Articles By Steven Lassan
Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson recently announced his intention to transfer, and after considering a couple of schools, he has found a new home at Big Ten newcomer Rutgers.
Due to NCAA transfer rules, Nelson must sit out 2014 and will be eligible to play in 2015.
In two years at Minnesota, Nelson threw for 2,179 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 548 yards and six scores.
Nelson’s transfer to Rutgers comes at a good time for the Scarlet Knights. Gary Nova is likely to start in 2014, but he will expire his eligibility at the end of the season, leaving Nelson with a path to the starting spot.
College football’s 2014 season is still several months away, and spring practice won’t begin for many teams until March. However, it’s never too early to look ahead. With the official list of early entries into the draft finalized, a clear picture is starting to form on how the teams will stack up in 2014.
Texas A&M is just one school replacing key players, as quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans declared for the NFL Draft. Manziel’s replacement could be senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill or true freshman Kyle Allen.
Louisville is another team looking to fill a huge void under center. Teddy Bridgewater is expected to be one of the first players off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft, leaving big shoes to fill for the Cardinals. Sophomore Will Gardner is expected to replace Bridgewater, and he will have the luxury of throwing to standout receiver DeVante Parker in 2014.
In addition to Will Gardner and the quarterbacks at Texas A&M, we tried to identify 10 players under the spotlight replacing some of the biggest names in college football next year. This isn’t a complete list of replacements for the top players or departing All-Americans, but these players are just a small sample of names to watch next year.
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football in 2014
Kyle Allen/Kenny Hill/Matt Joeckel, QB, Texas A&M
Replacing a starting quarterback in college football is a difficult assignment for any team. But try replacing a Heisman winner that accounted for 9,989 yards and 93 touchdowns in two seasons. That’s the task facing Kyle Allen, Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel in College Station next season, as Johnny Manziel chose to leave for the NFL after two years. Hill ranked as the No. 24 quarterback in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports. He played in four games as a true freshman, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. Hill also rushed for 37 yards. Joeckel has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, owning 49 career pass attempts. He started the season opener against Rice due to a one-half suspension for Manziel. While Hill and Joeckel own an edge in experience, Allen is the name to watch. The Arizona native ranks as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and will enroll in time to compete in spring practice. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the supporting cast should be among the best in the SEC. If Allen quickly picks up the offense in spring practice, his talent will win out over the experience of Joeckel and Hill.
Ben Braden/Erik Magnuson, OT, Michigan
Michigan’s offense finished 2013 ranked a disappointing 10th in the Big Ten by averaging 373.5 yards per game. In order for the Wolverines to contend with Ohio State and Michigan State in the East Division in 2014, the offensive line has to improve. But that’s easier said than done, especially as the unit’s most consistent and best lineman have expired their eligibility (Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield). Lewan was a second-team Associated Press All-American and started 48 games in his career. The interior of the line was a huge problem in 2013 but losing Lewan and Schofield is an even bigger concern for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Filling Lewan’s place on the line could be Braden or Magnuson. Braden played in two games in 2013, while Magnuson made seven starts at guard. Considering all of the problems on the interior in 2013, Michigan’s problems aren’t limited to just one position. However, if Braden or Magnuson can’t anchor the left side of the line, the Wolverines’ offense will be stuck in neutral once again in 2014.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Since 2010, three Alabama linebackers have been selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, and departing senior C.J. Mosley is likely to increase that total in 2014. Is Foster next in the line of standout Crimson Tide linebackers? He was the No. 7 overall player in the 2013 signing class and played sparingly as a true freshman, recording 12 tackles in nine appearances. Foster was listed as the backup to Trey DePriest in the middle, but he will be tough to keep off the field next season. And at 6-foot-1, 244 pounds, Foster is already one of the Crimson Tide’s most physical defenders. Expect Foster to be a household name in the SEC next year.
Will Gardner, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater leaves big shoes to fill in the Louisville offense after throwing for 9,817 yards and 72 touchdowns over the last three seasons. But the Cardinals won’t slip too much on offense in their first season in the ACC. New coach Bobby Petrino is one of the top offensive minds in the conference, and receiver DeVante Parker decided to return for his final season at Louisville instead of entering the NFL Draft. Gardner is slated to replace Bridgewater this spring as the No. 1 quarterback. The Georgia native was a three-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and redshirted in his first season on campus after tearing his ACL. Gardner didn’t see a ton of action in 2013, completing only 8 of 12 passes for 112 yards and two scores. He did not record a pass attempt in the final five games of the season. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Gardner has the physical tools a coach wants in a quarterback. With Parker returning at receiver and Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown back at running back, Gardner won’t have to win games on his own next year.
Joshua Garnett, OG, Stanford
A staple of Stanford’s success over the last four seasons has been the offensive line. The Cardinal has owned one of the nation’s top groups during that span, but this unit has to be remodeled for 2014. Four starters are gone, including standout guard David Yankey and tackle Cameron Fleming. While offensive lines usually take a few games to jell, the Cardinal won’t be short on talent in the trenches. Left tackle Andrus Peat should be in the mix for All-America honors next year, while Garnett, Connor McFadden, Kyle Murphy, Johnny Caspers and Graham Shuler will battle to round out the starting five. Garnett was a key reserve in 2013 and made one start against Washington State. The Washington native was a four-star prospect by 247Sports in the 2012 signing class and played in all 14 games as a true freshman. Yankey will be missed, but Garnett is a future star on Stanford’s offensive line.
Nile Lawrence-Stample, DT, Florida State
Florida State doesn’t lose much talent off its national championship team, but the Seminoles have a glaring concern at defensive tackle. Timmy Jernigan left early for the NFL after a standout junior campaign, leaving the defense with a group of talented, but largely inexperienced options. In addition to Jernigan, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel also depart from the interior. Lawrence-Stample is the team’s top returning defensive tackle after starting six games and recording 15 tackles. The Florida native has played in 21 career contests and was rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports in the 2011 signing class. Lawrence-Stample doesn’t need to be Jernigan, but he also needs to have a bigger role in the defense next year. His 305-pound frame will be critical to stopping the run at the point of attack. Helping Lawrence-Stample on the interior will be Keith Bryant, Justin Hanks, Derek Mitchell and Desmond Hollin. There’s talent here, but how quickly will this group develop?
Darryl Render, DT, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald closed out an outstanding career in the Steel City by winning the Bronko Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik and Outland trophies, along with garnering several first-team All-American honors in 2013. Donald’s production and attention he required from opposing offensive lines will be tough for Render to replace in 2014. However, Render has flashed plenty of ability over the last two seasons and should be a key cog in Pittsburgh’s line next year. As a true freshman in 2012, he made one start and recorded six tackles. Render was more active around the line of scrimmage as a sophomore, playing in all 13 games and registering 25 stops. With Donald and nose tackle Tyrone Ezell both out of eligibility, the interior of Pittsburgh’s line will have a different look next year. Render showed improvement as the 2013 season progressed, and all signs point to another year of growth in 2014.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
The Spartans are losing a couple of key pieces from their Big Ten Championship defense, starting in the trenches with tackles Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds and continuing into the back seven with linebacker Max Bullough and in the secondary with Dennard and Isaiah Lewis. We could focus on any of those areas, but let’s put the spotlight on Waynes. Dennard was one of the nation’s top defensive backs over the last few seasons and a true shut down corner. Waynes started all 14 games for Michigan State in 2014 and finished the year with 50 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. With Dennard out of eligibility, Waynes will become the No. 1 cornerback for the Spartans. Is he up to the task of matching up against the top receiver against opposing offenses?
Myles Willis, RB, Boston College
Boston College was one of the biggest surprises in the ACC last season, finishing 7-6 under new coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles should be back in the mix for a bowl next year, but Addazio has some work to do on offense. Quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon all must be replaced. Williams led the nation with an average of 167.5 rushing yards per game. That type of production will be hard to replace, but Willis showed he is a capable replacement from a limited stint last season. The Georgia native rushed 60 times for 346 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. He was also a weapon on kick returns, taking one of his 30 attempts back for a touchdown. When Andre Williams missed time due to a shoulder injury at Syracuse, Willis rushed 17 times for 70 yards. Boston College should have a solid offensive line next year, and with a new quarterback taking over, the ground attack should be the focus of the offense. Willis is only 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, so he isn’t likely to handle 250 or more carries. However, he should be a key cog in the Eagles’ offense next year.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Clemson’s passing game will look significantly different in 2014. Quarterback Tajh Boyd expired his eligibility, and receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant left early for the NFL. But the news isn’t all bad for the Tigers. Coordinator Chad Morris didn’t leave for a head coaching gig, and the staff should feel confident in Boyd’s potential replacements (Deshaun Watson, Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly). With Watkins and Bryant leaving, Williams needs to step up and emerge as one of the top targets for the new quarterback. As a true freshman in 2013, Williams caught 20 passes for 316 yards and three scores. His best performance came against Citadel, catching three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Williams won’t be the only receiver returning for Clemson, as Adam Humphries and Charone Peake round out a talented trio of options. However, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds with plenty of upside, the Tigers are counting on Williams to be a breakout receiver in 2014.
South Florida is coming off a 2-10 season, but the program has momentum. The Bulls are set to reel in one of the American Athletic Conference’s top recruiting classes and there’s a solid cast of returning talent for next season.
And to help this team turn the page for next season, South Florida has unveiled two new chrome designs for its helmets.
The first features a matte green with a large USF logo, while the other helmet is a gold chrome design similar to what Baylor wore this season.
Overall, this is a solid concept for South Florida and should only help second-year coach Willie Taggart raise the profile of his program this offseason:
First piece of armor for for the revolution.. GO BULLS!! 2014 here we come!!! pic.twitter.com/FXnvU4mxPV— Eric Mathies (@CoachMathies) January 25, 2014
Alabama is set to land one of the nation’s top signing classes in early February, but Nick Saban’s most important recruit of 2014 isn’t a freshman. Instead, that honor falls to Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker, who announced he will officially transfer to Alabama after completing his degree in Tallahassee.
Coker will graduate from Florida State in May and is immediately eligible to play in 2014.
Who is Jacob Coker?
Coker has spent the last three years at Florida State, serving as a backup to Jameis Winston and EJ Manuel. After redshirting his freshman season, Coker completed 3 of 5 passes for 45 yards and one touchdown in mop-up duty in 2012. As a result of Florida State’s dominant performance and big leads in the second half in 2013, Coker’s playing time increased. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 250 yards and one pick.
A knee injury suffered against Wake Forest prevented him from playing in the final five games of 2013. However, in a small sample size, Coker is averaging 14 yards per pass attempt and has completed 55 percent of his throws.
Coker wasn’t an elite prospect coming out of high school, ranking as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.
However, he was not an easy prospect to evaluate out of St. Paul’s Episcopal (Mobile, Ala.). Coker played in a wing-T offense until his senior season and finished his career by throwing for 1,508 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2011.
Coker has good mobility for a quarterback that is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. During his senior year at St. Paul’s Episcopal, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry, while averaging 21.9 points per game as a member of the basketball team.
Obviously, it’s hard to evaluate a quarterback with zero career starts. However, there’s a lot to like about Coker.
At 6-foot-5, he has the size and arm strength coaches want in their quarterback. Coker also has good mobility and learned under a quarterback guru in Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Also, Coker gave Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston a battle for the starting job in preseason practices.
Alabama’s Quarterback Battle
With Coker officially added to the roster, Alabama has six quarterbacks slated to battle for the top spot in spring practice.
Blake Sims has the most experience of any quarterback in Tuscaloosa, but all signs point to someone different starting in the opener against West Virginia.
There’s also a wildcard factor to keep in mind. Alabama has a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin, and it’s expected he will make a few tweaks to the offense.
Here’s a look at the quarterbacks and where they ranked in high school:
|Year of Eligibility||Games Played at Alabama||Passes Thrown at Alabama||Recruiting Rank|
|Jacob Coker||JR||0 (11 at FSU)||0 (41 at FSU)|
Graduate Transfer Quarterbacks and Success
While there’s no shortage of hype surrounding Coker, there’s also no guarantee this will work out for Alabama.
In the recent history of graduate transfer quarterbacks, there are some success stories, but also a lot of duds.
|Comp.||Att.||Comp. %||Yards||TDs||INTs||Rush Yds||Rush TD||W/L Record|
|Drew Allen, Syracuse||68||122||55.7||666||2||9||0||0||7-6 (2013)|
|Chazz Anderson, Buffalo||230||406||56.6||2,454||11||9||309||7||3-9 (2011)|
|Taylor Bennett, La. Tech||66||167||39.5||873||2||6||55||0||8-5 (2008)|
|Allan Bridgford, USM||112||207||54.1||1,133||6||11||-81||0||1-11 (2013)|
|Dayne Crist, Kansas||103||216||47.7||1,313||4||9||-66||0||1-11 (2012)|
|Kirby Freeman, Baylor||6||13||46.2||49||1||2||0||0||4-8 (2008)|
|Garrett Gilbert, SMU||268||506||52.9||2,932||15||15||346||8||7-6 (2012)|
|Nick Hirschman, Akron||3||8||53.3||162||3||0||-23||1||5-7 (2013)|
|Jacob Karam, Memphis||3||7||42.9||22||0||0||-16||0||3-9 (2013)|
|Ryan Katz, SDSU||99||163||60.7||1,348||13||4||287||4||9-4 (2012)|
|Adam Kennedy, Ark. St||218||315||69.2||2,363||11||6||524||4||8-5 (2013)|
|Jeremiah Masoli, Ole Miss||167||296||56.4||2,039||14||13||544||6||4-8 (2010)|
|Ben Mauk, Cincinnati||235||386||60.9||3,121||31||9||376||3||10-3 (2007)|
|Brandon Mitchell, NC State||86||151||57.0||1,011||7||6||274||2||3-9 (2013)|
|Danny O'Brien, Wisconsin||52||86||60.5||523||3||1||-82||0||8-6 (2012)|
|Greg Paulus, Syracuse||193||285||67.7||2,024||13||14||-12||1||4-8 (2009)|
|Sean Schroeder, Hawaii||175||344||50.9||1,878||11||12||-169||1||3-9 (2012)|
|Jameill Showers, UTEP||107||188||56.9||1,263||11||4||195||4||2-10 (2013)|
|Clint Trickett, W. Virginia||123||233||52.8||1,605||7||7||-29||1||4-8 (2013)|
|Jordan Webb, Colorado||144||265||54.3||1,434||8||8||-135||2||1-11 (2012)|
|Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||225||309||72.8||3,175||33||4||338||6||11-3 (2011)|
Alabama is loaded for another run at the national championship. With one of the nation’s top backfields and receiving corps returning, all that’s missing on offense is a quarterback. And of course, a left tackle must be found to replace Cyrus Kouandjio.
If Coker is as good as advertised, then the Crimson Tide is landing their biggest (and most important recruit) for 2014. Alabama is picked as the No. 2 team in Athlon’s very early top 25 for next season and is a slight favorite to win the SEC West over Auburn.
However, there’s also the possibility this move could backfire for Nick Saban. With six quarterbacks on the roster, one or two could transfer after fall practice. And if Coker struggles, Alabama would be losing potential replacements.
This is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Crimson Tide. Coker has the talent to succeed in this offense. And it’s not like Coker is being asked to win games all on his own. After all, Alabama has one of the nation’s top defenses and supporting casts on offense. With two years of eligibility remaining, Coker is a better acquisition than a one-year graduate transfer.
There’s a lot of pressure on Coker’s shoulders to perform (and perform well right away), especially with Alabama in the thick of the SEC and national championship discussion for 2014. Despite the immense pressure on Coker’s right arm, all signs point to this being a potential move that plays a significant role in shaping the SEC and national championship picture.
College football’s Heisman Trophy won’t be awarded until next December, but it’s never too early to think about the frontrunners for next season.
Bovada has released its early odds for 2014, and there’s a familiar face at the top. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to repeat, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a 7/2 favorite.
Quarterbacks own five out of the top seven spots in the early odds. Running backs T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are the only skill players in the top seven.
Also of interest: No wide receivers make the early odds for 2014.
Here’s the early list of favorites to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy from Bovada:
|Jameis Winston (QB Florida State)||2/1|
|Marcus Mariota (QB Oregon)||7/2|
|Braxton Miller (QB Ohio State)||4/1|
|T.J. Yeldon (RB Alabama)||5/1|
|Bryce Petty (QB Baylor)||6/1|
|Brett Hundley (QB UCLA)||12/1|
|Todd Gurley (RB Georgia)||12/1|
|Mike Davis (RB South Carolina)||15/1|
|Melvin Gordon (RB Wisconsin)||16/1|
|Everett Golson (Notre Dame)||25/1|
|Trevor Knight (QB Oklahoma)||25/1|
|Duke Johnson (RB Miami)||33/1|
|Karlos Williams (RB Florida State)||33/1|
|Matt Johnson (QB Bowling Green)||66/1|
|Rakeem Cato (QB Marshall)||66/1|
With Jameis Winston entrenched as Florida State’s quarterback next season, playing time was going to be limited for Jacob Coker, and the sophomore has decided to transfer from Tallahassee to Alabama. With Coker set to graduate in May, he can transfer to another team and start in 2014.
Coker was Florida State’s backup quarterback for the first half of the season, throwing for 250 yards on 18 completions. However, he suffered a knee injury and was forced to miss the final six games.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Coker completed 3 of 5 passes for 45 yards.
Coker was only a three-star prospect coming out of high school. However, the Alabama native has all of the physical tools necessary to become a starting quarterback for a BCS team.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and a strong arm, Coker is expected to be highly sought after this spring.
The Crimson Tide need a replacement for AJ McCarron, and Coker would be a good fit for their offense.
With Coker transferring to Alabama, he joins a crowded depth chart at quarterback. Blake Sims has the most experience of any passer on the team, but Alec Morris, Parker McLeod, Cooper Bateman and incoming freshman David Cornwell will compete for the job this preseason.
Northwestern running back Venric Mark was expected to be one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in 2013, but an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the season.
But the Wildcats received some good news for 2014 this week, as Mark was granted a fifth-year of eligibility, and the Texas native will return to Northwestern next year.
Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 104 yards in 2012.
He was also a huge factor on special teams in 2012, averaging 18.7 yards per punt return and taking two back for scores.
Considering Mark is listed at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, he isn’t a player that can handle 300 carries. However, having the senior back in the lineup is a huge plus for Northwestern’s offense. Mark should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors in 2014.
After a conference season to forget, Northwestern gets great news for '14 - Venric Mark granted an extra year http://t.co/DmDLOrh0r9— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) January 22, 2014
This just in: #Northwestern RB Venric Mark granted fifth year of eligibility. Great news.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) January 21, 2014
After a whopping 31 changes last year, college football’s head coach carousel was relatively quiet this offseason.
The 2013-14 cycle featured just 20 teams making a switch at head coach. But the offseason wasn’t short on drama, as two of college football’s premier jobs opened (USC and Texas), while there was movement in early January at Penn State, UAB and Vanderbilt.
All 20 schools hiring a coach graded out well in this year’s report card. There were no D’s or F’s awarded, and eight schools will be bringing home a letter grade of A.
Penn State and Washington were the two biggest winners of the coaching cycle. The Nittany Lions hired James Franklin away from Vanderbilt, while the Huskies managed to lure Chris Petersen from Boise State. Franklin and Petersen should win plenty of games at their new home.
Louisville made one of the most intriguing moves of the offseason by hiring Bobby Petrino to replace Charlie Strong. Petrino is no stranger to Louisville, but he certainly comes with some baggage.
At the bottom of the rankings, Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm ranks as the No. 20 coach in the hires, but he should be a good fit in Bowling Green.
In most coaching cycles, there will be a handful of teams that simply make a bad hire. But in 2014, all schools appear to have met their needs and hired a quality coach.
Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2014
1. James Franklin, Penn State
Previous Job: Head coach at Vanderbilt
Career Record: 24-15 (3 years)
Bill O’Brien only stayed at Penn State for two seasons, but he stabilized and kept the program from collapsing after NCAA sanctions limited scholarships and included a four-year bowl ban. Fast forward to 2014 and the Nittany Lions are slowly digging out of the NCAA sanctions, and the program made the offseason’s top hire by pulling Franklin away from Vanderbilt. Penn State is one of the top 15-20 jobs in college football, and with Franklin leading the way, this program is poised to return to national prominence. In three years at Vanderbilt – the SEC’s toughest job – Franklin guided the Commodores to a 24-15 mark, including back-to-back nine-win seasons. Under Franklin’s watch, Vanderbilt finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll in both 2012 and '13 and went 9-7 in SEC play during that span. The nine victories in SEC play since 2012 are the best two-year conference record for the Commodores since 1934-35. In addition to his success on the field, Franklin is regarded as an outstanding recruiter and motivator. Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania and played his college ball at East Stroudsburg, so coming to Penn State is essentially a homecoming for the 41-year-old coach. Some will dismiss Franklin’s record as not enough for a job like Penn State. However, let’s also consider how difficult it is to win at Vanderbilt. Franklin is bringing a top-notch staff to Happy Valley, including offensive line coach Herb Hand and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Expect Franklin to win – and win big – at Penn State.
Final Grade: A+
2. Chris Petersen, Washington
Previous Job: Head coach at Boise State
Career Record: 92-12 (8 years)
Petersen’s name popped up for various openings at BCS programs over the last seven years, but he stayed at Boise State for eight years, recording an impressive 92-12 mark with two BCS bowl victories. Despite turning down overtures from BCS programs in previous seasons, 2014 was just the right time for Petersen to leave Boise State. Petersen is a California native, but he has spent most of his coaching tenure in the Pacific Northwest. Petersen worked as an assistant at Portland State from 1993-94, Oregon from 1995-2000 and at Boise State from 2001-05. After Dan Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was promoted to head coach in 2006. The Broncos won at least 10 games in seven of Petersen’s eight seasons and had four top-10 finishes in the Associated Press poll. Matching 92 victories in eight years will be difficult at Washington, but Petersen is a good fit for Seattle. Former coach Steve Sarkisian rebuilt a program that bottomed out after an 0-12 mark in 2008. But now it’s up to Petersen to elevate Washington back into Pac-12 title contention. With a new stadium and good facilities, everything is in place for the Huskies to win big.
Final Grade: A+
3. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Previous Job: Head coach at North Dakota State
Career Record: 104-32 (11 years)
Considering North Dakota State’s recent success, it was no surprise Bohl was hired by a FBS program. But it comes as a surprise he ends up at Wyoming and not a BCS team. Regardless of location or team, Wyoming made one of the top hires of the 2013-14 coaching carousel. Bohl was hired as North Dakota State’s coach in 2003 and had only one losing season during his 11-year stint in Fargo. The Bison moved to the FCS level in 2004 and won 35 games in their first four seasons after making the transition. After an 9-13 stint from 2008-09, North Dakota State has emerged as the top program in the FCS ranks. The Bison are 43-2 over their last three years and won three consecutive FCS titles. Prior to taking over at North Dakota State, Bohl worked as an assistant under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich at Nebraska, while also making stops at Duke, Rice, Wisconsin and Tulsa. Bohl isn’t flashy, and he prefers a strong defense and rushing attack to the wide-open spread offenses taking over college football. But make no mistake, he knows how to win and built North Dakota State into a powerhouse on the FCS level. There’s a lot of work to be done at Wyoming and rebuilding won’t be easy. However, Bohl is clearly capable of leading the Cowboys back into Mountain West title contention.
Final Grade: A+
4. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Stanford
Career Record: First Season
In terms of fit, there’s not a better one in this coaching cycle than Mason and Vanderbilt. Mason spent the last four years at Stanford, including the last three as the defensive coordinator. Under Mason’s direction, the Cardinal never allowed an average of more than 22 points per game from 2011-13 and allowed less than five yards per play in 2012-13. Prior to his stint at Stanford, Mason worked for three years with the Vikings (2007-09) and served as an assistant at a handful of stops, including Ohio, New Mexico State, St. Mary’s, Utah, Bucknell, Idaho State, Weber State and San Diego Mesa College. Despite his connections on the West Coast, Mason recruited Florida for Stanford, and his experience at an academic institution will be a huge plus as he attempts to replicate Franklin’s success. There’s very little to dislike about this hire for Vanderbilt. Mason is one of the top coordinators in college football and is well-liked by his players. He also is a good recruiter and developed some of the Pac-12’s top defensive players during his stint in Palo Alto. The only knock on Mason is a lack of head coaching experience, especially as he jumps into the SEC. Also, Franklin was persistent about facility and program upgrades. Can Mason continue to push Vanderbilt for more improvements to keep this program trending in the right direction?
Final Grade: A
5. Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Previous Job: Head coach at Eastern Illinois
Career Record: 19-7 (2 years)
With a wealth of experience and a background on offense, Babers should feel right at home in the MAC next season. After spending nearly 30 years as an assistant, Babers earned his first head coaching gig at Eastern Illinois in 2012. The Panthers went 7-5 in Babers’ first season and 12-2 in 2013, losing to Towson in the FCS playoffs. Prior to Babers tenure, Eastern Illinois won just four games in two seasons. Babers inherited quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – a likely pick in the 2014 NFL Draft – but he transformed the Illinois native into the 2013 Walter Payton Award winner. Before he was a head coach at Eastern Illinois, Babers worked as an assistant under Art Briles at Baylor for three seasons and made stops at UCLA, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, Arizona, San Diego State, Purdue, Northern Arizona and UNLV. Babers has clearly paid his dues as an assistant and transformed Eastern Illinois into a playoff team in back-to-back seasons. Yes, there’s some risk hiring someone who has only two years of head coaching experience, but Babers’ offense-first approach should work for a Bowling Green team that returns quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene in 2014.
Final Grade: A
6. Charlie Strong, Texas
Previous Job: Head coach at Louisville
Career Record: 37-16 (4 years)
Mack Brown set the bar high for Texas after a run of nine seasons with at least 10 wins from 2001-09. But the Longhorns regressed at the end of his tenure, finishing the last four years with an 18-17 record in Big 12 play. Strong isn’t the politician that Brown was, but a different approach is what Texas needs. In four years at Louisville, Strong went 37-15 and won 23 games over the last two seasons. The Cardinals played in four straight bowl games under Strong’s watch and finished in the top 15 of the final Associated Press poll in both 2012 and '13. Strong also transformed Louisville’s defense, as the Cardinals never finished outside of the top 25 nationally in yards allowed per game. As evidenced by the numbers above, there are no doubts about Strong’s coaching ability. He’s an excellent motivator and is a strong X’s and O’s coach. But his decision to leave Louisville – a year after turning down Tennessee – is a surprise. Despite all of the perks and built-in advantages of coaching in Texas, Strong doesn’t seem like the best fit in Austin. For a coach that isn’t crazy about media obligations, he will face extra scrutiny with the Longhorn Network – something that could eat into his time to coach each week. It may not be the best possible fit, but Strong is going to bring immediate improvement to Texas in 2014.
Final Grade: A-
7. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Previous Job: Head coach at Bowling Green
Career Record: 90-80 (14 years)
Clawson inherits one of the toughest jobs in the ACC, but the New York native is a proven winner at three previous stops. From 1999-2003 at Fordham, he recorded a 29-29 mark over five seasons, which included 26 wins over the final three years. Clawson went 3-8 in his first season at Richmond but rebounded to win 26 games over the final three seasons. The Spiders also finished in the top 10 of the final FCS poll twice. Clawson experienced immediate success at Bowling Green, guiding the Falcons to a 7-6 record in 2009. The program took a step back in 2010, bottoming out to 2-10 overall. But Clawson’s team wasn’t down for long, as he improved Bowling Green’s win total by three games from 2010 to '11, and the Falcons made back-to-back bowls in 2012-13. He also has experience from time as an offense coordinator at Tennessee (2008) and Villanova (1996-98). Jim Grobe took Wake Forest to new heights in 2006, but the Demon Deacons were unable to sustain that success for long. Clawson has a tough job ahead in the coming seasons, but he has a track record of success and has won at three different programs. Considering Clawson has excelled at getting the most out of his roster at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, that coaching style should work at a place like Wake Forest where recruiting five- or four-star players is tough.
Final Grade: A-
8. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Previous Job: Head coach at Western Kentucky
Career Record: 83-30 (9 years)
Mention the name Bobby Petrino to any college football fan and you are likely to get a variety of reactions. Sure, there’s baggage. Petrino left Louisville after signing a 10-year contract in 2006, had a disastrous one-year stint with the Falcons and was fired after lying to Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long in '12. After the end of his tenure in Fayetteville, it’s surprising Petrino has rebounded this quickly into a BCS job. He spent 2013 at Western Kentucky, guiding the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 mark. Petrino’s career record is 83-30 and he has only one season of fewer than eight wins in his nine seasons in college. There’s no question what you are getting with Petrino. The Montana native is going to win a lot of games and is one of the top offensive minds in college football. But you also inherit the baggage, and the concern he’s always looking to jump to another job. However, if there’s anyone that could hire Petrino away from Western Kentucky, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is one of the few. Jurich, widely respected as one of the top athletic directors in college football, likely knows Petrino better than anyone. And with a $10 million buyout, Petrino isn’t going anywhere. With a move to the ACC on tap, this is an important hire for Louisville. Bringing back Petrino probably isn’t the most popular move for this program, but Jurich is choosing familiarity and a proven winner. In a tougher league, the Cardinals need to be competitive right away and the baggage is worth the risk.
Final Grade: B+
9. Steve Sarkisian, USC
Previous Job: Head coach at Washington
Career Record: 34-29 (5 years)
After five years at Washington, Sarkisian returns to his old stomping grounds, taking over at one of college football’s premier jobs. Sarkisian’s overall record at Washington was only 34-29, but the Huskies made considerable progress under his watch. Prior to Sarkisian’s arrival in 2009, Washington won just 11 games in the four previous seasons. The Huskies won at least five Pac-12 contests in four out of Sarkisian’s five years in Seattle, with a 4-5 mark in his first season. Washington didn’t win big, but there was clear progress. And with Oregon and Stanford among the nation’s elite, it wasn’t easy for the Huskies to make any progress in the Pac-12 North. At USC, Sarkisian isn’t inheriting a rebuilding project and this is arguably one of the top five jobs in college football. The heavy NCAA sanctions this program was handed as a result of the Reggie Bush investigation are nearly over. Everything appears to be set for the Trojans to return to national prominence. While Sarkisian may not have been the splashy hire some USC fans expected, he’s a California native with previous experience at USC. He’s also a good offensive coach and has recruited four consecutive top-25 classes at Washington. Armed with a top-notch staff, Sarkisian is capable of winning big at USC.
Final Grade: B
10. Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Previous Job: Head coach at Arkansas State
Career Record: 7-5 (1 year)
It’s hard to call a coach a perfect fit for any job, but Harsin is truly a perfect match for Boise State. Harsin grew up in Boise, played with the Broncos from 1995-99 and later served as an assistant at the school from 2001-10. As Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006-10, he directed an attack that averaged at least 400 yards in every season. Harsin was hired at Texas in 2011 and called the plays for the Longhorns for two seasons. He spent one year as the head coach at Arkansas State, helping the Red Wolves to a 7-5 overall record with an appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. Harsin’s team lost to Auburn, Memphis and Missouri in non-conference play but lost by just three points to Western Kentucky and 23-7 to Sun Belt champ Louisiana-Lafayette. Replacing Chris Petersen is a tough assignment, but Harsin seems to be the perfect fit. Harsin’s one-year stint at Arkansas State will help with his takeover at Boise State, especially as he inherits a team capable of winning the Mountain West in 2014.
Final Grade: B
11. Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern
Previous Job: Head coach at Sam Houston State
Career Record: 176-67-1 (21 years)
Georgia Southern is set to transition from the FCS ranks to the FBS level in 2014. The Eagles are losing a good coach in Jeff Monken, but Fritz is a proven winner at three different stops. After serving as an assistant at Coffeyville College and Sam Houston State from 1987-92, Fritz landed his first head coach gig at Blinn College in 1993. In four seasons, Fritz guided Blinn College to a 39-5-1 record. He coached at Central Missouri from 1997-2009 and accumulated a 97-47 mark. Fritz was hired at Sam Houston State in 2010 and guided the Bearkats to a 6-5 record in his first season, followed by three consecutive playoff appearances. Sam Houston State went 14-1 in 2011 and won 20 games from 2012-13. Fritz will have an interesting decision to make in terms of scheme. The Eagles ran the option under Monken, while Fritz used a spread at Sam Houston State. Transitioning to a different scheme will take time, but with Fritz’s strong track record, he should have Georgia Southern competitive right away in the Sun Belt.
Final Grade: B
12. Bob Diaco, Connecticut
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Notre Dame
Career Record: First Season
Every head coach hire is important for a program, but this one carries even bigger importance for Connecticut. With Louisville and Rutgers departing the American Athletic Conference, the Huskies have a chance to move up the ladder in the conference pecking order. Diaco has never been a head coach, but he has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1996. The New Jersey native played at Iowa and served as a graduate assistant with the Hawkeyes under Hayden Fry from 1996-97. After stops at Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Western Michigan, Diaco had a three-year stint at Virginia and joined Brian Kelly’s staff at Cincinnati in 2009. Diaco followed Kelly to Notre Dame and spent the last four years as the Fighting Irish’s defensive coordinator. Only once during Diaco’s tenure did Notre Dame rank outside of the top 35 nationally in total defense. Diaco earned the Broyles Award in 2012, which is awarded to the top assistant in college football. It seems like a broken record this year, but this seems like a solid hire. Diaco’s staff was slightly underwhelming and the lack of had coaching experience is a concern. But after going the veteran route with its last hire, Connecticut went with a coach that’s young and energetic. Diaco has a lot to prove, but he should get the Huskies back into bowl games.
Final Grade: B
13. Charlie Partridge, FAU
Previous Job: Defensive line coach at Arkansas
Career Record: First Season
Normally, we would frown on programs hiring a defensive line coach as a head coach, but this move seems like it will work for FAU. Partridge grew up less than an hour outside of Boca Raton, Fla., and is regarded for his connections on on the high school level in the Sunshine State. This is Partridge’s first chance to be a head coach, but he has stops as an assistant at Eastern Illinois, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Arkansas. Partridge appears to be going for a CEO approach in his first year, retaining coordinators Jovan Dewitt and Brian Wright from a team that went 6-6 despite the coaching turmoil that surrounded this team last season. The resume on Partridge is pretty thin. He doesn’t have head coach experience and has never been a coordinator. Experience in either position is generally an easier gauge for future success, but Partridge is a good hire for a program that is capable of winning a lot of games in Conference USA. If Partridge continues to bring in talent, the Owls will be one of C-USA’s top programs.
Final Grade: B-
14. Jeff Monken, Army
Previous Job: Head coach at Georgia Southern
Career Record: 38-16 (4 years)
Army has a rich history on the gridiron, but success has eluded this program in recent seasons. The Black Knights have only one winning season since 1997 and have not won more than four games since 2010. Rich Ellerson seemed like the perfect fit in West Point, but he was fired after a 20-41 record. Has Army developed into a job that’s just too tough to sustain success? Or has the program just missed on its last four head coaches? Monken comes to West Point with a background specializing in the option offense. He was an assistant under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern from 1997-01, at Navy from 2002-07 and at Georgia Tech from 2008-09. Monken was hired as Georgia Southern’s head coach prior to the 2010 season and he guided the Eagles to 38 wins over the last four years. Georgia Southern is transitioning to the FBS level, so the program was ineligible to compete for a playoff spot in 2013. However, the Eagles defeated Florida 26-20 in their regular season finale. Monken doesn’t have a ton of head coaching experience and most of it came at a program (GSU) that has consistently been one of the most successful in the FCS ranks. Can he rebuild an Army program that has struggled to compete with Navy and Air Force? If he can, Monken’s background running the option and as an assistant at Navy should help Army turn the corner from bottom-feeder into a consistent bowl team.
Final Grade: B-
15. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Notre Dame
Career Record: 74-7 (6 years)
From 1994-2005, Miami (Ohio) was one of the premier programs in the MAC. The RedHawks did not post a losing record during that stretch, won 13 games and the MAC title in 2003, made two bowl appearances and claimed the East Division title in 2004. But this program has fallen on hard times recently, winning just eight games over its last three years. Martin needs time to rebuild this program, but he appears to be the right coach for the job. He spent six years as the head coach at Grand Valley State after Brian Kelly left for Central Michigan. Martin amassed a 74-7 mark in six seasons, including a Division II title in 2005. In 2010, he reunited with Kelly, serving as the defensive backs coach for one season before moving to offensive coordinator in 2012. Instead of maintaining a program as Martin did at Grand Valley State, he will have a significant rebuilding project on his hands over the next few seasons.
Final Grade: B-
16. Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at North Carolina
Career Record: First Season
Arkansas State is no stranger to change, as Anderson will be the program’s fifth coach in five seasons. The athletic department deserves credit for finding and hiring successful coaches, but constant turnover is never a good idea. That cycle should stop in 2014, as Anderson has a $3 million buyout for the next two years. Arkansas State is one of the top programs in the remodeled Sun Belt, and Anderson’s arrival should keep this program in the mix for the conference title in 2014. Much like the last three coaches (Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin), Anderson has an extensive background on offense. He spent the last two years as North Carolina’s offensive coordinator and worked under Larry Fedora at Southern Miss from 2008-11. Prior to his stint in Hattiesburg, Anderson served as the offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette in 2007, co-offensive coordinator at MTSU from 2002-04 and an assistant at New Mexico from 1999-01. The only knock on Anderson’s resume is a lack of head coaching experience.
Final Grade: B-
17. Mark Whipple, UMass
Previous Job: Quarterback coach with the Cleveland Browns (2012)
Career Record: 121-59 (16 years)
In order for UMass to be competitive on the FBS level in the future, it dipped into its past to replace Charley Molnar. Whipple returns to the sidelines in Amherst after a 10-year absence and is tasked with taking the Minutemen – a team in just its third season on the FBS level – to bowl and MAC title contention. Whipple was out of coaching in 2013, but there’s a lot to like about this hire. He was 49-26 in a six-year stint on the UMass sidelines from 1998-2003. Whipple guided the Minutemen to three FCS playoff appearances, including a national title in 1998. Prior to UMass, Whipple was a head coach at Brown (1994-97) and New Haven (1988-93). In 16 years as a head coach, Whipple has only two losing seasons. After leaving UMass in 2003, Whipple worked as a NFL assistant with the Steelers, Eagles and Browns, with a stint as Miami’s offensive coordinator from 2009-10. Although Whipple hasn’t been a head coach since 2003 and much has changed at UMass since, this is a solid hire for a program that has to get competitive in a hurry. Whipple’s background on offense will be a huge boost for a team that averaged only 281.6 yards per game last year. The Minutemen need time to recruit on the FBS level, but Whipple should help this team immediately be more competitive within the MAC in 2014.
Final Grade: B-
18. Bill Clark, UAB
Previous Job: Head coach at Jacksonville State
Career Record: 11-4 (1 year)
Garrick McGee’s resignation came as a surprise to most, but UAB quickly replaced the departed coach with someone who is quite familiar with football in the state of Alabama. Most of Clark’s experience as a coach has been on the high school level. The Alabama native started as an assistant at Piedmont High School in 1990 and stayed in that role until taking a similar position with Tuscaloosa High School in '92. Clark stayed on that path with stops as an assistant at three more high schools: Coffee County (Georgia), Dothan and Prattville. He was hired as South Alabama’s defensive coordinator in 2008 and served in that capacity until a one-year stint at Jacksonville State. Under Clark’s direction, South Alabama’s defense ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt in fewest yards allowed per game in 2012. Clark’s first (and only) season as a collegiate head coach was a success, as Jacksonville State improved its win total by five games from 2012 to '13. Clark’s resume has a few holes. He doesn’t have any FBS head coaching experience and just one year at Jacksonville State isn’t enough to gauge his ability to lead a program for the long haul. But there are reasons to like this hire. Clark certainly has a few connections in the state from his days as a high school coach, and the Gamecocks made clear improvement under his watch. UAB is not an easy job. But Clark is a good hire for a program that should be able to win in Conference USA.
Final Grade: C+
19. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
Previous Job: Head coach at Drake
Career Record: 139-46 (17 years)
Eastern Michigan is one of the – if not the No. 1 – toughest jobs for a head coach in college football. Success has been tough to find recently, as the Eagles have just one season above .500 since 1991. This program has played in only one bowl game (1987) and its last winning conference record occurred in 1995. Needless to say, Creighton won’t have it easy. But this is an intriguing, outside-the-box hire for Eastern Michigan. The California native has been a successful head coach at three different stops (Ottawa University, Wabash and Drake) and has never had a losing season. Creighton’s 139-46 career record is even more impressive when you consider his work at the previous three schools was done with non-scholarship players. Success will be tough for Creighton in 2014, and he needs time to recruit, but this hire looks like a solid fit for Eastern Michigan.
Final Grade: C+
20. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky
Career Record: First Season
By no means is this a bad hire for Western Kentucky. While Brohm ranks at the bottom of our new coach rankings for 2014, it’s more of a reflection on the depth of hires this offseason. Brohm has been a collegiate assistant since 2003 but this will be his first chance to be a head coach. He worked for five seasons as an assistant at Louisville from 2003-08 before spending time at FAU, Illinois and UAB. In Brohm’s one season in Birmingham, the Blazers finished fifth in Conference USA in total offense. After one year in Birmingham, Brohm joined Bobby Petrino’s staff at Western Kentucky and served as an assistant head coach. A lack of head coaching experience is always a concern, but this is a solid fit and hire for the Hilltoppers. Brohm grew up in Kentucky and has worked as an assistant at two other C-USA programs. One factor that should ease Brohm’s transition to head coach is a veteran staff, which includes former UAB coach Neil Callaway, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and secondary coach Mike Cassity.
Final Grade: C+
Last year, photos of a gray Kentucky jersey and helmet circulated on the internet. But the Wildcats didn’t wear the gray uniforms in 2013.
Could that change in 2014?
The all-gray uniforms returned to the internet this week, with freshman quarterback Drew Barker modeling the new look.
Overall, this isn’t a bad look for Kentucky.
All grey everything? pic.twitter.com/tvEEBSiz8U— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) January 20, 2014
The deadline for college football players to enter the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and the official tally stands at 98 underclassmen declaring early for the next level.
The list of early entrants also includes four players that have already graduated and are leaving with eligibility remaining, including Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford and USC safety Dion Bailey.
Here’s the full list of the 98 underclassmen leaving for the NFL, along with four other players that have already graduated and set to move onto the next level.
|Davante Adams||WR||Fresno State|
|Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech|
|George Atkinson||RB||Notre Dame|
|Odell Beckham||WR||Louisiana State|
|Kelvin Benjamin||WR||Florida State|
|Kapri Bibbs||RB||Colorado State|
|Alfred Blue||RB||Louisiana State|
|Russell Bodine||C||North Carolina|
|Blake Bortles||QB||Central Florida|
|Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||DB||Alabama|
|Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina|
|Brandin Cooks||WR||Oregon State|
|Scott Crichton||DE||Oregon State|
|Isaiah Crowell||RB||Alabama State|
|Jonathan Dowling||DB||Western Kentucky|
|Eric Ebron||TE||North Carolina|
|Bruce Ellington||WR||South Carolina|
|Mike Evans||WR||Texas A&M|
|Ego Ferguson||DT||Louisiana State|
|Austin Franklin||WR||New Mexico State|
|Devonta Freeman||RB||Florida State|
|Carlos Gray||DT||North Carolina State|
|Xavier Grimble||TE||Southern California|
|Victor Hampton||DB||South Carolina|
|Jeremy Hill||RB||Louisiana State|
|Nic Jacobs||TE||McNeese State|
|Timmy Jernigan||DT||Florida State|
|Anthony Johnson||DT||Louisiana State|
|Jamel Johnson||WR||Alabama State|
|Storm Johnson||RB||Central Florida|
|Jarvis Landry||WR||Louisiana State|
|Demarcus Lawrence||DE||Boise State|
|Marqise Lee||WR||Southern California|
|A.C. Leonard||TE||Tennessee State|
|Albert Louis-Jean||DB||Boston College|
|Aaron Lynch||DE||South Florida|
|Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M|
|Marcus Martin||C||Southern California|
|Adam Muema||RB||San Diego State|
|Troy Niklas||TE||Notre Dame|
|Louis Nix||DT||Notre Dame|
|Kelcy Quarles||DT||South Carolina|
|Allen Robinson||WR||Penn State|
|Bradley Roby||DB||Ohio State|
|Ryan Shazier||LB||Ohio State|
|Willie Snead||WR||Ball State|
|Josh Stewart||WR||Oklahoma State|
|Stephon Tuitt||DE||Notre Dame|
|Trai Turner||G||Louisiana State|
|George Uko||DE||Southern California|
|Pierre Warren||DB||Jacksonville State|
|James Wilder||RB||Florida State|
|Dion Bailey||DB||Southern California|
|Carl Bradford||DE||Arizona State|
With the college football season completed, the next few weeks are all about recruiting. And there’s not a better coach in the nation at it than Alabama’s Nick Saban.
Last weekend, Saban hosted incoming recruits and their parents at his home. And thankfully, someone captured video of the coach dancing to the Electric Slide.
The clip isn’t very long, but it’s worth your time to watch Saban making a few moves on the dance floor.
College football’s 2014 season won’t start until August, but it’s never too early to take a look at what’s ahead.
Florida State edged Auburn for the national championship in early January, and both teams will be in the mix for a playoff spot next year. But the Seminoles and Tigers will be pushed by Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State.
College football’s new four-team playoff format adds another dimension to an already drama-filled regular season. With a selection committee and new bowl contracts, the postseason is going to look quite different next year.
In December, Athlon Sports released an early top 25 for 2014. But as expected, early entries to the NFL Draft and coaching hires changed the outlook of that top 25 ranking.
With coaching hires and the early entries to the draft declared, let’s revisit the top 25 teams for 2014.
(Rankings updated on Jan. 20)
College Football’s Very Early Top 25 for 2014
1. Florida State
The Seminoles have a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but this team is equipped to repeat in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston returns after winning the Heisman last year and should only get better with another offseason to work under coach Jimbo Fisher. Winston’s supporting cast is solid, as Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook are set to replace Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. at running back, and receiver Rashad Greene turned down the NFL for his senior year. Center Bryan Stork will be missed, but Austin Barron is an experienced backup and four other starters return to the offensive line. The defense loses linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback/safety Lamarcus Joyner. But none of those losses are as big as Timmy Jernigan, who declared early for the NFL Draft. Replacing Jernigan will be a talented, but young group of tackles. Jeremy Pruitt was outstanding in his only year as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. Can Fisher make the right hire once again?
Related Content: Early ACC Predictions for 2014
A two-game losing streak to end the season should provide plenty of motivation for Nick Saban in 2014. And Saban has already taken steps to prevent another repeat of 2013, as he made a few changes to his coaching staff, including hiring Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator and returning Kevin Steele to a position coach. Kiffin’s top priority in spring practice will be to develop a new starting quarterback. The race to replace AJ McCarron is wide open, with Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and incoming freshman David Cornwell each having an opportunity to win the job. And regardless of who wins the job in the spring, the job may not be settled into the fall, especially if Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker transfers to Alabama. Until a quarterback is found, the offense can lean on the one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the ground. Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will once again develop one of the SEC’s top defenses. But this unit will have concerns to address, starting with replacing linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Crimson Tide also needs to develop more depth and talent at cornerback.
Alabama has a slight edge over Auburn for the top spot in the SEC West in our pre-spring predictions. But the gap between the Tigers and Crimson Tide is slim. Auburn’s run to the national title included a few fortunate bounces, but this team was no fluke in 2013. Gus Malzahn’s offense returns nearly intact next season, and Nick Marshall could be the preseason first-team all-conference quarterback in the SEC. With Marshall working with Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for a full offseason, he should show improvement as a passer, which is critical with Auburn returning a talented group of receivers. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are huge losses on offense. Defensively, the Tigers have a few issues to address. End Dee Ford departs after recording 10.5 sacks. Safety Ryan Smith, defensive tackle Nosa Eguae, cornerback Chris Davis and linebacker Jake Holland are other key departures on defense. Can Auburn quickly reload on that side of the ball? Ford and Eguae are huge losses on the line, but Elijah Daniel, Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are three talented sophomores ready for a bigger role in 2014.
Related Content: Early SEC Predictions for 2014
The Ducks were a big winner from the NFL Draft’s early entry deadline. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu all decided to return in 2014. With Mariota returning, plus a home game against Stanford next year, Oregon gets the nod as the favorite in the North Division. Mariota will have one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his side next year, as all five offensive line starters from the Alamo Bowl are back, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner return at running back, and the receiving corps is headlined by Bralon Addison, Keanon Lowe and tight end Johnny Mundt. While the offense will have no trouble scoring points, there will be a transition period on defense. Don Pellum was promoted to coordinator after Nick Aliotti retired. This will be Pellum’s first chance to call plays, and the Ducks have to replace three key defensive tackles, cornerback Terrance Mitchell and both starting safeties. In addition to Stanford visiting Eugene, Oregon won’t have to play USC or Arizona State from the South Division in crossover play.
When projecting for 2014, we have to be careful to not put too much stock in bowl games. Oklahoma defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which certainly raised expectations for this team for next year. But the Sooners’ spot in this poll is more than just a reaction on beating the Crimson Tide. In what was essentially a rebuilding year, Oklahoma won 11 games and finished the regular season by defeating Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the road. The Sooners also have a favorable slate next year, as Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State come to Norman. Bob Stoops’ defense returns nearly everyone, but cornerback Aaron Colvin will be tough to replace. But the key to how high Oklahoma climbs in the rankings next season is quarterback Trevor Knight. He struggled in his first year as the starter and finished by throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against Alabama. Was the performance against the Crimson Tide a sign of things to come? Or was Knight’s 348 passing yards just a one-game mirage?
6. Ohio State
The Buckeyes ended 2013 on a down note by losing their final two games after a 12-0 start. Urban Meyer’s team is a slight favorite to win the Big Ten in Athlon’s early projections, but Michigan State isn’t far behind. Offense certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and a veteran offensive line helped the offense average 7.2 yards per play. Miller decided to return for his senior year, but four starters from the line and Hyde are gone. Meyer and his staff have recruited well, so there is talent in the program. However, losing nearly all of the offensive line and a 1,000-yard back in Hyde won’t be easy to replace. Despite the concerns on offense, the defense is an even bigger issue. Sure, Ohio State might have one of the top defensive lines in the nation. But the back seven is a concern. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby decided to leave early for the NFL, only adding to the pressure for a secondary that ranked 11th in the Big Ten. Road games at Michigan State and Penn State will be a huge challenge, but the Buckeyes won’t play Nebraska, Iowa or Wisconsin in crossover play with the West Division.
7. Michigan State
Coming off a 13-1 record with a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford, Michigan State will be hard-pressed to top its 2013 season. However, Mark Dantonio’s team will be in the mix for the conference championship once again. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned down an opportunity to be a head coach at UConn, and his return will help rebuild a unit that loses a few key players, including both starting tackles, linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis. The defense may take a step back, but the offense should continue to improve. Connor Cook solidified the quarterback position (22 TDs, 6 INTs), and running back Jeremy Langford will contend with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the Big Ten’s rushing title. Cook and Langford’s emergence was crucial for the offense’s development, but the line was an underrated cog in the Rose Bowl run. However, three starters depart in 2014. Michigan State plays at Oregon in Week 2 and finishes the regular season at Penn State. But with Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State visiting Spartan Stadium, the path to a Big Ten title runs through East Lansing.
The South Division champion has yet to win the Pac-12 conference title game. Could that change in 2014? UCLA seems to have all of the pieces to challenge Oregon or Stanford for the conference crown. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after considering an early departure to the NFL. Hundley has room to improve in his junior season, but his job will be made easier by an offensive line that could progress despite losing guard Xavier Su’a-Filo to the NFL. Linebacker Anthony Barr was one of the top defensive players in the nation, and his ability to get after opposing quarterbacks will be missed. But the linebacking corps should remain a strength. Myles Jack is one of college football’s rising superstars, and Eric Kendricks is back after leading the team with 106 tackles in 2013. Owamagbe Odighizuwa missed 2013 due to injury but is set to return in 2014 to anchor the defensive line. And the Bruins could have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation, as all four starters are slated to return. The schedule features a non-conference road trip to Virginia and a neutral site matchup against Texas. In Pac-12 play, UCLA plays at Arizona State and Washington but hosts Stanford, USC and Oregon.
Related Content: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2014
Despite losing to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears have momentum entering the 2014 season. Baylor is coming off its first conference title since 1980, coach Art Briles didn’t leave for Texas, and quarterback Bryce Petty decided to stay for his senior year. The Bears are also set to open a new stadium in 2014, which figures to only help Baylor continue to climb the ladder in the Big 12 program hierarchy. Petty’s return will keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the nation, and Shock Linwood appears to be a capable replacement for Lache Seastrunk at running back. The line is the biggest concern on offense, as All-American Cyril Richardson and center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer depart. The defense was an underrated part of Baylor’s Big 12 title and several key players have expired their eligibility. Safety Ahmad Dixon, linebacker Eddie Lackey, cornerback K.J. Morton and defensive ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister are gone. But the news isn’t all bad for coordinator Phil Bennett, as the Bears have recruited better recently, and there’s talent ready to step into the lineup. The schedule is manageable, but trips to Texas and Oklahoma will determine if Baylor can repeat as conference champions.
Related Content: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2014
David Shaw has his work cut out for him in 2014. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in three seasons in a row, but that mark could be in jeopardy next year. Not only is Stanford is replacing a wealth of talent, but one of the key cogs in the recent run – defensive coordinator Derek Mason – is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. The rebuilding effort for next year has to start on the offensive line. The Cardinal return only one starter up front, but there’s talent waiting in the wings, including Joshua Garnett and Kyle Murphy to team with left tackle Andrus Peat. Don’t expect Stanford’s offense to change its philosophy despite the personnel losses, but Shaw can lean more on quarterback Kevin Hogan and a veteran group of receivers. In addition to replacing Mason’s play-calling, the Cardinal loses linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, defensive end Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds. Stanford’s schedule could be one of the toughest in the nation next year. The Cardinal host USC and Oregon State but play at Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA.
The SEC East will be a tight battle between Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia next year. For now, the early nod goes with the Bulldogs. Mark Richt needs to replace quarterback Aaron Murray, but Hutson Mason started the final two games of 2013 and should be a capable starter. Mason’s transition into the lineup will be easier with running back Todd Gurley returning to full strength, along with Malcolm Mitchell and Keith Marshall back from knee injuries. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for Louisville, but the defense upgraded by hiring Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State. Pruitt will have plenty of talent to work with, starting with linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. The Bulldogs host Auburn in crossover play with the West Division but travel to Missouri and South Carolina next year.
12. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have won 11 games in each of the last three seasons. Coach Steve Spurrier has this program on solid ground, and South Carolina will be back in the hunt for the SEC East title. Quarterback Connor Shaw is a big loss, but Dylan Thompson showed he was a capable option over the last two years. Thompson won’t have to carry the team, especially with running back Mike Davis and four starters returning on the line. While Shaw will be tough to replace, the biggest losses are on defense. The Gamecocks have to replace ends Chaz Sutton and Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. Cornerback Victor Hampton left early for the NFL Draft. Talent isn’t an issue for South Carolina, but restocking the defensive line to replace Clowney, Sutton and Quarles won’t be easy. South Carolina might have the most favorable path in the East Division to a trip to Atlanta. Missouri and Georgia visit Williams-Brice Stadium and a matchup against Texas A&M in the opener comes at an opportune time with a rebuilding Aggies’ offense.
Related Content: Early SEC Predictions for 2014
Another year, another batch of players departed early for the NFL. After losing 11 players last season, Les Miles lost seven to the NFL this January. But despite the personnel concerns, LSU isn’t short on talent. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has to overhaul the passing game, as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham depart. With one of the SEC’s best offensive lines returning and a five-star freshman running back in Leonard Fournette available, Cameron can ease quarterback Anthony Jennings into the starting role. Linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston will be missed by the defense. But the biggest losses are in the trenches, as tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson decided to leave early for the NFL.
The Badgers finished 2013 on a two-game losing streak, but Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was still a success. Wisconsin has won at least seven games in every year since 2002 and there’s little doubt that streak can continue in 2014. Running back Melvin Gordon turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and expects to shoulder the bulk of the carries with James White expiring his eligibility. As usual in Madison, the Badgers will be strong in the trenches and on the ground. But the passing attack is a question mark. Quarterback Joel Stave will face competition in the spring, and standout receiver Jared Abbrederis will be missed. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but can he keep Wisconsin’s defense among the best in the Big Ten in 2014 with linemen Pat Muldoon, Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and linebackers Chris Borland, Ethan Armstrong and Brendan Kelly departing? Wisconsin has a favorable path to a Big Ten West Division title. The Badgers host Nebraska and won’t face Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or Michigan State in crossover play.
Related Content: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2014
As mentioned in the Georgia and South Carolina write-ups, the gap in the SEC East is very small. For now, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are slightly ahead of Missouri and Florida. Despite some key personnel departures, Gary Pinkel’s team should have a good shot at repeating as the East Division champion. Maty Mauk will provide a seamless transition from James Franklin at quarterback, and Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are set to replace Henry Josey at running back. Replacing left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland are the biggest question marks on offense. On defense, ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, along with cornerback E.J. Gaines are huge losses. But the Tigers have the necessary depth to ensure there’s not a huge drop in production. Road trips to South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M will be tough, but Missouri hosts Georgia, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and key non-conference games against Indiana and UCF.
New coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t walking into a rebuilding effort, as the Trojans finished 2013 with 10 victories. Quarterback Cody Kessler will have to hold off redshirt freshman Max Browne for the starting spot, but Kessler finished last season on a high note by throwing for 344 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State. Marqise Lee entered the NFL Draft, leaving Nelson Agholor as the No. 1 target. The offensive line is thin on depth and center Marus Martin, guard John Martinez and tackle Kevin Graf must be replaced. With the Trojans short on proven receivers, expect the ground attack to lead the way on offense next year. The good news for Sarkisian is USC isn’t short on talented runners, including Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac. Safety Dion Bailey and lineman George Uko left early for the NFL Draft. But the rest of the defense returns largely intact, including standout end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens. USC has a challenging schedule, including road trips to Stanford, Arizona, Washington State and UCLA. But the Trojans miss Oregon in crossover play and Arizona State travels to Los Angeles next year.
17. Arizona State
UCLA is the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South, but Arizona State and USC aren’t far behind. The Sun Devils’ quest to repeat as the division champs starts with an explosive offense that averaged 39.7 points per game in 2013. Quarterback Taylor Kelly headlines the offense, but he will have help from running back D.J. Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong. Having an offense capable of scoring 40 points a game is critical, especially with a defense that has several holes to fill. Gone are tackle Will Sutton, end Davon Coleman, linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young, cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby. A rebuilding defense will have time to grow with Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado to open the season. But Arizona State’s next four games will define how high it can climb in the Pac-12 standings: UCLA, at USC, Stanford and at Washington.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins are huge losses, but Clemson kept one of the top offensive play-callers in college football on its staff – Chad Morris. With Morris returning, the Tigers will rank among the best offenses in the ACC once again. Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson will battle to replace Boyd, while the receiving corps will turn to Mike Williams, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake to become the top targets in the passing game. With Vic Beasley returning at defensive end, Clemson should have one of the top defensive fronts in the ACC. The cornerback spot is a concern, especially after Bashaud Breeland left early for the NFL. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander will be a player to watch in the secondary next year.
Related Content: Early ACC Predictions for 2014
19. Ole Miss
With LSU losing a chunk of talent to the NFL, the door is open for Ole Miss to make a run at third place in the SEC West. Despite losing receiver Donte Moncrief to the NFL, the Rebels are poised to push LSU in the West Division and exceed last year’s eight victories. Quarterback Bo Wallace will benefit from another offseason to rehab his shoulder, while Laquon Treadwell is set to replace Moncrief as the top option at receiver. Three starters depart from the line, but Laremy Tunsil is back after a standout freshman season, and guard Aaron Morris returns after missing nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury. Linebacker Mike Marry and end Cameron Whigham will be missed, but the defense returns nearly intact. This unit will benefit from another year of development out of defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, safety Tony Conner and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. The Rebels host Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama but travel to Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. Ole Miss opens the year with a neutral site matchup against Boise State in Atlanta.
20. Notre Dame
It’s been a busy offseason for Brian Kelly. The Fighting Irish lost both of their coordinators (Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco) to head coaching jobs, and tight end Troy Niklas, running back George Atkinson III, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III all left for the NFL. Perhaps lost in the roster and coaching staff turnover is the return of quarterback Everett Golson. Although Golson will have some rust after missing a year of college football, his return is a boost to the passing game. Replacing Tuitt and Nix III is a tough assignment for new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. But the cupboard isn’t empty. Linebacker Jaylon Smith had a standout freshman season (67 tackles), the line can restock with Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones. The schedule is tough, but Stanford, Northwestern, Louisville, Michigan and North Carolina come to South Bend.
Washington deserves an A+ for its hire of Chris Petersen, and the Huskies will be one of the Pac-12’s most-intriguing teams to watch in 2014. While Petersen oversaw some of the nation’s top offenses at Boise State, expect defense to carry Washington next year. Seven starters return for coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, including linebacker Shaq Thompson and end Hau’oli Kikaha. Offensively, the Huskies will be solid, but quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be tough to replace. Cyler Miles is slated to replace Price after throwing for 418 yards and four scores in eight games in 2013. A favorable schedule should allow Washington to open the year 4-0 before Stanford comes to Husky Stadium on Sept. 27.
Related Content: Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2014
22. Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is gone, but the Aggies aren’t short on talent. Kevin Sumlin recruited a top-10 class last season and could have a top-five haul in 2014. Replacing Manziel is the No. 1 priority in spring ball for Sumlin and coordinator Jake Spavital. Senior Matt Joeckel has the most experience, but Kenny Hill and incoming freshman Kyle Allen have more upside. The supporting cast is solid for the new quarterback. Brandon Williams, Tra Carson and Trey Williams form a solid trio in the backfield, while four starters return on the line. After allowing 475.8 yards and 32.2 points a game on defense in 2013, the Aggies need considerable improvement to help an offense that will slightly regress without Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Although the numbers on defense were awful last season, Texas A&M had a host of underclassmen playing major snaps. This unit should be better by default, but another recruiting class is needed to help establish more talent and depth.
23. Kansas State
The Wildcats were one of the Big 12’s hottest teams to finish 2013, winning six out of their final seven games. Despite some personnel losses, Bill Snyder’s team is poised to build off that momentum next year. Kansas State’s offense has to find a new go-to running back with John Hubert expiring his eligibility, but quarterback Jake Waters returns, and Daniel Sams can move to an all-purpose threat if necessary. Receiver Tyler Lockett is quietly one of the nation’s best. Despite only two returning starters, the Wildcats’ defense finished third in the Big 12 in fewest yards allowed and held their opponents to 22.9 points per game. This unit will have a few holes to fill at each level, but end Ryan Mueller is one of the top defenders in the Big 12. Kansas State plays Auburn in non-conference action, while Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State visit Manhattan.
A new era begins in Austin next year. Charlie Strong takes over for Mack Brown after a four-year stint at Louisville. Can Strong return Texas to the nation’s elite? The Longhorns have talent, but Strong needs some time to find answers on offense. David Ash returns at quarterback after missing most of 2013 due to a concussion. But he will be pushed for the No. 1 spot by sophomore Tyrone Swoopes this spring. Until Strong and his staff can settle on a quarterback, expect the ground attack to be featured on offense. Texas has a wealth of talent at running back, but Johnathan Gray is recovering from a torn Achilles. Strong is known as one of college football’s top defensive coaches, and he inherits a unit that allowed 407.2 yards per game in 2013. Expect immediate improvement with Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford calling the plays. This unit received a boost in January when Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs decided to return for their senior season.
Another year, more uncertainty in the Coastal Division. North Carolina and Duke will be in the mix, but for now, an early edge goes to the Hurricanes. Is 2014 the year Miami finally plays for the ACC title? The offense has averaged at least 30 points a game in each of the last two seasons, and there’s firepower returning with running back Duke Johnson and receiver Stacy Coley. Departing quarterback Stephen Morris had an inconsistent, but productive career. Will Memphis transfer Ryan Williams replace Morris? Or will offensive coordinator turn to sophomore Gray Crow, redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen or incoming freshman Brad Kaaya? Quarterback is a huge question mark, but the defense is an even bigger issue. Miami allowed 426.4 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) in 2013 and ranked 10th in the ACC in points allowed (26.8 ppg). Despite the lackluster numbers over the last two years on defense, this unit has reason to expect improvement. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo decided to return for their senior year, and Tracy Howard could be one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC in 2014. More talent is needed on defense, but Miami has to show improvement if it wants to win the Coastal.
The Next Five Teams
Hawkeyes must replace entire linebacking corps, but a favorable schedule (no Ohio State or Michigan State in crossover play) should have Kirk Ferentz’s team in the mix for the Big Ten West Division title.
27. North Carolina
The offensive line and defense are a concern for Larry Fedora’s team. However, the Tar Heels should be dynamic on offense behind quarterback Marquise Williams, running back T.J. Logan and receiver Quinshad Davis.
There’s simply no way the Gators can be as bad as they were last season. The offense won’t be dynamic but improvement is expected. Florida should be solid on defense.
29. Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy has a significant rebuilding effort ahead in 2014. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors, including quarterback Clint Chelf, linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, cornerback Justin Gilbert and defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. Receiver Josh Stewart also declared for the NFL Draft.
30. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen’s 2014 squad should be the best in his tenure. Quarterback Dak Prescott returns after averaging 251.7 total yards per game in 2013, and the defense has to replace only one starter.
A week after James Franklin decided to leave for Penn State, Vanderbilt has found his replacement. According to the Tennessean, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason will be the Commodores’ next coach.
Mason is a highly regarded defensive coach and was a key piece in Stanford’s recent run of success. The Arizona native worked at Stanford from 2010-13, including the last three years as the defensive coordinator.
Prior to his stint at Stanford, Mason worked for three years as an assistant with the Vikings (2007-09) and served as an assistant at various stops in college from 1994-2006.
Mason’s experience at an academic institution like Stanford should be a huge plus at Vanderbilt. And he is also regarded as an excellent recruiter and motivator.
There's no question James Franklin set the bar high for Vanderbilt, and Mason has some work to do in order to get the Commodores back in a bowl game in 2014. This appears to be a solid hire for Vanderbilt and one that should help continue to improve its football program.
#Vandy will make a formal announcement this afternoon regarding Derek Mason's hire & a press conference is likely for tomorrow morning— Jeff Lockridge (@jefflockridge) January 17, 2014
Derek Mason is indeed #Vandy's next head coach. Vandy donor and search committee member John Ingram: "Yes sir! ... I am very excited."— Jeff Lockridge (@jefflockridge) January 17, 2014
The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams next year, but a familiar set of programs will lead the way in the conference in 2014.
Ohio State is the early favorite to win the Big Ten next season, but Michigan State and Wisconsin are the next two teams in the mix. The Spartans are the defending Big Ten champions but have a few holes to fill on defense. The Badgers have a favorable slate in the West Division, but similar to Michigan State, Gary Andersen’s team has a few holes concerns on defense.
Penn State made a splash by hiring James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But the Nittany Lions are still banned from postseason play for 2014. Michigan is one of the conference’s biggest wildcards. The Wolverines have talent. But Brady Hoke’s team underachieved in 2013, and left tackle Taylor Lewan departs from an already questionable offensive line.
The Big Ten welcomes Rutgers and Maryland into the mix next year. The Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season, but there’s some talent returning to Piscataway. The Terrapins are coming off their first bowl appearance under coach Randy Edsall. But with the move to the Big Ten, the expectations (and competition) will be higher starting in 2014.
Early East Division Predictions for 2014
by Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
1. Ohio State
Buckeye Nation received huge news when two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller announced he will return for his senior season. His supporting cast on offense, however, is what will give preseason prognosticators pause when considering this team for playoff contention. Four starters along the line are gone, as is stud workhorse Carlos Hyde, so Urban Meyer will need to rebuild his offensive front and find playmakers to support Miller — a guy who already takes too many hits. Meyer finds himself in much better shape on defense. After losing all four D-Line starters entering last season, Meyer could boast the best defensive line in the nation in 2014. An elite front will help alleviate concerns about the departure of star playmakers like Ryan Shazier. The schedule sets up nicely for Ohio State, with the Bucks missing what could be the top four teams in the West — Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. Home games with Virginia Tech and Michigan are certainly interesting, but two late-season trips to Happy Valley and East Lansing are likely the toughest two games of the year for Ohio State.
2. Michigan State
For the first time since Kirk Cousins returned for his senior season, the Spartans head into spring practice with a known commodity at quarterback. Connor Cook hasn’t lost a Big Ten game as a starter (9-0) and will get his star tailback Jeremy Langford back, giving this team tremendous balance on offense. Replacing three starters up front on the line and finding a go-to target to replace Bennie Fowler will be key. But having the backfield locked in stone is an excellent starting point. Conversely, for the first time in years, there are major question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Keeping defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in the fold might have been the biggest piece of offseason news for Spartans fans, as The Broyles Award winner is the architect of the vaunted MSU defense. Narduzzi has his work cut out for him, however. The Spartans have to replace two senior defensive tackles, two senior linebackers, the Thorpe Award winner in Darqueze Dennard and a senior safety in Isaiah Lewis. Never fear, there is plenty of talent in East Lansing, but don’t expect to be ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense again. The schedule has some major speed bumps — a road trip to Oregon in Week 2, for example — but huge divisional swing games with Ohio State and Michigan will come at home, giving the defending Big Ten champs as much of a claim to the B1G throne as anyone else in the preseason.
Brady Hoke knows the pressure to win is growing in Ann Arbor, as evidenced by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges for Doug Nussmeier nearly two weeks after the season ended. Nussmeier's first order of business is to develop consistency and efficiency from his supposed star quarterback Devin Gardner. The senior-to-be has shown flashes of Heisman brilliance in some games (SEE: Notre Dame, Ohio State) while causing fans to shake their heads in other contests (SEE: Every other game). Improved offensive line play, despite replacing both tackles, and an effective running game would go a long way in helping Gardner iron out his kinks. With Jeremy Gallon gone, someone around him needs to step up and make plays, be it tight end Devin Funchess or rising sophomore Derrick Green. The defense shouldn’t be an issue as seven starters return to a unit that has been ranked in the top half of the Big Ten every year since finishing dead last in defense the season before Hoke arrived. Non-conference games at Notre Dame and Utah at home certainly won't be easy, and both matchups come before a tough start to conference play: Minnesota, at Rutgers, Penn State and at Michigan State. Indiana, Northwestern an open week and Maryland make for a nice build-up, however, to the season-ending trip to Columbus. The schedule isn’t overly difficult considering how tough the East Division should be so Hoke will be expected to make obvious headway in 2014 — or his job could be in jeopardy.
4. Penn State
There are plenty of know commodities for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a franchise quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a vibrant new head coach in James Franklin. Penn State also has nine of 11 starters backs on defense as well. Holes need to be plugged along the offensive line where the Lions lose three starters and replacing Allen Robinson, the program’s most prolific pass catcher, won’t be easy. But Franklin and Hackenberg have plenty of weapons to work with at tight end and running back. The key for PSU, as is the case for all teams facing roster sanctions, will be depth throughout the season. Facing UCF in Dublin to start the year won’t be nearly as tough without Blake Bortles, so PSU could be an easy favorite in each of the first five games. The toughest road trip comes at Michigan but is sandwiched between off weekends and Franklin will get two weeks to prepare for Ohio State at home on Oct. 25. The road schedule isn’t daunting at all with key swing home games with Ohio State, Michigan State and Maryland coming in Beaver Stadium. If Franklin can correct some wrongs, like the bizarre performance at Indiana in 2013, then Penn State should easily post a winning record — which would mean a trip to a bowl game should the NCAA lift the sanctions. The Nittany Lions won’t play any of the projected top four teams from the West.
This fall will usher in a brand new era for Maryland football. While there is a lot to like about the overall direction of the program under Randy Edsall, the schedule looks extremely daunting. The non-conference slate includes games with “Big 5” teams West Virginia and Syracuse before Big Ten play begins at Indiana. After that, however, it is hard to find wins until the season finale against Rutgers. The Terps will play arguably the toughest six-game Big Ten schedule in the league next fall: Ohio State, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, Michigan State and at Michigan. There is good news for a team that has shown improvement each year of Edsall’s tenure, though. Four starters are back along the offensive line, along with oft-injured quarterback C.J. Brown, and electric superstar Stefon Diggs should be back after missing most of 2013. On defense, 10 of the 11 players who started in the bowl game should be back as well. The roster is finally returning to respectability in College Park, but the move to the Big Ten will likely hurt this team in the short term due to an increased level of competition.
The Hoosiers have improved every year under Kevin Wilson — from one win to four wins to five wins overall. But improvement in Year Four might be a tall order. Wilson’s offenses have taken major strides and should once again be potent behind the leadership of both Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. But the defense has a long way to go after it finished dead last in the Big Ten at 527.9 yards per game allowed and 6.74 yards per play. The defense does have 10 starters returning but the question remains if that is a good or bad thing? Five of the 10 were freshmen and sophomores, so logic would indicate improvement on this side of the ball. However, the East Division schedule makers didn’t do IU any favors. Over a seven-week span from Oct. 11 to Nov. 22, Indiana will play at Iowa, Michigan State, at Michigan, Penn State, at Rutgers and at Ohio State. The next step for Wilson is a bowl game but that might be too much to ask in 2014.
Kyle Flood will have his work cut out for him as he enters the Big Ten in 2014. The schedule in the East Division is already a significant increase from the American Athletic Conference. However, crossover games with Nebraska and Wisconsin, along with a long non-conference trip to face Washington State on the road, makes a postseason berth a difficult proposition in Piscataway next fall. The good news is Gary Nova returns under center along with eight other offensive starters. The defense only loses four starters and developing front-seven mainstays like Steve Longa, Darius Hamilton, Kevin Snyder and Djwany Mera have loads of upside and each started every game of the season minus one (Hamilton against Cincinnati). There are reasons to be excited about Rutgers football as it moves into the Big Ten, but a winning record in 2014 might not be one of them.
Early West Division Predictions for 2014
by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Gary Andersen’s second year in Madison shouldn’t be much different than the first. The Badgers will continue to rely on one of the conference’s top ground attacks, especially with Melvin Gordon returning for another season instead of leaving for the NFL. James White departs as Gordon’s backfield mate, but Corey Clement is a capable replacement. Wisconsin’s passing attack has to perform better in 2014, and the coaching staff will likely give Tanner McEvoy, Bart Houston and incoming freshman D.J. Gillins a chance to unseat Joel Stave under center. The defense has several new faces stepping into starting roles, as linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong, end Ethan Hemer and fellow linemen Pat Muldoon and Beau Allen depart. Borland was one of the top defenders in the Big Ten in 2013 and leaves big shoes to fill next year. Wisconsin opens the year with a non-conference matchup against LSU but hosts Nebraska and Minnesota in conference play. The Badgers won’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan in the regular season, and their toughest road game could be at Iowa on Nov. 22.
After a 4-8 mark in 2012, low expectations surrounded Iowa heading into the 2013 season. But the Hawkeyes were one of the top surprise teams in college football, finishing 8-5 with losses to Northern Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and LSU. There’s certainly no shame in any of those five defeats, and with most of its core returning in 2014, Iowa is positioned to contend for the West Division title. Quarterback Jake Rudock, left tackle Brandon Scherff and running back Mark Weisman headline the returnees on offense. The Hawkeyes have room to improve on offense after finishing ninth in the Big Ten (conference games only) in yards per game. The defense returns mostly intact, but all three starters are gone from the linebacking corps. The Hawkeyes have one of the Big Ten’s most favorable schedules next season. There’s no Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play, while Nebraska and Wisconsin visit Kinnick Stadium in November.
The Cornhuskers take the third spot in our early Big Ten predictions for 2014, but Bo Pelini’s team isn’t far behind Wisconsin and Iowa. Nebraska ended last year with a little momentum, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl to earn the sixth season of at least nine wins under Pelini. Can the Cornhuskers build off that momentum next year? With running back Ameer Abdullah returning, the biggest question mark on offense turns to the quarterback situation. Tommy Armstrong has the edge to start entering spring practice, but redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push for the starting spot. The offensive line returns only one starter and will be a focal point for the staff in the spring. Nebraska allowed only 318.5 yards per game in conference action in 2013 and most of the front seven returns intact. End Randy Gregory should be in the mix for All-American honors. The biggest concern on defense is the secondary. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, safety Andrew Green and cornerback Ciante Evans have expired their eligibility.
Minnesota takes the No. 4 spot in our early West Division, but Northwestern should bounce back in 2014. The Golden Gophers dropped their first two Big Ten games last year but rallied to win four in a row, including a 24-10 win over Penn State and a 34-23 victory over Nebraska. Minnesota finished 2013 by losing its last three games, but there’s clear progress under coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers have a tough road slate ahead in 2014, with trips to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan and TCU on the schedule. Mitch Leidner heads into spring practice with an edge at quarterback after Philip Nelson decided to transfer. Running back David Cobb headlines an offense that should lean on its ground attack in 2014. The defense ranked fourth in the Big Ten by holding opponents to 22.2 points a game last year. This unit will have a few personnel losses to overcome, including tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, linebacker Aaron Hill and cornerback Brock Vereen.
The Wildcats were one of the top disappointments in the Big Ten last year. Northwestern was pegged by some as a preseason top-25 team but finished 5-7 and missed on a bowl for the first time since 2007. Expect the Wildcats to return to the postseason in 2014, especially with a healthy Venric Mark returning at running back. Kain Colter departs at quarterback, but Trevor Siemian has experience and will face competition from Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti. Another reason for optimism on offense is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. Northwestern allowed 423.4 yards per game on defense last season, but most of last year’s starting group returns. End Tyler Scott, linebacker Damien Proby and tackle Will Hampton must be replaced.
The Fighting Illini made a two-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013. Coach Tim Beckman enters 2014 on the hot seat, but he has some help coming in the way of former Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt. The sophomore will be eligible to play in 2014 after sitting out a year due to a transfer. Lunt should provide a seamless transition from Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. Lunt’s supporting cast is a concern, as the top three statistical receivers from last year are gone, and two starters depart from the offensive line. Despite the personnel losses, the offense should be the strength for this team. But the defense is another story. The Fighting Illini allowed 35.4 points a game in 2013 and ranked 11th in the conference in yards allowed per contest. This unit doesn’t lose much, but does Illinois have enough talent to show drastic improve next season?
Darrell Hazell had a less-than-stellar debut at Purdue, but the Boilermakers didn’t have a wealth of talent on the roster either. After hitting rock bottom last year, Purdue should show signs of improvement in 2014. The Boilermakers have to replace left tackle Kevin Pamphile, receiver Gary Bush and right tackle Justin Kitchens, but the rest of the offense returns intact. Quarterbacks Danny Etling, Austin Appleby and incoming freshman David Blough are talented and will improve with more snaps. Running back Akeem Hunt and receivers DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey will be the top playmakers on offense. While the offense has to improve to escape the cellar in the West Division, the defense is also a concern after finishing 10th in the conference last year. The Boilermakers allowed 459.9 yards and 38 points per game in 2013. There’s a handful of significant losses on defense for Hazell, as end Bruce Gaston, nose guard Ryan Isaac, cornerback Ricardo Allen and end Greg Latta all depart. Purdue misses Ohio State in crossover play, but Michigan State visits Ross-Ade Stadium in early October.
An underrated part of coaching is hiring the right coordinators. College football head coaches can be strong X’s and O’s leaders, but coordinators are a huge piece of the puzzle and are often the fall guy when things go wrong. And if a coach is more of a program CEO, then coordinators and position coaches become even more important.
If you need proof of how important coordinator changes are, take a look at the national championship game. Florida State was forced to revamp its staff after six assistant coaches departed in the offseason. However, Jimbo Fisher made the right hires, including bringing Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt over from Tuscaloosa to coordinate the defense. Pruitt was a key piece in the Seminoles’ national title run but left for Georgia a week after hoisting the crystal ball. Auburn also had two new coordinators in 2013.
Pruitt and Auburn coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee are just a small sample of the top hires for 2013. BYU's Robert Anae, Wisconsin's Dave Aranda and LSU's Cam Cameron all made significant contributions to their new team.
As we look to put a bow on the 2013 season, let’s take a look at some of the top coordinator hires from last year and the impact it made on some of the teams.
College Football's Top Coordinator Hires from the 2013 Season
Robert Anae, offensive coordinator, BYU
Anae returned to BYU in 2013 after a two-year stint at Arizona. The veteran coach installed an up-tempo attack in Provo, which was a good fit for new quarterback Taysom Hill. The Cougars averaged 493.7 yards per game and scored 30.2 points per contest. Both of those numbers were an improvement from 2012. BYU has room to improve in the red zone and needs to eliminate a few turnovers, but Anae’s return gave the Cougars’ offense an identity and an uptick in production.
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda followed Gary Andersen from Utah State to Wisconsin and guided the Badgers to a No. 7 national rank in total defense in 2013. Wisconsin's defense allowed just 4.7 yards per play, forced 21 turnovers and allowed just 16.3 points per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Badgers were transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 approach. Aranda’s defense at Utah State ranked No. 14 nationally in 2012, and his defenses at Hawaii showed marked improvement during his two years with the Warriors. Aranda is an underrated coordinator and will have his work cut out for him this offseason, as the Badgers have several key players leaving.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Don Brown, defensive coordinator, Boston College
As expected, Brown made a huge difference for Boston College’s defense. After recording only six sacks in 2012, the Eagles picked up 35 in 2013. Brown is known as an aggressive play-caller, which helped Boston College record 20 turnovers and finish third in the ACC in red zone defense. Despite some personnel losses for 2014, the Eagles are in good shape on defense with Brown calling the signals.
Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator, LSU
If Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt is the top coordinator hire from this season, Cameron is a close second. The veteran coach made a big difference in LSU’s offense in 2013. The Tigers ranked 11th in the SEC in passing in 2012 and averaged only 374.2 yards per game. Cameron helped to develop Zach Mettenberger into an All-SEC candidate at quarterback, while the offense averaged 453.3 yards per game. LSU also averaged six more points per contest in Cameron’s first season.
Geoff Collins, defensive coordinator, Mississippi State
Collins was promoted to call the defensive signals for Mississippi State in 2013. The Georgia native came to Starkville in 2011 and served as an assistant at FIU, UCF and Alabama prior to his stint with the Bulldogs. Collins helped Mississippi State improve in four critical defensive categories (pass, rush, total and scoring), while the Bulldogs ranked fourth in the SEC in third-down defense. Mississippi State also forced 25 turnovers and allowed only 19 plays of 30 yards or more. With a slew of talent returning next year, Collins should have the Bulldogs’ defense performing at an even higher level in 2014.
Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator, Illinois
The Fighting Illini’s offense ranked last in the Big Ten in points and yards per game in 2012. Tim Beckman needed a quick fix, and Cubit proved to be the right answer. Illinois averaged 426.7 yards per game in 2013 (No. 5 in the Big Ten) and scored 30 points seven times last season. Cubit’s worked wonders for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. This offseason, he gets to develop Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt.
Ryan Day, offensive coordinator, Boston College
There wasn’t much flash to Boston College’s offense, but that’s not a necessity when you have a running back like Andre Williams. Under Day’s direction, the Eagles averaged nearly one more yard per play in 2013 (6.04 to 5.13 in 2012). Boston College was lethal in the red zone, converting 32 of 33 attempts for scores. Day has to develop a new quarterback for next season, but he can lean on a veteran offensive line and running back Myles Willis to lead the way early in the year.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
Replacing Chip Kelly as Oregon’s play-caller was no easy task. But Frost did an admirable job this year. The Ducks led the Pac-12 in total offense and averaged 7.6 yards per play. Oregon’s scoring average was down slightly in 2013 (45.5) from 2012 (49.6). However, the Ducks had more plays of 30 yards or more this season (41) than last year (36). Frost is a rising star in the assistant ranks and will be a head coach in the next few seasons.
David Gibbs, defensive coordinator, Houston
After working as the defensive coordinator at Minnesota (1997-00) and Auburn (2005), Gibbs dropped off the college radar for a few years. He spent time as an assistant with the Chiefs and Texans, along with a one-year stop in the UFL before joining Houston’s staff in 2013. Gibbs made an immediate impact on the Cougars’ defense. Houston finished ninth in the American Athletic Conference in yards allowed, but this unit made up for the yards by forcing a whopping 43 turnovers. The Cougars also finished third in the conference in red zone defense and held opponents to just 21.8 points per game.
Eddie Gran, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati
Gran has a wealth of experience as an assistant, starting his coaching career at Cal Lutheran in 1987. But despite his experience, Gran was never a play-caller until 2013 at Cincinnati. The Bearcats had seven starters returning on offense and didn’t miss a beat under the new coaching staff. Cincinnati led the American Athletic Conference by averaging 472.1 yards per game and nearly matched its scoring average from 2012 (32.1 in 2013 to 32.3 in 2012).
Chuck Heater, defensive coordinator, Marshall
Marshall’s defense was simply awful in 2012. The Thundering Herd ranked last in Conference USA in scoring defense (43.1 ppg) and allowed 456.6 yards per game. But under Heater’s direction, Marshall’s defense showed significant progress. The Thundering Herd allowed just 4.9 yards per play in 2013 and finished fifth in Conference USA in total defense (368.7 ypg). Marshall held its opponents to 22.9 points per game, generated 32 sacks and forced 26 turnovers.
Josh Henson, offensive coordinator, Missouri
Henson had some good fortune on his side, as the Tigers regained the services of running back Henry Josey and had a healthy James Franklin at quarterback this year. But the first-year play-caller pushed the right buttons in 2013. Missouri averaged 25.8 points a game in 2012, but Henson guided this attack to average of 39.1 in 2013. The offense also recorded 23 plays of 40 yards or more and was third in the SEC in red zone efficiency (87.5%).
Ellis Johnson, defensive coordinator, Auburn
Auburn nearly hit rock bottom with its 3-9 record in 2012. But the Tigers quickly rebounded under the direction of Gus Malzahn, who made a splash by hiring Johnson as his defensive coordinator. Johnson was fired after one year as Southern Mississippi’s coach, but the veteran coach is right at home in the coordinator ranks. Auburn’s defense wasn’t elite (12th in the SEC in total yards allowed). However, the Tigers led the SEC in fewest third-down conversions and ranked second in the conference in red zone defense. With more talent coming from the recruiting trail and another year to learn under Johnson, Auburn’s defense should take another step forward on the field in 2014.
Rhett Lashlee, offensive coordinator, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is the main architect and play-caller for Auburn’s offense, but Lashlee is a valuable soundboard for the head coach. Lashlee played under Malzahn in high school and worked with him at Arkansas, Arkansas State and Auburn.
Related: Grading College Football's First-Year Head Coaches from 2013
Brian Lindgren, offensive coordinator, Colorado
Lindgren played a key role in the development of San Jose State quarterback David Fales and has already made an impact in one season at Colorado. The Buffaloes ranked last in the conference in total offense but improved by averaging 67.6 more yards per game than they did in 2012. With a full offseason to work with quarterback Sefo Liufau, Colorado’s offense should take another step forward in 2014.
Doug Meacham, offensive coordinator, Houston
Meacham’s stay in Houston lasted only one year, but he made an impact on the Cougars’ offense. After starting quarterback David Piland was forced to retire, the offense turned to true freshman John O’Korn. Behind Meacham’s play-calling, Houston still managed to average 419.5 yards per game (5.7 yards per play) and 33.2 points per contest. Meacham left for TCU before the bowl game, and coach Tony Levine promoted Travis Bush to call the plays for the Cougars in 2014.
Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Utah State
Orlando inherited seven starters from a unit that allowed only 15.4 points a game in 2012, and this unit didn’t miss a beat with a new play-caller. Utah State led the Mountain West in total defense and allowed only 4.6 yards per play. The Aggies generated 34 sacks, 30 turnovers and allowed just 17.1 points per game.
Clancy Pendergast, defensive coordinator, USC
Even though Pendergast is searching for a new job for 2014, his work with USC should not be overlooked. After spending three years at California, Pendergast had a solid grasp on offenses in the Pac-12, which helped the Trojans’ defense improve from No. 7 in the conference to No. 1 in fewest yards allowed. USC held opponents to just 21.2 points per game and led the way in red zone defense in the Pac-12.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt’s debut at Florida State was a smashing success. In his first year as a defensive coordinator on the collegiate level, Pruitt had to replace seven starters from a unit that allowed just 254.1 yards per game in 2012. The Seminoles’ defense was among the best nationally once again despite the departed players, as Pruitt guided this unit to a No. 1 rank in fewest points allowed per game (12.1). Florida State also limited opponents to just 4.09 yards per play. Pruitt was hired away from Tallahassee to coordinate Georgia’s defense in 2014.
Ted Roof, defensive coordinator, Georgia Tech
Roof was hired away from Penn State to coordinate the Yellow Jackets’ defense and his first year was an improvement from Georgia Tech’s 2012 performance. The Yellow Jackets held opponents to 5.5 yards per play after allowing 5.7 last year. Georgia Tech also finished second in the ACC against the run and held opponents to just 22.8 points per game. Roof didn’t have a dynamic impact on the defense, but there was noticeable improvement in 2013.
Timm Rosenbach, offensive coordinator, UNLV
UNLV is Rosenbach’s fourth career stop as an offensive coordinator. Prior to joining Hauck’s staff in Las Vegas, he worked as the play-caller at Montana, New Mexico State and Eastern Washington. Rosenbach also has five years of experience from a stint as an assistant at Washington State. UNLV’s offense made noticeable improvement across the board in 2014. The Rebels averaged 43.9 more yards and eight points per game in 2013 than they did in 2012. Rosenbach’s work with quarterback Caleb Herring was a big reason why UNLV made a bowl trip in 2013.
One of the key pieces in Minnesota’s offense has decided to transfer. Quarterback Philip Nelson will depart Minneapolis after two years with the Golden Gophers.
Nelson threw for 1,306 yards and nine touchdowns and added 364 yards and six rushing scores in 2013.
Nelson’s 2013 numbers were a slight improvement from 2012, but the Minnesota native still has a ways to develop as a passer.
With Nelson’s decision to transfer, sophomore Mitch Leidner is expected to open spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback.
Leidner threw for 619 yards and three scores in 2013, including 205 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl loss against Syracuse.
Kill on Nelson: “Philip is a terrific young man. I wish him all the best as he continues his education and football career elsewhere,” cont— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
Kill: "I want to thank Philip for the contributions he made to our football program both on and off the field..." cont.— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
Kill: "...and I will do anything I can to help him both now and in the future.”— Gopher Football (@GopherFootball) January 16, 2014
The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 isn’t far behind in 2014.
Oregon, Stanford and UCLA each could rank inside of the top 10 in preseason polls. The Ducks should be a slight favorite to win the Pac-12, but there's not a wide gap to the Cardinal or Bruins.
Oregon has a slight edge over Stanford in our early Pac-12 predictions, but there’s very little separating these two teams in the North. With quarterback Marcus Mariota returning, along with this year’s matchup taking place in Eugene, the Ducks get the nod at No. 1 – for now.
Outside of the top trio of teams, Arizona State, USC and Washington should be preseason top 25 squads, while Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State won’t be too far behind.
The conference has plenty of depth for 2014, as California, Colorado and Utah should improve from last season’s record.
