Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-impact-true-freshmen-2015
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College football’s 2015 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Prospects from across the nation and for all 128 FBS programs inked a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, which should provide all coaches with a good snapshot of how their program looks for the upcoming season.

 

There will be several impact performers from the 2015 class this season, and it’s impossible to narrow the names down to just 10. However, now that signing day is complete, let’s take a look at 10 names to watch in 2015 and how they could impact their team in on-field action. 

 

10 Instant-Impact College Football Recruits for 2015

 

Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn

247Sports Composite: No. 1 Strong-Side Defensive End, No. 3 Nationally

 

Why You Need to Know About Cowart: With Will Muschamp calling the defensive signals at Auburn next year, expect the Tigers to show marked improvement on defense. Cowart is a key piece of the puzzle for Muschamp, as the Tigers need an improved pass rush to compete for the SEC title. In 2014, Auburn mustered only 21 sacks, with 10 of those coming in conference play. Cowart and the return of end Carl Lawson should significantly boost the Tigers’ performance in the trenches next year.

Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech
247Sports Composite:
No. 8 Defensive Tackle, No. 50 Nationally

Why You Need to Know About Fehoko: Texas Tech’s defense is in need of a major fix after giving up 6.2 yards per play last season. While the numbers weren’t pretty from last year, there’s hope for a turnaround with the addition of new coordinator David Gibbs. And Gibbs has to be optimistic about his defensive line for next season, especially with Fehoko ranked as one of the top 50 recruits in the nation. The Hawaii native recorded 16 sacks and six forced fumbles at Farrington High School in 2014. Expect Fehoko to play right away for the Red Raiders in 2015.

 

Martez Ivey, OL, Florida

247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 OT, No. 2 Nationally

Why You Need to Know About Ivey: It’s a cliché, but winning championships and contending for SEC titles has to start in the trenches. New coach Jim McElwain has major holes to fill up front on the offensive side this offseason, as the Gators return just one starter on the line and lost four players with starting experience. Guard Trip Thurman is the lone returning starter from a group that gave up only 16 sacks in 2014. Ivey ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, and while the increased physical demands of playing in the SEC will be a challenge, the playing time is certainly there for the talented tackle.
 

Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
247Sports Composite:
No. 1 OLB, No. 10 Nationally

Why You Need to Know About Jefferson: It’s no secret Texas coach Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in college football. The Longhorns limited Big 12 offenses to just 23.4 points per game (No. 2 in conference) in 2014 and should be one of the best in the conference once again in 2015. Jefferson is an instant-impact defender for Strong and should play right away with Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond departing the linebacking corps.
 

Canton Kaumatale, DL, Oregon

247Sports Composite: No. 16 Nationally, No. 3 Strong-Side Defensive End

Why You Need to Know About Kaumatale: Oregon is losing end Arik Armstead and nose guard Sam Kamp, leaving a line that was already thin on depth with a need for instant-impact performers. Enter Kaumatale. The Hawaii native checks in at 290 pounds and will only get better and physically ready for Pac-12 play with an offseason in Oregon’s weight room. Kaumatule has good quickness off the line and a 6-foot-7 frame will allow him to provide plenty of headaches for opposing offensive linemen. Kaumatule should be a good fit in Oregon’s 3-4/4-3 scheme.
 

Iman Marshall, DB, USC

247Sports Composite: No. 1 CB, No. 4 Nationally


Why You Need to Know About Marshall: USC signed one of the nation’s top classes this season, and Marshall could be the top freshman from the signing haul in 2015. The Long Beach native has coveted size for cornerbacks at 6-foot-2 and was regarded by coach Steve Sarkisian for his physicality at the line of scrimmage. USC gave up 20 passing scores in 2014, but with Marshall involved and the development of safety Su’a Cravens, this secondary should take a step forward on the stat sheet in 2015.

 

Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
247Sports Composite:
No. 2 DT, No. 6 Nationally


Why You Need to Know About McKenzie: Tennessee has a chance to surprise in the SEC East this year if the lines of scrimmage develop over the offseason. McKenzie is the type of difference maker that the Volunteers lacked on the interior this season, as Tennessee’s defense ranked ninth in the SEC against the run. McKenzie did not play his senior year of high school but dominated as a junior with 12 sacks and 74 tackles. At 327 pounds and a 6-foot-3 frame, McKenzie is the type of player coach Butch Jones needs to get Tennessee’s defense near the top of the SEC.
 

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 WR, No. 11 Nationally


Why You Need to Know About Ridley: Alabama recorded 290 receptions last season, and 183 of those catches are gone as DeAndrew White and Christion Jones expired their eligibility after the Sugar Bowl, while Amari Cooper left for the NFL. Chris Black (15 catches) and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches) are the top statistical returning wide receivers for 2015. Ridley was considered a five-star prospect and had a monster junior year by catching 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 scores in 2013. With Cooper, Jones and White leaving, there’s an immediate opportunity for Ridley to play major snaps in 2015. 

 

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 Pro-Style QB, No. 12 Nationally

Why You Need to Know About Rosen: Brett Hundley is gone, leaving a huge void under center for the Bruins. Jerry Neuheisel is the team’s most-experienced option at quarterback, but the job is expected to be a three-man battle this spring. Asiantti Woulard is also in the mix with Rosen and Neuheisel for snaps in 2015. Rosen enrolled in time to compete this spring, which should give the California native a chance to play right away. Starting as a true freshman quarterback in the Pac-12 is never easy, but Rosen has a chance to do just that in 2015. 
 

Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia

247Sports Composite: No. 1 DT, No. 1 Nationally

Why You Need to Know About Thompson: He’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Keeping Thompson in the state of Georgia and out of the hands of another SEC rival was a big deal for coach Mark Richt and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle should be poised for immediate playing time this fall, with nose tackle Mike Thornton and defensive ends Ray Drew and Toby Johnson expiring their eligibility. It’s always tough for linemen to physically prepare for the challenge of playing in the SEC, but all signs point to Thompson being up to the task. 
 

Other Players to Watch in 2015

 

Blake Barnett, QB, Alabama

Terry Beckner Jr., DT, Missouri

Jake Browning, QB, Washington

Derwin James, S, Florida State

CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida

Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson

DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss

Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M

Jamal Peters, S, Mississippi State

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

Kendall Sheffield, CB, Alabama

Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Teaser:
College Football's Top 10 Impact True Freshmen for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/how-college-footballs-new-coaches-recruited-2015
Body:

Recruiting is the basic blueprint for any college football program. And recruiting isn’t just a one-month exercise, as coaches are essentially on the trail all year for multiple classes.

 

New coaches are often placed into a difficult position, as it takes a year or two to build relationships for a signing class. Most new coaches only have a couple of months (if that) to target their prospects to fit the new systems and fight for commitments on the recruiting trail.

Florida and Michigan are two programs that didn’t land top-10 classes in 2015 largely due to the coaching turnover and the short time to ink the 2015 prospects. Needless to say, we can’t read much into how new coaches recruited this season due to the short turnaround time. However, the numbers are certainly interesting. And it will be critical to see how these numbers change after each coach has a full year to recruit.

 

Sure, there are going to be hits and misses in the team and player projections each season, but there’s plenty of accuracy and meaning behind the final rankings.

 

Let’s take a look at how the new coaches for 2015 recruited (rankings and data from 247Sports)


Power 5 Conferences
 

ACC
PittsburghTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Paul Chryst (2014)23431820
Pat Narduzzi (2015)14621120

Big 12
KansasTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Charlie Weis (2014)25511910
David Beaty (2015)26721600

Big Ten
MichiganTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Brady Hoke (2014)1620781
Jim Harbaugh (2015)1438860
NebraskaTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Bo Pelini (2014)25362220
Mike Riley (2015)20311630
WisconsinTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Gary Andersen (2014)26332030
Paul Chryst (2015)20341720

Pac-12
Oregon StateTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Mike Riley (2014)30632200
Gary Andersen (2015)18701700
SEC
FloridaTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Will Muschamp (2014)2491581
Jim McElwain (2015)21211632


Group of 5 Conferences

 

American
HoustonTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Tony Levine (2014)26761900
Tom Herman (2015)1989700
SMUTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
June Jones (2014)2481900
Chad Morris (2015)23791200
TulsaTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Bill Blankenship (2014)2480900
Philip Montgomery (2015)19105300

MAC
BuffaloTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Jeff Quinn (2014)2397600
Lance Leipold (2015)19121300
Central MichiganTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Dan Enos (2014)19119200
TBA (2015)20101900

 

Mountain West
Colorado StateTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Jim McElwain (2014)2687500
Mike Bobo (2015)14119500

 

UNLVTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Bobby Hauck (2014)19117300
Tony Sanchez (2015)22115500

 

Sun Belt
TroyTotalNational Rank3 Stars Signed4 Stars Signed5 Stars Signed
Larry Blakeney (2014)17130100
Neal Brown (2015)23109700
Teaser:
How College Football's New Coaches Recruited in 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/recruit-chris-warren-uses-coin-flip-decide-between-washington-and-texas
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Running back recruit Chris Warren had a hard time deciding between Washington and Texas on National Signing Day. So the high school senior used a coin flip to decide where he would spend the next four years of his collegiate career.
 

Here’s video of Warren’s coin flip:

 

Teaser:
Recruit Chris Warren Decides Between Texas and Washington With Coin Flip
Post date: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 12:31
Path: /college-football/byu-lands-biggest-recruit-everliterally
Body:

On college football’s signing day, the term “big recruit” is always tossed around at all 128 FBS programs. That term could be used to describe a recruit that fills a huge need or someone that the program fought hard to hold onto after other schools were looking for a late flip.

But in BYU’s case, the Cougars officially landed the biggest prospect of signing day. No, seriously.

Motekiai Langi was announced by BYU as a 6-foot-7 and 410-pound offensive or defensive lineman.

 

Teaser:
BYU Lands The Biggest Recruit Ever...Literally
Post date: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 11:53
Path: /college-football/tennessee-recruit-wears-most-ridiculously-awesome-outfit-signing-day
Body:

College football’s National Signing Day always brings a few interesting moments from recruits as they decide where to continue their playing career for the next four years.
 

Receiver Preston Williams signed with Tennessee on Wednesday and celebrated his announcement with an outstanding fashion statement.

Check out Williams’ outfit from Signing Day, complete with Tennessee helmet:  

 

 

Teaser:
Tennessee Recruit Wears Most Ridiculously Awesome Outfit for Signing Day
Post date: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 - 10:59
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-rb-ezekiel-elliott-shows-cfb-championship-tattoo
Body:

Running back Ezekiel Elliott was one of the key performers in Ohio State’s run to the college football national championship in 2014. The sophomore rushed for at least 220 yards in each of his final three games and is one of the early favorites to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

And Elliott isn’t going to forget the Buckeyes’ title anytime soon, as the St. Louis native recently had a tattoo added to his left arm that showcases the college football playoff trophy.

In addition to the championship trophy, Elliott’s tattoo also features the Ohio State Block “O” logo, his number (15) and the Gateway Arch.


Check out Elliott’s new tattoo:

Teaser:
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott Shows Off CFB Championship Tattoo
Post date: Monday, February 2, 2015 - 08:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, News
Path: /college-football/iowa-wr-tevaun-smith-breaks-odell-beckhams-record-41-one-handed-catches
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New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made some spectacular one-handed receptions as a rookie, and the LSU product recently grabbed 33 one-handed catches in 60 seconds to set a new record. The previous mark in the Guinness World Records was just 10.

After Beckham’s 33 catches in a minute, you can bet other receivers started to plot on how to break the new record.

Iowa’s Tevaun Smith (43 catches with the Hawkeyes in 2014) went after Beckham’s record on Friday and broke the mark with 41 in 60 minutes.

Check out Smith’s 41 one-handed catches:

 

Here's Odell Beckham's 33 catches from Super Bowl week:

Teaser:
Iowa WR Tevaun Smith Breaks Odell Beckham Jr.'s One-Handed Catch Record
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 16:46
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/early-heisman-odds-released-2015
Body:

College football’s 2015 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to think about the Heisman frontrunners.

Bovada is keeping the offseason chatter alive by releasing early 2015 Heisman odds, which features Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott as a 6/1 favorite, followed by Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott at 7/1.

There’s a few interesting odds in the first release, as Georgia running back Nick Chubb (12/1) is the same as UCLA running back Paul Perkins (12/1). And all three Ohio State quarterbacks – Cardale Jones (14/1), J.T. Barrett (16/1) and Braxton Miler (18/1) are in the first release.

Some names to watch: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (33/1), Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (33/1) and Oregon running back Royce Freeman (25/1).

 

Early 2015 Heisman Odds from Bovada
Player/Position/TeamEarly 2015 Odds
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State6/1
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State7/1
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU7/1
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU15/2
Cody Kessler, QB, USC12/1
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia12/1
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA12/1
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State14/1
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama14/1
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma14/1
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State16/1
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn16/1
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State18/1
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State20/1
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin25/1
D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State25/1
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon25/1
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami33/1
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State33/1
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson33/1
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh33/1
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech33/1
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona33/1
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor33/1
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State40/1
Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State50/1
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee50/1
Jared Goff, QB, California50/1
Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina50/1
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss66/1
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona66/1

 

Teaser:
Early Heisman Odds Released for 2015
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 13:01
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/10-players-replacing-biggest-names-college-football-2015
Body:

Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.
 

