about the offense, as coach Larry Fedora has recruited a wealth of talent at the skill positions, and Williams showed promise in a limited stint as the team’s starting quarterback last year. The Charlotte native is a good fit for Fedora’s offense, and his dual-threat ability is a valuable asset for a team with a rebuilding offensive line. The junior finished 2013 with 1,698 yards and 15 scores, but he was pushed for snaps in the spring by redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Williams is already feeling pressure on the depth chart to perform to hold onto his No. 1 spot. However, there’s added demands on Williams with North Carolina in position to win the Coastal. The good news for the Tar Heels: It seems like there are two quarterbacks Fedora feels comfortable with. The bad news: If Williams struggles, the quarterback battle will begin once again with Trubisky ready to claim the starting job.
Justin Worley, Tennessee
Butch Jones enters his second season at Tennessee with a myriad of question marks, none bigger than who starts at quarterback for the opener against Utah State. The Volunteers finished spring with three quarterbacks fighting for snaps, but Riley Ferguson transferred, leaving Worley and Joshua Dobbs vying for the No. 1 spot. Worley started seven games in 2013 and threw for 10 touchdowns and 1,239 yards in 2013. However, a thumb injury ended his season in late October. With a challenging schedule ahead in 2014, finding a quarterback could be the difference in Tennessee making a bowl or missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
The 2014 college football season kicks off on Aug. 27 and concludes in Dallas with the first four-team playoff in the FBS ranks on January 12, 2015. Since it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming college football season, Athlon Sports has already released its projected rankings, predictions for all 10 leagues and all-conference teams for 2014.
With the predictions and all-conference teams released, it’s time to take a look at the best players in the nation.
Athlon Sports continues its countdown to 2014 with our first, second, third and fourth All-America teams.
An important note on the All-America teams: These are based on how players will perform in 2014. Career statistics and awards matter in the evaluation, but choosing players for the 2014 All-America and all-conference teams are largely based on predicting and projecting the best for the upcoming year.
Athlon's 2014 All-Conference Teams: ACC | American Athletic | Big 12 | Big Ten | C-USA | MAC | MW | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt
Athlon Sports 2014 All-America Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense||Fourth-Team Offense|
|Max Tuerk (C)|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense||Fourth-Team Defense|
|Cedric Reed (DE)|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists||Fourth-Team Specialists|
Conference Breakdown of Athlon's 2014 All-America Team
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team||Fourth Team|
Sp. Teams: 2
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 2
|American Athletic||Offense: 0 |
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 0
|Big 12||Offense: 1|
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
|Big Ten||Offense: 1|
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 1
|Mountain West||Offense: 0|
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
|Notre Dame||Offense: 0|
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 1
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 2
Sp. Teams: 0
Sp. Teams: 0
Eastern Michigan is arguably the toughest job in college football. Located in Ypsilanti, EMU is less than 10 miles from the University of Michigan, and the Eagles’ last winning season was in 1995. Eastern Michigan has just one bowl appearance in its history (1987).
New coach Chris Creighton was a good hire for Eastern Michigan, and the program is doing everything it can to raise its profile by announcing plans to use a gray field in 2014.
Much like Boise State’s blue field and Eastern Washington’s red turf, Eastern Michigan hopes to create some buzz about its program by adding a different look to its field.
Here’s a picture from the school’s instagram account: