Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/nebraska-unveils-alternate-jerseysmodeled-bo-pelini

Nebraska is set to honor 125 years of football on its Sept. 27 home date against Illinois. The Cornhuskers will take the field against the Fighting Illini wearing alternate red jerseys.


Alternate jerseys are becoming more prominent in college football, and Nebraska wore a black jersey for a home game against UCLA last season.


The red jerseys certainly aren’t a bad look, but the best part of the unveiling wasn’t the uniform. Coach Bo Pelini (yes you read that right) decided to unveil the uniform by modeling it to the team.

Below are the photos and video from Nebraska’s alternate uniform unveil for 2014:

Nebraska Unveils Alternate Jerseys...Modeled by Bo Pelini
Post date: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 11:09
Path: /college-football/air-force-unveils-alternate-uniforms-and-helmets-2014

Air Force is the latest school to unveil an alternate jersey and helmet design for 2014.

The usual white or blue uniforms for the Falcons are some of the best designs in the Mountain West, and the alternate look for 2014 is another awesome uniform for Air Force.

Here are some photos of Air Force’s new uniform for 2014:


Air Force Unveils Alternate Uniforms and Helmets for 2014
Post date: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/nebraska-sleeper-team-watch-big-ten-west-division-2014

With fall practice set to open around the nation for all 128 college football teams, the time to finalize preseason predictions is coming to an end.


Of course, there are a handful of teams every year that are flagged in the preseason as a wildcard to watch. These "wildcard" teams are often the most difficult team to figure out in predictions. 


Most projections for the Big Ten in 2014 designate Ohio State and Wisconsin as the favorites to meet in Indianapolis for the conference title game. While Ohio State and Michigan State are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the East, there’s more uncertainy in the West.


Wisconsin is pegged as the preseason favorite, but the Badgers return only eight starters. The significant personnel turnover in Madison provides plenty of hope for Iowa and Nebraska to contend for the West Division title.


Could the Cornhuskers be the surprise team in the West Division in 2014? Despite a -11 turnover margin and an injury to starting quarterback Taylor Martinez early in the season, Nebraska finished 9-4 last year. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why to buy into this team and a few reasons to pick against Nebraska in 2014.


Three Reasons Why Nebraska Will Surprise in 2014:


1. Development of front seven on defense:

Ohio State and Michigan State own the top two defensive lines in the Big Ten for 2014, but Nebraska can make a strong case as the No. 3 group in the conference. End Randy Gregory is one of the nation’s best and could improve on last year’s sack total (10.5) in 2014. The Cornhuskers are searching for more options at the other end spot, with Greg McMullen and A.J. Natter leading the way for snaps. While there’s some uncertainty at end, the interior of the line should be improved in 2014. Sophomores Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine are both breakout candidates this year, with junior Aaron Curry and sophomore Kevin Maurice also in the mix for snaps. Combine the emergence of Collins and Valentine on the interior with emerging players like David Santos, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose at linebacker, and it’s easy to see why Nebraska’s defense should be better against the run. The Cornhuskers allowed 4.5 yards per carry against Big Ten offenses and gave up 16 scores in eight conference contests. Expect both of those numbers to improve in 2014.


2. Ameer Abdullah and the Receivers:

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing, but the Cornhuskers can insulate their young passer with a strong rushing attack. Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s top backs, averaging 6.1 yards per carry in Big Ten play last season. Abdullah checks in at only 195 pounds, but he’s capable of handling carries between the tackles or bouncing it to the outside to break big plays. The senior can handle 275-290 carries if necessary, but Abdullah has plenty of help from backfield mates Imani Cross, Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor. The Cornhuskers should have one of the Big Ten’s deepest backfields in 2014. Kenny Bell averaged only 11.1 yards per catch last season but inconsistency at the quarterback spot hurt his overall numbers. The senior is one of the Big Ten’s top receivers and should benefit from an offseason to work with Tommy Armstrong as the No. 1 quarterback. Nebraska’s receivers may not have the flash of Maryland or Ohio State, but this group should rank among the top five in the Big Ten. Needless to say, the talent at the skill positions is there for the Cornhuskers.


3. Quarterback Play…

Nebraska’s offense was placed into a difficult spot last year when Taylor Martinez suffered a season-ending foot injury. Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III each attempted over 130 passes, and the Cornhuskers finished No. 11 in the Big Ten in passing offense. Despite the inexperience at quarterback, Nebraska managed to finish 9-4 and 5-3 in the Big Ten. Armstrong has the physical tools to be a successful quarterback in the Big Ten, but he has to develop as a passer. That goal seems reasonable in 2014, especially as Armstrong is expected to be more comfortable with the offense in his second year, and the Cornhuskers have a strong supporting cast in place. With a tight battle expected at the top in the West Division, Armstrong’s emergence could be the difference between finishing third or playing in Indianapolis in early December.


Three Reasons Why Nebraska Won’t:


1. …Quarterback Play

While improvement is expected, is Tommy Armstrong ready to take a step forward in his development this year? Armstrong is credited with a 7-1 mark as Nebraska’s starting quarterback last season, but he completed only 51.9 percent of his passes and tossed eight picks on 131 attempts. Considering 2013 was his first taste of college snaps, it was no surprise Armstrong had his share of ups and downs. But is he ready to take that next step? Armstrong should have a better overall season than he did in 2013. However, is modest improvement going to be enough to win the West? Or will it take Armstrong having a special season to lift Nebraska to the division title? For the Cornhuskers to win the West Division, Armstrong has to do a better job of protecting the ball in 2014. With a strong rushing attack and defense, Nebraska doesn’t need Armstrong to throw for 300 yards each week. However, limiting mistakes and playing with more efficiency is a must.


2. The Schedule

Out of the projected top three teams in the West, Nebraska has the toughest route to a division title. Wisconsin and Iowa do not play any of the projected top four teams from the East in Athlon’s 2014 Big Ten projections. The Cornhuskers only catch one of the top four teams, but it’s a huge road test at Michigan State. Nebraska also has road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa – the two teams Bo Pelini's squad is likely to be fighting for the division title. The Cornhuskers also travel to Evanston to play Northwestern, and each of the last three meetings against the Wildcats has been decided by a field goal or less.


3. Rebuilt Secondary

Nebraska’s secondary finished 2013 ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense. The Cornhuskers allowed only eight passing scores in conference games last year, but three starters must be replaced. Safety Corey Cooper is the lone returning starter, with Ciante Evans, Andrew Green and Stanley Jean-Baptiste departing from last year’s unit. The secondary isn’t hurting for experienced options, as senior Josh Mitchell has 15 career starts and sophomore LeRoy Alexander played in all 13 games last season. Junior cornerback Charles Jackson had a good spring and is ready to seize a starting job. Can this unit match last year’s totals? The Cornhuskers should have one of the Big Ten’s best defensive lines, so the secondary won’t have to hold their coverage for too long. The schedule doesn’t feature a plethora of standout passing games, but Illinois, Michigan State, Northwestern and Fresno State will each provide a stiff test for Nebraska’s rebuilt secondary. Even with a front seven that will rank near the top of the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers can't afford to give up many big plays in the secondary.

Is Nebraska the Sleeper Team to Watch in the Big Ten West Division in 2014?
Post date: Friday, August 1, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/setting-first-year-expectations-washingtons-chris-petersen

The North Division of the Pac-12 has been dominated by Oregon and Stanford since the conference shifted to a 12-team alignment in 2011.

Over the last three years, Oregon is 35-5 overall and 23-4 in Pac-12 play. Stanford is 34-7 overall and 23-4 in conference play during that same span.

Washington hopes to join the Ducks and Cardinal at the top of the Pac-12 North, and after a 34-29 record under Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen is tasked with elevating the Huskies into the top tier of the division.


Sarkisian guided Washington to four consecutive bowl games and clearly improved a program that recorded five losing seasons in a row prior to his arrival. The Huskies went 23-16 overall and 15-12 in Pac-12 play over the last three years.

Petersen was regarded as one of the top hires of the offseason, arriving in Seattle after a successful eight-year stint at Boise State. Petersen went 92-12 with the Broncos and finished six times in the final Associated Press top 25 poll.


Replicating that level of success at Washington won’t be easy for Petersen. And the expectations of the program are higher than finishing 5-4 in conference play on a consistent basis. in the nation – No. 2 in the Pac-12 North. With a renovated stadium, good tradition and fan support, the Huskies can climb higher in the North.


Petersen’s Job History:


2006-12: Boise State – Head Coach
2001-05: Boise State – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

1995-00: Oregon – Wide Receivers

1993-94: Portland State – Quarterbacks

1992: Pittsburgh – Quarterbacks

1987-91: UC Davis – Head Freshman Coach/Wide Receivers


Obstacles to Overcome:


Quarterback Play?: Cyler Miles is expected to be a breakout star for the Huskies in 2014, but the sophomore missed spring practice due to an off-the-field incident and is suspended for the opener against Hawaii. With a new offensive scheme, it’s important for Miles to get acclimated to new coordinator Jonathan Smith this fall. Although quarterback play should be a strength by the end of the year for Washington, how long will it take Miles to settle into the starting role? With games against Oregon and Stanford early in the Pac-12 slate, Miles is under pressure to perform right away.


Running Backs: Is there a clear replacement for Bishop Sankey on the roster? The Huskies may not need a back capable of toting 275 carries this year, but the pecking order at running back needs to be established. Will sophomore Dwayne Washington claim the No. 1 job? Or will Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper factor into the mix? How about redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman or linebacker Shaq Thompson?


Secondary: This group is the biggest concern for Petersen in year one. The Huskies ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last season and must replace three starting defensive backs. Junior cornerback Marcus Peters is one of the best in the conference, but safety Sean Parker and cornerbacks Tre Watson and Gregory Ducre have expired their eligibility. True freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly are two names to watch in the revamped secondary.


Team Strengths for 2014:


Offensive Line: This unit has been a source of concern in recent years, but the Huskies should have one of the Pac-12’s top lines in 2014. All five starters return this season, including guard Dexter Charles and tackles Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie. Having a veteran line should help ease the transition for new quarterback Cyler Miles.


Front Seven on Defense: New coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski inherits a defense that held opponents to 22.8 points per game last year. The Huskies return six out of the seven starters up front, including All-American linebacker Shaq Thompson and standout end Hau’oli Kikaha. Washington’s defensive line and linebacking corps rank among the top three in Athlon’s 2014 Pac-12’s unit rankings.


Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends


: 5


 Pac-12 RankNational RankThree-Star ProspectsFour-Star ProspectsFive-Star Prospects
* Rankings from 247Sports Composite  

This area will be one critical aspect of how high Petersen can take this program. Recruiting at Boise State and at Washington are two different challenges. Petersen’s first class at Washington ranked No. 37 nationally in the 247Sports Composite, which was the Huskies’ lowest recruiting haul since a No. 72 finish in 2009. However, Petersen got a late start after taking the job in December and managed to salvage the class after inking 17 three-star prospects.


As of July 30, Washington’s 2015 class ranks No. 63 nationally with only eight commitments.


It’s far too early to make any judgments about Petersen’s ability to recruit. Washington is a top 25 program with plenty of resources, and this coaching staff needs time to build connections. And Petersen’s job on the recruiting trail could get much easier if the Huskies win 10 games in 2014.


However, in order to consistently challenge Oregon and Stanford in the North, Washington needs to consistently bring in top 30 classes. Petersen knows how to develop players, but he has to bring in recruits capable of elevating the program.


The Schedule


Washington has recorded just one season of 10 or more victories since 1992. Could that change in 2014? The Huskies play 13 regular season games and should start 4-0 with non-conference matchups against Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State. The Sept. 27 contest against Stanford is a huge statement game for Petersen and Washington. If the Huskies win, they should be 6-0 heading into a matchup against Oregon on Oct. 18. Also, with home games versus Arizona State and UCLA, Washington has a chance to surprise in the North. Of course, road trips to Washington State and Arizona in November won’t be easy. It’s not unreasonable to think the Huskies can sweep their non-conference and Pac-12 home games, while beating California and Colorado on the road. That leaves road swing contests versus Arizona, Washington State and Oregon. 


Final Analysis


Washington is a program with potential. Sarkisian did a nice job of getting the Huskies relevant in the Pac-12 once again, but the school hopes Petersen is the right coach to take the program even higher.


Petersen was highly successful at Boise State, but transitioning from a job in the Mountain West to the Pac-12 will require an adjustment period. And even with Petersen’s strong track record of player development and X’s and O’s ability, recruiting at a higher level is a must in Seattle.


While Petersen’s run with the Broncos was impressive, can he do what former Boise State coaches Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins couldn’t in the Pac-12? Koetter and Hawkins both struggled to find success at a higher level away from the blue turf.


The pieces are in place for Washington to push for nine or 10 victories this year. The Huskies should go 4-0 in non-conference play and Stanford visiting Seattle in late September is a huge chance to earn a marquee Pac-12 win.


The Huskies have 14 returning starters, including one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the Pac-12. The question marks are few, but fairly significant. The secondary must be rebuilt, and quarterback Cyler Miles has to settle into the starting role.


Sarkisian is leaving plenty of talent behind, and it’s up to Petersen to capitalize on what’s coming back in 2014 and '15. With Oregon and Stanford both expected to lose plenty of key players after 2014, the door is open for the Huskies to make their move in the division over the next two seasons.


Final Prediction


Vegas Expectations: 9 over/under (CG Technology)

Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 9-4 (5-4)

Setting First-Year Expectations for Washington's Chris Petersen
Post date: Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/setting-first-year-expectations-uscs-steve-sarkisian

USC is one of the premier jobs in college football. With a fertile recruiting area in its backyard, combined with a strong tradition, it’s easy to see why most coaches would consider the .


Despite all of its advantages, success isn’t guaranteed at USC. The Trojans failed to win at least 10 games in a season from 1989-2001. And the program has struggled to regain its place among the Pac-12’s elite recently, as the Lane Kiffin era ended after a 28-15 mark in just over three years. Of course, NCAA sanctions have played a role in the Trojans’ record in recent seasons.

After Kiffin was fired, Ed Orgeron was promoted to interim coach and helped to lead the Trojans to a 10-4 record. But Orgeron wasn’t hired as the full-time coach, and former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian was hired from Washington to guide the program back to national prominence.


Sarkisian certainly knows his way around USC, as the California native spent seven years as an assistant with the Trojans. Although Sarkisian’s overall record at Washington was just 34-29, there was noticeable improvement from a program that went 0-12 in the year prior to his arrival. Sarkisian won at least seven games in three out of the last four years and left after an 8-4 mark in 2013.


Is Sarkisian the right fit at USC? Let’s take a look at the former Washington coach and his outlook for 2014 and beyond.


Sarkisian’s Job History:


2009-13: Washington – Head Coach

2005-08: USC – Assistant Coach/Offensive Coordinator

2004: Oakland Raiders – Quarterbacks

2001-03: USC – Offensive Assistant/Quarterbacks

2000: El Camino JC – Quarterbacks


Obstacles to Overcome:


Depth: Scholarship sanctions have significantly reduced USC’s depth. At Pac-12 media days, Sarkisian indicated the Trojans would have around 65 scholarship players in 2014. Needless to say, an injury could be a huge setback to this team, as the depth on the team is razor thin. One area of particular concern is the offensive line, where a couple of freshmen could see time.


Playmakers at Receiver: File this as a minor concern for Sarkisian. Top receiver Marqise Lee must be replaced, but junior Nelson Agholor should be a candidate for All-American honors. But who will emerge as a No. 2 and No. 3 target behind Agholor? Is it sophomore Darreus Rogers? Junior George Farmer or freshman Steven Rogers?


Team Strengths for 2014:


Cody Kessler’s Emergence: Kessler had his share of ups and downs under center early in 2013 but settled into the starting role late in the year. Kessler threw only one interception over the final five games and completed over 60 percent in each contest during that span. Coordinator Clay Helton returns in 2014, and Sarkisian is regarded for his work with quarterbacks and offenses. Kessler should continue to improve this year, especially with standouts at the skill positions in running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor.


No. 1 Defense in the Pac-12?: It’s a close call for the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 this year. Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, USC or Washington each could claim that honor. The Trojans figure to have a strong case for the No. 1 spot, as eight starters are back in 2014. End Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and safety Su’a Cravens could all push for All-America honors. USC held opponents to just 21.2 points per game last year and 4.9 yards per play. Depth is an issue, but the Trojans are strong in the starting 11.


Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends


: 1


 Pac-12 RankNational RankThree-Star ProspectsFour-Star ProspectsFive-Star Prospects
Rankings from 247Sports Composite

Despite the late start on building a class for 2014, Sarkisian didn’t miss a beat on the recruiting trail. The Trojans signed the No. 11 class, putting USC’s five-year average at 7.6. USC has plenty of elite talent, inking 12 five-star recruits since 2010. And each class since 2010 has signed at least eight four-star prospects.


With scholarship sanctions coming to an end, USC can sign 25 players in 2015, which will help with the shortage of depth. As of late July, the Trojans rank No. 10 nationally in the 247Sports team rankings and have five-star recruits committed.


Over the last five years, USC’s five-year recruiting average ranks as the best in the Pac-12. The overall numbers aren’t there due to scholarship restrictions, but the Trojans have the best talent in the league.


Sarkisian inherits a roster capable of winning the Pac-12 in 2014. However, this team is just 23-13 in conference play since 2010. Getting elite talent to play up to its recruiting rank and maximizing the roster will be a challenge for this staff.


The Schedule


USC’s schedule is more favorable than its crosstown rival UCLA. The Trojans catch Stanford, Oregon State, California and Washington State in crossover play, while the Bruins play Oregon, California, Washington and Stanford. However, UCLA has won the last two matchups against USC, and the Nov. 22 contest could decide which team wins the South. In non-conference play, the Trojans have a favorable path to a 3-0 record. If USC stays healthy, this team could be a darkhorse contender for a playoff spot in 2014.


Final Analysis


Sarkisian’s 34-29 record from his tenure at Washington isn’t particularly overwhelming. However, he inherited a program coming off an 0-12 season and quickly turned the Huskies into a consistent bowl team. Was it fair to expect more of Sarkisian at Washington? Yes. But let’s also not dismiss the difficulty of the Pac-12 North, which featured two national title contenders in Oregon and Stanford.


Sarkisian’s expectations at USC are much higher. Consistently contending for Pac-12 titles and earning a spot in the playoff aren’t unreasonable goals with the talent available in California for the Trojans.


While Sarkisian didn’t elevate Washington into conference title contention, he has a chance to make a splash in 2014. The Trojans return 14 starters and play a favorable schedule. If Cody Kessler continues to improve at quarterback, the offense should take a step forward on the stat sheet. The defense is one of the best in the Pac-12 and should thrive under coordinator Justin Wilcox.


Sarkisian is working with a better roster and is at one of the best jobs in college football. Barring major injuries, finishing 8-5 or 7-6 in 2014 would be a disappointment.


Considering Sarkisian’s experience at the program and all of the resources available, his task is to elevate USC back into national title contention.


While he wasn’t the home-run hire some may have expected for USC, Sarkisian inherits a team capable of winning a Pac-12 title in 2014. And if Sarkisian can take the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship and an elite bowl, it will be a huge step forward in answering this overriding question: Is Sarkisian is the right hire?


Final Prediction:


Vegas Expectations: 8.5 over/under (5Dimes)

Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 9-3 (6-3)

Setting First-Year Expectations for USC's Steve Sarkisian
Post date: Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/louisiana-tech-unveils-alternate-helmet-2014

Louisiana Tech is planning a one-game switch for its helmet design in 2014.

The Bulldogs usually wear a helmet with the state of Louisiana headlined by a “T” at the top.

In 2014, Louisiana Tech will wear a red helmet with a Bulldog logo for its red out game against UTEP on Oct. 4.

Here’s a look at the alternate helmet:

Louisiana Tech Unveils Alternate Helmet for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 12:28
Path: /college-football/10-position-groups-under-pressure-sec-2014

The terms “on the hot seat” or “under pressure” usually apply to quarterbacks and head coaches. After all, there’s an enormous amount of pressure on quarterbacks and coaches for any college football team.


Despite most of the preseason focus on other positions, the battles in the trenches, at cornerback or in the receiving corps are just as important to any team’s success in 2014.


With that in mind, let’s set aside the quarterbacks and head coaches for a moment and examine some of the top positions that must produce in 2014.


All eyes in Tuscaloosa will be on the quarterback battle, but the Crimson Tide must address its cornerback spot after struggling in key moments against the pass. Florida’s offense struggled mightily last season and will be under the direction of new coordinator Kurt Roper. The Gators need a big year from quarterback Jeff Driskel, but the supporting cast has to give the junior signal-caller more help.


10 SEC Position Groups Under Pressure in 2014


Alabama Defensive Backs (CB)

The quarterback battle will garner most of the preseason attention in Tuscaloosa, but Alabama’s secondary could be a bigger concern. The Crimson Tide finished No. 3 in the SEC in pass efficiency defense last season and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 55.5 percent of their throws. Despite the No. 3 finish in the SEC, this unit was torched by Oklahoma (348 yards, three scores) and Texas A&M (464 yards, five touchdowns). Eddie Jackson was slated to start at one cornerback spot, but a torn ACL will sideline the sophomore indefinitely. Juniors Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are the frontrunners to start at cornerback, with freshmen Marlon Humphrey and Tony Brown expected to push for snaps this fall. With the turnover at quarterback in SEC, the cornerback position isn’t a huge concern for coach Nick Saban. However, this unit has to play better against spread teams and could be a potential stumbling block in the playoffs if Alabama meets Florida State.


Auburn Defensive Line

Improving on defense is a top priority this offseason for coach Gus Malzahn, but this unit has already suffered a setback due to an ACL injury to end Carl Lawson. The sophomore was expected to play a key role in Auburn’s pass rush, especially with the departure of Dee Ford to the NFL. With Lawson sidelined, the Tigers will ask more of junior college recruits DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence, along with sophomores Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel. Senior LaDarius Owens is penciled in at one end spot, and Gabe Wright could shift between end and tackle this year. Coordinator Ellis Johnson isn’t hurting for talent, but there are a handful of new faces stepping into new roles. The Tigers allowed 162.1 rushing yards per game in 2013.


Florida Wide Receivers

From 2006-10, Florida had six receivers selected in the NFL Draft. Since 2010, it’s been a different story in Gainesville. The Gators haven’t had a receiver drafted since 2010 and no wide receiver has recorded more than 600 yards in a season since 2009. Last season, Florida pass-catchers averaged only 10.3 yards per catch. Improving the offense is a top priority for coach Will Muschamp this year, and new coordinator Kurt Roper is tasked with finding a quick fix for a unit that averaged only 18.8 points per game last year. Not only must quarterback Jeff Driskel pickup his performance for Florida to double its win total from 2013, but the receiving corps has to provide more help. Senior Quinton Dunbar is the top returning performer (40 catches), and sophomores Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson are back after combining for 23 receptions last year. There’s certainly talent on the depth chart, but this unit has to provide more big plays, consistency and overall better performance in 2014.


Georgia Defensive Backs

New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt should provide a quick fix for a Georgia defense that allowed 29 points per game in 2013. The Bulldogs have a strong front seven, led by a linebacking corps that could be the best in the nation. The secondary is the main area of focus for Pruitt, and he will coach this unit in 2014. Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews transferred this offseason, leaving senior Damian Swann and sophomore safety Quincy Mauger as the only returning starters. Junior college recruit Shattle Fenteng, redshirt freshman Aaron Davis, converted running back J.J. Green and true freshman Malkom Parrish lack experience but could play significant snaps in 2014. Pruitt doesn’t inherit elite talent in the secondary like he had at Florida State, and he will need to mix and match in the fall to find the right combination. With the turnover at cornerback and safety, along with the performance of this group in 2013, Georgia needs its front seven to set the tone on defense. However, with matchups against Clemson and South Carolina to open the season, the secondary will be under pressure early and often in 2014.


LSU Defensive Line

Make no mistake: The Tigers aren’t hurting for talent in the trenches. However, LSU ranked eighth in conference-only games last season by allowing 170.3 rushing yards per game in SEC contests. John Chavis’ defensive front also registered only 15 sacks in eight league matchups, the lowest number for the Tigers since recording 11 in 2009. Junior Danielle Hunter and senior Jermauria Rasco should start at end this year, and both players should be in the mix for All-SEC honors. The tackle position is up in the air, as Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson departed after 2013. Sophomore Christian LaCouture and junior Quentin Thomas are listed as the starters on the preseason depth chart, but freshmen Maquedius Bain, Frank Herron and Greg Gilmore should push for snaps. Considering the amount of athleticism, speed and talent at this position, LSU’s defensive line will eventually be one of the best in the SEC. The opener against Wisconsin should provide a good barometer test for a unit that has room to improve after 2013.


Missouri Wide Receivers

Despite the departure of Dorial Green-Beckham, the Tigers aren’t in bad shape at receiver. In addition to replacing DGB, Missouri’s L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas expired their eligibility, leaveing senior Bud Sasser as the No. 1 statistical option from 2013 (361 yards). In addition to Sasser, seniors Darius White and Jimmie Hunt are expected to round out the starting trio, with freshmen J’Mon Moore, Lawrence Lee, and Nate Brown vying for snaps. New quarterback Maty Mauk impressed in limited action and should be one of the SEC’s top passers in 2014. DGB will be missed, but the talent is there for Missouri to not suffer a dramatic drop in production. Can Sasser become the go-to option? Or will Hunt or White seize that spot? Although there’s talent, it may take a few games for Missouri to settle its pecking order at receiver.


Ole Miss Offensive Line

Thanks to back-to-back top 20 recruiting classes under coach Hugh Freeze, the depth and overall talent on the Ole Miss roster has improved. But the one area of concern on offense in 2014 has to be the line. Sophomore Laremy Tunsil returns after a standout freshman season and should team with guard Aaron Morris (back from ACL surgery) to form a strong combination on the left side. Junior Justin Bell is expected to start at right guard after making 13 starts in 2013, while Ben Still is penciled in at center. The right tackle spot could go to Robert Conyers, but junior college recruit Fahn Cooper could also factor into the mix. Even though the starting five could rank in the top half of best SEC offensive lines, depth is a concern. Freshman Rod Taylor may have to play immediately at guard, with redshirt freshman Davion Johnson providing depth at tackle. An injury up front could be a big problem for the Rebels.


South Carolina Defensive Backs

The Gamecocks finished 2013 ranked seventh in the SEC in pass defense efficiency, limiting opponents to just 15 touchdown passes and under 60 percent completion percentage (59.9). This unit must replace cornerbacks Victor Hampton (second-team All-SEC) and Jimmy Legree, while also dealing with extra pressure due to the departure of standout linemen Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles. Depth at cornerback is thin, and the situation could get more perilous if incoming freshmen Chris Lammons and Wesley Green fail to qualify. Senior Brison Williams is listed on the preseason depth chart at safety but could shift to cornerback. Sophomore Rico McWilliams (one tackle in 2013) is slated to start at the other corner spot. This unit is thin on proven options, which is cause for concern with Texas A&M, East Carolina and Georgia in the first three weeks of the season.


Tennessee Offensive Line

The Volunteers are starting from scratch on the offensive line, replacing all five starters from a unit that allowed 12 sacks in SEC games last year. Making matters worse for second-year coach Butch Jones is there’s little in the way of proven options stepping into the starting role. Center Mack Crowder made one start in 2013, while guard Marcus Jackson redshirted after playing in 24 games in his first two years on campus. The Volunteers hope junior college recruit Dontavius Blair can step in at left tackle, with junior Kyler Kerbyson and freshman Coleman Thomas in the mix to anchor the right side. This unit is young, unproven and inexperienced. Building a cohesive line will take some time, which isn’t good news for a team that takes on Utah State, Oklahoma and Georgia before October.


Texas A&M Defensive Line

All three of Texas A&M’s defensive units warrant a mention in this article, but we will focus on the line in this article. The Aggies allowed 236.3 rushing yards per game in SEC contests last year and generated only 14 sacks. This unit has already suffered a few setbacks in the offseason, as end Gavin Stansbury left the team in July, and tackle Isaiah Golden was dismissed after an off-the-field incident. Incoming freshman Myles Garrett ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite for 2014, and he will have to play a significant role. Coordinator Mark Snyder also needs freshmen Zaycoven Henderson, Justin Manning and sophomore Daeshon Hall to emerge as key contributors. There’s talent available, but how quickly can this unit find its footing with new faces stepping into major roles? With an opener against South Carolina, Texas A&M needs to find answers in the fall.

Other Position Groups Under Pressure in 2014:


Arkansas Linebackers

The last Arkansas linebacker to win first-team All-SEC honors was Sam Olajubutu in 2006. This position has seen its share of ups and downs in Fayetteville recent years, and the Razorbacks enter 2013 with just one returning starter. Senior Braylon Mitchell headlines the unit after recording 77 stops in 2013, but Arkansas needs Martrell Spaight, Otha Peters, Brooks Ellis to step up this year.


Georgia Offensive Line

Three starters depart from a line that allowed only nine sacks in eight SEC contests. Center David Andrews is one of the best in the SEC, and tackle John Theus returns after making eight starts in 2013. The other three spots on the line are up for grabs this fall.


Kentucky Wide Receivers

This unit was littered with inexperience and question marks last season, and three newcomers (Javess Blue, Jeff Badet and Ryan Timmons) finished as the team leaders in receiving yards. The outlook for Kentucky’s pass catchers is better in 2014, but coordinator Neal Brown still needs more consistency from this group. Keep an eye on newcomers T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass.


Mississippi State Running Backs

Quarterback Dak Prescott led the Bulldogs with 829 yards in 2013, and LaDarius Perkins – the No. 1 running back in 2013 – departs after recording 542 yards on 137 yards last year. Junior Josh Robinson, sophomore Ashton Shumpert and true freshman Aeris Williams are expected to handle the bulk of the carries in the backfield, and it’s critical the Bulldogs get consistent production from their running backs to limit the wear and tear on Prescott during the season.


Missouri Defensive Backs

The Tigers return only one starter from a secondary that finished No. 6 in the SEC in pass efficiency defense last year. Cornerback E.J. Gaines will be missed, but senior safety Braylon Webb will push for All-SEC honors, and sophomores Aarion Penton and John Gibson played well at corner in limited action last year.


South Carolina Defensive Line

The Gamecocks’ defensive line was depleted with the departures of ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, along with standout tackle Kelcy Quarles. Due to the losses up front, coordinator Lorenzo Ward may utilize more 3-4 looks in 2014. A drastic drop in production isn’t expected, but the Gamecocks need contributions from junior college recruit Abu Lamin and sophomores Gerald Dixon and Darius English.


Tennessee Defensive Line

Much like the offensive line, Tennessee’s defensive front is in need of major repair entering fall practice. The Volunteers will have four new starters and expect major contributions from freshmen Dewayne Hendrix, Charles Mosley and Derek Barnett. Sophomore Corey Vereen could be in for a breakout season.


Vanderbilt Defensive Backs

The defensive backfield was a strength for Vanderbilt last season, finishing sixth among SEC teams (conference-only games) in pass efficiency defense. This unit heads into fall practice under construction, as four new starters must emerge. The secondary isn’t without talent, as junior Andrew Williamson and sophomore Paris Head are two building blocks for 2014.

10 Position Groups Under Pressure in the SEC for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-breakout-players-2014

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.


The Big 12 is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014. Oklahoma has young talent ready to emerge at running back, including Keith Ford and Joe Mixon. In-state rival Oklahoma State has an emerging star in Jhajuan Seales at receiver, while West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley is a key cog in the defense in Morgantown.


Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.


Big 12 Breakout Players for 2014


B.J. Catalon, RB, TCU

After averaging only 20.9 points per game (conference-only matchups) in 2013, TCU’s offense was overhauled in the offseason. New co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham plan to increase the tempo and run more spread looks, which should help the Horned Frogs take a step forward on offense this year. There’s uncertainty at quarterback and receiver, but Meacham and Cumbie should be able to utilize Catalon more in 2014. The Texas native caught 11 passes and led TCU with 569 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season. Catalon’s 5.3 yards per carry was impressive, especially behind an offensive line that struggled to find consistency last year. Don’t expect Catalon to log 250 carries, but he should find plenty of touches on the ground and through the air this season.


Terrell Clinkscales, DT, Kansas State

Predicting what type of impact junior college recruits will have in a given season is never easy. For every success story, there are a handful of players who struggle to adapt to the transition. Kansas State has a strong track record of developing junior college recruits, and Clinkscales has a chance to push for a starting role in 2014. The Illinois native played in one season at Dodge City Community College and recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Clinkscales rated as the No. 10 junior college recruit by 247Sports. Even if Clinkscales doesn’t start, the 315-pound tackle will contribute as a key piece of K-State’s defensive line rotation.


Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Baylor’s receiving corps is one of the deepest in the nation, headlined by Antwan Goodley (18.9 yards per catch in 2013) and seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller. But with Tevin Reese departing, the Bears are looking for a new speed threat for quarterback Bryce Petty. Coleman impressed as a freshman in 2013, catching 35 passes for 527 yards. And in a good sign for Coleman’s development, the best game (seven receptions for 88 yards) of his 2013 campaign was the Fiesta Bowl. Expect the sophomore to become an even bigger target for Petty in 2014.


Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech

Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in Texas Tech’s receiving corps, and the answers for quarterback Davis Webb could come in the form of a few players. The Red Raiders may not have a dominant No. 1 option in 2014, but there’s still a lot of talent for Webb to target. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez combined to catch 114 passes last year and will play a bigger role in the offense in this year, while Davis is a name many in Lubbock expect to have a breakout year after catching 15 passes for 200 yards in 2013. He showed his explosiveness by catching a 38-yard pass against Arizona State and by returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.


Keith Ford, RB, Oklahoma

Oklahoma loses its top three statistical running backs from last season (Brennan Clay, Damian Williams and Roy Finch), but Bob Stoops’ team isn’t hurting for talent. Off-the-field issues have clouded touted freshman Joe Mixon’s status for now, but Ford is a five-star talent ready for an opportunity to star in the Oklahoma backfield. The Texas native played in 10 games last season and rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries. Ford never recorded more than seven carries in a game but rushed for 34 yards on six attempts against Texas and 15 yards on three carries against Alabama. With one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines leading the way, Ford should find plenty of running room for the Sooners in 2014.


Nick Harwell, WR, Kansas

Fans of MACtion will remember Harwell from his time at Miami, Ohio. The Texas native transferred to Lawrence after three seasons with the RedHawks and is poised to be the No. 1 target for quarterback Montell Cozart in 2014. Harwell caught 229 passes in three years in Oxford, including a monster 2011 season (97 catches, 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns). Asking Harwell to replicate those numbers with a young quarterback is unrealistic, but the senior is a much needed difference maker for a receiving corps that has struggled mightily under coach Charlie Weis.


Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State

Hill drew significant praise from coach Mike Gundy at Big 12 media days, and it’s clear the junior college recruit is going to play a major role in Oklahoma State’s offense this year. Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich plan to use Hill in an all-purpose role and indicated the junior will touch the ball 15-20 times each week. The Georgia native possesses elite speed and won the Big 12 indoor 200 meters title this year. Expect Gundy to get Hill involved in a variety of ways in 2014.


Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor

While Baylor’s offense grabbed most of the headlines for last year’s Big 12 championship, the defense quietly led the conference in fewest yards allowed per play (4.7) in 2013. This unit has to be remodeled in 2014, as only four starters return for coordinator Phil Bennett. The secondary must replace three starters, including standout safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson. Howard played in 13 games in a reserve role last season and recorded five tackles and one interception. Opposing offenses will test the revamped secondary early, but Howard (an imposing 6-foot-2 cornerback) should ensure there’s not a drastic drop in the secondary this season.


Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas

Depth in the receiving corps for Texas has dwindled recently, as Montrel Meander and Kendall Sanders were suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. With Sanders (37 receptions) out of the picture, Johnson should have a bigger role in the offense. He caught 22 passes for 350 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and two scores last season. Johnson should benefit from the return of quarterback David Ash, along with a rushing attack that features standouts Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. Even if Johnson doesn’t catch 60 passes, his big-play ability will help Ash stretch the field in 2014.


Luke Knott, LB, Iowa State

Knott was on his way to a breakout season in 2013 but a hip injury sidelined him for the final six contests. Through the first six games, Knott recorded 45 tackles, one forced fumble and two pass breakups. The Missouri native was one of the Cyclones’ most active defenders in Big 12 play, recording 11 stops against Texas and 10 against Texas Tech. Knott is expected to start at weakside linebacker, and the sophomore should be one of the leaders in a revamped Iowa State defensive front.


Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

It might be unrealistic to ask Lazard to make a huge impact as a freshman, but the Iowa native is simply too talented to sit on the bench. Lazard ranked as the No. 11 receiver in the 247Sports Composite and caught 105 passes and 34 touchdowns during his high school career. Lazard should give quarterback Grant Rohach another weapon in the passing game, as the Cyclones already have reliable options in tight end E.J. Bibbs and receiver Quenton Bundrage. If Lazard picks up the offense this fall, he will play a significant role in the passing game for Iowa State.


Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

Lache Seastrunk’s big-play ability will be missed in Waco, but Baylor’s backfield should still rank among the best in the Big 12 this season. Linwood played in 12 contests last year and finished second on the team with 881 yards and eight scores. The Texas native recorded four 100-yard efforts, including 182 yards in the 41-12 victory over Oklahoma. Linwood should handle the bulk of the carries in Baylor’s backfield, but redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson, sophomore Devin Chafin and true freshman Terence Williams will all factor in to the mix. Linwood is a projected first-team All-Big 12 back by Athlon Sports for 2014.


Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Oakman is an imposing figure off the edge for Phil Bennett’s defense. The Pennsylvania native started his career at Penn State but transferred after a redshirt year. Oakman’s first game experience in college occurred last season, as he played in all 13 games, recorded 33 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Most of Oakman’s production came early in the year, including 3.5 tackles for a loss against Wofford and two against Iowa State. He only recorded 0.5 tackles for a loss over the final six games, but the experience gained by Oakman through his first extended playing time should be valuable in 2014. Expect the junior to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 this year.


Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State

NFL first-round pick Justin Gilbert leaves big shoes to fill in the Oklahoma State secondary. Gilbert’s presence was a key reason why the Cowboys allowed only 11 passing scores in Big 12 games last year, and coordinator Glenn Spencer is counting on Peterson and Ashton Lampkin to raise their game in 2014. Peterson recorded 24 tackles (three for a loss), two interceptions and four pass breakups last year. The Oklahoma native received plenty of attention opposite of Gilbert, but he’s likely tasked with defending opposing team’s No. 1 receivers in 2014. Expect Peterson to challenge for all-conference honors. Another name to watch on Oklahoma State’s defense: Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.


Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma

With Aaron Colvin departing, Oklahoma is counting on Sanchez to be the top cornerback on a defense that should be one of the nation’s best. Most Sooner fans are familiar with Sanchez after a standout freshman season, but the Texas native is poised to emerge as one of the Big 12’s top defensive backs. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Sanchez started all 13 games, recorded 46 tackles and intercepted two passes. With Colvin on the other side last year, it was no surprise Sanchez was frequently targeted. However, he responded by defending 15 passes. Opposing Big 12 quarterbacks will likely stay away from Sanchez this season.


Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State

There’s a significant amount of roster turnover for Oklahoma State in 2014. The Cowboys return only eight starters and lost 28 seniors from last season’s team. Despite the turnover, Mike Gundy’s team can still push for eight wins. For Oklahoma State to push for a spot among the top four teams in the Big 12, quarterback J.W. Walsh has to play with more consistency after an up-and-down stint in 2013. But Walsh should have plenty of help at the skill positions, as running back Desmond Roland rushed for 811 yards last year, and Seales is primed for a breakout year at receiver. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Seales grabbed 39 receptions for 571 yards and three scores. The Texas native is a physical presence on the outside but also has the speed to be a big-play threat for Walsh.


Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia

Remember him? Shell was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and rushed for 641 yards and four scores during his freshman season at Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania native transferred following the 2012 season and landed at West Virginia. After sitting out 2013 due to NCAA transfer rules, Shell is poised to be one of the top playmakers for the Mountaineers. The sophomore will battle with Dreamius Smith, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie for carries, but Shell has the most upside and talent among the running backs in Morgantown. With quarterback Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery, West Virginia’s offense could feature the run more in 2014. If Shell picks up where he left off in 2012, he could push for All-Big 12 honors.

Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU

Jason Verrett will be missed, but there’s optimism in Fort Worth that TCU’s secondary is still the best in the Big 12. The safety spots are in good hands with Sam Carter and Chris Hackett, and cornerback Kevin White is a second-team All-Big 12 selection by Athlon Sports for 2014. Texada was a spring standout for the Horned Frogs after redshirting in 2013, and the Texas native should team with White to help the defense ease the loss of Verrett. 


Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State

In the last seven years, no Kansas State freshman running back has rushed for more than 400 yards in a season. Could that change in 2014? The Wildcats lack a clear replacement for John Hubert, with Demarcus Robinson, Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones considered the early favorites for the No. 1 job. Warmack is a name to remember this fall, as the true freshman could stake his claim for playing time. The Missouri native rushed for 2,223 yards and 29 touchdowns at Blue Springs High School in 2013 and ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.


Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia

Worley has generated plenty of buzz this offseason in Morgantown. As a true freshman, the 6-foot-1 cornerback from Philadelphia played in 11 games in 2013 and recorded 45 tackles and broke up five passes. Considering the offensive firepower in the Big 12, having a shutdown corner with the size to matchup against big receivers is a valuable asset for any defense. And the Mountaineers’ defense may have to shoulder more of the load in 2014, as the offense – especially the quarterback spot – is a work in progress. With another year to develop, expect Worley to challenge for all-conference honors this year.  

Big 12 Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/setting-first-year-expectations-vanderbilts-derek-mason

is coming off one of the best three-year stretches in program history. The Commodores won 24 games under James Franklin, including back-to-back bowl victories and top-25 finishes in the Associated Press poll for the 2012-13 seasons. Franklin left for Penn State after Vanderbilt’s win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl and was replaced by Derek Mason.


Mason arrives at after three years as Stanford’s defensive coordinator. Under Mason’s watch, the Cardinal defense was a driving force in the program’s back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. Stanford ranked first or second in fewest yards per play allowed (conference-only games) and points allowed in Mason’s three-year tenure.


Franklin set the bar high for Mason. has just three seasons of nine victories, with two coming under Franklin’s direction.


After a successful three-year stint under Franklin, Mason is tasked with taking the program to new heights and pushing the Commodores into SEC title contention.


Expectations are usually high for any first-year coach. There’s a new excitement and buzz throughout the program. However, immediate success isn’t always guaranteed.


Let’s take a look at Mason’s history and set the realistic expectations for 2014:


Mason’s Job History:


2011-13: Stanford – Defensive Coordinator

2010: Stanford – Defensive Backs Coach

2007-09: Minnesota Vikings – Asst. Defensive Backs Coach

2005-06: Ohio – Wide Receivers Coach

2004: New Mexico State – Wide Receivers Coach

2003: Saint Mary’s – Co-Defensive Coordinator

2002: Utah – Wide Receivers/Special Teams Asst. Coach

1999-01: Bucknell – Defensive Backs Coach

1997-98: Idaho State – Running Backs Coach

1995-96: Weber State – Wide Receivers Coach

1994: Mesa Community College – Wide Receivers Coach


Obstacles to Overcome:


The Passing Game: The Commodores finished ninth in the SEC in passing offense last season, averaging just 227.5 yards per game. Total yards per game can be deceiving when judging offenses, but Vanderbilt has not ranked higher than eighth among SEC teams in passing offense in the last seven years. The passing game is a huge concern for Mason and coordinator Karl Dorrell in 2014. The Commodores could turn to LSU transfer Stephen Rivers at quarterback, while top receiver Jordan Matthews (112 of Vanderbilt’s 243 receptions in 2013) departs. The offensive line and rushing attack should carry the offense, but the Commodores have to develop a passing game to top last year’s win total.


The Secondary: The defensive backfield was a strength for Vanderbilt last season, finishing sixth among SEC teams (conference-only games) in pass efficiency defense. This unit heads into fall practice under construction, as four new starters must emerge. The secondary isn’t without talent, as junior Andrew Williamson and sophomore Paris Head are two building blocks for 2014.


Team Strengths for 2014:


Rushing Attack/Offensive Line: The backfield is headlined by Jerron Seymour (716 yards in 2013), Brian Kimbrow (341 yards) and freshmen Ralph Webb and Dallas Rivers. Until a quarterback emerges, expect Vanderbilt to rely on its ground attack and an offensive line that returns four starters.


Front Seven on Defense: Mason plans to change Vanderbilt’s scheme on defense to a 3-4. Although it’s a significant shift in philosophy, the Commodores have the personnel to make it work. Vince Taylor is poised for a breakout year as the team’s nose guard, and the outside linebacker positions are manned by Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike (10 sacks in 2013). Establishing a pass rush is critical with four new starters in the secondary.


Roster Talent/Recruiting Trends


 SEC RankNational RankThree-Star ProspectsFour-Star Prospects

: 14


Despite a late start on recruiting in 2014, Mason managed to ink the No. 45 overall class (247Sports Composite). Vanderbilt’s class ranked last in the SEC, but Mason and his staff signed two four-star and 16 three-star prospects. Those totals were almost equal to Franklin’s class in 2012 but did not match the No. 26 rank in 2013. The No. 26 class in 2013 is the outlier in Vanderbilt’s five-year recruiting trend. Over the last five seasons, the Commodores averaged a 46.5 rank in recruiting and have only one finish (26) above 45.


The Schedule


Vanderbilt should be favored in its four non-conference games (Old Dominion, Temple, UMass and Charleston Southern), which leaves the Commodores just two wins short of bowl eligibility. Getting two wins in SEC play will be a challenge, as Vanderbilt plays an improving Ole Miss team in LP Field on Sept. 6 and travels to Mississippi State on Nov. 22 in crossover games with the West. The Sept. 27 date at Kentucky and the Nov. 29 game against Tennessee are two key swing games.


Final Analysis


Mason is walking into an interesting situation. The Commodores could show improvement on the field, yet finish with a worse record. Last year, Vanderbilt was outgained by 75.5 yards per game in SEC play and finished with a -28 scoring differential. A +6 turnover margin helped the Commodores narrow the gap in yardage and scoring.


Winning eight games in 2014 would be a surprise, especially with Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky all expected to improve.


Vanderbilt isn’t hiring a head coach to rebuild or help the program get to a bowl game. Instead, Mason was picked to take this program to the next level and in contention for SEC titles. This is Mason's first season as a head coach, and life in the SEC is never easy. Expect plenty of growing pains over the next few years, as Mason needs time to mold the roster to his liking and settle into his new role. Defense will be the backbone of Mason's teams, especially in 2014 while the offense develops under Dorrell. 


The Commodores closed the gap under Franklin and should chip away at it even more under Mason. But expecting Mason to elevate Vanderbilt into SEC title contention in 2014 is too much to ask. With a glaring question mark at quarterback, along with a scheme change on defense, a bowl game (and seven wins) is a reasonable first-year expectation for Mason.


Final Prediction


Vegas Expectations: 6.5 over/under (5Dimes)

Athlon 2014 Magazine Projection: 6-6

Setting First-Year Expectations for Vanderbilt's Derek Mason
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-ams-fall-practice-do-list-2014

Texas A&M opens its third set of fall practices under Kevin Sumlin searching for answers on both sides of the ball. The Aggies went 4-4 in SEC play last season and must replace three first-round draft picks in quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans.


Replacing Manziel is the top offseason storyline for Sumlin, but Texas A&M’s defense is a bigger concern. The Aggies allowed 6.7 yards per play in SEC contests last year and gave up 36.5 points per game.


Texas A&M has plenty of positive momentum heading into the 2014 season, as a newly renovated Kyle Field is one of the top stadiums in college football, and Sumlin continues to reel in elite talent on the recruiting trail.

What should Sumlin and the Texas A&M coaching staff concentrate on this fall? Here’s a few things to watch when fall practice begins in College Station.


Texas A&M 2014 Fall Practice Priorities


1. The Quarterback Battle

As mentioned above, this is the position generating the most interest in fall practice among fans from rival SEC schools. The two candidates vying to replace Johnny Manziel are true freshman Kyle Allen and sophomore Kenny Hill. Allen ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in the spring. Hill played in four games last year, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one score. Both quarterbacks are capable of running Texas A&M’s high-powered offense, but neither have much in the way of experience. While game snaps and playing time as a backup can be overrated, Allen and Hill won’t have much time to acclimate to life as a starter with a road trip to South Carolina in game one.