Early North Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Bralon Addison, WR Keanon Lowe, TE Johnny Mundt, LT Tyler Johnstone, LG Hamani Stevens, C Hroniss Grasu, RG Cameron Hunt, RT Jake Fisher, DE Tony Washington, DE DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead, DT Alex Balducci, LB Derrick Malone, LB Rodney Hardrick, LB Joe Walker, LB Rahim Cassell, LB Tyson Coleman, LB Torrodney Prevot, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Troy Hill, CB Dior Mathis, S Erick Dargan
Key Losses: RB De’Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, DT Taylor Hart, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Ricky Heimuli, LB Boseko Lokombo, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Avery Patterson, SS Brian Jackson
As we mentioned in the introduction, it’s a close call between Oregon and Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the Pac-12 North. These two teams won’t be separated by many spots in most preseason top 25 rankings, but for now, a slight edge goes to the Ducks. Why Oregon over Stanford? Marcus Mariota is back for one more year in Eugene, and the Ducks return five starters on the line. There’s also no shortage of skill players at Mariota’s disposal. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum won’t have to make too many tweaks to a defense that led the Pac-12 in fewest yards per play (4.6).
Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Barry Sanders, WR Ty Montgomery, WR Devon Cajuste, WR Michael Rector, WR Kodi Whitfield, LT Andrus Peat, OT Kyle Murphy, OG Joshua Garnett, DE Henry Anderson, DE Blake Lueders, DT David Parry, LB A.J. Tarpley, LB James Vaughters, LB Joe Hemschoot, LB Kevin Anderson, CB Alex Carter, CB Wayne Lyons, S Jordan Richards
Key Losses: RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson, LG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Josh Mauro, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB Jarek Lancaster, DB Usua Amanam, S Ed Reynolds, S Devon Carrington
As we mentioned with Oregon's writeup, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North next season. The Cardinal will have to play the Ducks in Eugene and face UCLA, Arizona State and USC in crossover play. Add in road dates at Washington and Notre Dame and it’s easy to see why Stanford might have the toughest schedule in college football next year. Quarterback Kevin Hogan should take another step in his development in 2014, but the Cardinal will have four new starters on the offensive line. The defense loses a few key pieces (Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds), but there’s enough talent returning to keep this unit near the top of the Pac-12.
Key Returnees: QB Cyler Miles, RB Jesse Callier, RB Dwayne Washington, RB Deontae Cooper, WR Jaydon Mickens, WR Kasen Williams, WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR John Ross, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, C Mike Criste, RG Colin Tanigawa, RT Ben Riva, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DE Cory Littleton, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, DT Evan Hudson, LB Shaq Thompson, LB John Timu, LB Travis Feeney, LB Scott Lawyer, CB Marcus Peters, S Kevin King
Key Losses: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kevin Smith, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LB Princeton Fuimaono, LB Thomas Tutogi, CB Gregory Ducre, S Sean Parker, S Will Shamburger, S Tre Watson
Behind new coach Chris Petersen, the Huskies will be a team to watch in 2014. Former coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, and the schedule is very manageable. Replacing Bishop Sankey is the team’s top question mark on offense, as new quarterback Cyler Miles was solid in relief duty last season. Another positive for Washington is the return of all five starters on the offensive line. The secondary has a few holes to fill in the offseason, but the front seven could be one of the best in the Pac-12.
4. Oregon State
Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, RB Storm Woods, WR Richard Mullaney, TE Connor Hamlett, TE Caleb Smith, C Isaac Seumalo, RT Sean Harlow, DE Dylan Wynn, DT Edwin Delva, LB Jabral Johnson, LB D.J. Alexander, LB Rommel Mageo, LB Caleb Saulo, LB Joel Skotte, CB Steven Nelson, S Tyrequek Zimmerman, S Ryan Murphy
Key Losses: WR Brandin Cooks, WR Kevin Cummings, LT Michael Philipp, LG Josh Andrews, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DT Mana Rosa, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin
The Beavers started 6-1 last season but finished 1-5 in their final six games. 2013 was an up-and-down campaign for Mike Riley’s team, as it lost the opener to Eastern Washington and fell by only eight points to Stanford and by one to Oregon. The NFL Draft early entry deadline wasn’t kind to Oregon State. Receiver Brandin Cooks and end Scott Crichton left early for the next level, but quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year. Mannion’s return is a huge plus for the offense, and the Beavers still have good talent at the skill positions. The offensive line is the biggest concern on offense next year. The defense will miss Crichton and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. But most of the starting core returns in 2014, including safety Ryan Murphy and cornerback Steven Nelson.
5. Washington State
Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Gabe Marks, WR Kristoff Williams, WR Dom Williams, WR River Cracraft, WR Rickey Galvin, LT Gunnar Eklund, LG Joe Dahl, DE Xavier Cooper, DT Kalafitoni Pole, DE/LB Kache Palacio, DE/LB Destiny Vaeao, LB Darryl Monroe, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Tana Pritchard, CB Daquawn Brown, FS Taylor Taliulu
Key Losses: WR Vince Mayle, C Elliot Bosch, RG Matt Goetz, RT John Fullington, NT Ioane Gauta, LB Justin Sagote, LB Jared Byers, CB Damante Horton, CB Nolan Washington, SS Deone Bucannon, S Casey Locker
After making a three-game improvement in the win column from 2012 to 2013, can the Cougars make a similar leap in 2014? Make no mistake, Washington State should be a better overall team next season. But improving to eight or nine wins might be a challenge. Quarterback Connor Halliday will have a better grasp of Mike Leach’s system, and the Cougars return one of the top receiving corps in the Pac-12. The offensive line and getting just a bit more production from the ground game are the two spring priorities for Leach and his staff. The defense regressed slightly in the stat column last season. All-American safety Deone Bucannon will be tough to replace, and the secondary will also miss cornerbacks Damante Horton and Nolan Washington.
Key Returnees: QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Chris Harper, WR Kenny Lawler, WR Darius Powe, LT Christian Okafor, C Jordan Rigsbee, RG Alejandro Crosthwaite, RT Steven Moore, DE/LB Kyle Kragen, DE/LB Puka Lopa, LB Hardy Nickerson, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Michael Barton, LB Lucas King, CB Stefan McClure, CB Joel Willis, CB Cedric Dozier, SS Cameron Walker, FS Michael Lowe, FS Damariay Drew, S Avery Sebastian
Key Losses: TE Richard Rodgers, DE Dan Camporeale, NT Deandre Coleman, DT Viliami Moala, LB Khairi Fortt, CB Kameron Jackson
Injuries and youth played a huge role in California’s struggles last season. The Golden Bears were able to allow some of their young players to play a lot of snaps due to the injuries, but losing Richard Rodgers, Viliami Moala, Khairi Fortt and Kameron Johnson early for the NFL is a blow to the depth. While Sonny Dykes’ debut was a disappointment, it’s hard for the Golden Bears to sink much lower in 2014. Improvement should be noticeable on both sides of the ball next year. Quarterback Jared Goff will have another offseason to work under Dykes and coordinator Tony Franklin. And Dykes smartly cleaned house on defense and will hire a new coordinator for 2014. California should be more competitive next season, but a winning record is a year (or two) away.
Early South Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Paul Perkins, RB Jordon James, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, WR Devin Lucien, TE Thomas Duarte, OT Simon Goines, OL Scott Quessenberry, C Jake Brendel, OG Alex Redmond, RT Caleb Benenoch, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, DT Kenny Clark, DT Ellis McCarthy, DL Owamagbe Odighizuwa, LB Eric Kendricks, LB/RB Myles Jack, LB Isaako Savaiinaea, CB Ishmael Adams, CB Fabian Moreau, CB Priest Willis, S Tahaan Goodman, S Anthony Jefferson
Key Losses: WR Shaquelle Evans, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Keenan Graham, DT Seali’l Epenesa, LB Jordan Zumwalt, LB Anthony Barr, S Brandon Sermons
Could 2014 be a special season for UCLA? Quarterback Brett Hundley turned down a shot at the NFL for one more year with the Bruins, and a challenging schedule will allow Jim Mora’s team to make a compelling case for one of the four playoff spots. Hundley’s return is a huge plus for UCLA, and the junior should have more help from an offensive line that shuffled a handful of players into the lineup due to injuries. Replacing linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh will be the biggest obstacles to overcome on defense. However, Mora has recruited well, and Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes are two players poised for a bigger role in 2014. As for the schedule, UCLA has crossover games against Stanford, Oregon and Washington, along with a non-conference test against Texas. But two of those games (Oregon and Stanford) are in the Rose Bowl, and the Bruins host Arizona and USC in key Pac-12 matchups.
Key Returnees: QB Cody Kessler, RB Tre Madden, RB Javorius Allen, RB Justin Davis, WR Nelson Agholor, WR Darreus Rogers, TE Randall Telfer, LT Chad Wheeler, LG Max Tuerk, DE Leonard Williams, DL J.R. Tavai, NT Antwaun Woods, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Anthony Sarao, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Jabari Ruffin, CB Josh Shaw, CB Kevon Seymour, S Su’a Cravens, S Leon McQuay III
Key Losses: RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, TE Xavier Grimble, C Marcus Martin, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE George Uko, LB Morgan Breslin, LB Devon Kennard, CB Torin Harris, S Dion Bailey, S Demetrius Wright
It’s a coin flip for the No. 2 spot in the South Division between USC and Arizona State. Before spring practice gets underway, there’s very little separating these two teams. For now, a slight edge goes to the Trojans. New coach Steve Sarkisian is still dealing with scholarship limitations and depth issues at USC. However, the Trojans’ roster isn’t totally depleted. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw only one interception over his last five games and will have a deep group of running backs at his disposal. The receiving corps isn’t overflowing with options, but Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell is a solid trio to build around. The biggest concern on offense is the line, as there’s not a lot of depth, and three starters left after 2013. Assuming the defense avoids any major injuries next year, the Trojans have enough pieces returning to finish near the top of the Pac-12 in total defense again.
3. Arizona State
Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, RB D.J. Foster, WR Jaelen Strong, WR Richard Smith, LG Jamil Douglas, RG Vi Teofilo, RT Tyler Sulka, DL Jaxon Hood, DL Marcus Hardison, LB Salamo Fiso, LB Carlos Mendoza, CB Lloyd Carrington, S Damarious Randall, LB/S Viliami Moeakiola
Key Losses: RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, TE Chris Coyle, LT Evan Finkenberg, RG Kody Koebensky, DE Davon Coleman, DT Will Sutton, DT Gannon Conway, LB Carl Bradford, LB Anthony Jones, LB Steffon Martin, LB Grandville Taylor, LB Chris Young, CB Robert Nelson, CB Osahon Irabor, S Alden Darby
Todd Graham has his work cut out for him this spring. The Sun Devils are the defending Pac-12 champions, but there are a handful of standout players leaving. Offensively, there are concerns. But there’s enough returning for Arizona State to remain near the top of the Pac-12 in scoring. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is back after throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 scores last season. Running back Marion Grice will be missed, but D.J. Foster is a capable replacement. The Sun Devils may have to win a lot of shootouts next season, especially with a defense that was decimated by departures. Tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford, safety Alden Darby, cornerback Robert Nelson and linebacker Chris Young were all selected to the Pac-12 all-conference team in 2013. Needless to say, that’s a ton of talent to replace in one year. Arizona State does catch a break in scheduling, as UCLA and Stanford visit Tempe in 2014.
Key Returnees: RB Jared Baker, WR Samajie Grant, WR Nate Phillips, WR Garic Wharton, WR David Richards, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Cayman Bundage, C Steven Gurrola, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, LB Scooby Wright, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Jared Tevis, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Jourdon Grandon, S William Parks
Key Losses: QB B.J. Denker, RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Terrence Miller, RG Chris Putton, DE Sione Tuihalamaka, NT Tevin Hood, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Jake Fischer, CB Shaquille Richardson
Rich Rodriguez has Arizona trending in the right direction (back-to-back 8-5 seasons). But the Wildcats may take a small step back in 2014, especially with quarterback B.J. Denker expiring his eligibility, and running back Ka’Deem Carey leaving for the NFL. The quarterback battle will be the biggest storyline in the spring, and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon could be the frontrunner to replace Denker. The Wildcats have options to replace Carey, but there’s no clear-cut favorite. After finishing last in the Pac-12 in total defense in 2012, Arizona made small progress in 2013. The Wildcats finished eighth last season, and on a positive note, return most of last year's starting group for 2014. A favorable schedule should allow Arizona to open 4-0 next year. But the next four games on the slate are brutal: at Oregon, USC, at Washington State and at UCLA.
Key Returnees: QB Adam Schulz, RB Bubba Poole, WR Dres Anderson, WR Geoff Norwood, LT Jeremiah Poutasi, RG Junior Salt, RT Siaosi Aiono, DE Nate Orchard, DE Hunter Dimick, LB Jason Whittingham, LB Jared Norris, LB Jacoby Hale, LB V.J. Fehoko, LB/S Brian Blechen, CB Davion Orphey, CB Justin Thomas, S Eric Rowe, K Andy Phillips
Key Losses: RB Kelvin York, WR Sean Fitzgerald, WR Anthony Denham, LG Jeremiah Tofaeono, C Vyncent Jones, DE Trevor Reilly, DT Tenny Palepoi, DT LT Tuipulotu, CB Keith McGill, S Michael Walker, DB Mike Honeycutt, TE Jake Murphy
After an 8-5 debut in the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are just 10-14 over their last two years. Defense certainly hasn’t been the problem in Salt Lake City. Utah has ranked seventh or higher in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three seasons. Rebuilding the line will be a priority for Kyle Whittingham and coordinator Kilani Sitake, as Trevor Reilly and tackles Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu have expired their eligibility. If the Utes want to end a two-year bowl drought, the offense has to improve. And Whittingham made a solid addition to his staff by bringing aboard former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to call the plays. Although Christensen should make a difference, the quarterback situation is unsettled. Can Travis Wilson return to the team? Or will Adam Schulz get the nod under center? Will redshirt freshman Conner Manning factor into the position? Utah won’t have much room for error to get to a bowl in 2014, as the schedule features crossover games against Oregon and Stanford, along with a non-conference matchup against Michigan.
Key Returnees: QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, RB Michael Adkins II, WR Nelson Spruce, WR D.D. Goodson, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Kaiwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer, RT Stephane Nembot, DE Juda Parker, DE Samson Kafovalu, DT Justin Solis, DT Josh Tupou, LB Addison Gillam, LB Woodson Greer III, CB Greg Henderson, CB Kenneth Crawley, S Jered Bell, S Tedric Thompson
Key Losses: WR Paul Richardson, LT Jack Harris, C Gus Handler, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, LB Derrick Webb, S Parker Orms
The Buffaloes improved their win total by three games in Mike MacIntyre’s first season, and all signs point to this program getting back on track under this coaching staff. There should be more improvement in 2014, especially as Sefo Liufau gets a full offseason of practice under his belt. As a freshman, he threw for 1,779 yards and 12 scores last season. The biggest loss on offense is receiver Paul Richardson, while the offensive line has to replace two starters. Colorado’s defense has ranked 10th or worse in the Pac-12 in yards allowed in each of the last three years. Most of last year’s core returns in 2014, including standout linebacker Addison Gillam. But can this unit make significant progress next season? The Buffaloes have to get tougher against the run and need to generate a better pass rush (only 17 sacks in 2013).
The SEC’s national title streak was stopped at seven with Florida State’s victory over Auburn on Jan. 6. But all was not lost for the SEC, as the conference finished the BCS era with nine championships, and the playoff era will only help the SEC get more teams into elite bowls.
Turning the page to 2014, the balance of power is clearly in the West Division. Alabama and Auburn should be preseason top-five teams, LSU is likely to be ranked in the 10-15 range, while Texas A&M and Ole Miss may also begin the year in the top 25. Mississippi State is a team on the rise next season, and Dan Mullen’s team could surprise in 2014.
While the picture is relatively clear in the West, things are cloudy in the East. For starters, which team should be the favorite? Is it Georgia? The Bulldogs return most of their key personnel, but Hutson Mason is in his first year as the starting quarterback. Also, is the hire of Jeremy Pruitt enough to elevate the defense? South Carolina loses a handful of key players on defense, and underrated quarterback Connor Shaw is also out of eligibility. Missouri must replace end Michael Sam, quarterback James Franklin and cornerback E.J. Gaines. But new starter Maty Mauk and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be one of the top pass-catch duos in the SEC.
Tennessee is expected to improve under second-year coach Butch Jones, and Florida has more talent than its 4-8 record last year indicated. Kentucky is also making progress under Mark Stoops, while Vanderbilt figures to be in bowl contention despite the loss of coach James Franklin.
Early East Division Predictions for 2014
There’s not much separating Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri in the East next year. A slight pre-spring edge goes to the Bulldogs, but a strong case can be made for South Carolina or Missouri. New quarterback Hutson Mason was able to make two starts at the end of 2013 due to Aaron Murray’s season-ending knee injury, and the senior will be surrounded by one of the top supporting casts in the SEC. Running back Todd Gurley is back, while receiver Malcolm Mitchell and running back Keith Marshall return from knee injuries. Replacing three starters is arguably Georgia’s biggest concern on offense next year. With eight new starters, the defense was expected to struggle in 2013. The Bulldogs ranked eighth in the SEC in yards allowed and gave up 29 points per game. But this unit should show significant improvement next year, as Jeremy Pruitt has been hired away from Florida State to coordinate the defense and there’s a ton of talent returning. The linebacker duo of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should be among the best in the nation.
2. South Carolina
The Gamecocks have three consecutive 11-win seasons and should be in the mix to win the East Division in 2014. But this team isn’t without question marks. Quarterback Connor Shaw has expired his eligibility, and Dylan Thompson will take over the reigns under center. Thompson has played well in a relief role and threw for 222 yards in a win over Missouri last season. Running back Mike Davis returns, and the Gamecocks should be solid on the offensive line with four starters returning. The defense suffered a few significant personnel losses in the trenches, as end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles left early for the NFL Draft and Chaz Sutton expired his eligibility. Cornerback Victor Hampton also declared for the NFL. South Carolina has to play at Florida, Clemson and Auburn next year, but Georgia and Missouri visit Williams-Brice Stadium.
Despite the departures of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, Missouri will be back in the mix for the SEC East title. Replacing Franklin under center will be Maty Mauk, who finished 2013 with 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy are slated to replace Josey’s production, while the receiving corps is in good hands with Dorial Green-Beckham, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt. Left tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland will be missed on the offensive line. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Gary Pinkel’s team, but can the defense match last year’s production? Ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are gone, and cornerback E.J. Gaines also expired his eligibility. The Tigers have to play at South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M, but Georgia visits Faurot Field.
There wasn’t much that went Florida’s way last year. The Gators started 4-1, but injuries and an inconsistent offense eventually doomed this team to a 4-8 final mark. Will Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, bringing in Kurt Roper from Duke to call the plays and Mike Summers from USC to replace Davis. Roper and Summers should help the offense, but the Gators also need more from quarterback Jeff Driskel and the receiving corps. Running back Kelvin Taylor is a solid piece to build around, and there’s no question Florida has recruited well. It’s time for some of that talent to turn into production on offense. Even with cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and linebacker Ronald Powell leaving for the NFL, the Gators should be one of the best in the SEC on defense. Crossover games with LSU and Alabama will be tough, but Missouri and South Carolina visit the Swamp.
As expected, Butch Jones’ first season in Knoxville wasn’t easy. Tennessee finished 5-7 for the third consecutive year, but this team was just a couple of plays away from making a bowl. The Volunteers lost by four to Vanderbilt and by three to Georgia. Improvement should be noticeable in 2014, especially as Jones continues to reel in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will battle for the starting quarterback spot, and the coaching staff has to find a way to replace all five starters on the offensive line. The question marks aren’t limited just to offense, as the Volunteers allowed 6.08 yards per play in SEC games last season. More talent and overall depth is needed on that side of the ball, but the coaching staff has a few pieces to build around, including linebacker A.J. Johnson and cornerback Cameron Sutton.
James Franklin set the bar high in Nashville. The Commodores played in three consecutive bowl games and posted back-to-back nine-win seasons under Franklin. Can the next coach elevate Vanderbilt once again? Regardless of who is on the sidelines, the Commodores have a few significant holes to fill. On offense, receiver Jordan Matthews will be tough to replace. Matthews accounted for 112 receptions out of Vanderbilt’s 243 completions in 2013. Not only is Matthews out of eligibility, but Jonathan Krause is set to depart, leaving Jordan Cunningham (15 receptions) as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Quarterbacks Patton Robinette and Johnny McCrary are promising, while running back Jerron Seymour is a potential 1,000-yard rusher in 2014. The defense also loses some key players, including tackle Jared Morse, end Walker May, linebacker Chase Garnham and all four starters in the secondary.
Mark Stoops has the Wildcats trending in the right direction. Recruiting is going well, and Kentucky is upgrading their facilities. Even though the Wildcats did not win a SEC game last year, this team was more competitive than it was in 2013. Kentucky lost by six to Mississippi State and by seven to South Carolina. With more talent, the Wildcats will be able to close the gap even more in 2014. Settling the quarterback spot and filling a few holes on defense are the top priorities for Stoops this spring. The Wildcats have Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith returning for 2014, but incoming freshman Drew Barker is a name to watch in the quarterback derby. Defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, along with linebacker Avery Williamson will be tough to replace.
Early West Division Predictions for 2014
Flip a coin between Alabama and Auburn for the top spot in the West next year. For now, a slight edge goes to the Crimson Tide, largely due to next year’s matchup being in Tuscaloosa. After losing the final two games of 2013, Nick Saban decided to shake up the coaching staff, and former USC coach Lane Kiffin will call the plays in 2014. Kiffin has to settle on a quarterback, whether that’s Blake Sims, David Cornwell, Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris. And of course, there’s a possibility a transfer could change the outlook of the quarterback battle. While the offense settles on someone under center, the team can lean on a deep stable of running backs. The one-two punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry could be the best in the nation in 2014. As usual, Alabama will be strong on defense. But linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Adrian Hubbard and end Ed Stinson are big losses. If the Crimson Tide is going to get back to the national championship, they have to navigate road dates at LSU and Ole Miss.
As we mentioned above, it’s a close call for the top spot in the West for 2014. A compelling case could be made for either Auburn or Alabama. The Tigers and Crimson Tide are essentially 1A and 1B in the West right now. Auburn made the unlikely jump from 3-9 to nearly winning the national championship last season, and there’s little reason to doubt this team can make a similar run in 2014. Quarterback Nick Marshall is the perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense and should improve with another offseason to work in this scheme. Running back Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson are big losses, but four other starters are back on the line, and Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are capable replacements at running back. The biggest concern for Auburn this spring will be the defense. The Tigers allowed 29.6 points per contest in nine SEC games, and end Dee Ford, tackle Nosa Eguae, cornerback Chris Davis and linebacker Jake Holland are significant departures. But Malzahn is recruiting well, and three sophomores (Elijah Daniel, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams) will be the new leaders up front. Late-season road games against Georgia and Alabama should determine whether or not Auburn repeats as the West Division champ.