Athlon has examined five key players leaving and their replacements by conference. Now, let’s take a look at the national scene and breakdown which 10 players are expected to step up in their absence in 2015.

Key Replacements for 2015: ACCBig 12Big TenPac-12SEC


10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in CFB for 2015
 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

 

Replacing: Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards, 29 TDs in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Wisconsin has recorded a 1,000-yard rusher in 10 consecutive seasons, and it’s a safe bet to assume that streak will extend to 11 by the end of 2015. Melvin Gordon was the nation’s top running back last year, rushing for 2,587 yards and 29 scores on 343 attempts. New coach Paul Chryst could have certainly used Gordon in 2015, but the cupboard is far from bare. Clement is a breakout star waiting for his opportunity to start. On 147 carries in 2014, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores. Overall, in his first two years in Madison, Clement has 1,496 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Gordon will be missed, but Clement should ensure Wisconsin’s ground attack doesn’t miss a beat.
 

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

 

Replacing: Nick Marshall (3,330 total yards in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott should be the early favorite to earn preseason first-team All-SEC honors next year. But don’t be shocked to see Johnson receive some consideration as the starter in a high-powered offense. The Montgomery native started two games over the last two seasons and appeared in 12 overall contests. In the 2014 season opener against Arkansas, Johnson started for Nick Marshall (suspension) and completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Razorbacks. In his two-year career, Johnson has completed 57 of 78 passes for 858 yards and nine scores. The junior isn’t as dynamic of a runner as Marshall was but has 40 rushing yards on 11 attempts in two seasons. Coming out of high school, Johnson was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and was regarded as a four-star recruit. Malzahn’s offense is adaptable to mobile quarterbacks or pro-style passers. Expect Johnson to thrive in his first year as the starter for Auburn.
 

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Replacing:
Vic Beasley (33 career sacks, first-team AP All-American in 2014)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

Clemson’s defense led the nation by holding opponents to 4.03 yards per play in 2014. The Tigers also limited opposing offenses to 16.7 points per game, recorded 45 sacks and led the nation in third-down defense. Matching those totals in 2015 will be a challenge for coordinator Brent Venables. Of the nine players listed in the trenches on the final 2014 depth chart, six expired their eligibility after the Russell Athletic Bowl. Lawson was listed as the backup to Vic Beasley and is a breakout candidate for 2015 after recording 34 tackles (11 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks last year.
 

Jeff Lockie, QB, Oregon

Replacing: Marcus Mariota (2014 Heisman Trophy Winner)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


There’s no doubt Lockie has the biggest shoes to fill of any player on this list. Needless to say, following a Heisman winner and replacing Marcus Mariota’s production will be nearly impossible for the Ducks in 2015. The quarterback battle in Eugene is up for grabs, but Lockie has to have a slight edge based on his experience for the last two seasons as the backup. In his brief Oregon career (2013-14) Lockie has completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards and one score, while adding 32 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Although Lockie enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, the battle to replace Mariota is far from finished. Freshmen Travis Waller and Morgan Mahalak are expected to push for time, while sophomore Ty Griffin is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules. Could the Ducks land a graduate transfer like Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams?
 

Marcus Loud/Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

 

Replacing: Markus Golden/Shane Ray (24.5 total sacks in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Missouri consistently churns out talent from the defensive line to the NFL. Three linemen were selected over the 2013-14 drafts, and the number drafted only grows if you expand into 2011 (Aldon Smith) and 2009 (Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak). The Tigers will add to that total in 2015, as Shane Ray (a likely first-round pick) and Markus Golden (a top-100 prospect) will be targeted high in the draft. Replacing productive linemen is nothing new for the Tigers, and the focus shifts in 2015 to Harris and Loud as they replace Golden and Ray in the starting lineup. Loud recorded 14 tackles in 14 games last season, while Harris registered 19 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks in 14 appearances. Golden and Ray leave big shoes to fill, but Missouri also has a track record of finding the right answers at defensive end.
 