Will Sumlin and coordinator Jake Spavital get separation between Allen and Hill this fall? Or will this battle continue into the opener and beyond?


2. Fixing the Defense

Where should we start? The good news for Texas A&M: It’s hard to get any worse. The bad news? The Aggies may not show dramatic improvement on defense in 2014. 


Texas A&M ranked 14th in the SEC in points allowed, last in the conference against the run and generated only 14 sacks in eight league matchups. The Aggies also allowed 42 scores on 48 redzone trips by their opponents. 


Each level of the defense has concerns, which were magnified by the loss of tackle Isaiah Golden, end Gavin Stansbury and linebacker Darian Claiborne this offseason. With only five returning starters, coordinator Mark Snyder has his work cut out for him this fall.


Talent certainly isn’t an issue, but there’s a good chance the Aggies will field a defense with only eight seniors in the defensive two-deep. How quickly will the young talent reach its potential? 


The line will be counting on true freshman Myles Garrett to play right away, while sophomores Hardreck Walker and Daeshon Hall need to take on a bigger role. Redshirt freshman Justin Manning and true freshman Zaycoven Henderson will be asked to play significant snaps on the interior. As mentioned above, the line has talent, but it's also very young. Snyder needs this group to be stronger at the point of attack and eliminate some of the big plays allowed on the ground in 2013 (84 rushes of 10 or more yards).


At linebacker, Tommy Sanders or A.J. Hilliard will get first crack at replacing Claiborne on the weakside. This unit as a whole has to perform better and will be needed to help plug a run defense that was gashed frequently in 2013.


Establishing a consistent pass rush will help the secondary, which allowed 23 touchdowns in eight SEC contests last year. The defensive backfield could be the strength of Snyder’s defense, especially if cornerback Deshazor Everett plays at an All-SEC level. Junior De’Vante Harris has 18 starts under his belt and will start on the opposite side of Everett. The Aggies have to get better play from their safeties, which include senior starters Floyd Raven and Howard Matthews.


It's hard to envision this defense performing any worse than last year, but it may take a chunk of the season for the defense to find its footing with the young players stepping into the lineup.


3. Solidify the Offensive Line

Out of the three fall practice goals, this is the least of Kevin Sumlin’s worries. The Aggies have a future first-round pick in Cedric Ogbuehi anchoring the line at left tackle, while Mike Matthews is one of the best centers in the SEC. Senior Jarvis Harrison starts at left guard, and sophomore Germain Ifedi returns after starting 13 games as a redshirt freshman. Ifedi will move from guard to tackle in 2014.


The only open spot on Texas A&M’s line is at right guard, where junior Joseph Cheek holds an edge over junior college recruit Jermaine Eluemunor. With Cheek stepping in at right guard, combined with Ogbuehi and Ifedi changing positions, the line needs snaps to jell in the fall. 

Texas A&M's Fall Practice To-Do List for 2014
Post date: Monday, July 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-game-game-predictions-2014-0

Gary Andersen’s first season in Madison was a successful one, as the Badgers went 9-4 with all four losses coming by 10 points or less.


Despite having just eight returning starters, the Badgers are Athlon’s early favorites to win the Big Ten West Division in 2014.


Wisconsin won’t play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State in crossover play and host Nebraska in mid-November.

The Badgers have some uncertainty at quarterback, as Joel Stave is locked into a tight battle with Tanner McEvoy for the No. 1 spot. The defense has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, but there’s plenty of potential in the revamped front seven.


Expert Panel:


Steven Lassan (),

Brent Yarina (),

Mark Ross (),

Kevin McGuire (),

David Fox (),

Mike Fiammetta (),

Brandon Cavanaugh (),


Early Wisconsin Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Western Illinois
Bowling Green
at Northwestern
at Rutgers
at Purdue
at Iowa
Final Projection10-29-39-310-210-211-110-2
Steven Lassan ()

Even though Wisconsin has question marks, I still like the Badgers to win the West Division. The schedule is very favorable, as Wisconsin won’t play one of the top four teams from the East and Nebraska visits Madison in late November. With games against the Huskers and Iowa coming later in the year, it should allow coach Gary Andersen plenty of time to find reinforcements on the front seven on defense and in the receiving corps. Wisconsin won’t have an explosive passing offense, but the rushing attack will be among the best in the nation. As long as Melvin Gordon and the offensive line stays healthy, the Badgers will reach double-digit wins in Andersen’s second year.


Brent Yarina (),

Gary Andersen and company couldn’t have asked for a better 2014 schedule. This is one of the Big Ten’s most favorable slates – yes, even with mighty LSU in the opener. Speaking of LSU, one could make the argument it’s the only real test until mid-November, when the Badgers host Big Ten West rival Nebraska on Nov. 15. Here’s a crazy stat: Wisconsin’s Big Ten opponents went a combined 22-42 (.344 winning percentage) in 2013 conference play - this includes Maryland and Rutgers, which went 3-5 in the ACC and AAC, respectively. The Badgers lost a lot of talent, particularly on defense, and their leading returning receiver (Jeff Duckworth) caught just 12 passes, but they have a forgiving schedule that can help ease in the new faces.


Brandon Cavanaugh (),

Time to take off the training wheels for Badgers' second-year head coach Gary Andersen. Last year, he had the talent to introduce himself properly to the Big Ten. More importantly, he had an immense amount of leadership on the field.


As always, Wisconsin has its punishing running game to rely on. One of the best one-two punches in the nation returns in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. Who'll be handing off to them is a mystery as questions loom about Joel Stave's future under center. He's been serviceable, but Tanner McEvoy could oust him come fall camp. Who's going to replace Jared Abbrederis is a huge question mark as is what the receiver corps is going to look like in the first place.


Wisconsin offers up a treasure trove of offensive linemen yet again such as left tackle Tyler Marz. The entire line should not only be able to protect whomever's under center, but clear a path for the Gordon-Clement tag team.


Defense looks to be touch-and-go for Anderson's crew. The front seven suffered major losses in three starting defensive linemen and All-Everything linebacker Chris Borland. The Badgers have a stud in the secondary in Sojourn Shelton who started every game as a freshman in 2013 while leading the team in picks. There's enough talent in the defensive backfield to produce a quality secondary and the Badgers' Egyptian cotton-soft schedule gives them plenty of time to do so.


While Wisconsin's schedule should allow them to make a mistake or two on their way to Indianapolis, the bad news is the Big Ten East's representative likely tops them easily


David Fox ()

That schedule, woof. Wisconsin might have a nice record, but there are not a lot of ranked teams on that schedule, especially if teams like Nebraska and LSU regress. Wisconsin’s run game give the Badgers a chance in every game, especially against the dregs of the Big Ten. I’ve tabbed LSU and a road game against Iowa as losses, and I threw in Maryland. Wisconsin, with an unproven defense and unsettled quarterback situation, isn’t good enough not to have a lapse or two. With Maryland’s impressive receivers, the Terps may be able to catch the Badgers napping.


Kevin McGuire (),

With Wisconsin, you know what you are going to get year-in and year-out. The Badgers are going to run the football, and this fall they will do so with one of the best running backs in the country in Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin may very well open the season with a loss against LSU in Houston, but little should be standing in the way of a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the year. Wisconsin gets Nebraska at home for what could be the deciding game in the west, but Wisconsin must stay alert with a road trip to Iowa the following week. That has letdown written all over it for me right now, but ultimately it should not be enough to keep the Badgers from booking a trip to Chicago. The big question for me is who steps up as a go-to receiver and will this defense be as good as it has in recent seasons in Madison? Wisconsin will be good, but they will not be great in 2014. 

Mark Ross ()

The season opener with LSU in Arlington will be a tough test, but after that, Wisconsin's schedule opens up about as big as some of the holes All-America candidate Melvin Gordon will be running through. Bowling Green is a good team, but it won't be able to take down the Badgers at Camp Randall. Other than a road game at Northwestern and a visit from Nebraska in the middle of November, I don't see any big potential land mines on the Big Ten slate either. The Badgers are the big winners of the Big Ten's conference realignment as far as 2014 goes and I fully expect them to represent the new West Division in Indianapolis at the conference championship game on Dec. 6.

Mike Fiammetta (),

Picking an 11-1 schedule for Wisconsin surely seems radical. Coming from a Wisconsin writer, it probably comes off as obscenely biased. But considering the Badgers' weak-on-paper schedule in the Big Ten West Division, the ceiling is very high for UW in Gary Andersen's second season. Questions persist on offense -- a starting quarterback may not be named until well into fall camp and there is not one proven receiver on the roster, but as the old saying goes, "Death, taxes and Wisconsin rushing yards." Or something like that. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement are back, primed to prove to the nation that they form the best rushing duo in the country. The offensive line should also be solid once again, and while quarterback issues are never encouraging, some combination of Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy is expected to be solid enough to keep the Badgers atop the division.


Defensively, the 3-4 base defense moves into year two without Chris Borland and Dezmen Southward, two mainstays of the past several years. Losing Borland especially hurts, and while there are questions as to where quarterback pressure and other big plays will come from, there are several breakout candidates including defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, as well as inside linebacker Leon Jacobs. The secondary is still kind of young, but sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton could be on his way toward becoming one of the conference's best. On special teams, the Badgers might be going with a true freshman kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, and while that might be troubling to some, the Brazilian can really boot it.


Back to the schedule -- everything hinges on that LSU game in Houston. A win there, no matter the margin, gives Wisconsin the genuine possibility of running the table. That's not exactly bold reasoning, but most people picking wins/losses at this juncture likely having Wisconsin dropping a game or two, like, at Northwestern or Iowa. Even in that scenario, a 9-3 season would be welcomed by most Badgers fans, I'd say. That should be enough to land a spot in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game and possibly another Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/florida-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Florida is one of college football’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2014, as the Gators have the talent to win the SEC East but are coming off a 4-8 season with an offense full of question marks.


Coach Will Muschamp sits squarely on the hot seat this season and likely needs at least seven wins to return for 2015. Muschamp shuffled his offensive staff in the offseason, hiring Kurt Roper from Duke to fix a unit that averaged only 19.9 points per game in SEC contests.

Getting quarterback Jeff Driskel back to 100 percent will help, but Florida also needs improvement from its offensive line and receiving corps.

The Gators should have one of the SEC’s top defenses, which includes standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

With a schedule that features home games against LSU, South Carolina and Missouri, Florida will have a chance for a quick rebound in 2014.


Expert Panel:

Steven Lassan (),

Chad Neipling (),

Josh Ward (),

David Fox (),

Brandon Larrabee (),

Mark Ross (),


Early Florida Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014


at Alabama
at Tennessee
at Vanderbilt
South Carolina
Eastern Kentucky
at Florida State
Final Projection8-48-47-58-48-49-3
Steven Lassan ()

Florida is a tough team to project in 2014. On one side, the talent is there to win 10 games. The . However, Florida’s offense struggled mightily last year and averaged only 4.7 yards per play (conference-only games) in 2013. New coordinator Kurt Roper was a solid hire, and his first assignment is to help quarterback Jeff Driskel reach his potential. Driskel may not win All-SEC honors in 2014, but that’s not the biggest problem facing the offense. The line and receiving corps are huge question marks, and both units have to improve for Florida to contend in the East. With seven starters back, expect the Gators’ defense to rank among the best in the SEC once again this year. With South Carolina, Missouri and LSU visiting Gainesville, Florida has the schedule for a quick turnaround. However, this team doesn’t have much room for error, which is why I think they lose a game they probably shouldn’t.


Josh Ward (),

This isn’t the best time for Will Muschamp to have to add a road trip to Alabama onto the Gators’ schedule. But that’s what Florida will face, along with LSU from the SEC West and a game at Florida State to finish up the regular season.


I didn’t consider picking Florida against Alabama or Florida State. Those teams are just too powerful right now. That road trip to Tennessee will be critical. If Florida wins that game, which I picked it to do, the Gators could go on a bit of a run. In the end, I think Georgia and South Carolina bring back too much for Florida to handle. I have the Gators finishing with an 8-4 record, which should be good enough to save Muschamp’s job. Anything less than that and he’s in trouble.


David Fox ()

Florida’s schedule will help the rebuilding process in Gainesville. Having potential swing games against LSU and Missouri, plus a key divisional game against South Carolina, at home should serve Florida well. I don’t know if the Gators can win all of those games, but winning two out of three is possible. Florida’s offense will be better, if no other reason than the fact that it can’t get much worse. The defense will keep Florida competitive, but this team still has a long way to go to compete with Georgia and South Carolina. The offense, too, may have trouble keeping up with a dynamic offense like the one at Missouri.


Brandon Larrabee (),

Florida might be the hardest team in the SEC to figure out heading into this season. Don't let last year fool you: there's still plenty of talent in Gainesville. The offense will improve and the defense will be solid. But how much better will the Gators be? Have they completely caught back up with Georgia and South Carolina? And there's a clear trap game looming in Knoxville. The Gators are better than the Volunteers this year, but either an upset win at Alabama or looking ahead to the game against LSU could cause Florida to slip up. If they can get through that game, though, a three-week stretch that includes games against Georgia and South Carolina should decide who wins the East.

Mark Ross ()

Florida may not make it all the way back in one season, but I do think better days are ahead for embattled coach Will Muschamp's team. The offense is the key, which starts with quarterback Jeff Driskel staying healthy and new coordinator Kurt Roper jumpstarting one of the nation's worst units last season. Even if the offense shows only modest improvement, it should be good enough for a few more Ws because of the strength of the defense. The SEC is tough, no doubt about that, but there's just one conference road game (at Alabama) that Gator fans should worry about. As long as Florida takes care of business at home, something that didn't happen frequently in 2013, this team could build momentum and find enough confidence to potentially make things interesting in Tallahassee Thanksgiving weekend. How's that for a turnaround?


Chad Neipling (),

This year will be the turn around year for Florida following an abysmal 4-8 season, the worst since 1979. Roper's offense is going to bring speed of play and a faster release for Driskel, which hopefully turns in to a better red zone performance. The Alabama game is a definite loss since the Crimson Tide will be playing with an even bigger chip on their shoulder this season than the Gators. LSU will feature a lot of youth but they've done so for the last two seasons with success. This one could be a toss up since they play each other so closely. But luckily for Florida, LSU travels to Auburn the week before. Georgia is another toss-up game for the Gators and could very well depict Muschamp's future in Gainesville. As of late, the Dawgs have had the Gators’ number with three straight wins, so I wouldn't be surprised with a loss here for Florida. SC in the swamp is a win. UF was leading in the 4Q last season 14-13 and if not for SC's two FG's Florida would have won the game. I'm probably one of the few that think the FSU game is a win. The away team is 3-0 in this series and Florida is on the road this year. 

Florida Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/washington-qb-cyler-miles-suspended-season-opener-against-hawaii

Washington quarterback Cyler Miles has been suspended for the 2014 season opener against Hawaii. Miles’ suspension was announced on Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days by first-year coach Chris Petersen.

Miles was involved in an off-the-field incident in February and missed all of spring practice.

The sophomore was reinstated to the team in May and is slated to compete for the starting job in fall practice with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Miles is considered a rising star in the Pac-12 and should reclaim the starting job in time for the second game against Eastern Washington.

Williams and Lindquist will compete in the fall to start against Hawaii, and the Huskies are big favorites against the Rainbow Warriors.

While the opener shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for Washington, getting Miles acclimated into the offense will be something to watch early in the year.

After missing spring practice, the sophomore is already playing catch-up this fall. With Eastern Washington, Illinois and Georgia State on the schedule before playing Stanford, Miles will have time to transition into the starting role before the Huskies step into the heart of their Pac-12 slate.


Washington QB Cyler Miles Suspended for Season Opener Against Hawaii
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 14:57
Path: /college-football/houston-tweaks-uniforms-2014

Houston is expected to be one of the top contenders for the American Athletic Conference title in 2014, and the Cougars will have a new uniform design as they push for the conference crown.


Houston released an updated look at its uniforms for the upcoming year on Wednesday, which is just a slight alteration on its 2013 design.

Here’s a look at the 2014 uniforms:


Houston Slightly Tweaks Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-breakout-players-2014

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.


The Big Ten is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014, as Ohio State receiver/running back Dontre Wilson could emerge as one of the conference’s top playmakers, while Illinois’ quarterback Wes Lunt could be in for a huge season under coordinator Bill Cubit.

On the defensive side, Nebraska's defensive tackle duo of Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins are two names to remember. Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel has the difficult task of replacing standout Chris Borland.


Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.