For the second consecutive season, LSU was hit hard by departures to the NFL Draft. This year, the Tigers lost receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, running back Jeremy Hill and offensive lineman Trai Turner. Although LSU has recruited well, it’s inevitable the early departures could hurt this team’s depth at some point. In addition to the NFL Draft early entrants, the Tigers need to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was one of the most-improved players in the nation in 2013. Anthony Jennings is the frontrunner to replace Mettenberger, but this team will likely rely on its rushing attack next year. LSU is bringing in the nation’s top running back in Leonard Fournette, and four starters return on the line. The Tigers returned only three starters on defense in 2013 and still finished third in the SEC in fewest yards allowed per game. Even with the departure of both starting defensive tackles, safety Craig Loston and linebacker Lamin Barrow, LSU should rank near the top of the conference in total and scoring defense once again.
4. Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has Ole Miss trending up after 15 wins in his first two seasons in Oxford. The Rebels reeled in one of the nation’s top-five recruiting classes last season, and Freeze should see that talent develop into All-SEC contributors in 2014. The offseason should help quarterback Bo Wallace return to 100 percent after shoulder surgery slowed his development last year. Wallace won’t have Donte Moncrief available after he left early for the NFL Draft. But the Rebels are stockpiling an impressive group of weapons, starting with Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders at receiver, along with Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers at running back. The offensive line will be overhauled this offseason, but the return of guard Aaron Morris from a season-ending knee injury is a huge plus. The Rebels won’t lose much on defense. And this unit should improve with Robert Nkemdiche and Tony Conner returning for their sophomore seasons. With Alabama and Auburn visiting Oxford next year, Ole Miss could play a key role in shaping the outcome of the West Division.
5. Texas A&M
With the Aggies recruiting at a high level, Kevin Sumlin’s team will be back in the mix for a SEC title in the next few years. But with Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans declaring for the NFL Draft, Texas A&M is due to take a step back in the win column in 2014. Who replaces Manziel is a huge question mark, but again, there’s talent in place. Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill will push senior Matt Joeckel for the starting spot. Allen is regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2014 signing class. Even with Evans leaving and tackle Jake Matthews expiring his eligibility, the winner of the quarterback battle will have a strong supporting cast. Regardless of how well the offense performs, Texas A&M has to find answers on defense. The Aggies allowed 499.1 yards and 36.5 points per game in eight SEC contests. Youth and inexperience factored prominently into the struggles, so another offseason under coordinator Mark Snyder should help this unit eliminate some of the mistakes. And there’s plenty of help on the way from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
6. Mississippi State
Looking for a potential sleeper in the SEC West next year? Take a look at the Bulldogs. No, we don’t expect Mississippi State to win the division. But if there’s one team that could easily outperform its preseason rank in 2014, the Bulldogs would have our vote. Dan Mullen has raised expectations in Starkville, and the 2014 squad could be the best of his tenure. Dak Prescott looks like the answer at quarterback, and receiver Jameon Lewis figures to be in the mix for All-SEC honors. The biggest loss on offense is replacing standout guard Gabe Jackson. Nearly everyone is back from a defense that finished fifth in the SEC in total defense. Tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Benardrick McKinney are two players to watch next year.
The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, so improvement could be minimal in the win column for Arkansas in Bret Bielema’s second year. Before spring practice starts, Bielema needs to fill two voids on his coaching staff, including the defensive coordinator position after Chris Ash left for Ohio State. The Razorbacks need a jump in production from quarterback Brandon Allen in 2014, and the junior will have plenty of help from running backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, along with tight end Hunter Henry. Center Travis Swanson will be tough to replace. Defensive end Chris Smith has expired his eligibility, but the pass rush should be set after Trey Flowers decided to stay for his final season. The rest of the defense largely returns intact, with tackle Darius Philon due for a breakout year. One positive for Arkansas last season was this team didn’t quit despite the losing record. The Razorbacks lost by 10 to Ole Miss, followed by an overtime defeat to Mississippi State and a four-point loss to LSU. Arkansas should be better in 2014, but improvement may only result in a 4-8 or 5-7 mark overall.
The early entry deadline for the 2014 NFL Draft has passed, and a record number of college football underclassmen are set to jump to the next level.
With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.
The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.
Florida State lost Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, but the Seminoles have to be considered one of the big winners of the deadline. The defections to the next level could have been a lot worse in Tallahassee, as offensive linemen Cameron Erving, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias are all set to return to Florida State for 2014.
One of the losers of the draft deadline was LSU. The Tigers are set to lose six players to the NFL this offseason.
College Football’s NFL Draft Winners and Losers for 2014
Running back Lache Seastrunk will be missed, but quarterback Bryce Petty’s decision to return keeps Baylor in the win column. Petty was the top quarterback in the Big 12 last season and could be in the mix for All-America honors in 2014. Petty’s return also provides Baylor an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 champions.
Sure, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will be missed. But the defections to the NFL could have been a lot worse. Left tackle Cameron Erving and guards Tre Jackson and Josue Matias will anchor an offensive line that returns four starters. Receiver Rashad Greene’s return provides quarterback Jameis Winston a go-to target until some of the younger options emerge. Jernigan is the team’s biggest loss out of the early entry announcements.
The Hurricanes didn’t have many glaring targets for the NFL, but end Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman decided to return to Coral Gables for their senior season. While neither player was likely to be a selection in the first two rounds, their return is a huge boost for a defense that has struggled mightily in each of the last two seasons. The Hurricanes allowed 32.8 points a game in eight ACC contests in 2013. Chickillo and Perryman should be all-conference candidates in 2014.
The Cornhuskers ended last season with a little momentum thanks to their win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl. But the good news extended into early January for Bo Pelini and his coaching staff. Running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory decided to return next season, and both players could be among the best in the Big Ten in 2014.
It’s hard to place Ohio State strictly in the winners category with linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby leaving Columbus for the NFL. After all, the defense was the biggest issue for the Buckeyes in 2013. However, the biggest piece in Ohio State’s national title hopes next season is quarterback Braxton Miller. When healthy, Miller is a Heisman contender and one of the top players in the Big Ten. Yes, the Buckeyes have issues on defense. But it’s hard to win a national title if you don’t have a quarterback.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State
Let’s group both SEC schools from Mississippi into this category. It may seem strange to list both teams in this article – especially Ole Miss since Donte Moncrief left early – but there’s a bigger picture victory here. With Texas A&M losing Johnny Manziel and LSU losing another batch of players early to the NFL, the opportunity is there for Ole Miss and Mississippi State to move up in the SEC West pecking order. Can they seize that opportunity in 2014?
The Ducks lost cornerback Terrance Mitchell to the NFL Draft and it was no surprise when De’Anthony Thomas also declared. However, the key piece in Oregon’s national title hopes is back on campus for 2014. Quarterback Marcus Mariota decided to return for his junior year and should be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman next year. Mark Helfrich’s bid to lead the Ducks back to the Pac-12 title was also helped by the decisions of center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return next year.
Yes, Stanford, USC and Oregon suffered some key personnel losses. However, the return of Ducks’ quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA signal-caller Brett Hundley should allow the Pac-12 to have two national title contenders in 2014.
The Badgers had few players capable of leaving early for the NFL Draft. Running back Melvin Gordon was one of the Big Ten’s top rushers in 2013, recording 1,609 yards on 206 attempts. With a short shelf life of running backs, Gordon was expected to declare for the NFL. However, he announced his intentions to return in mid-December and should be the focal point of the Badgers’ offense in 2014. With James White expiring his eligibility, Gordon should approach 250-275 carries next year and will be a preseason All-American.
Running back Tre Mason and tackle Greg Robinson were two key cogs in Auburn’s run to a spot in the national championship game. Neither player had much to gain by returning, so it’s no surprise Mason and Robinson declared for the NFL Draft. Mason was one of the top offensive players in the nation this year and finished sixth in Heisman voting. Robinson – only a sophomore in 2013 – was already one of the top offensive tackles in the SEC.
As if a 1-11 record in 2013 wasn’t bad enough, the Golden Bears couldn’t catch a break in the early entry process. Five players declared for the draft, including linebacker Khairi Fortt, cornerback Kameron Jackson, defensive tackle Viiliami Moala, tight end Richard Rodgers and running back Brendan Bigelow. With injuries hitting California hard last season, some of the younger players had an early chance to play. That should help the depth in 2014, but Dykes and his coaching staff are losing five potential starters to the draft.
The Tigers received some last-minute deadline news, as end Vic Beasley announced his intention to return in 2014. But Beasley’s decision was the lone bit of positive news around the deadline for Clemson. The Tigers lost receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, along with cornerback Bashaud Breeland. With quarterback Tajh Boyd already out of eligibility, Clemson is set to take a step back in the win column in 2014.
It’s hard to find many bright spots on last year’s 4-8 team. But if there was one area Florida could feel good about, the defense was that place. The Gators finished second in the SEC in total defense and first against the pass. Those numbers will be tested in 2014, as cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the draft. Linebacker Ronald Powell is also leaving Gainesville early, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley decided to pass on applying for a medical redshirt due to a season-ending knee injury.
Another year, another spot in this category for LSU. It’s a good sign the Tigers are attracting top-notch talent and sending those players to the NFL. However, losing 11 players last season and six after 2013 is a lot of talent to replace in a short period of time. LSU was able to navigate the personnel losses to a 10-win season, and it’s not unreasonable to expect this program to hit that mark in 2014. But some of the losses will be tough to overcome in one offseason. Receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham combined for 136 of LSU’s 205 catches in 2013. And Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are huge losses at defensive tackle, leaving Christian LaCouture and Quentin Thomas as the top options on the interior. LSU is going to be fine in the long run. But the early entries have dealt this team a significant blow to have a shot at winning the SEC West in 2014.
After winning six out of their final seven games, the Tar Heels are one of the frontrunners to win the Coastal Division in 2014. But Larry Fedora’s team will have to overcome a few personnel defections, including tight end Eric Ebron and center Russell Bodine. Left tackle James Hurst was already set to depart, which makes Bodine’s decision to leave an even bigger setback for the offensive line.
Brian Kelly has been a busy man this offseason. The Fighting Irish have to replace both coordinators for 2014, quarterback Everett Golson is slated to rejoin the team, and there’s holes on the roster thanks to a few early departures to the NFL. Tackle Louis Nix, end Stephon Tuitt, tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III all declared early. Atkinson III’s decision to leave was a surprise, but Nix and Tuitt could be first-round picks in the draft. Niklas averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2013 and was primed to be one of the nation’s top tight ends in 2014.
Mike Riley’s team had quite the roller coaster ride in 2013. The Beavers lost the opener to Eastern Washington but won their next six games. Oregon State won just one of its last six games (Hawaii Bowl vs. Boise State), so there’s plenty of work ahead for Riley and his staff this offseason. Although quarterback Sean Mannion decided to return for his senior year, losing receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton is a huge blow. Cooks led the nation with 1,730 receiving yards, while Crichton led the team with 7.5 sacks.
The Nittany Lions made one of the offseason’s top hires by pulling James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. But Penn State and quarterback Christian Hackenberg won’t have one of the Big Ten’s top receivers at his disposal, as Allen Robinson decided to declare for the NFL. Robinson caught 97 of the Nittany Lions’ 241 receptions last year.
Due to some heavy personnel losses on defense, scoring was up in the SEC in 2013. The narrative could be switched in 2014, as the SEC watched some of its top offensive players leave early for the draft. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief and Missouri’s Henry Josey all declared for the NFL. Add in the departures of AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Jordan Matthews and it’s clear offenses will regress in the SEC next year.
There’s not much separating Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina in the SEC East next year. Could the Gamecocks’ early departures prevent this team from winning the division? It’s possible, but Steve Spurrier and this staff have recruited well, and there’s talent waiting to step up. However, the production on the defensive line will drop with end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles leaving for the NFL. Cornerback Victor Hampton and receiver Bruce Ellington are two other early entries.
After winning 34 games over the last three seasons, David Shaw will have his work cut out for him in 2014. Stanford is losing a handful of key players due to graduation, but the early entry deadline also added a few departures. Tackle Cameron Fleming, safety Ed Reynolds and guard David Yankey passed on another year on the Farm for life in the NFL. Yankey and Reynolds were arguably the best players at their position in college football, while Fleming was an All-Pac-12 tackle. Stanford has some huge holes to fill for 2014.
The departures of quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans to the NFL Draft was no surprise for Texas A&M’s coaching staff. But that doesn’t make it any easier for coach Kevin Sumlin, especially in the brutal SEC West. There was one bit of good news for the Aggies at the draft deadline. Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi decided to stay for his senior year. He could be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation next year.
After a 12-1 mark in 2013, it will be hard for the Knights to have a better year in 2014. The American Athletic Conference is wide open, but UCF’s hopes of repeating took a blow when quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson declared for the NFL Draft. The Knights aren’t short on talent on the roster and most of the core returns next year. But Bortles – a likely first-round pick – and Johnson were two of the conference’s top offensive players.
With scholarship limitations, USC can’t afford to have many players leave early for the NFL Draft. The Trojans had a few this year, as center Marcus Martin, receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Xavier Grimble, defensive tackle George Uko and safety Dion Bailey all passed on another year in Los Angeles. Martin’s departure is a setback for an offensive line that was already set to lose a couple of starters and was short on depth.
It was no surprise when running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins declared for the NFL Draft. However, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins are two elite playmakers in the Pac-12 and will be tough to replace. The departure of both players is magnified even more when you consider Washington is set to break in a new starting quarterback next year.
Craig Bohl was a great hire for Wyoming, but the first-year coach inherits a team with very little experience at quarterback. Brett Smith decided to leave early for the NFL this offseason, and backup Jason Thompson transferred to Utah. Smith’s departure is a huge setback, as he was set to be one of the Mountain West’s top quarterbacks next year.
The ACC finished the BCS era on a high note. Florida State defeated Auburn for the national championship, and Clemson won the Orange Bowl over Ohio State. Also, the ACC had 11 teams play in a bowl.
After a satisfying end to the 2013 season, the ACC is poised for another solid year in 2014. Florida State is an early favorite to win the national championship, and despite losing quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson is ranked in many early preseason top 25 lists.
Louisville loses quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the return of Bobby Petrino should ensure the Cardinals won’t suffer too much on offense. Syracuse is also a team to watch in 2014, as coach Scott Shafer returns most of his starting lineup from last season.
While the Atlantic Division seems set at the top, the Coastal Division is an enigma. Miami has talent, but is this the year the Hurricanes finally play for the conference title? If Miami isn’t the Coastal favorite, how about North Carolina? Is Duke ready to repeat?
Considering the uncertainty in the Coastal, it’s possible no team from this division may begin the year ranked.
Early Atlantic Division Predictions for 2014
1. Florida State
Key Returnees: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Rashad Greene, WR Christian Green, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, LG Josue Matias, RG Tre Jackson, RT Bobby Hart, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DE Chris Casher, DE Eddie Goldman, DT Nile Lawrence-Stample, LB Terrance Smith, LB Reggie Northrup, LB E.J. Levenberry, LB Ukeme Eligwe, CB Ronald Darby, CB P.J. Williams, CB/S Jalen Ramsey, CB Nick Waisome, S Tyler Hunter, S Nate Andrews, K Roberto Aguayo
Key Losses: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, C Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Telvin Smith, LB Christian Jones, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks
Repeating won’t be easy for Florida State. After all, only one team in the BCS era was able to pull off the back-to-back title (Alabama – 2011-12). However, the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the national championship. Quarterback Jameis Winston set the bar high in his freshman season and should benefit from another offseason to learn under Jimbo Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders. There’s some turnover on the supporting cast, but Karlos Williams and incoming freshman Dalvin Cook will be a standout pair at running back. The bigger question mark is at receiver, where Kelvin Benjamin left early for the NFL and Kenny Shaw departs after averaging 17.3 yards per catch in 2013. Fisher needs to replace coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and a handful of key players on defense, but Florida State has capable replacements waiting in the wings at linebacker and in the secondary. There’s concern at defensive tackle, especially with Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL. The schedule also sets up favorably for a run at the title once again. Florida State opens the year with a rebuilding Oklahoma State squad and hosts Florida to finish the regular season. The toughest road games in conference play are very manageable: at Syracuse and at Miami.
Key Returnees: RB Zac Brooks, RB D.J. Howard, WR Adam Humphries, WR Charone Peake, WR Mike Williams, WR Germone Hopper, TE Stanton Seckinger, LG David Beasley, RT Isaiah Battle, C Ryan Norton, DE Corey Crawford, DE Vic Beasley, DE Shaq Lawson, DT Grady Jarrett, DT D.J. Reader, LB Stephone Anthony, LB Kellen Jones, S Jayron Kearse, S Robert Smith, S Travis Blanks
Key Losses: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Martavis Bryant, LT Brandon Thomas, RG Tyler Shatley, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Quandon Christian, CB Darius Robinson, CB Bashaud Breeland, K Chandler Catanzaro
Clemson is coming off the best three-year stretch in school history. Dabo Swinney has raised expectations in Death Valley, but with quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins leaving, the Tigers have some work to do in order to post their fourth straight season of at least 10 wins. Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly are the frontrunners to replace Boyd, but incoming freshman Deshaun Watson is a name to watch. With Chad Morris calling the plays, this offense shouldn’t suffer too much, but Boyd and Watkins will be missed. Clemson finished third in the ACC in total defense last season (5.03 yards per play) and held ACC opponents to just 21 points a game. The Tigers should be set in the front seven, but cornerback is a concern with Bashaud Breeland leaving early for the NFL.
Key Returnees: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, RB George Morris, WR Ashton Broyld, WR Brisly Estime, WR Jarrod West, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, RG Nick Robinson, RT Ivan Foy, DE Robert Welsh, DE Micah Anderson, DE Ron Thompson, DT Eric Crume, LB Cameron Lynch, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Josh Kirkland, LB Marqez Hodge, CB Brandon Reddish, CB Wayne Morgan, S Durell Eskridge, S Ritchy Desir, S Darius Kelly
Key Losses: RB Jerome Smith, WR Christopher Clark, C Macky MacPherson, DT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes
The Orange were picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Division at ACC Football Kickoff in late July. With quarterback Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone leaving Syracuse to coach for the Bills, most expected Syracuse to finish with a losing record. Instead, the Orange claimed third behind Florida State and Clemson in the division and won four out of their last six games. Quarterback Terrel Hunt showed progress late in the year, and receiver Brisly Estime caught 20 passes over the final four games. With Hunt expected to take the next step in his development this offseason, and four starters returning on the line, Syracuse should be set on offense. Defense is coach Scott Shafer’s specialty, and the Orange have a few holes to fill in the spring. Tackle Jay Bromley was one of the ACC’s most underrated players from 2013. Linebacker Marquis Spruill (5.5 sacks) and cornerback Ri’Shard Anderson are other key losses on defense. Syracuse should be able to improve on offense and maintain its 2013 totals on defense. With Louisville visiting the Carrier Dome, that schedule edge might be enough to swing third place in the Atlantic in favor of the Orange.
Key Returnees: RB Dominique Brown, RB Michael Dyer, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, WR Robert Clark, TE Gerald Christian, LT Jamon Brown, LG John Miller, C Jake Smith, RT Ryan Mack, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DE Nick Dawson, DE B.J. Dubose, DT Sheldon Rankins, LB James Burgess, LB Keith Kelsey, CB Terell Floyd, CB Jermaine Reve, CB Charles Gaines, S Gerod Holliman, K John Wallace
Key Losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR Damian Copeland, TE Ryan Hubbell, RG Kamran Joyer, DE Marcus Smith, NT Brandon Dunn, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB George Durant, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor
Change is the buzzword surrounding Louisville for 2014. The Cardinals are set to play their first season in the ACC, and there’s a new quarterback (Will Gardner) and coaching staff. Bobby Petrino returns to Louisville after leaving for the NFL in 2007. Petrino comes with baggage, but he also wins a lot of games (83-30 college record). His first assignment will be the development of Gardner at quarterback. Gardner does have a strong supporting cast, including former Auburn running back Michael Dyer. Receiver DeVante Parker turned down the NFL for one more season at Louisville. Charlie Strong’s departure will be felt on defense in 2014. New coordinator Todd Grantham plans to switch to a 3-4 scheme, and the Cardinals have a few big losses, including defensive end Marcus Smith and safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. The schedule is more demanding in the ACC, but Louisville is a program on solid ground.
5. Boston College
Key Returnees: RB Myles Willis, WR Dave Dudeck, WR Dan Crimmins, WR Spiffy Evans, TE C.J. Parsons, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, RG Harris Williams, DE Brian Mihalik, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, DT Connor Wujciak, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Manuel Asprilla, CB Bryce Jones, S Sean Sylvia, S Dominique Williams, S Spenser Rositano, S Justin Simmons
Key Losses: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, FB Jake Sinkovec, WR Alex Amidon, TE Mike Naples, LT Matt Patchan, RT Ian White, DE Kaleb Ramsey, DE Kasim Edebali, DT Jaryd Rudolph, LB Steele Divitto, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis
With running back Andre Williams and quarterback Chase Rettig expiring their eligibility, Boston College has to replace 4,243 of its 4,774 total yards on offense for 2014. Additionally, receiver Alex Amidon and tackles Matt Patchan and Ian White are also out of eligibility. That’s not exactly a recipe for success, but second-year coach Steve Addazio is bringing in help on the recruiting trail, and this team should be in the mix for a bowl. Myles Willis should get the first crack at replacing Williams in 2014, as he averaged 5.8 yard per carry last year. Rettig’s replacement is a bigger mystery. Is the answer Josh Bordner? Or will a freshman (Darius Wade or James Walsh) win the job? How about Florida transfer Tyler Murphy? With the uncertainty at quarterback, expect Boston College to lean on its strength in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Don Brown is one of the best in the ACC. Even with a few personnel departures, the Eagles should be solid on defense.
6. NC State
Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, RB Matt Dayes, WR Bryan Underwood, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR Jumichael Ramos, LT Joe Thuney, C Quinton Schooley, RG Alex Barr, RT Tyson Chandler, DE Art Norman, DE Mike Rose, DT Monty Nelson, NT Thomas Teal, NT Carlos Gray, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Brandon Pittman, LB M.J. Salahuddin, LB Rodman Noel, CB Jack Tocho, CB Juston Burris, S Hakim Jones
Key Losses: QB Brandon Mitchell, WR Rashard Smith, LG Duran Christophe, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, LB Robert Caldwell, LB D.J. Green, S Dontae Johnson
NC State had a less-than-stellar debut under Dave Doeren, but the Wolfpack have a relatively favorable schedule, and there’s enough talent to expect improvement in the win column. After shuffling quarterbacks in 2013, there’s no question who will start under center in 2014: Jacoby Brissett. The Florida transfer doesn’t have a ton of experience, but he’s the best fit to run NC State’s spread offense. And Brissett is working with a solid supporting cast, including running back Shadrach Thornton, along with three receivers who caught at least 20 passes in 2013. The offensive line allowed 35 sacks last season, but four starters are back. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. The line could get a boost if Rob Crisp is awarded an extra year of eligibility. Doeren has to find answers on defense, as NC State ranked eighth in the ACC in yards allowed and gave up 30.2 points a game in 2013. Defense seems to be an ongoing issue for the Wolfpack, finishing eighth or worse in the ACC in total defense in five out of the last seven years. Can this group find some answers in the spring? There are pieces for Doeren to build around, including cornerback Jack Tocho, tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman.