Sean Maguire, QB, Florida State

Replacing:
Jameis Winston (2013 Heisman winner)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Out of the five players mentioned in this article, Maguire has the biggest shoes to fill. The New Jersey native has played in 12 career games and made one start against Clemson in 2014. With Jameis Winston suspended against the Tigers, Maguire stepped into the starting lineup and completed 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. And in his career, Maguire has completed 38 out of 70 passes for 455 yards, three scores and four interceptions. Regardless of whether it’s Maguire, J.J. Cosentino, John Franklin III or an incoming freshman, Florida State’s quarterback in 2015 isn’t going to match Winston’s production and ability to perform in the clutch. However, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top quarterback gurus in the nation. The Seminoles will find enough production in the passing game to conted in the ACC in 2015.
 

Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford

 

Replacing: LT Andrus Peat (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Stanford’s offensive line has been one of the Pac-12’s top units in recent years, placing a lineman on the first-team for all-conference honors for seven consecutive seasons. The Cardinal return four starters in 2015, but there’s a huge hole to replace on the left side. Andrus Peat finished his career with 27 consecutive starts at left tackle and should be a first-round pick in the 2015 draft after leaving with one season of eligibility remaining. Murphy started all 14 games at right tackle in 2014 and is a candidate to flip to the left side to replace Peat. Murphy earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be counted upon to replace Peat, as well as be the lead blocker for a Stanford ground attack that averaged 4.4 yards per carry in conference games last year.
 

Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

 

Replacing: Bryce Petty

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

Bryce Petty will be missed, but Baylor’s offense isn’t going to miss a beat with a new signal-caller at the controls. In each of the last five years, the Bears had a quarterback throw for at least 3,500 yards. And from 2011-13, Baylor signal-callers eclipsed the 4,00-yard mark. Coach Art Briles clearly has one of the top offensive systems in the nation, and Russell is expected to take control of the high-powered attack in 2015. In two years of playing time in Waco, Russell has completed 74 of 128 throws for 1,231 yards and 11 scores. The Texas native also has good mobility, rushing for 332 yards and six touchdowns on 56 attempts the last two years. Russell will be pushed by sophomore Chris Johnson and incoming freshman Jarrett Stidham. However, he should get the first opportunity to replace Petty in 2015.
 

Cam Sims, WR, Alabama

 

Replacing: Amari Cooper (228 career catches)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Replacing Amari Cooper’s production will be more of a team effort than just one individual for the Crimson Tide in 2015. Cooper was one of college football’s top players in 2014, catching 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 scores. While there’s no doubt losing an All-American receiver is a huge blow to any offense, Alabama also has to replace DeAndrew White (40 catches in 2014) and Christion Jones (19 catches in 2014). Sims was regarded as the No. 84 prospect in the 2014 signing class and caught seven passes for 62 yards and one score in his true freshman campaign. Sims was listed as the backup to Cooper at the “X” receiver position, and the 6-foot-4 Louisiana native figures to be an even bigger part of the receiving corps next season for coordinator Lane Kiffin.
 

JuJu Smith, WR, USC

 

Replacing: Nelson Agholor (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

USC is pegged as the early favorite in the Pac-12 South, but for coach Steve Sarkisian’s team to claim the conference title, the offense has to find a replacement for standout receiver Nelson Agholor. The first-team All-Pac-12 performer isn’t the only loss for USC, as top end Leonard Williams also must be replaced. Both sides of the ball have key holes to fill, but Smith is one of the Pac-12’s rising stars and caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores in his first season with the Trojans. The California native was a five-star prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and may play a few snaps on defense next year. Regardless of whether Smith is on offense or defense, he’s one of USC’s top playmakers and will play a key role in replacing Agholor.

Teaser:
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football for 2015
Post date: Friday, January 30, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-rb-dare-ogunbowale-makes-most-amazing-field-goal-you-will-ever-see
Body:

Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale is slated to see an increase in rushing attempts with Melvin Gordon off to the NFL next season, but the Milwaukee native is grabbing attention this offseason for his kicking ability.

 

The Badgers already have a good kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, but Ogunbowale might be a serviceable option based upon this Instagram video, which features the running back kicking a spinning ball through the uprights.

Check out this awesome trick shot video from Ogunbowale:

 

 

A video posted by Dare Ogunbowale (@dare_o) on

Teaser:
Wisconsin RB Dare Ogunbowale Makes the Most Amazing Field Goal You Will Ever See
Post date: Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 11:26
Path: /college-football/5-players-replacing-biggest-names-big-ten-2015
Body:

Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.
 

After Ohio State’s national championship victory over Oregon, Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh as the team’s head coach, along with the expected improvement by Penn State (and Michigan State's steady rise under coach Mark Dantonio) in the next few years, the Big Ten’s East Division is loaded with intriguing storylines and teams on the rise. On the other side, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota should be the top contenders in the West. However, all three enter spring with significant personnel question marks, and two of those programs (Nebraska and Wisconsin) have new coaches. Let’s take a look at a few players replacing some of the top names in the Big Ten for 2015. 