Big Ten Breakout Players for 2014


Antonio Allen, S, Indiana

Allen was one of Indiana’s top recruits in the 2013 signing class, ranking as the No. 292 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. The Indiana native played in seven games and made one start but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan in early November. Allen finished 2013 with 35 tackles and one fumble recovery. The sophomore is a key piece in Indiana’s rebuilding effort on defense, especially after the Hoosiers allowed 24 passing scores last year. Allen has the speed and talent to be a difference-maker on the back end of Indiana’s defense.


Vonn Bell/Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense finished fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed (22.6 per game) and ranked No. 7 in total yards allowed. Those numbers have to improve in 2014 if the Buckeyes want to make the playoff, and the defense will have two new assistant coaches (Larry Johnson Sr. and Chris Ash) leading the way. Top cornerback Bradley Roby left early for the NFL, leaving three new starters in the secondary. However, there’s no shortage of talent ready to emerge, as Bell and Powell are two of the Big Ten’s rising stars at safety. Bell recorded 19 stops and one interception in 14 appearances last year, while Powell recorded 48 tackles and two pass breakups.


Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin

Biegel and fellow linebackers Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert have big shoes to fill in 2014, as the Badgers face a difficult assignment in replacing standout Chris Borland. While Borland will be missed, Wisconsin isn’t in bad shape at linebacker. Trotter and Landisch are seniors, while Biegel is primed for a breakout year. The Wisconsin native redshirted due to injury in 2012 and played in 13 contests with two starts last season. He recorded 25 tackles in 2013 and finished with two sacks. Expect Biegel to become one of the top defenders on Dave Aranda’s defense in 2014.


Wes Brown, RB, Maryland

Maryland’s rushing attack finished No. 10 in the ACC and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush in conference games. The Terrapins return talented backs in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, but keep an eye on Brown’s performance this fall. He sat out 2013 due to a suspension, but ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2012 247Sports Composite. Brown rushed for 382 yards and two scores as a true freshman and adds speed to the Terrapins’ backfield. A committee approach at running back in College Park seems likely, but Brown will be a key piece of coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense. Another name to remember for the Terrapins: True freshman lineman Damian Prince.


Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan

New coordinator Doug Nussmeier was hired to fix a Michigan offense that ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in total and rushing offense. Quarterback Devin Gardner had his share of ups and downs, but the senior also didn’t have a ton of help from the offensive line and rushing attack. Those two areas are a concern again, but Michigan’s passing attack should take a step forward. Tight end Devin Funchess will shift to the outside, and the coaching staff has to be encouraged with the development of Canteen in the spring. The Maryland native was a standout performer in the spring and could claim a starting role this year. With Jeremy Gallon departing, Michigan needs a new go-to receiver, and the combination of Funchess and Canteen should be an effective duo for Gardner.


Leontee Carroo, WR, Rutgers

The addition of Ralph Friedgen as Rutgers’ new play-caller should help an offense that averaged just 5.0 yards per play (conference-only games) and lost 30 turnovers in 2013. Friedgen’s first task is to develop Gary Nova into a consistent quarterback. If Nova plays with more consistency and eliminates the turnovers, the Scarlet Knights' offense will show improvement on the stat sheet. Carroo only caught 28 passes last season but averaged 17.1 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns. The junior should be the top option at receiver for Rutgers in 2014.


Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota

Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman will be tough to replace, but defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys returns three starters up front. Cockran quietly had a solid 2013 campaign, recording 30 tackles (10 for a loss), 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Although Cockran is known among the Minnesota fan base, another big season should give him plenty of recognition among the rest of the conference. Not having Hageman on the interior will create more attention on Cockran, but the junior is poised to emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top defensive ends.


Maliek Collins/Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska

Nebraska’s defensive line is young, but there’s no question the coaching staff has to be excited about the talent in place. End Randy Gregory is one of the top defensive players in the nation, and the combination of Collins, Valentine and Aaron Curry is a promising trio for coordinator John Papuchis. Valentine got better as the season progressed in 2013, capped by recording a sack and two tackles for a loss against Iowa. He finished 2013 with 21 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack. Collins wasn’t as active on the stat sheet last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. However, Collins and Valentine both will see a larger role in the defense in 2014. And with both players checking in over 300 pounds, opposing offenses won’t have much room to run on the interior against Nebraska.


Demetrius Cooper, DE, Michigan State

The Spartans already have one of college football’s top defensive end tandems with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, and it appears the depth on the outside will only improve with the emergence of Cooper. The Illinois native redshirted last season, and according to the Michigan State roster, gained 31 pounds from 2013 to '14. Cooper had a strong spring and finished with two tackles (one for a loss) and one sack during the White vs. Green scrimmage. Don’t expect the redshirt freshman to post monster numbers this year, but Cooper should be a key piece of Michigan State’s defensive line rotation.


Pat Elflein, OG, Ohio State

Ohio State’s offensive line is under construction this offseason. The Buckeyes lost four starters, but junior Taylor Decker is back to anchor the left side of the line, and Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay is expected to start at center. Elflein is slated to start at right guard and impressed in limited action last year. The Ohio native played in all 14 games and started in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. There’s a lot of turnover at guard in the Big Ten in 2014, and if Elflein continues to develop after a solid showing last year, he could be one of the top players at his position in the conference.


Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Carlos Hyde was the first back to top 1,000 yards under coach Urban Meyer, and his departure to the NFL is a big loss for Ohio State’s offense. Hyde’s tough running will be missed, but the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for options. Elliott is expected to handle the bulk of the carries, with Dontre Wilson, Warren Ball, Curtis Samuel, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn all expected to contribute to the rotation in 2014. Elliott impressed in limited action last year, rushing for 262 yards on 30 carries (8.7 ypc). He may not handle 250 carries, but Elliott will headline a deep and talented Ohio State backfield.


Darian Hicks, CB, Michigan State

The Spartans no longer have Darqueze Dennard manning the “No Fly Zone” in East Lansing. But coordinator Pat Narduzzi isn’t too worried about his secondary in 2014, as junior Trae Waynes is a likely All-American and Hicks is ready to step up and replace Dennard at the other cornerback spot. Hicks played in all 14 games and recorded only two tackles, but the sophomore is primed for a bigger role in Michigan State’s defense this year.


Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

New coordinator Bob Shoop followed James Franklin from Vanderbilt to Happy Valley, and the Pennsylvania native inherits a defense that returns six starters. Shoop’s defenses at Vanderbilt were underrated, and he should mold Penn State’s defense into one of the best in the conference this year. After playing in all 12 games last season, Johnson is expected to become a full-time starter at tackle in 2014. The New Jersey native recorded 27 tackles (three for a loss) and one sack. With Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan anchoring the outside end spots, Johnson should have plenty of room to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.


Alex Lewis, OT, Nebraska

Nebraska’s offensive line returns just one starter from 2013, but the Cornhuskers should be solid up front in 2014. Lewis transferred to Lincoln after starting 12 games at guard for Colorado in 2012. He also played in 12 games as a freshman in 2011 with the Buffaloes. The Arizona native solidified his place atop the depth chart in the spring and should be a key piece in Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack in 2014.


Geno Lewis, WR, Penn State

Allen Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last season, leaving little in the way of proven options for quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2014. While there’s not much in the way of proven receivers, the Nittany Lions aren’t hurting for talent. Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman headline a deep group of tight ends, while Lewis is a rising star on the outside at receiver. After redshirting in 2012, Lewis caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores in his first season of action with Penn State. The Pennsylvania native closed out 2013 on a high note, grabbing three receptions for 91 yards and two scores against Wisconsin. Freshmen DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin, Saaed Blacknall and De’Andre Thompkins are names to watch in the fall, but Lewis should be the top receiving target for Hackenberg.


Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois

Even though Lunt hasn’t been guaranteed the starting job, it’s hard to envision the Oklahoma State transfer not taking the first snap for the Fighting Illini. Lunt was a four-star recruit in the 2012 signing class and threw for 1,108 yards and six scores as a true freshman for the Cowboys. After one season in Stillwater, Lunt transferred back home to Illinois and landed with the Fighting Illini. Coordinator Bill Cubit injected immediate improvement into Illinois’ passing game last year, and Lunt should be a perfect fit in this offense.


Chikwe Obasih, DE, Wisconsin

The Badgers are breaking in several new faces on defense in 2014, as only three starters return from a unit that held opponents to 16.3 points per game last year. Obasih redshirted in his first season in Madison and was one of the . Obasih ranked as the No. 343 player in the 247Sports Composite and recorded two tackles in the spring game. At 245 pounds, Obasih is undersized against traditional power offenses, but he has the speed and quickness off the edge to be a disruptive force in the backfield.


Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

We could list a couple of Michigan defenders here, but Peppers is just too talented to leave off the list. Peppers ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and is slated to push for a starting job in the fall. The New Jersey native could play a number of roles in the Michigan secondary in 2014, as he might start at cornerback or safety or play in the nickel role for coordinator Greg Mattison. Regardless of where he lines up, Peppers is too valuable for the Wolverines to keep on the sidelines. The true freshman could be a difference maker in Michigan’s secondary and also could see time on special teams this year.


Miles Shuler, WR, Northwestern

With Kain Colter expiring his eligibility, expect Northwestern to focus more on the passing game behind new (but experienced) quarterback Trevor Siemian in 2014. Siemian should have plenty of options in the receiving corps, especially with Shuler’s emergence in the spring. The Rutgers transfer is largely unproven, as he caught 11 passes in two years with the Scarlet Knights. However, Shuler has excellent speed and should help the receiving corps out of the slot. Shuler won’t need to catch 50 passes to make a huge impact, but his speed should create a few big plays.


Reggie Spearman, LB, Iowa

Iowa’s linebacking corps loses three standout performers from a unit that held opposing Big Ten offenses to just 19.6 points per game last year. Despite the departure of three starters, the Hawkeyes aren’t in bad shape at the position. Senior Quinton Alston and junior Travis Perry are experienced, while Spearman recorded 10 tackles in his first season in Iowa City. The Illinois native has a bright future and should secure a starting role on Phil Parker’s defense in 2014.


Dontre Wilson, RB/WR, Ohio State

It seems Urban Meyer has been looking for the next Percy Harvin for a couple of years now, but Wilson could finally be the right fit as a hybrid receiver/running back. Wilson rushed for 250 yards and one score last season and caught 22 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Expect Wilson to be more involved in the Buckeyes’ offense in 2014, as the departure of Carlos Hyde will open up more carries on the ground, while the receiving corps is searching for more playmakers.


DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue

The Boilermakers finished 1-11 in coach Darrell Hazell’s debut, but there were a few bright spots on the depth chart. Yancey played in 11 games as a true freshman last year and grabbed 32 receptions for 546 yards and two scores. The Georgia native averaged 17.1 yards per catch, which ranked No. 2 among receivers in the Big Ten. Yancey should see his numbers increase in 2014 and should be one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats. Another name to watch in West Lafayette this year: Running back Raheem Mostert.

Big Ten Football Breakout Players for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Auburn was one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 college football season. The Tigers went 3-9 in 2012 but finished 12-2 and lost by three points to Florida State in the national championship last year.

As expected under coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn’s offense guided this team to a SEC title. The Tigers averaged 39.5 points per game and ranked No. 1 nationally in rush offense. Running back Tre Mason was a Heisman finalist, while left tackle Greg Robinson went No. 2 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Auburn's defense allowed 24.7 points per game, but this unit ranked near the top of the SEC in redzone and third-down defense.

The Tigers return 13 starters for 2014, including quarterback Nick Marshall and receiver Sammie Coates. And despite the loss of Mason and Robinson to the NFL, Auburn's offense will be among the best in the nation. A challenging schedule awaits this year, but Auburn’s roster might have more overall depth than it did in 2013. If the offense continues to score around 40 points per game, the Tigers should have a good shot to repeat as SEC champs.


Expert Panel:


Steven Lassan (),
Braden Gall (),
Josh Ward (),
David Fox (),
Brandon Larrabee (),
Mark Ross (),


Early Auburn Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
San Jose State
at Kansas State
Louisiana Tech
at Miss. State
South Carolina
at Ole Miss
Texas A&M
at Georgia
at Alabama
Final Projection10-210-29-38-48-411-1
Steven Lassan ()

Despite losing left tackle Greg Robinson, running back Tre Mason and a couple of key defenders, Auburn’s biggest concern in 2014 shouldn’t be personnel. The Tigers have one of the nation’s most-explosive offenses and will find a capable replacement for Mason at running back. Quarterback Nick Marshall should progress as a passer, and Auburn quietly has one of the best receiving corps in the SEC. The defense is the biggest concern for coach Gus Malzahn, especially with defensive end Carl Lawson sidelined indefinitely. Expect Auburn to win plenty of shootouts this year, but the schedule is arguably the biggest reason to pick against a repeat in the SEC West. The Tigers visit the Magnolia State to matchup against two teams on the rise in Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and there are two huge games against Georgia and Alabama on the road in November. Keep in mind, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide will have revenge on the mind in both matchups. It’s also difficult to expect Auburn to go 6-1 again in games decided by one score or less. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Tigers finish 11-1, but 10-2 or even 9-3 appears more likely.

Josh Ward (),

The Kansas State game scares me for Auburn. A Thursday night game on the road against Bill Snyder’s team? No thanks. But I’ll take Auburn to escape with a close win. The LSU game should be difficult, but I’ll take Auburn to hold on and get the win against a team with a young quarterback on the road.


That’s where it gets tricky for Auburn. The Tigers will travel to Mississippi State, which came close to beating Auburn last year. Of course, that was early in the season before Auburn’s offense really took off. I’ll still take Mississippi State to pull off the upset at home. I think Auburn will bounce back and beat South Carolina with a week off to prepare. But I have Auburn will losing its final two road games at Georgia and Alabama, leaving Auburn with a solid but disappointing 9-3 record.

Brandon Larrabee (),

I think the "luck" angle for Auburn has gotten so trumped up over the last few months that it's easy to forget that Auburn was still a very good team in 2013. Yeah, they got the flukiest of fluke wins against Georgia and then followed that up with a win against Alabama that was nearly as bizarre -- but Auburn also pushed Florida State as hard as the Seminoles got pushed by anyone all season long and won 10 games that didn't involve the kind of great fortune that the Tigers in the two wins everyone talks about. With most of the offense coming back and two of the four toughest games coming at home, double-digit wins feels almost like a floor for this team. I might even pick them over Alabama if the Iron Bowl weren't played at the end of the year -- but the Tide will have had time to fix any kinks and Nick Saban will have revenge on his mind.


Braden Gall ()

The Tigers offense, led by a returning star at quarterback and a deep collection of offensive lineman and pass catchers, should be even more balanced and dangerous in 2014 than it was a year ago. This is a scary thought for opposing coordinators. However, the defense still has question marks, the schedule is dramatically more difficult and its impossible for the bounces to go as well for Auburn again this fall. I wouldn't pick Auburn to lose at home but two or three road losses is very possible as the rest of the league begins to learn how to stop (aka, slow down) Gus Malzahn's offense.


Mark Ross ()

While there's a chance Auburn's offense could be even better this season compared to last, which is a scary thought, I am concerned the same could be said for the defense. And not in a good way. Despite the Tigers' ridiculous offensive numbers in 2013, this team needed every break and lucky bounce to win its way to a spot in the national championship game. This same fortune can't be counted on this season and it should be pointed out that the early trip to Manhattan to play Kansas State makes the non-conference slate trickier this fall. As far as the SEC schedule goes, Gus Malzahn's team has to play Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama — three teams Auburn beat by eight or fewer points in '13 — away from Jordan-Hare Stadium and all in a five-week span in the final month of the season. Even with all Malzahn's offensive wizardry and plenty of talent, I have a hard time picking the Tigers to win 10 games again this season, let alone repeat as SEC champs.


David Fox ()

Wow. That road schedule is brutal. I might like Auburn in games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss at home, but those are tough rubber games to have on road trips. Kansas State is no gimme, either. Auburn will find a way from slipping from 12-2 to seven wins, but it’s going to be closer than any Auburn fan would want to admit. The Tigers were 11th in the SEC in yards per play allowed in conference games, and now they’re dealing with losing perhaps their top pass rusher in Carl Lawson. This may be a boom-or-bust team in 2014.

Auburn Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-game-game-predictions-2014

The Big Ten’s new 14-team alignment brought another shift in the divisions for 2014. Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan headline a strong East Division, with the Spartans and Buckeyes expected to be the class of the Big Ten this year.