7. Wake Forest
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Cameron, RB Dominique Gibson, WR Tyree Harris, WR Jared Crump, WR Jonathan Williams, LG Ty Hayworth, C Cory Helms, RT Dylan Intemann, DE Josh Banks, LB Brandon Chubb, LB Hunter Williams, LB Teddy Matthews, LB Marquel Lee, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, S Ryan Janvion, S Anthony Wooding Jr., P Alexander Kinal
Key Losses: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, TE Spencer Bishop, LT Steven Chase, RG Frank Souza, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kristopher Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson, LB Justin Jackson
Dave Clawson is an outstanding hire for Wake Forest, but the first-year coach faces an uphill battle for a winning record in 2014. The Demon Deacons must replace quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. The offensive line continues to be a concern, and the offense needs to develop a more consistent rushing attack. Wake Forest finished fifth in the ACC in total defense, and new coordinator Mike Elko developed some of the MAC’s best units in his stint at Bowling Green. Nikita Whitlock will be missed on the defensive line, but there’s enough talent to expect the Demon Deacons’ defense to finish in the top half of the ACC in 2014. Expect improvement as the season goes on. However, Clawson needs a little time to get Wake Forest back into bowl contention.
Early Coastal Division Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Ryan Williams, RB Duke Johnson, RB Dallas Crawford, WR Stacy Coley, WR Herb Waters, WR Phillip Dorsett, TE Clive Walford, LT Ereck Flowers, LG Jon Feliciano, C Shane McDermott, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, DT Olsen Pierre, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Thurston Armbrister, LB Alex Figueroa, LB Tyriq McCord, CB Tracy Howard, CB Antonio Crawford, CB Artie Burns, S Deon Bush, S Rayshawn Jenkins
Key Losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, LG Malcolm Bunche, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DT Justin Renfrow, DT Luther Robinson, DT Curtis Porter, DE Shayon Green, LB Jimmy Gaines, LB Tyrone Cornileus, P Pat O’Donnell
Good luck picking the No. 1 team in the Coastal next season. Miami is the early favorite here, but North Carolina, Duke, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech could each make a case for the top spot. The Hurricanes need to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but the offense should be fine with the return of running back Duke Johnson, receiver Stacy Coley and three starters on the offensive line. As indicated by the returning talent on offense, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for Miami. However, the defense has been a problem in each of the last two years. The talent level is increasing, but the Hurricanes still need to develop more depth on the line. With road games at Louisville and Virginia Tech, along with a crossover game against Florida State, Miami doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to win at least 10 games for the first time since 2003.
2. North Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Marquise Williams, RB Romar Morris, RB T.J. Logan, RB Khris Francis, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Bug Howard, WR T.J. Thorpe, TE Jack Tabb, LG Caleb Peterson, RG Landon Turner, RT Jon Heck, DE Junior Gnonkonde, DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, DE/LB Darius Lipford, DT Ethan Farmer, LB Jeff Schoettmer, LB Travis Hughes, LB Nathan Staub, LB/S Malik Simmons, LB/S Brandon Ellerbe, CB Tim Scott, SS Dominique Green, S Brian Walker, S Darien Rankin, K Thomas Moore, P Tommy Hibbard
Key Losses: RB A.J. Blue, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, DT Tim Jackson, CB Jabari Price, S Tre Boston
A tough schedule hampered the Tar Heels in the first half of 2013, but Larry Fedora’s team rebounded to win six out of its last seven games. Can the Tar Heels continue that momentum in 2014? The emergence of quarterback Marquise Williams and a deep group of skill players should help North Carolina pick up where it left off in the bowl win over Cincinnati. The offensive line is a concern, as left tackle James Hurst expired his eligibility, and center Russell Bodine left for the NFL. While the offense could be one of the best in the ACC, the defense is a huge concern for Fedora. The Tar Heels ranked eighth in the conference in yards allowed last season and last against the run. Most of the core on defense returns, but end Kareem Martin, tackle Tim Jackson, cornerback Jabari Price and safety Tre Boston are significant losses.
Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Josh Snead, RB Shaquille Powell, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Max McCaffrey, WR Issac Blakeney, TE Braxton Deaver, LT Takoby Cofield, C Matt Skura, RG Laken Tomlinson, DE Dezmond Johnson, DE Jonathan Woodruff, DE Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, NG Jamal Bruce, NG Carlos Wray, LB David Helton, LB Kelby Brown, LB Kyler Brown, LB C.J. France, CB Bryon Fields, CB Breon Borders, S Jeremy Cash, S Deondre Singleton, S DeVon Edwards, S Dwayne Norman, S Corbin McCarthy, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday
Key Losses: RB Jela Duncan, WR Brandon Braxton, LG Dave Harding, RT Perry Simmons, DE Kenny Anunike, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, CB Garett Patterson, CB Ross Cockrell, S Anthony Young-Wiseman
The defending Coastal Division champions are positioned for another run at playing for the ACC title. Duke misses Clemson and Florida State in crossover play, and Virginia Tech and North Carolina visit Durham. Road games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Miami will be challenging, but David Cutcliffe has established a solid foundation in Durham. The two-quarterback system of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will make life easy on the new play-caller. Jela Duncan will be missed at running back, but Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell are a capable one-two punch on the ground. An underrated cog in Duke’s turnaround was the offensive line, and three starters are back in 2014. The defense allowed 418 yards per game in 2013. However, forcing 26 turnovers helped to balance out some of the yardage allowed. The Blue Devils have some nice pieces returning on defense, but ends Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, along with cornerback Ross Cockrell will be tough to replace.
4. Virginia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Mark Leal, RB Trey Edmunds, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Willie Byrn, WR Demitri Knowles, WR Joshua Stanford, TE Kalvin Cline, LT Jonathan McLaughlin, LG Caleb Farris, C David Wang, OT Laurence Gibson, OT Brent Benedict, DE Dadi Nicolas, DT Luther Maddy, DT Nigel Williams, LB Josh Trimble, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Brandon Facyson, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner, S Chuck Clark, P A.J. Hughes
Key Losses: QB Logan Thomas, WR D.J. Coles, RG Andrew Miller, DE J.R. Collins, DE James Gayle, DE Tyrel Wilson, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, CB Antone Exum
After winning at least 10 games for eight consecutive seasons (2004-11), the Hokies have won only 15 games over the last two years. Can Beamer and his staff return Virginia Tech back to the top of the Coastal Division? There’s not much separating the top six teams in the division, so don’t count out the Hokies from pushing for the top spot. However, this team also has a handful of questions surrounding its offense once again. Is Mark Leal the answer at quarterback? Can Virginia Tech find a consistent rushing attack? And will the offensive line stabilize this season? With a developing offense, the defense will have to carry this team early in the year. And as usual, Bud Foster should be up to the task. Some key players are gone, but the line and secondary will be strengths.
Key Returnees: QB Chad Voytik, RB Isaac Bennett, RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd, TE Manasseh Garner, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, OT Dorian Johnson, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE Ejuan Price, DE Bryan Murphy, DE Shakir Soto, DE David Durham, DT Darryl Render, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, LB Nicholas Grigsby, LB Matt Galambos, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Titus Howard, FS Ray Vinopal
Key Losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, LG Ryan Schlieper, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Shane Gordon, CB K’Waun Williams, SS Jason Hendricks
Looking for an early sleeper in the Coastal Division? Keep an eye on the Panthers next year. Quarterback Tom Savage must be replaced, but coach Paul Chryst has to feel positive about Chad Voytik’s future under center. And Pittsburgh has an emerging star at receiver (Tyler Boyd), along with a potential 1,000-yard back in James Conner. The offensive line has struggled over the last two years, but most of the core returns in 2014, and the stability should pay off in terms of improvement. There’s no question defensive tackle Aaron Donald will be missed on defense. However, the schedule is favorable. Pittsburgh won’t play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in crossover play, and Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Virginia Tech visit the Steel City.
6. Georgia Tech
Key Returnees: QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, RB Synjyn Days, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, WR Michael Summers, LG Trey Braun, RG Shaquille Mason, RT Bryan Chamberlain, NT Adam Gotsis, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Paul Davis, LB Tyler Marcordes, CB D.J. White, S Demond Smith, S Domonique Noble, S Chris Milton, S Jamal Golden
Key Losses: QB Vad Lee, RB Robert Godhigh, RB David Sims, LT Will Jackson, C Jay Finch, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DT Euclid Cummings, LB Brandon Watts, CB Louis Young, S Jemea Thomas
Is 2014 a make-or-break season for Paul Johnson? Despite a 31-17 overall mark in Johnson’s six seasons, 2014 is an important year for his future in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets have never finished under .500 in ACC play in Johnson’s tenure and won the Coastal Division in 2013. But for all of the positives, Georgia Tech is just 14-13 over the last two years and is just 1-5 in its last six bowl games. The Yellow Jackets are a team flying under the radar entering 2014 and could easily surprise in the standings. But there are a few glaring concerns. Quarterback Vad Lee transferred, leaving the talented, but inexperienced Justin Thomas under center. Three senior starters depart from the line, and running backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh have expired their eligibility. The defense made progress under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, but he will have to find replacements for end Jeremiah Attaochu, safety Jemea Thomas and cornerback Louis Young. The schedule isn’t particularly kind, especially with road dates at Georgia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
Key Returnees: QB David Watford, QB Greyson Lambert, RB Kevin Parks, RB Khalek Shepherd, RB Taquan Mizzell, WR Darius Jennings, WR Keeon Johnson, TE Jake McGee, LG Conner Davis, RG Jay Whitmire, RT Eric Smith, DE Eli Harold, DT David Dean, DT Donte Wilkins, LB Henry Coley, LB Daquan Romero, LB Demeitre Brim, LB Max Valles, CB DreQuan Hoskey, CB Maurice Canady, CB Brandon Phelps, CB Tim Harris, CB Demetrious Nicholson, SS Anthony Harris
Key Losses: WR Tim Smith, LT Morgan Moses, C Luke Bowanko, DE Jake Snyder, DT Brent Urban, FS Rijo Walker
Mike London enters 2014 squarely on the hot seat. He has reeled in three consecutive top-35 recruiting classes, but Virginia is just 6-18 over the last two years. London is set to bring in another outstanding recruiting haul this season, so there’s no shortage of talent in Charlottesville. For the Cavaliers to show improvement in the win column, London has to find a quarterback. Is David Watford the answer? Or will Greyson Lambert unseat him in spring practice? The winner of the quarterback competition will have a solid group of running backs at their disposal. Virginia finished 2013 ranked 11th in the ACC in total defense, but this unit should carry this team in 2014. The front seven has solid depth and talent, with end Eli Harold set to have a breakout year. The Cavaliers played a tough schedule in 2013, and the non-conference slate in 2014 will be challenging with a home game against UCLA and a road trip to BYU. Virginia doesn’t catch a break in ACC play, as Florida State and Louisville are the crossover opponents with the Atlantic Division.
Jeremy Pruitt was one of the 2013 coaching carousel’s top coordinator hires and was a key piece in Florida State’s national title run. However, he won’t return to Tallahassee in 2014, as Pruitt has been named as the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
Pruitt is a rising star in the coaching ranks, spending 2007-12 on Alabama’s staff as an assistant under Nick Saban. Prior to his stint with the Crimson Tide, Pruitt worked at Hoover High School in Alabama.
Despite never working as a coordinator on the college level, Pruitt was hired by Jimbo Fisher to coordinate Florida State’s defense in 2013. The Seminoles had to replace seven starters but finished third nationally in total defense and allowed only 4.09 yards per play.
Pruitt inherited a lot of talent but did a nice job of blending the Seminoles’ depth and returning players with a new scheme. And it certainly didn’t hurt for Pruitt to have veteran assistants Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly at his disposal.
Pruitt will eventually be a head coach in the next few years, but his hire at Georgia is an upgrade over former coordinator Todd Grantham. Although the Bulldogs weren’t awful on defense under Grantham's watch, Pruitt’s work with Florida State should be a good sign for Richt in 2014.
The coaching cycle isn’t complete, but Richt’s hire of Pruitt might be the best coordinator hire of the offseason.
Georgia hires FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt http://t.co/6l7bHn2MKn— Saturday Down South (@SDS) January 14, 2014
Losses to Auburn and Oklahoma aren’t sitting well with Alabama coach Nick Saban. And believe it or not, despite the fact the 2013 season just ended on Jan. 6, Saban has already started to work on motivating his team for next year.
The Crimson Tide ended the 2013 on a two-game losing streak, dropping contests to Auburn and Oklahoma.
And as the poster hanging in every Alabama locker indicates, Saban doesn’t want to repeat that two-game losing streak next season.
The Crimson Tide should be one of the favorites to win the title next year, and this poster should provide plenty of motivation for the players over the next few months.
This poster is currently hanging above every Alabama player's locker pic.twitter.com/AzPWgx0jog— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) January 13, 2014
Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has announced his intention to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
Carey was one of the top running backs in the nation over the last two years, rushing for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013. His numbers were even better as a sophomore in 2012, recording 1,929 yards and 23 scores on 303 attempts.
After recording over 300 rushing attempts in back-to-back seasons, Carey has plenty of mileage on his legs and moving to the NFL is the right move.
Carey could be the first running back selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Big 12 was one of the toughest conferences to predict last season. The conference had a significant amount of turnover at quarterback, and most preseason predictions placed the projected champion outside of the top 10.
Fast forward to 2014, and the outlook has changed for the Big 12. Oklahoma went 11-2 in a rebuilding year and is poised to make a run into college football’s playoff. Baylor is the defending conference champion, and the Bears return quarterback Bryce Petty, along with likely All-Big 12 performers in receiver Antwan Goodley and running back Shock Linwood.
Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma State round out the top five of Athlon’s early Big 12 predictions for 2014. The Wildcats finished the year by winning six out of their last seven games, while the Longhorns are under the direction of a new coach in Charlie Strong. The Cowboys lose 28 seniors, but Mike Gundy has established a solid foundation in Stillwater.
Texas Tech is a team on the rise under the direction of second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, while the TCU should be improved with most of its core returning for 2014
West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas rank as the last three teams in the conference for next season.
Very Early Big 12 Football Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard, WR Durron Neal, LT Tyrus Thompson, OG Adam Shead, OG Nila Kasitati, RT Daryl Williams, DE Charles Tapper, DE Geneo Grissom, DT Chuka Ndulue, DT Jordan Wade, DT Jordan Phillips, LB Frank Shannon, LB Dominique Alexander, LB Eric Striker, CB Zack Sanchez, S Quentin Hayes, DB Julian Wilson, S Ahmad Thomas, K Michael Hunnicutt
Key Losses: RB Brennan Clay, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Lacoltan Bester, C Gabe Ikard, OG Bronson Irwin, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin, S Gabe Lynn
After winning 11 games in a rebuilding year, it’s easy to see why expectations are high in Norman for 2014. Oklahoma’s Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama only fueled the anticipating for next season, especially after quarterback Trevor Knight delivered his best performance of 2013. If Knight builds on his performance against the Crimson Tide, he should blossom into one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore has a solid supporting cast, but receiver Jalen Saunders and center Gabe Ikard are big losses. With the departure of running back Brennan Clay, talented incoming freshman Joe Mixon and sophomore Keith Ford should carry the rushing attack. The defense ranked second in the Big 12 by holding opponents to just 22.1 points per game. Cornerback Aaron Colvin is a big loss, but the rest of the unit returns largely intact, and the defense will have more overall depth in 2014. Another factor working in Oklahoma’s favor next year is the schedule. The Sooners host Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
Key Returnees: QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley, WR Levi Norwood, WR Clay Fuller, WR Corey Coleman, LT Spencer Drango, RG Desmine Hilliard, RT Troy Baker, DE Shawn Oakman, DE Jamal Palmer, NT Beau Blackshear, DT Byron Bonds, DT Andrew Billings, LB Bryce Hager, LB Aiavion Edwards, S Terrell Burt, S Orion Stewart
Key Losses: RB Lache Seastrunk, RB Glasco Martin, WR Tevin Reese, TE Jordan Najvar, OG Cyril Richardson, C Stefan Huber, OT Kelvin Palmer, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, LB Eddie Lackey, CB K.J. Morton, CB Demetri Goodson, DB Sam Holl, S Ahmad Dixon
The defending Big 12 champions will be back in the mix for the conference title in 2014. There are some personnel losses to overcome, but most importantly, Art Briles is back on the sidelines in Waco, and quarterback Bryce Petty decided to return for his senior season. Running back Lache Seastrunk is a big loss, but Shock Linwood is a capable replacement. The biggest concern for the offense is the line, which loses guard Cyril Richardson, center Stefan Huber and tackle Kelvin Palmer. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Baylor, but the turnaround on defense was an underrated factor in 2013. Coordinator Phil Bennett will have some holes to fill, starting at defensive end where Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister will depart. Linebacker Eddie Lackey and safety Ahmad Dixon were first-team All-Big 12 selections last season and will be tough to replace in 2014. The Bears will have to play at Oklahoma and Texas next year. However, TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State visit Baylor’s new stadium.
3. Kansas State
Key Returnees: QB Jake Waters, QB Daniel Sams, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Curry Sexton, LG Cody Whitehair, C B.J. Finney, DE Ryan Mueller, DE Marquel Bryant, DT Demonte Hood, DT Travis Britz, LB Jonathan Truman, LB Will Davis, CB Randall Evans, S Dante Barnett
Key Losses: RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, LT Cornelius Lucas, RG Keenan Taylor, RT Tavon Rooks, DE Alauna Finau, DT Chaquil Reed, LB Jake Slaughter, LB Tre Walker, CB Kip Daily, CB Dorrian Roberts, S Ty Zimmerman
After a 2-4 start, Kansas State quietly finished 2013 with six victories over its final seven games. And all five of the Wildcats’ losses last season came by 10 points or less. Considering 2013 was essentially a rebuilding year, Kansas State is poised to begin 2014 as one of the top 20-25 teams in the nation. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams form a solid duo at quarterback, and receiver Tyler Lockett is one of the best in college football. There’s no clear replacement for running back John Hubert and three offensive line starters (including both tackles) are gone. Despite returning only three starters, the defense finished third in the Big 12 in total defense. This unit should rank near the top of the conference once again, especially with end Ryan Mueller returning. The biggest concern on defense will be replacing linebackers Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker, along with safety Ty Zimmerman.
Key Returnees: QB David Ash, QB Tyrone Swoopes, RB Malcolm Brown, RB Joe Bergeron, RB Johnathan Gray, RB/WR Daje Johnson, WR Jaxon Shipley, WR Kendall Sanders, WR Marcus Johnson, C Dominic Espinosa, OT Kennedy Estelle, DE Cedric Reed, DT Malcom Brown, DT Desmond Jackson, DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Steve Edmond, LB Dalton Santos, LB Jordan Hicks, LB Peter Jinkens, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Duke Thomas, S Mykkele Thompson, S Josh Turner
Key Losses: QB Case McCoy, WR Mike Davis, LT Donald Hawkins, RG Mason Walters, RT Trey Hopkins, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Chris Whaley, CB Carrington Byndom, S Adrian Phillips, P Anthony Fera
A new era is underway in Austin. Mack Brown is gone, and Charlie Strong is in. And despite a new coaching staff, a similar theme remains with the Longhorns. There’s no shortage of talent, but the offense is a question mark. Since Colt McCoy has expired his eligibility, Texas has struggled to get consistent play from its quarterbacks. Will the return of David Ash be the answer? Or will the Longhorns turn to talented sophomore Tyrone Swoopes? With concerns at quarterback, expect the Longhorns to lean on a talented trio of running backs. New line coach Joe Wickline will have his hands full this spring, as Texas needs to replace three starters in the trenches. The offense is clearly a work in progress, but the defense – especially under Strong’s leadership – will be one of the best in the Big 12. End Jackson Jeffcoat will be missed. However, Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson is a solid start in the trenches. And the defense will get a boost from the return of linebacker Jordan Hicks from injury, while cornerback Quandre Diggs turned down the NFL for one more season in Austin.
5. Oklahoma State
Key Returnees: QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales, WR Marcell Ateman, LT Daniel Koenig, OT Devin Davis, C Jake Jenkins, DE Jimmy Bean, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Sam Wren, DT James Castleman, LB Ryan Simmons, LB Kris Catlin, CB Kevin Peterson, CB Ashton Lampkin, S Lyndell Johnson
Key Losses: QB Clint Chelf, RB Jeremy Smith, WR Josh Stewart, WR Tracy Moore, WR Charlie Moore, OG Brandon Webb, OG Parker Graham, DE Tyler Johnson, DT Calvin Barnett, LB Caleb Lavey, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Joe Mitchell, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Tyler Patmon, S Daytawion Lowe, S Shamiel Gary
With 28 seniors leaving, Oklahoma State will have a hard time replicating its 10-win mark from 2013. But the Cowboys won’t fall too far in the Big 12 pecking order, as coach Mike Gundy has the program on stable ground, and there’s talent in the program. Gundy’s first order of business is to find a replacement for quarterback Clint Chelf. Will J.W. Walsh get the nod? Or will incoming freshman Mason Rudolph earn the right to start next year’s season opener against Florida State? Regardless of who starts at quarterback, expect running back Desmond Roland to get a heavy workload in 2014. The offensive line will regain the services of tackle Devin Davis, but losing line coach Joe Wickline is a huge blow. While the offense has question marks, the defense is a bigger concern. Linebackers Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, along with tackle Calvin Barnett and cornerback Justin Gilbert will be tough to replace. The Cowboys also face a challenging schedule, one that features road tests at TCU, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.
6. Texas Tech
Key Returnees: QB Davis Webb, QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams, RB DeAndre Washington, WR Jakeem Grant, WR Bradley Marquez, WR Jordan Davis, WR Reginald Davis, LT Le’Raven Clark, LG Alfredo Morales, C Jared Kaster, RG Beau Carpenter, DT Branden Jackson, DT Jackson Richards, LB Pete Robertson, LB Sam Eguavoen, LB Micah Awe, SS Austin Stewart, S Keenon Ward, S J.J. Gaines
Key Losses: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Eric Ward, TE Jace Amaro, RT Rashad Fortenberry, DE Kerry Hyder, NT Dennell Wesley, DT Dartwan Bush, LB Will Smith, LB Terrance Bullitt, CB Olaoluwa Falemi, CB Bruce Jones, S Tre Porter
A soft schedule helped Texas Tech jump to a 7-0 start in 2013. The Red Raiders were unable to build off their early momentum and finished the regular season at 7-5. However, Texas Tech was one of the winners of the bowl season, handling Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl. Second-year coach Kliff Kingsbury has this program trending in the right direction, and the Red Raiders will be a tough out for every team in the Big 12. Quarterback Michael Brewer should be healthy after dealing with a back injury last year, but Davis Webb finished the season by throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns against the Sun Devils. The winner of the quarterback battle will need to find new go-to targets with Eric Ward and Jace Amaro moving onto the NFL. Defensive end Kerry Hyder is the biggest loss on defense. Texas Tech will have some holes to fill on defense outside of Hyder, but a top priority for spring practice is creating more turnovers after forcing only 19 in 2013.
Key Returnees: QB/WR/RB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, RB Aaron Green, WR LaDarius Brown, WR Brandon Carter, WR Josh Doctson, WR David Porter, OT Aviante Collins, C Joey Hunt, DE Devonte Fields, DE Terrell Lathan, DE James McFarland, DT Chucky Hunter, DT Davion Pierson, DT Jon Lewis, LB Paul Dawson, LB Jonathan Anderson, LB Marcus Mallet, CB Kevin White, S Chris Hackett, S Derrick Kindred, S Sam Carter, K Jaden Oberkrom
Key Losses: QB Casey Pachall, OT James Dunbar, RG Eric Tausch, DE Jon Koontz, CB Jason Verrett, S Elisha Olabode
The Horned Frogs are coming off their worst season under coach Gary Patterson. And over the last two years, TCU is just 6-12 in Big 12 play. However, all is not lost in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs have been hit hard by injuries, including significant ones to end Devonte Fields and quarterback Casey Pachall last season. Fields is set to return in 2014, and TCU should have one of the best defenses in the Big 12 – even with top cornerback Jason Verrett expiring his eligibility. While the defense is in good shape, the offense is in need of an overhaul. Patterson shuffled his coaching staff, bringing aboard Doug Meacham from Houston to call plays. Meacham should be an upgrade as the team’s offensive coordinator, but TCU has to find a quarterback. Is Trevone Boykin the answer there? Or is he suited to be an all-around threat? Perhaps the answer for the quarterback question is an incoming freshman.
8. Iowa State
Key Returnees: QB Grant Rohach, QB Sam Richardson, RB Aaron Wimberly, RB DeVondrick Nealy, WR Quenton Bundrage, WR Tad Ecby, WR Jarvis West, WR Dondre Daley, TE E.J. Bibbs, C Tom Farniok, OT Brock Dagel, OG Daniel Burton, DE Cory Morrissey, DT Rodney Coe, DT David Irving, NG Brandon Jensen, LB Luke Knott, LB Jevohn Miller, LB/DB Jared Brackens, CB Sam E. Richardson, CB Nigel Tribune
Key Losses: RB Shontrelle Johnson, RB James White, WR Justin Coleman, DE Willie Scott, LB Jeremiah George, CB Jansen Watson, S Jacques Washington, S Deon Broomfield, P Kirby Van Der Kamp
With Paul Rhoads on the sidelines, the Cyclones are always a candidate to outperform their preseason prediction. Iowa State started 2013 with a disappointing loss to Northern Iowa, but Rhoads’ team rallied with back-to-back wins to finish the year. The Cyclones have momentum going into 2014, and there is enough returning to contend for a bowl. Mark Mangino was a solid choice to be the team’s offensive coordinator, and the veteran coach has to find an answer at quarterback between Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. Rohach finished the year with back-to-back 300-yard games and should have an edge over Richardson. Running back Aaron Wimberly and receiver Quenton Bundrage are potential breakout players in 2014, and the offensive line returns largely intact. Without Jake Knott and A.J. Klein anchoring the linebacking corps, Iowa State took a step back on defense last year. The Cyclones have a few significant losses on defense this season, as linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington were All-Big 12 performers. If Mangino is able to build off Rohach’s late-season success, and the defense shows progress, there’s enough returning for Iowa State to get back to the six-win mark.
9. West Virginia
Key Returnees: QB Clint Trickett, QB Paul Millard, RB Dreamius Smith, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Daikiel Shorts, WR Kevin White, WR Mario Alford, LG Quinton Spain, RG Mark Glowinski, DE Kyle Rose, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, LB Jared Barber, LB Isaiah Bruce, LB Brandon Golson, CB Travis Bell, CB Daryl Worley, CB Ishmael Banks, S Karl Joseph, S K.J. Dillon
Key Losses: RB Charles Sims, WR Ronald Carswell, LT Nick Kindler, C Pat Eger, RT Curtis Feight, DT Will Clarke, NT Shaq Rowell, LB Doug Rigg, S Darwin Cook
Is 2014 a make-or-break year for Dana Holgorsen? After a 10-3 mark in his first season, the Mountaineers are just 11-14 over the last two years. Moving to the Big 12 certainly increased West Virginia’s competition, and the offense lost three of the top players in school history after the 2012 season (Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin). Replacing Smith, Bailey and Austin was no easy assignment, as the Mountaineers used three starting quarterbacks and averaged only 26.3 points a game. Developing a quarterback (Paul Millard or Clint Trickett) is critical for Holgorsen’s offense, but West Virginia has a potential All-Big 12 running back in Rushel Shell eligible to play in 2014. The defense was a disaster in 2012 and showed some improvement with Keith Patterson calling the plays in 2013. Injuries hit the unit hard throughout the season, but with the personnel set to return, the Mountaineers should be able to make slight improvement on defense in 2014. West Virginia doesn’t catch a break in scheduling next year. The Mountaineers play Alabama in the season opener and travel to Maryland two weeks later. If there’s a bright spot, West Virginia has five conference home games, including swing games against TCU, Kansas State and Kansas.
Key Returnees: QB Jake Heaps, QB Montell Cozart, RB Darrian Miller, RB Brandon Bourbon, RB/WR Tony Pierson, WR Tre’ Parmalee, WR Rodriguez Coleman, TE Jimmay Mundine, OG Ngalu Fusimalohi, OG Mike Smithburg, DE/LB Ben Goodman, DE/LB Michael Reynolds, DT Keon Stowers, LB Ben Heeney, LB Jake Love, CB JaCorey Shepherd, CB Dexter McDonald, SS Isaiah Johnson, S Cassius Sendish, DB Victor Simmons, DB Courtney Arnick
Key Losses: RB James Sims, LT Riley Spencer, C Gavin Howard, RT Aslam Sterling, DE/DT Keba Agostinho, DL Kevin Young, DT Jordan Tavai, S Dexter Linton
Charlie Weis has made small progress in Lawrence. The Jayhawks ended a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 victory over West Virginia in mid-November. However, Kansas’ other two victories were against South Dakota and Louisiana Tech, and this team lost by a combined score of 65-10 in its final two games (Iowa State, Kansas State). Running back James Sims (3,592 career rushing yards) has expired his eligibility, but Darrian Miller, Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon are capable options on the ground. While Sims is a big loss, quarterback play and developing targets at receiver is a bigger issue for Weis. New coordinator John Reagan was a good hire for the Jayhawks, and he will be tasked with developing quarterbacks Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart. The defense returns largely intact, and coordinator Dave Campo should have better depth in 2014. The Jayhawks ranked eighth in the Big 12 in total defense last season, but Big 12 opponents averaged 37.2 points a game. The returning talent should help Kansas make small gains on defense next year.
The American Athletic Conference has experienced several changes over the last few years. Of course, the biggest is a name change. The Big East is only a basketball conference, with the football schools rebranded under the American Athletic Conference label.
Outside of the name, the biggest change has been the programs in the conference. Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh departed the old Big East for the ACC, West Virginia left for the Big 12, and Rutgers is headed for the Big Ten.
UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa joined the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA, while Temple rejoined the league after a short stint in the MAC. Navy is set to join the conference in 2015.
Despite the upheaval and uncertainty surrounding the league in previous years, the conference seems to be on stable ground entering 2014. Sure, this league isn’t going to challenge the SEC, Pac-12 or ACC for overall strength. However, the American Athletic shouldn’t have to worry about any defections for the foreseeable future.
Turning the page to 2014, it’s anyone’s guess which team should start No. 1 in preseason polls. UCF lost quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL, but the Knights still return a lot of talent next season. Cincinnati, East Carolina and Houston should also get consideration for the top spot.
Very Early American Athletic Conference Predictions for 2014
Key Returnees: RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, RB Hosey Williams, WR Shaq Washington, WR Chris Moore, WR Mekale McKay, LT Eric Lefeld, C Deyshawn Bond, RT Parker Ehinger, DE Silverberry Mouhon, DE Brad Harrah, LB Jeff Luc, LB Nick Temple, CB Howard Wilder, S Zach Edwards, S Adrian Witty
Key Losses: QB Brendon Kay, WR Anthony McClung, LG Austen Bujnoch, RG Sam Longo, DT Jordan Stepp, DT Adam Dempsey, LB Greg Blair, CB Deven Drane, S Arryn Chenault
Good luck picking the No. 1 team in the American Athletic Conference next season. Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and East Carolina can each make a strong case to be selected as the preseason favorite. It’s early, so this pick can change. However, let’s give a slight edge to the Bearcats at No. 1. Quarterback Brendon Kay must be replaced, but former top recruit Gunner Kiel is ready to step into the starting lineup. If Kiel is as good as advertised, Cincinnati’s offense will have few weaknesses. The defense is a concern for coach Tommy Tuberville, especially at defensive tackle where Jordan Stepp, Marques Aiken and Adam Dempsey depart. Linebacker Greg Blair and two other starters in the secondary will be missed. In 18 years as a head coach, Tuberville has just four losing seasons. That consistency, combined with Cincinnati’s recent success (seven years of at least eight wins since 2006), and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Bearcats to win the American Athletic title in 2014.
Key Returnees: RB William Stanback, WR Rannell Hall, WR J.J. Worton, WR Breshad Perriman, LT Torrian Wilson, C Joey Grant, DE Thomas Niles, DE Deion Green, LB Terrance Plummer, LB Justin McDonald, LB Troy Gray, CB Jacoby Glenn, CB Jordan Ozerities, SS Clayton Geathers, FS Brandon Alexander
Key Losses: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, WR Jeff Godfrey, LG Jordan McCray, RG Justin McCray, RT Chris Martin, DT E.J. Dunston, LB Sean Maag
Repeating as the American Athletic Conference champion will be a challenge for UCF. However, it’s certainly not impossible. Losing quarterback Blake Bortles to the NFL is a huge blow for the Knights. And Bortles isn’t the only one coach George O’Leary has to replace on offense. Running back Storm Johnson also decided to leave early for the NFL Draft, while three all-conference linemen expired their eligibility. UCF may not be as explosive on offense in 2014, but the defense returns nearly everyone and should help to pickup the slack. There’s plenty of talent for O’Leary to rebuild around. But how quickly can UCF find a quarterback?
3. East Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Shane Carden, WR Justin Hardy, WR Isaiah Jones, LT Ike Harris, C C.J. Struyk, RT Tre Robertson, DE Terrell Stanley, NT Chrishon Rose, LB Zeek Bigger, LB Brandon Williams, LB Montese Overton, LB Jeremy Grove, CB Josh Hawkins, CB Detric Allen
Key Losses: RB Vintavious Cooper, WR Lance Ray, WR Reese Wiggins, LG Jordan Davis, RG Will Simmons, DE Lee Pegues, LB Derrell Johnson, LB Kyle Tudor, CB Adonis Armstrong, S Damon Magazu, S Chip Thompson
Behind a prolific passing offense, the Pirates should be one of the frontrunners to win the American Athletic Conference in 2014. Quarterback Shane Carden has thrown 56 touchdowns over the last two years and returns top targets Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones in 2014. The biggest concern on offense will be a line that needs to replace first-team Conference USA lineman Will Simmons and left guard Jordan Davis. The defense has shown improvement under coach Ruffin McNeill, finishing sixth in Conference USA in total defense (368.8 ypg). This unit must replace three second-team All-Conference USA selections next year in end Lee Pegues, linebacker Derrell Johnson and safety Damon Magazu. Linebackers Zeek Bigger and Montese Overton and defensive end Terrell Stanley will lead the rebuilding effort on defense next season. Stepping into the American Athletic is a slight increase in competition, but McNeill has one of the top returning all-around teams in the conference in 2014.
Key Returnees: QB John O’Korn, QB Greg Ward, RB Kenneth Farrow, RB Ryan Jackson, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Daniel Spencer, WR Markeith Ambles, C Bryce Redman, RT Rowdy Harper, DE Trevor Harris, DE Tyus Bowser, DE Eric Braswell, DT Joey Mbu, DT Tomme Mark, LB Efrem Oliphant, LB Derrick Mathews, LB Steven Taylor, CB William Jackson, S Trevon Stewart, S Adrian McDonald
Key Losses: WR Xavier Maxwell, LT De’Anthony Sims, LG Ty Cloud, RG Kevin Forsch, CB Zach McMillian, CB Thomas Bates, P Richie Leone
Tony Levine’s debut at Houston did not go so well (5-7), but the Cougars rebounded with an 8-5 mark in 2013. Both sides of the ball contributed to the three-game improvement in the win column. Freshman quarterback John O’Korn was outstanding in his first year on campus (28 TDs, 10 INTs), and receiver Deontay Greenberry could be an All-American in 2014. A big concern for offensive coordinator Travis Bush next season will be the offensive line, which has to replace three starters. The defense allowed 415.8 yards per game but forced a whopping 43 turnovers. Can the Cougars repeat that formula again next season?
Key Returnees: QB Nick Montana, QB Devin Powell, FB/RB Rob Kelley, WR Justyn Shackleford, WR Xavier Rush, LT Arturo Uzdavinis, LG Nathan Shienle, RT Sean Donnelly, DE Tyler Gilbert, DE Royce LaFrance, LB Nico Marley, LB Jarrod Franklin, CB Lorenzo Doss, S Darion Monroe, S Sam Scofield
Key Losses: RB Orleans Darkwa, WR Ryan Grant, C Zach Morgan, RG Rio Mares, DT Julius Warmsley, DT Chris Davenport, LB Zach Davis, LB Dominique Robertson, DB Derrick Strozier, CB Jordan Sullen, K Cairo Santos
Tulane was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season. The Green Wave went 2-10 in 2012, but improved their win total by five games in Curtis Johnson’s second year, finishing 7-6 with a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl. Tulane had some good luck on its side in 2013, as it was outgained by an average of 49.5 yards per game in conference play and was +11 in turnover margin. Developing the offense will be a priority for Johnson in spring practice. Devin Powell and Nick Montana will battle for the starting quarterback spot, but the offense will miss running back Orleans Darkwa and receiver Ryan Grant. The defense led C-USA in fewest yards allowed per play (4.8) and returns largely intact next year. Tackles Julius Warmsley and Chris Davenport, along with defensive backs Derrick Strozier and Jordan Sullen will be missed. However, the secondary remains a strength with Lorenzo Doss returning at cornerback, while Royce LaFrance and Tyler Gilbert return at end. Sophomore Nico Marley leads the linebacking corps after recording 67 stops in 2013. Tulane is also set to open its new on-campus stadium next year, which should help the Green Wave have a better home-field environment.
Key Returnees: QB P.J. Walker, RB Kenneth Harper, RB Zaire Williams, WR Robby Anderson, C Kyle Friend, RT Zach Hooks, DE Matt Ioannidis, DT Hershey Walton, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Nate D. Smith, LB Sharif Finch, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Robey, SS Jihaad Pretlow
Key Losses: WR Ryan Alderman, LT Cody Booth, LG Jeff Whittingham, LB Blaze Caponegro, CB Zamel Johnson, FS Abdul Smith
Matt Rhule’s first season resulted in a 2-10 mark, but there are a few reasons to be optimistic in 2014. The Owls lost each of their last four games by 10 points or less, including a three-point defeat to conference champion UCF. A key to the late-season surge was freshman quarterback P.J. Walker (20 TDs, 8 INTs). Walker’s development should be aided by a solid supporting cast next year, which includes two 500-yard rushers and favorite receiver Ryan Anderson (44 receptions). While the offense should have no trouble scoring points, the defense needs to make significant progress. Temple has ranked last in the conference in total defense in each of the last two years and allowed 6.4 yards per play in 2013. There’s not a ton of departing talent on defense, but this unit needs to show major progress before this team can make a bowl. Improvement should expected in the win column for Rhule’s second year.
7. South Florida
Key Returnees: QB Mike White, RB Willie Davis, WR Andre Davis, TE Sean Price, TE Mike McFarland, LT Darrell Williams, LG Brynjar Gudmundsson, C Austin Reiter, RT Quinterrius Eatmon, DT Elkino Watson,DT Todd Chandler, LB Reshard Cliett, LB Nigel Harris, CB Johnny Ward, CB Kenneth Durden, S Nate Godwin, K Marvin Kloss
Key Losses: RB Marcus Shaw, DE Aaron Lynch, DE Tevin Mims, DT Luke Sager, LB DeDe Lattimore, CB Fidel Montgomery, S Mark Joyce
If history is an indication of what’s to come in Willie Taggart’s second year, the Bulls could be one of the most-improved teams in the American Athletic Conference. At Western Kentucky, Taggart went 2-10 in his first season and rebounded to 7-5 the following year. Sophomore quarterback Mike White and receiver Andre Davis are the biggest reasons for optimism on offense for Taggart. The defense ranked No. 3 in the American Athletic Conference in fewest yards allowed per game. However, generating a pass rush and stopping the run were problems, and both areas are a concern with the departure of end Aaron Lynch and standout linebacker DeDe Lattimore. Taggart is bringing in the conference’s top recruiting class, which should help to fill some of the needs on this roster.
Key Returnees: QB Neal Burcham, RB Traylon Shead, RB Prescott Line, WR Der’rikk Thompson, WR Darius Joseph, LT Chauncey Briggs, C Taylor Lasecki, RG Ben Hughes, RT Kris Weeks, DE Zach Wood, DE Beau Barnes, DE Zelt Minor, LB Stephon Sanders, LB Jonathan Yenga, S Hayden Greenbauer, S Shakiel Randolph
Key Losses: QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Jeremy Johnson, WR Keenan Holman, LG Ben Gottschalk, LB Randall Joyner, LB Kevin Pope, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Chris Parks, SS Jay Scott
For the first time since 2008, SMU missed out on a bowl last year. For June Jones to get the Mustangs back to the postseason, he needs to find a replacement for quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Neal Burcham served as Gilbert’s backup in 2013, but Connor Preston, Kolney Cassel or an incoming freshman could push for time. Regardless of who wins the starting job, the quarterback will be surrounded by a solid supporting cast. Running back Traylon Shead needs to stay healthy, but Der’rikk Thompson and Darius Joseph will be one of the American Athletic Conference’s top duos at receiver. The Mustangs allowed 33.3 points a game last year and must replace standouts Randall Joyner (LB) and Kenneth Acker (CB). If Jones can develop a quarterback, SMU should have a good shot to return to the postseason in 2014.
Key Returnees: QB Paxton Lynch, RB Brandon Hayes, RB Doroland Dorceus, WR Joe Craig, WR Sam Craft, WR Tevin Jones, WR Keiwone Malone, LT Taylor Fallin, RG Al Bond, RT Nykiren Wellington, DE Martin Ifedi, DE Ricky Hunter, DE/LB Jackson Dillon, NT Terry Redden, LB Charles Harris, LB Tank Jakes, LB Ryan Coleman, CB Andrew Gaines, CB Bobby McCain, CB Bakari Hollier, SS Reggis Ball
Key Losses: OG/C Chris Schuetz, LB Anthony Brown, FS Lonnie Ballentine, SS Anthony Watson, P Tom Hornsey
Despite winning just seven games through his first two years at Memphis, Justin Fuente has this program trending in the right direction. The Tigers won only one conference game (USF) but lost to Louisville and UCF by a touchdown. In order for Memphis to exceed its 2013 win total, it needs to find some answers on offense (311.5 ypg). Quarterback Paxton Lynch had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter and should be better with another offseason to work with Fuente in 2014. The rushing attack received a boost when running back Brandon Hayes was granted an extra year of eligibility for 2014. Finding a new go-to back will be a priority for Fuente, but the receiving corps and offensive line should be two potential strengths for the offense. Memphis allowed only 24.6 points a game in 2013. Most of the core returns next year, including standout end Martin Ifedi. If Lynch takes a big step in his development, the Tigers have the talent on defense to approach five wins next season.
Key Returnees: QB Casey Cochran, QB Tim Boyle, RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Deshon Foxx, WR Shakim Phillips, C Alex Mateas, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Julian Campenni, LB Jefferson Ashiru, CB Byron Jones, S Obi Melifonwu, S Ty-Meer Brown
Key Losses: LT Jimmy Bennett, OG Steve Greene, OG Tyler Bullock, DE Jesse Joseph, DE Tim Willman, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Yawin Smallwood, CB Taylor Mack
UConn started 2013 0-9 but found momentum late in the year. Behind interim coach T.J. Weist, the Huskies won their final three games, including a 45-10 victory over Memphis in the season finale. New coach Bob Diaco was a solid hire and brings much-needed energy into the program. But UConn has a few holes on that roster that will take some time to fix through recruiting. Sophomore quarterbacks Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle are promising and will battle for the starting spot in spring practice. The offensive line was porous (41 sacks) and three starters depart. Considering the lack of success by the line, losing three starters isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Due to the struggles in the win column over the last few years, the defense has been overlooked. UConn ranked sixth in the conference in yards allowed last season, but this unit ranked No. 1 in the Big East in 2012. Diaco’s specialty is on defense, and he will have his work cut out for him in the spring, as linebacker Yawin Smallwood and tackle Shamar Stephen are big losses.
Key Returnees: QB Dane Evans, WR Keevan Lucas, WR Thomas Roberson, WR Keyarris Garrett, LT Garrett Stafford, LG Jake Alexander, C Dylan Foxworth, DE Brentom Todd, DE Derrick Alexander, DT Derrick Luetjen, LB Mitchell Osborne, LB Donnell Hawkins, Bandit Michael Mudoh, CB Darnell Walker Jr., FS Will Barrow
Key Losses: QB Cody Green, RB Trey Watts, RB Ja’Terian Douglas, WR Jordan James, RG Gabe Moyer, RT Stetson Burnett, LB Shawn Jackson
After winning 29 games from 2010-12, the Golden Hurricane experienced their worst season in 2013 since a 1-11 mark in 2002. Problems on both sides of the ball contributed to the regression for Tulsa, starting on offense with quarterbacks Cody Green and Dane Evans. Green missed time due to injury, but he completed only 55.5 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks when he was on the field. Evans wasn’t much better, completing only 43.1 percent of his throws and tossing 10 picks to four touchdowns. In order for Tulsa to get back to a bowl, Evans, Joseph Calcagni or Ryan Rubley has to settle the quarterback spot. And making matters even tougher for the offense is the departure of running back Trey Watts (171.4 all-purpose yards per game). The Golden Hurricane ranked 11th in Conference USA in total defense and allowed 33.9 points per game. While the final tally on defense wasn’t pretty, nearly everyone from the two-deep returns for 2014. Moving to the American Athletic Conference means a tougher schedule is on tap, and non-conference games against Colorado State, FAU and Oklahoma won’t leave much room for error. How high Tulsa can climb in the rankings largely depends on whether or not this team can find a quarterback.