In addition to the changes at the conference level, for the second time in three years, Penn State will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. James Franklin comes to Happy Valley after three years at Vanderbilt and is one of the top coaching hires of the offseason.

Franklin inherits a team with nine returning starters and question marks regarding the depth on the roster due to NCAA sanctions.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best in the Big Ten, but he will need help from an offensive line that is the team’s biggest question mark in 2014. How high can Penn State finish in the Big Ten East Division this year? Athlon polls a few experts to predict the Nittany Lions' 2014 record.


Expert Panel:

Steven Lassan (),
Brent Yarina (),
Mark Ross (),
Braden Gall (),
Kevin McGuire (),
David Fox (),

Mike Fiammetta (),
Brandon Cavanaugh (),


Early Penn State Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
at Rutgers
at Michigan
Ohio State
at Indiana
at Illinois
Michigan State
Final Projection9-38-48-49-310-28-410-29-3



Steven Lassan ()

Penn State’s hire of James Franklin was one of the best of the coaching carousel for 2014, and the Nittany Lions should improve off last year’s seven-win mark. Franklin got everything he could out of Vanderbilt’s roster over the last three seasons, taking the Commodores to three bowl games and back-to-back nine-win campaigns. Franklin inherits a Penn State roster that has talent but is short on depth. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a rising star, and the defense will take a step forward under new coordinator Bob Shoop. The schedule isn’t daunting, which sets up Franklin to have a fast start. The Nittany Lions host Ohio State and Michigan State and won’t play Wisconsin, Iowa or Nebraska from the West. If the offensive line holds together, and the overall depth concerns don’t become an issue, Penn State will have a chance to get to nine or ten wins in 2014. 

Brent Yarina ()

When it comes to the Big Ten East in the first year of the new alignment, things don’t get much more favorable than Penn State’s draw. The two cross-division foes are Illinois and Northwestern, teams that combined to go 2-14 in the Big Ten last season; the toughest divisional tests come at home, with 2013 Big Ten title game participants Ohio State and Michigan State both coming to Beaver Stadium; and the road conference games are at Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, all winnable matchups. Pretty favorable, right? Still, Penn State has depth issues that could keep it from capitalizing on this draw.

Braden Gall ()

Penn State has a superstar at the two most important positions in any football program: Under center and on the sidelines. The combination of Chrisitian Hackenberg and James Franklin is sure to be magical in Happy Valley, however, the rest of the roster needs to develop quickly. The offensive line is the biggest issue as the Lions are likely to lose one or two games they should not due to poor play in the trenches. The schedule isn't overly taxing but playing in the tougher division won't help. That said, a third straight winning season in the face of sanctions would be considered a huge success, in my opinion.

Brandon Cavanaugh (),

James Franklin walks into a rough situation politically, but a fantastic one when it comes to what he's being paid for. While the Sandusky controversy and sanctions still loom, Penn State has plenty of talent to make noise in the Big Ten and Franklin is one of the best coaches in the country to lead this team in doing so.


In terms of talent, the offensive duo of quarterback Christian Hackenberg and running back Zach Zwinak's one to be feared. Bill Belton's a great compliment to Zwinak. If the offensive line and wide receiver corps can be solidified, this could be one of the most damaging offenses in the conference.


Defensively, Franklin has plenty of talent up front such as defensive end Deion Barnes. The linebacker slots don't appear solidified yet, but the royal blue and white defensive backs are nasty.


The schedule sets up wonderfully as the Nittany Lions should be 5-0 heading into their game against Michigan. I'll take Franklin over Hoke, so chalk that game up as a win. I can't see this team topping either Ohio State or Michigan State as both are the power schools in the entire conference right now.


Look for Franklin to silence any critics with a nine or ten win season.

Kevin McGuire (),

This was the first time I ran through the 2014 schedule for Penn State and picked wins and losses. Using just my gut instinct, I came up with 10 wins but even the most optimistic of Penn State fans would realize this has to be the ceiling for this team this fall. The concerns about the stability of the offensive line have been an annual tradition for as long as I have been covering the team just as white outs and tailgates, but this season could be the most alarming simply due to the impact of the recruiting sanctions the past few years. Bill O’Brien opted to pursue playmakers over line depth, but James Franklin and his staff will be prepared to handle the situation as best they can. Fortunately Penn State has one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, and I think there is some great potential for the running backs to do some damage a variety of ways. As was the case last year though, Penn State’s defense has to clamp down on opponents for Penn State to win some games. The schedule is somewhat favorable, with bye weeks before primetime games at Michigan and at home against Ohio State. Odds are Penn State will drop a game they shouldn’t along the way, but if healthy they will have a chance to steal one they shouldn’t have either.

Mike Fiammetta (),

The common thread with Penn State is easily identifiable: James Franklin was a home-run hire, and his staff is off to a blazing start on the recruiting trail. Pairing him with Big Ten Freshman of the Year quarterback Christian Hackenberg is an enticing match, though ongoing concerns about the offensive line might limit the Nittany Lions' offense this year. Between Hackenberg and running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, there is enough firepower to expect Penn State's offense to be in the upper half of the conference. Defensively, Franklin inherits a strong front and secondary. The schedule is generally favorable, though a tough two-game stretch of at Michigan and then vs. Ohio State could alter the course of Penn State's season.


Mark Ross ()

James Franklin was the perfect fit to take over for Bill O'Brien in Happy Valley, no argument there. And Franklin's indoctrination to the Big Ten is not my biggest concern when it comes to the Nittany Lions this season. Nor is it quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Instead my primary fears for Penn State in 2014 have to do with an overall lack of starting experience and depth, especially on the offensive line and at receiver. Hackenberg can't win games by himself, not with a Big Ten schedule that includes Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. The Nittany Lions get a break in crossover action with Northwestern and Illinois, but that doesn't take away from a bruising East Division slate. Franklin did more with less at Vanderbilt and I have little doubt he will have similar, if not greater, success at Penn State. It just may take him a year or two to get the roster to where he wants it to be. Not that there's anything wrong with an eight-win season in the Big Ten mind you.

David Fox ()

Penn State’s probably not good enough to “go chalk,” as in beating the teams they should beat. Somewhere the Nittany Lions are going to get bit by an offensive line that will be a liability all season and a front seven with some questions. That pretty much gives Penn State little chance against Ohio State and Michigan State. The scholarship limitations mean this team will be unpredictable even if it has one of the best passers in the country. We saw it last year when Penn State lost by 20 to Indiana and needed overtime to beat Illinois. That’s why I’ve put in another head-scratching loss to Northwestern

Penn State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/tcu-de-devonte-fields-indefinitely-separated-team

TCU defensive end Devonte Fields has been separated from the school after allegations stemming from a domestic disturbance case. Fields is under investigation, but no charges have been filed in the case so far. reported the details on Fields' status on Tuesday.

Fields is indefinitely separated from TCU pending the outcome of the investigation into the allegations.

The off-the-field incident comes at a bad time for Fields, as he was picked as the Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year for 2014.

Fields played in only three games due to injury in 2013 and recorded two tackles for a loss. In 2012, Fields was voted as the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and won AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

If Fields returns in time and at full strength for the season opener, he has a chance to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 once again.

Even without Fields, TCU’s defensive line will be among the best in the conference. The Horned Frogs return experience at end with James McFarland and Terrell Lathan, with Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson anchoring the interior.


TCU DE Devonte Fields Indefinitely "Separated" From Team
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 15:13
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-most-improved-teams-2014

Every college football season brings a surprise or two each fall. And if you need evidence of that statement, take a look at the two teams that played for last year’s national championship: Florida State and Auburn.


While both programs had claimed previous championships during the BCS era, neither team was picked to win the national title last August.


So whether it’s a team finishing in the top 10 that no one expected in the preseason or another program struggling to reach .500 after a successful stretch, each year presents many different case studies when trying to project teams for the upcoming season. And some teams quickly rebound after a disappointing year to contend for a conference title or crack the top 25 once again.


Projecting which teams will fill those categories and show significant improvement is no easy task.


When it comes to judging improvement in college football, it doesn’t always come in the form of wins and losses. Improvement can simply come as a result of a team being more competitive within its conference and reducing the margin of defeat.


Kickoff for college football’s 2014 season is less than 40 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which teams will be some of the most improved in the nation.


College Football’s Most-Improved Teams for 2014



Just based on talent, Florida can’t be any worse than it was last season. According to the recruiting rankings, the Gators are tied with in college football. If Florida wants to contend in the SEC East this year, improving the offense has to be the top priority. The Gators averaged only 18.8 points per game and 4.7 yards per play (in conference games) in 2013. Help is coming in the form of a healthy Jeff Driskel at quarterback, along with the addition of Kurt Roper as the team’s new play-caller. Roper plans to utilize Driskel’s rushing ability more in 2014, while new line coach Mike Summers is tasked with fixing a unit that struggled mightily last year. Any improvement on offense should be enough for Florida to at least reach the postseason, especially since the Gators lost four games by a touchdown or less in 2013. The defense returns seven starters from a unit that allowed the fewest yards per play (5.09) in SEC games last year. Will Muschamp needs a big year to save his job. With a schedule that features crossover games against LSU and Alabama, along with a road trip to Tallahassee in November, drastic improvement in the win column will be tough. However, with a strong defense and more production from the offense, the Gators should be able to get to 7-5 or 8-4.



High expectations surrounded Northwestern going into 2013, as the Wildcats were coming off a 10-3 mark and a Gator Bowl victory over Mississippi State. Northwestern started the year in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll and opened 4-0 with victories against California, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine. However, the injury bug took a toll on the Wildcats, and Pat Fitzgerald’s team lost seven out of its last eight games. Running back Venric Mark barely played in 2013 due to an ankle injury, and starting cornerback Daniel Jones was lost for the year due to a knee injury suffered in the opener against California. Northwestern used a two-quarterback system with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian last season, but the job is Siemian’s in 2014 with Colter expiring his eligibility. While Colter’s rushing ability will be missed, settling on one quarterback could benefit the offense. Seven starters return on defense, which should help this unit improve after allowing 27.1 points per game in 2013. Also, Northwestern is due for better luck in 2014. The Wildcats lost four games by eight points or less last year and gave up a late touchdown to Ohio State to lose 40-30.


Penn State

By no means was 2013 a bad season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions were still dealing with NCAA sanctions and had no possibility of a bowl. However, Penn State managed to finish 7-5 with a true freshman at quarterback and closed the year by defeating Wisconsin 31-24 in Madison. New coach James Franklin should make an immediate impact in Happy Valley, as he’s inheriting a . Depth is suspect – especially on the line – but the Nittany Lions aren’t hurting for talent in the starting 22. Franklin squeezed the most out of his rosters at Vanderbilt, winning nine games in each of the last two seasons. Penn State’s schedule also sets up favorably, missing Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska in crossover play in 2014. Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg should thrive under Franklin’s watch, and the defense should show improvement on the stat sheet behind new coordinator Bob Shoop. The offensive line needs some work, but line coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the nation. If Franklin can get everything out of the roster like he did at Vanderbilt, finishing 9-3 or 10-2 isn’t out of the question for Penn State.


NC State

Dave Doeren’s first season in Raleigh was a tough one. The Wolfpack went winless in ACC play for the first time since 1959 and finished the year on an eight-game losing streak. A lot of factors went into NC State’s losing mark in 2013, but the biggest was the quarterback position. Brandon Mitchell was injured in the opener and there was never any consistency under center. That should change in 2014, as Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will stabilize the quarterback position and allow coordinator Matt Canada to install more of his spread offense. The Wolfpack also have a solid group of skill players – running back Shadrach Thornton and receiver Bryan Underwood – while freshman Bo Hines had a strong spring and is expected to contribute in the receiving corps. Left tackle Rob Crisp also returns after missing nearly all of 2013 due to a concussion. The defense allowed 30.2 points per game last season, but six starters are back, and the defensive line should emerge as a strength. The non-conference schedule is favorable. NC State plays four winnable games outside of the ACC, while swing games against Georgia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest are at home.



On paper, a 4-8 record isn’t appealing for any coach or team. However, TCU was much closer to 7-5 than some may realize. The Horned Frogs lost by three points to West Virginia, two points at Kansas State, three points to Baylor and by three points at Oklahoma. After losing six games by 10 points or less last year, TCU just needs a little improvement from its offense to get back into bowl contention. And improvement should come in the form of new offensive co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, along with the addition of quarterback Matt Joeckel. Major improvement isn’t expected in the new spread attack, but the Horned Frogs can’t be any worse on offense. Assuming Joeckel can stabilize the quarterback spot, Trevone Boykin could move back to receiver to give the offense another playmaker on the outside. Even without Jason Verrett at cornerback, TCU’s defense should be one of the best in the Big 12. With slight improvement on offense, the Horned Frogs will be back in a bowl. And TCU has a chance to play spoiler with Oklahoma and Kansas State both visiting Amon G. Carter Stadium in 2014.


Better…But it May Not Show in Win Column

Bret Bielema’s SEC debut wasn’t pretty. The Razorbacks finished 3-9 overall and went winless in conference play. Arkansas finished 2013 on a nine-game losing streak, but this team didn’t quit at the end of the year. The Razorbacks lost in overtime to Mississippi State and nearly defeated LSU (31-27) on Nov. 29. Bielema and his staff have a lot of work to do on the recruiting trail to upgrade the overall talent, but there are reasons for optimism for this team. Sophomores Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland headline a solid offensive line, and the running back corps ranks as one of the top 10 in the nation. Quarterback Brandon Allen should be better in his second year as the starter, especially if he can stay healthy after battling a shoulder injury in 2013. The schedule certainly isn’t kind for Arkansas, as crossover games against Georgia and Missouri are challenging. The Razorbacks came close to winning two SEC games last year. A bowl game would be a surprise, but Arkansas should close the gap some in the SEC West and find a way to win a game or two in conference play. 



Everything that could go wrong seemed to in Sonny Dykes’ first season at California. Not only were the Golden Bears battling through scheme changes on both sides of the ball, they were hit hard by injuries on defense, started a true freshman at quarterback (Jared Goff) and finished with a minus-15 in turnover margin. After hitting rock bottom, California can only go up in 2014. A tough non-conference schedule awaits the Golden Bears, as a road trip to Northwestern starts the season, followed by the finale against BYU. Dykes’ team also plays Arizona, UCLA and USC in crossover play with the Pac-12 South Division. Both sides of the ball have question marks, but the passing attack should be a strength, especially with Goff healthy and having another offseason under his belt. The defense allowed 45.9 points per game in 2013, but new coordinator Art Kaufman should bring immediate improvement. Don’t expect drastic steps forward in the win column for California, but this team should find a way to win a game in Pac-12 play after going winless in 2013.



After going 1-11 in Kevin Wilson’s first season (2011), Indiana has made improvement in the win column in each of the last two years. The Hoosiers went 4-8 in 2012 and finished 5-7 last season, barely missing out on a bowl game. With 16 starters back, Indiana should be a better overall team in 2014 but getting to six or seven wins will be difficult. The Hoosiers were aligned in the Big Ten’s East Division, which features annual matchups against Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers and Maryland. Home games against Penn State and Maryland are winnable, but Indiana also gets a road trip to Iowa in crossover play. In addition to a challenging schedule, Wilson has to fix a struggling defense. The Hoosiers allowed 38.8 points per game last season and allowed 7.4 yards per play in conference matchups. With one of the Big Ten’s top offensive lines, along with a standout backfield (quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Tevin Coleman), Indiana’s offense won’t be a concern. However, if the defense struggles again, a challenging schedule will keep the Hoosiers at home for the bowl season.



It’s going to take coach Mark Stoops a few years to build Kentucky’s roster into one that can consistently compete for bowl games in the SEC. However, the Wildcats are trending in the right direction. Kentucky signed the No. 22 class in 2014, an improvement after inking the No. 34 recruiting haul in '13. Those two totals are the best two classes the Wildcats have brought in over the last five years, and all signs point to another standout group coming to Lexington in 2015. With the improvement in talent, it should start to show on the field for Stoops. Kentucky went 2-10 in Stoops’ debut but lost two SEC games by a touchdown or less. Finding a quarterback is the top priority for coordinator Neal Brown, and Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and touted freshman Drew Barker will all contend for time in the fall. The talent at the skill positions has improved, and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard should team with Jojo Kemp to form an effective one-two punch in the backfield. Stoops’ specialty is on defense, and that’s an area of focus this offseason after allowing 6.8 yards per play in SEC games. Kentucky should be able to win three of its non-conference matchups and could steal a win in conference play this year.



The Utes are still working to get acclimated to their new Pac-12 surroundings, so it’s no surprise the program has struggled to get bowl eligible in the last two years. Since winning four Pac-12 games in its conference debut, Utah is just 5-13 in league play. Some bad luck and injuries have prevented the Utes from getting into the postseason the last two years but that could change in 2014. New play-caller Dave Christensen should bring stability to an offense that averaged only 29.2 points per game in 2013 and help junior quarterback Travis Wilson develop after an up-and-down season. Wilson was injured late in the year but was cleared to play earlier this summer. The Utes always seem to find replacements on defense, so getting back to a bowl in 2014 will hinge on Wilson’s progress and how well this team navigates a schedule that features crossover games against Oregon and Stanford. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Utah went 5-7 again but was competitive against the top teams in the conference.

West Virginia

Transitioning to the Big 12 has been a challenge for West Virginia, as the Mountaineers are just 6-12 in conference play over the last two seasons. After winning seven games in 2012, Dana Holgorsen’s team regressed to 4-8 last year. However, West Virginia lost two games in overtime in November. It seems odd for a Holgorsen-coached team to have question marks at quarterback, but that’s the storyline facing the Mountaineers’ offense in 2014. Clint Trickett is slated to start, assuming his surgically repaired shoulder is at full strength. The strength of West Virginia’s offense is at running back, and the defense should improve with the return of six starters. Even though West Virginia is due to be a better team in terms of on-field performance, it may not show in the win column. The Mountaineers play Alabama and Maryland in non-conference play and swing games against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Iowa State are away from Morgantown.


Four Teams Outside the Power 5 Conferences to Watch



The Tigers are making steady progress under third-year coach Justin Fuente. After winning just five games from 2009-11, Memphis has won seven in the last two years and lost four games by a touchdown or less in 2013. With 15 starters back, the Tigers could push for a bowl in 2014. The defense finished No. 5 in the American Athletic in points allowed, and end Martin Ifedi is one of the nation’s most underrated defenders. Memphis needs more from its offense – especially quarterback Paxton Lynch – but with the turnover at the bottom of the conference, combined with improvement on both sides of the ball, the Tigers have the potential to win six games in 2014.



The Wolf Pack slipped to 4-8 in Brian Polian’s first season in Reno, but there’s plenty of optimism for a turnaround in 2014. Nevada’s schedule in conference play is favorable, as Fresno State and San Diego State both visit Mackay Stadium, and the Wolf Pack won’t have to play Utah State from the Mountain Division. Quarterback Cody Fajardo battled leg injuries for most of last season and a full offseason to recover will benefit the entire offense. New defensive coordinator Scott Boone is tasked with fixing a unit that allowed 6.8 yards per play in Mountain West games last season, and he should have plenty of help with eight returning starters.



The Zips showed marked improvement in Terry Bowden’s second season. Akron finished 1-11 in 2012 but went 5-7 last year and 4-4 in conference play. The Zips had a couple of close calls, including a four-point defeat at Michigan and a seven-point loss to Northern Illinois. Bowling Green is the clear front-runner in the East, but Akron could surprise with another offseason of improvement. Kyle Pohl is one of the top returning passers in the MAC, and running back Jawon Chisholm has rushed for at least 860 yards in each of the last three seasons. The defense returns only four starters, so there are holes to fill for coordinator Chuck Amato. 

South Florida

Willie Taggart didn’t inherit a ton of talent from previous coach Skip Holtz, and the Bulls slumped to 2-10 in Taggart’s debut. USF’s offense managed only 13.8 points per game and lost 17 turnovers in eight American Athletic Conference contests. Despite all of last year’s problems, the Bulls are positioned for immediate improvement. Taggart signed the No. 40 recruiting class in 2014 – the No. 1 haul in the conference – and a handful of young players saw extensive playing time in 2013. Sophomore quarterback Mike White is promising, and the offensive line could be one of the best in the American Athletic with four returning starters. The middle of the conference is wide open, and USF has a good collection of young talent waiting to emerge. Taggart needs more time to build the roster to his liking, but the door is open for the Bulls to get back into the postseason in 2014.

College Football's Most Improved Teams for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Virginia Tech has been one of the ACC’s most consistent programs under Frank Beamer’s watch.


The Hokies won at least 10 games in every season from 2004-11 and made five appearances in the ACC Championship game since 2005.

The last two years haven’t been up to Virginia Tech’s usual standard, as the Hokies are just 15-11 since 2012. A struggling offense has been the primary issue for Beamer, as Virginia Tech averaged just 22.5 points per game in 2013.

Once again, offense is the Hokies’ biggest concern. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is expected to push for the starting quarterback job, but the offense as a whole has to pickup their play in 2014.

With a wide open Coastal Division, Virginia Tech’s defense and favorable schedule could be enough to return to the conference title game.



Expert Panel:

Steven Lassan (),
Chris Coleman (),
John Cassillo (),
David Fox (),
Mark Ennis (),
Braden Gall (),
Matt McClusky (),
Ryan Tice (),


Early Virginia Tech Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
William & Mary
at Ohio State
East Carolina
Georgia Tech
Western Michigan
at UNC
at Pittsburgh
Boston College
at Duke
at Wake Forest
Final Prediction:9-38-47-59-38-49-39-39-3
Steven Lassan ()

It’s anyone’s guess which team is the favorite in the Coastal Division this year. Any of the projected top six teams in Athlon’s 2014 ACC predictions have a good shot at winning the division. Despite the overall uncertainty of the Coastal, Virginia Tech should be near the top of most projections. Yes, the offense is a concern (5.3 yards per play in conference games last year), but can it really get worse? The Hokies have options at running back and the top three receivers from 2013 are back. Finding answers on the offensive line and settling on a starting quarterback are the biggest offseason priorities for coordinator Scot Loeffler. The defense is once again the anchor for Virginia Tech’s division title hopes, especially with a secondary and defensive line that will be among the best in the nation. A huge factor in the Hokies’ favor is a schedule that misses the projected top four teams in the ACC Atlantic. It’s hard to envision a Coastal team winning more than nine games, so 6-2 might be enough to claim the division. Even though road trips to North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Duke won’t be easy, Virginia Tech’s crossover schedule with the Atlantic is a huge advantage in 2014.


Chris Coleman, (),

Virginia Tech’s schedule sets of favorably. They have a couple of tough road games in the middle of the season, but they have the opportunity to close strong. Turnovers and the running game will be the key for the Hokies. With more options at running back and a more experienced offensive line, the running game should improve. The big questions are will Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer win the job, and if so, will he be a better passer than Logan Thomas?

John Cassillo, (),

While I want to give Virginia Tech's excellent defense the benefit of the doubt here, it's simply too tough to ignore this lack of an offense any longer. Last year's group already struggled to score (put up just 22.5 points per game), and now the Hokies need to replace seven of those players -- including QB Logan Thomas. There's a lack of leadership and ability on that side of the ball, and in an ACC that has its fair share of stout defenses, that's a big problem. The defense will obviously be fine, and Bud Foster will work his magic on that side of the ball yet again (as he has every year since 1995). But that defense and the division's mediocrity are the only things keeping them in the hunt for another ACC Championship Game berth.

Ryan Tice (),

When I first looked at their schedule, I initially thought the Hokies could finish with a record as good as 10-2, but these aren’t the Hokies of a few years ago when double-digit wins were the norm. I saw a group of three games where I think Tech will have more trouble than most expect: East Carolina at home (the Pirates can score and gave the Hokies a scare last year, although it was in Greenville), at North Carolina (I don’t think the Tar Heels will be as good as some, but they’ll be contenders in the Coastal) and against Miami in Blacksburg (although the Hurricanes quarterback situation scares me). There’s a chance the Hokies could win all of them or go 1-2 in this stretch, but I’m leaning towards 2-1, which puts them at 9-3 on the year. They lucked out with their crossover games (Boston College, at Wake Forest) and that could allow them to nab a spot in the ACC Championship game.


Mark Ennis (),

I know Stewart Mandel with Fox Sports was probably the first person to really call these years the end of the Frank Beamer era at Virginia Tech, but I would like to join him. After the school's incredible run of double-digit win seasons came to an end two years ago, it seems like things are headed in the wrong direction without much hope to turn around in the short term. For the life of me I can't grasp why Beamer turned to Scott Loeffler to revive his offense and now without Logan Thomas, inconsistent as he was, the offense could actually find a way to be worse. I'm picking the Hokies to lose almost every game against an opponent with a competent offense. I want to be wrong and will freely admit it if I am. Nevertheless, until the Virginia Tech can scare people offensively, there will only be middling results from here on out. 


David Fox ()

I’m not sure if it says more about the Virginia Tech defense or the ACC that the Hokies won eight games with that offense last season. Bud Foster should have another strong defense on his hands, especially in the back end. But I don’t envy the defensive coordinator in September, going from facing Braxton Miller in Columbus, to East Carolina’s Air Raid to Georgia Tech’s triple option in three consecutive games. To their credit, the Hokies handled both Georgia Tech, East Carolina plus the Marshall hurry-up in a three-week span last season. Can that happen again? With new faces in the front seven, this offense is going to have to produce more than it did a year ago.


Matt McClusky (),

After 28 years in Blacksburg, this truly may be the beginning of the end for Frank Beamer's run at Virginia Tech. A couple of years of slippage in the program have people genuinely wondering about the future of Hokies football and its 67-year-old coach.


But there is always a "but" isn't there? Here, the cause for pause is two fold. First, Virginia Tech may be something of a darkhorse due to its defense. Players like Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Luther Maddy (who lead Va. Tech in sacks in 2013) will all return for Bud Foster's typically stout defense. And then there's the schedule, which is important for what is missing -- as in Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. So maybe things aren't as bleak as they seem.


I mean, the ACC's Coastal is effectively wide open this season and, given the returning defensive talent and the '14 slate, Virginia Tech should be considered the favorite to get back to the ACC title game. Will winning a rather weak division in the ACC be enough for some people to stop thinking this is the final chapter for Beamer? Probably, but how long will that sentiment last?


Braden Gall ()

Virginia Tech still has one of the best defenses in the nation and certainly one of the best in the ACC. The Hokies have major issues on offense, however, so holding serve at home in Lane Stadium will be key. Miami, Georgia Tech, East Carolina and Boston College are must-win games. Tech will lose some games away from home with trips to Ohio State, North Carolina, Pitt and Duke looming.

Virginia Tech Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Friday, July 18, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-players-returning-injury-2014

Injuries are a significant part of every college football season. Whether it’s a key starter or solid backup, an injury could derail a team’s national or conference title hopes.

Several teams suffered major injuries to key players last season, including Texas with quarterback David Ash, Georgia with running back Keith Marshall and receiver Malcolm Mitchell, TCU with standout defensive end Devonte Fields and Florida with quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Those injuries were just a small sample of the key injuries that occurred either before or during the college football season.

To help prepare for the 2014 season, we examined some of the top players returning from injury and the impact they could make this year. Note: Players that were injured in November (Miami running back Duke Johnson) were not eligible for this list. Instead, this list is focused on players that missed the entire season or a majority of the schedule.

Top 20 College Football Players Back from Injury


David Ash, QB, Texas

The health of David Ash is critical for first-year coach Charlie Strong. Ash threw for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012 but played in only three games due to concussions last season. Prior to his injury, Ash completed 60.9 percent of his throws and tossed seven touchdowns to only two picks. If Ash is injured again in 2014, true freshman Jerrod Heard or sophomore Tyrone Swoopes – two inexperienced players – would get the call under center for Strong.


Brian Blechen, S, Utah

Blechen has been an under-the-radar performer in Salt Lake City, and his return will help a Utah defense that allowed 28 points per game in 2013. The California native missed 2013 due to knee issues but has 35 career appearances and 203 tackles as a Ute. Blechen’s best season came in 2012, recording 78 stops, eight tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Expect Blechen to push for all-conference honors at safety in 2014.


Stefon Diggs/Deon Long, WR, Maryland

Maryland heads into its first season of Big Ten play with one of the top receiving corps in the conference. Diggs is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and caught 34 passes for 587 yards and three scores in just seven games last year. Long was also injured in Maryland’s seventh game last year and finished 2013 with 32 catches for 489 yards and one touchdown. With Diggs and Long back at full strength, expect the Terrapins’ offense to take a step forward in its Big Ten debut.


Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida

Will Muschamp’s long-term future in Gainesville could hinge on Driskel’s health. After a 4-8 mark in 2013, there’s enormous pressure on Muschamp to get the Gators back in contention for the SEC East title. Driskel was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2011 signing class and led Florida to a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2012 after completing 63.7 percent of his throws and 12 touchdowns. However, Driskel was off to a slow start in 2013 (477 yards, three interceptions in three games) when he suffered a season-ending leg injury against Tennessee. New coordinator Kurt Roper is tasked with fixing Florida’s offense, which has ranked eighth or worse in the SEC (conference-only games) in yards per play over the last four seasons. Driskel should be a good fit in Roper’s offense, but he also needs more help from the receiving corps and offensive line.


Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

Fields had a breakout freshman campaign in 2012, recording 18.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and earned AP Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. The bar was set high for Fields in 2013, but he played in three games due to injury and finished with four tackles (two for a loss). When healthy, Fields is one of the top linemen and defenders in the Big 12. He anchors a TCU defensive line that should be among the best in the conference this year.


Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas

Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Texas’ defense, but the Longhorns have room to improve after allowing 5.2 yards per play in conference games last season. Hicks was a key piece of the defense in 2011 with 65 tackles, but he has played in only seven games the last two years due to injury. Coming off an Achilles injury, Hicks may need a few contests to knock some of the rust off.


Austin Hill, WR, Arizona

Uncertainty rules Arizona’s offense heading into fall camp, as coach Rich Rodriguez is searching for a starter at quarterback and at running back. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap, the starter will have a deep – maybe the best in the Pac-12 – group of receivers to target. Hill is the headliner for Rodriguez after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 scores in 2012. He missed 2013 due to an ACL tear, but all signs point to Hill returning to full strength for 2014.


D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida

Humphries is the second starter from Florida’s offense to make this list, as the North Carolina native played in seven games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Gators need more productivity from the quarterback spot, but the offensive line also has to improve after allowing 22 sacks in SEC play last year. Humphries rated as the No. 7 high school prospect by ESPN in the 2012 signing class.


C.J. Johnson, DE, Ole Miss

Combine Johnson’s return with the development of Robert Nkemdiche at tackle, and it’s easy to see why Ole Miss should have one of the top defensive lines in the SEC this season. Johnson played in 13 games in 2012 and recorded 55 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. Prior to his season-ending ankle injury in 2013, Johnson had 12 tackles (four for a loss). The Mississippi native could be one of the top defensive ends in the SEC this year.


Isaiah Johnson, S, Georgia Tech

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof plans on switching Georgia Tech’s defensive alignment to more of a 4-2-5 look in 2014. And that scheme shift is certainly made easier with the return of Johnson and junior safety Jamal Golden from injury. Johnson recorded 87 stops and one interception in 2012 and is projected to earn third-team All-ACC honors by Athlon Sports in 2014. With a full year to recover from knee surgery, Johnson should be 100 percent for the season opener against Wofford.


Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State

Keeton is one of the top quarterbacks outside the Power 5 conferences, and his return from ACL surgery should have Utah State in the mix to win the Mountain West title in 2014. In three seasons with the Aggies, Keeton has tossed 56 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. He has also completed at least 60 percent of his passes in every season and rushed for 619 yards in 2012. Keeton is an Athlon Sports’ first-team All-Mountain West selection for 2014.


Curt Maggitt, LB, Tennessee

The unquestioned strength of Tennessee’s defense in 2014 is the linebacking corps. Senior A.J. Johnson will push for All-America honors, while Maggitt returns after missing 2013 due to a knee injury. Maggitt recorded 56 stops in 2011 and made 30 tackles (five for a loss) in just nine games in 2012. A healthy Maggitt is critical for the Volunteers’ front seven, as he is expected to slide between defensive end and linebacker this year.


Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern

Mark is one of the Big Ten’s top big-play threats, and a return to full strength in 2014 would be a huge boost for Northwestern’s offense. In 2012, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, while also taking two punt returns for scores. The Texas native never had a chance to build on those totals in 2013, as a leg injury suffered in the opener limited him to just four games. If Mark is healthy, another 1,000-yard season is within reach.


Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia

Georgia’s backfield was hit hard by injuries in 2013, as Todd Gurley battled an ankle injury for most of the year, and Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. Marshall averaged 6.5 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2012 and recorded 246 yards prior to his injury in 2013. If Marshall is healthy, Georgia should have one of the top one-two tandems at running back in the nation.


Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia

Mitchell was just one of a handful of key players on Georgia’s team last season that missed time due to injury. Prior to 2013, Mitchell caught 85 receptions in his first two years at Georgia and was poised to be an All-SEC performer. The Georgia native suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter against Clemson and missed the rest of the year. The junior should be one of the top targets for new quarterback Hutson Mason in 2014.


Aaron Morris, OG, Ole Miss

With only two starters returning, the biggest concern for coach Hugh Freeze’s offense is the line. But the news isn’t all bad in Oxford this preseason, as the Rebels will regain the services of Morris for the opener against Boise State. The Mississippi native started all 13 games in 2012 and was expected to be one of the top guards in the SEC in 2013. However, a torn ACL suffered against Vanderbilt ended Morris’ season before it got on track. If Morris is at full strength, the left side of the Rebels’ line is in great shape with Laremy Tunsil anchoring the group at left tackle.


Demetrious Nicholson, CB, Virginia

Nicholson was quietly one of the ACC’s top defensive backs in 2012 but an injury forced him to sit on the sidelines for most of the 2013 season. In five games, Nicholson recorded 20 tackles, four passes defended and one interception. Those numbers were a big drop-off from his 2012 totals, as Nicholson made 56 tackles and defended 15 passes. The Virginia Beach native is a third-team All-ACC selection by Athlon Sports for 2014.


Owa Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA

In addition to the emergence of sophomores Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes, the return of Odighizuwa should ensure UCLA’s defense doesn’t suffer a drop in production without linebacker Anthony Barr. Odighizuwa missed 2013 due to a hip injury but played in 38 games from 2010-12. The Oregon native recorded 44 tackles in 2012 and was poised for a breakout year prior to his injury in 2013.


Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

Phillips was expected to play a key role in stopping the run for Oklahoma's defense in 2013. He anchored the line through the first four weeks with two tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks, but a back injury forced Phillips to sit out the remainder of the 2013 season. Without Phillips anchoring the interior, the Sooners finished sixth in the Big 12 (conference-only games) against the run. Assuming Phillips returns to full strength, Oklahoma’s defensive line could be the best in the Big 12 this year.           


Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

Even without Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, Texas A&M’s offense is still going to score plenty of points in 2014. The Aggies have a deep collection of skill players, and this group should get even better with a full year from Seals-Jones. He was the No. 25 player in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 but played in only two games due to injury. Seals-Jones grabbed three passes for 84 yards and a score last year. 


Other Key Players Returning from Injury in 2014:


Mehdi Abdesmad, DT, Boston College

Abdesmad started fast in 2013, recording 17 tackles and two sacks through the first four games. However, a knee injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Expect Abdesmad to push for All-ACC honors in 2014.


Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Alexander ranked as the No. 30 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and was slated for a significant role in the Clemson secondary before a groin injury sidelined him all year. Expect a breakout season from Alexander in 2014.


Rob Crisp, OT, NC State

NC State should be one of the most improved teams in the ACC this year. The addition of quarterback Jacoby Brissett should spark the offense, while Crisp returns after missing 10 games due to a concussion. According to his NC State bio, Crisp did not allow a sack in 413 snaps in 2011.

Akeem Daniels, RB, Northern Illinois

Without Jordan Lynch piloting the offense, the Huskies will lean more on their running backs in 2014. Daniels rushed for 447 yards and averaged a whopping 6.6 yards per carry in 2012. After missing 2013 due to a foot injury, Daniels will join Cameron Stingily as key cogs in the Northern Illinois’ rushing attack.


Devin Davis, OT, Oklahoma State

Davis was poised to start at left tackle in 2013 but missed the season due to a knee injury. Getting Davis back to full strength is crucial with just two starters returning for Oklahoma State’s offensive line in 2014.


Peyton Eckert/Dan Feeney, OL, Indiana

Wisconsin and Iowa will likely get the most consideration for the top offensive line spot in the Big Ten this year, but don’t forget about Indiana. The Hoosiers return three starters up front and regain Eckert and Feeney after both missed all of 2013 due to injury. Both players started 12 games in 2012.


George Farmer, WR, USC

Farmer was a big-time pickup on the recruiting trail for USC, but the Los Angeles native has just five catches in two seasons. With Marqise Lee departing, Farmer – if he’s healthy from a knee injury – could be a key part of the Trojans’ passing game.


Jake Fely, LB, San Diego State

Fely is one of the top defenders in the Mountain West, and his return will help San Diego State push for a division title. Fely was limited to 20 tackles in four games due to injury last season, but he started all 13 games and made 11.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2012.

J.J. Gaines, S, Texas Tech

Gaines is expected to be one of the leaders for Texas Tech’s secondary in 2014. He played in only five games last season due to injury but recorded 16 tackles and two picks.


Justin Garrett, LB/S, Auburn

Garrett was plagued by foot injuries last season but was expected to play a significant role in Auburn’s defense at the linebacker or star position.


Jamal Golden, S, Georgia Tech

Golden has made only 44 stops in three seasons on defense for the Yellow Jackets, but the Alabama native is one of the ACC’s top return men. In 2012, Golden averaged 28.3 yards per kickoff return and is back to full strength after missing nearly all of 2013 due to injury.


Jay Hughes, S, Mississippi State

Hughes was slated to start at safety last year but suffered a torn Achilles in the opener against Oklahoma State. The Mississippi native played in 13 games and recorded 32 tackles as a sophomore in 2012.


Tyler Hunter, S, Florida State

Hunter’s return bolsters a secondary that is already one of the best – if not No. 1 – in the nation. The Georgia native missed 11 games in 2013 due to a neck injury but played in 14 games in 2012.


Jeremiah Johnson, CB, Maryland

Injuries have hit Maryland hard over the last few years, and 2013 was no exception with Johnson missing 11 games due to a toe injury. In 2012, Johnson recorded 43 tackles and broke up eight passes. If he can stay healthy, Johnson should push for All-Big Ten honors and lead a much-improved Maryland secondary.


Jordan Johnson, CB, BYU

Johnson’s return should bolster a BYU secondary that allowed 19 passing scores in 2013. The Massachusetts native started 12 games in 2012 and recorded 15 pass breakups.


Mike Matulis, OL, South Carolina

Matulis entered last season with 10 career starts and was considered the frontrunner to start at guard. However, Matulis redshirted due to a shoulder injury.


Charone Peake, WR, Clemson

With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant off to the NFL, Clemson is looking for new faces to emerge at receiver. Peake could be one of the top targets for new quarterback Cole Stoudt after missing nearly all of 2013 with an ACL tear. He caught 25 passes for 172 yards in 2012.


Avery Sebastian, S, California

Sebastian and teammate Stefan McClure missed significant time due to injuries last season, but both players are expected to push for a starting role in 2014. Sebastian played in only two games prior to an Achilles injury and recorded 10 tackles and one interception.


Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State

Keep an eye on this redshirt freshman in 2014, as Thomas could be one of the ACC’s breakout players. The Miami native played in four games before taking a medical redshirt due to a shoulder injury. Thomas made four tackles (two for a loss) and one sack in limited action.


Jeffrey Whitaker, DT, Auburn

Whitaker appeared on the verge of a breakout year in 2013, but a knee injury sidelined him for the entire season. The Georgia native has 18 career starts and will be a key cog in Auburn’s defensive tackle rotation. 

College Football's Top Players Returning from Injury for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, College Football, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/arizona-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Arizona is making steady progress under coach Rich Rodriguez, as the Wildcats are coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons.

Rodriguez is known as an offensive mastermind, which is crucial for a team that enters fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback, along with the departure of running back Ka’Deem Carey.

The strength of Arizona’s offense rests with a line that returns four starters, including standout tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. The receiving corps is also one of the best in the Pac-12, and Austin Hill is back after missing all of 2013 due to a torn ACL.

With the personnel losses at Arizona State, the coaching turnover at USC, and a favorable home slate for the Wildcats, Arizona has a chance to make some noise in the South Division.


Related:  |  |


Expert Panel:

Steven Lassan (),
Kyle Kensing (),
David Fox (),
Braden Gall (),
Mark Ross (),


Early Arizona Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
at Oregon
at Washington
at Utah
Arizona State
Final Projection7-58-47-58-47-5
Steven Lassan ()

Arizona is an intriguing team to watch this season. I projected the Wildcats to finish 7-5, but this team could easily finish 8-4 or even 9-3. The defense is getting better under the watchful eye of Jeff Casteel, and the offensive line and receiving corps should be among the best in the Pac-12. However, Arizona’s biggest question marks are on offense, as a quarterback didn’t win the job in the spring, and there’s no clear replacement for standout running back Ka’Deem Carey. Of course, those concerns are lessened by the fact Rich Rodriguez will be calling the plays. However, it’s reasonable to expect some growing pains on that side of the ball. If Jesse Scroggins or Anu Solomon claims the job at quarterback and settles into the offense early in the year, Arizona will be a dangerous out in the second half of the season for the Pac-12.

Kyle Kensing (),

It's fair to say Rich Rodriguez exceeded expectations in his first two seasons at Arizona with back-to-back 8-win campaigns. However, UA has yet to finish above .500 in Pac-12 play. The next step for this program is getting to the positive side of the ledger in an increasingly difficult conference. An outstanding offensive line and deep receiving corps will buoy the offense through a very manageable nonconference slate, and the young talent in Jeff Casteel's defense should continue to build on the major strides made last season. With five home Pac-12 games, the Wildcats have a favorable road to that magic 5-win mark in the league, including that all-important victory over Arizona State Rodriguez currently lacks.


Mark Ross ()

Rich Rodriguez has dealt with quarterback uncertainty before in Tuscon, but this fall he has to replace one of the nation's most productive running backs (Ka'Deem Carey) too. Offense is RichRod's calling card and he should be able to cobble a productive attack with the collection of experienced wide receivers he has returning, but quarterback and backfield production will be key. The defense returns half of its starters and made progress last season, but a pretty tough Pac-12 road slate figures to take its toll on the Wildcats' win total. A third straight bowl bid should be pretty easy to achieve, but any sort of climb in the South Division standings will come down to the offense's development and how well the defense holds up against the likes of Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington. Get two or more wins out of that quintet of games and it could be a memorable season for Wildcat fans.

David Fox ()

Arizona should be poised for a hot start before a rude awakening at Autzen. That August/September schedule good news for a team that exited spring practice with logjam at quarterback. The question is how Arizona can take advantage of the fortuitous home schedule against USC, Washington and Arizona State. Arizona generally finds a way to win a game it shouldn’t at home late in the year. I’ve picked Washington as that game for the Wildcats this season.

Braden Gall ()

I really like Arizona to make some noise in the Pac-12 South. No, that doesn't mean winning the division but they will win a game or two that they aren't supposed to (like, say, USC at home). Rich Rodriguez has been 4-5 in each of his first two seasons in the league and he has a chance to be over .500 this year if the Cats defense can improve. USC, Arizona State and Washington are prime upset candidates in Tucson this year.

Arizona Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/stanford-football-game-game-predictions-2014

Stanford has claimed back-to-back Pac-12 titles, and despite a bevy of personnel departures, the Cardinal should be in good shape to contend once again in 2014.

Coach David Shaw continues to raise the profile of the program with three consecutive double-digit win seasons, and the program simply reloads after losing key players. There’s no more rebuilding under Shaw’s watch.

While Stanford has finished in top 11 of the final Associated Press poll for three consecutive years, that streak could be in jeopardy in 2014.

The Cardinal has several key players to replace on both sides of the ball, and the schedule is one of the toughest in the nation.

Related:  |  |  |


Expert Panel

Steven Lassan, (),
Kyle Kensing, (),
David Fox (),
Braden Gall (),
Mark Ross (),

Early Stanford Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014 
UC Davis
at Washington
at Notre Dame
Washington State
at Arizona State
Oregon State
at Oregon
at California
Final Prediction9-38-49-310-29-3
Steven Lassan ()

Stanford’s schedule is the biggest drawback for this team in the Pac-12 title race. The Cardinal plays five projected teams in Athlon’s final top 25 for 2014 on the road this year. In addition to the personnel losses on both sides of the ball, coach David Shaw must also replace standout defensive coordinator Derek Mason. With the losses on defense, Shaw needs more from his offense in 2013, starting with quarterback Kevin Hogan. The offensive line should be fine despite the departure of four starters, and a running back (or two) should emerge. However, Hogan needs to take the next step in his development, which could be the difference between Stanford finishing 8-4 or 10-2 and winning the North. I still think this is one of the top teams in the Pac-12 and a fringe top-10 squad this year. However, the brutal road schedule might be the difference in a tight division race between the Ducks and the Cardinal.


Kyle Kensing ()

I have trepidation in pegging Stanford for its worst finish since 2009. Firstly, that season was the last the Cardinal failed to qualify for a BCS bowl. Secondly, David Shaw has improved upon the foundation Jim Harbaugh laid, turning Stanford into a program built to win consistently. The Cardinal have one of the best offensive lines in the conference, the defense remains stacked despite losing key pieces like Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds and Trent Murphy, and quarterback Kevin Hogan should take strides with a year-and-a-half of experience under his belt. Hogan is also working with a diverse receiving corps. And yet, the schedule is brutal. An 8-4 projection is less an indictment on the Cardinal in a reloading year, but rather a testament to how nasty this slate is. Oregon and UCLA are preseason top 10 teams, Washington is one of the most experienced teams in the Pac-12, and Notre Dame is a Playoff contender. Oh, and Stanford gets all four on the road.

Braden Gall ()

Stanford is still in great shape despite big losses along the offensive line and on the defense. The running game should still be nasty and the defense returns a lot of big time recruits who are ready to step into staring roles as upperclassmen. The issue is the home-road splits for Stanford could be very painful as the Cardinal have to face all of the biggest Pac-12 contenders and Notre Dame on the road this year. This includes two critical games within in the North Division in Eugene and Seattle.

Mark Ross ()

David Shaw has done an exceptional job in his first three seasons at Stanford, but this fall could pose an entirely new challenge for him. Although Stanford doesn't lack for talent, the Cardinal lost quite a bit of it and experience along its offensive line, at running back and on every level of the defense. The defense also will be led by a new coordinator, Derek Mason departed to take over at Vanderbilt. Even with these personnel losses, I'm not expecting Stanford to take a huge step backwards, but I do think the Cardinal's margin of error has narrowed considerably. Of course the Nov. 1 date in Eugene with Oregon is huge, but the early-season tilt with USC, back-to-back visits to Seattle and South Bend, Ind., and the season finale at UCLA could each be equally important, especially if junior quarterback Kevin Hogan struggles to lead the offense.

David Fox ()

Stanford is too well built to fall off too much, but I could still see this as a transition year. The offensive line is full of great recruits, but there’s still just one returning starter here. Inexperience there and at tight end and running back puts more on the shoulders of Kevin Hogan, which may be a problem on the road against teams like Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA.

Stanford Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2014
Post date: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-switches-fieldturf-new-field-design-unveiled

Notre Dame is switching from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2014, and the Fighting Irish will also have a new field design.

The traditional blank field with diagonal striping in the endzones has been a staple at Notre Dame Stadium, but there will be a slight alteration to the FieldTurf in 2014.

The FieldTurf will feature a Notre Dame logo at the 50-yard line, along with shamrocks at the 35-yard line for kickoffs.

Check out the for more information on the new field design for 2014:

Notre Dame Switches to FieldTurf; New Field Design Unveiled
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 14:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football, UCLA Bruins, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/ucla-unveils-alternate-la-steel-uniforms-2014

UCLA’s uniforms haven’t changed much in recent seasons, but the Bruins used an alternate “LA Midnight” look last season and recently unveiled a new “LA Steel” uniform for 2014.

These uniforms are quite a change from the classic UCLA jersey and helmet and feature metallic design additions to the shoulder pads and around the numbers, which is a tribute to the bright lights of Los Angeles.

According to the release on the official school website, this will be the first gray uniform in school history.

Here’s a look at UCLA’s new alternate jerseys for 2014: 

UCLA Unveils Alternate "LA Steel" Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 10:32