 

5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the Big Ten for 2015

 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

 

Replacing: Melvin Gordon (2,587 yards, 29 TDs in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Wisconsin has recorded a 1,000-yard rusher in 10 consecutive seasons, and it’s a safe bet to assume that streak will extend to 11 by the end of 2015. Melvin Gordon was the nation’s top running back last year, rushing for 2,587 yards and 29 scores on 343 attempts. New coach Paul Chryst could have certainly used Gordon in 2015, but the cupboard is far from bare. Clement is a breakout star waiting for his opportunity to start. On 147 carries in 2014, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores. Overall, in his first two years in Madison, Clement has 1,496 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Gordon will be missed, but Clement should ensure Wisconsin’s ground attack doesn’t miss a beat.

 

Imani Cross, RB, Nebraska

 

Replacing: Ameer Abdullah (1,611 yards, 19 TDs)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Replacing the production lost by Abdullah finishing his eligibility probably won’t fall on one running back. And while Abdullah was one of the nation’s best all-around backs, Nebraska does have talent coming back for 2015. Imani Cross spent most of 2014 as the listed backup to Abdullah before an injury kept the 230-pound back out of the lineup in the Holiday Bowl. Cross rushed for 384 yards and five touchdowns on 75 attempts last season, giving him 1,155 yards and 22 scores in his career. In addition to the upside of Cross, the Cornhuskers can also expect to utilize Terrell Newby (297 yards) and sophomore Adam Taylor in 2015.

 

Darian Hicks/Montae Nicholson, DB, Michigan State

 

Replacing: Trae Waynes (CB), Kurtis Drummond (S)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Hicks (Junior), Nicholson (Sophomore)

 

Michigan State’s ‘No Fly Zone’ will have at least two new starters in 2015. The Spartans allowed only six passing touchdowns in Big Ten games last season and ranked inside of the top 10 nationally from 2012-13 in fewest passing scores allowed in both years. Waynes and Drummond were key pieces of the success in the secondary, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014. Hicks and Nicholson have big shoes to fill next season, but both players gained valuable experience last season. Hicks started 10 of 13 contests and recorded 28 stops with two picks. Nicholson played in 13 games as a true freshman and made 31 stops with two fumble recoveries. With Pat Narduzzi leaving to be the coach at Pittsburgh, it’s up to new co-coordinators Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett to keep the defense performing at a high level. And it certainly doesn’t hurt their play-calling ability if Hicks and Nicholson are the next standout defensive backs in East Lansing.

 

Michael Hill, DT, Ohio State

 

Replacing: Michael Bennett (second-team Athlon Sports All-American in 2014)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

For a team coming off a national championship, Ohio State surprisingly has few losses to address on the depth chart. That’s quite a switch for most teams coming off a title, but the Buckeyes are loaded for another run in 2015. One of coach Urban Meyer’s biggest spring concerns will be replacing Michael Bennett’s production on the interior of the line. Adolphus Washington appears primed for a big senior campaign in 2015, but a lot of coaches in Columbus will be watching the development of Hill and Donovan Munger at the tackle position. Hill has played sparingly over the last two years (just seven games) and made only two stops and one sack in four appearances in 2014. The South Carolina native ranked as the No. 176 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite. With Bennett leaving, the door is open for Hill to become a bigger piece of the defensive line rotation in 2015.

 

Paris Palmer, OT, Penn State

 

Replacing: Donovan Smith (31 career starts)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

The offensive line was the biggest area of concern for coach James Franklin and line coach Herb Hand in 2014. The Nittany Lions entered the year with concerns about depth and injuries, and this unit allowed 44 sacks in 13 games last season. Left tackle Donovan Smith was the anchor for a young group, starting 31 career games over three seasons of playing time in Happy Valley. Smith decided to leave for the NFL after 2014, leaving a massive void for Hand and Franklin to address in the offseason. It’s rare to see a junior college recruit going to Penn State, but it’s clear in Palmer’s case that he’s being brought in to play right away. The North Carolina native played the last two years at Lackawanna College and was rated as a four-star recruit (and the No. 12 overall player) in the 2015 247Sports JUCO Composite rankings. Finding ways to protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg has to be the top priority for the offense this spring. Can Palmer solidify one of the tackle spots?

Teaser:
5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in Big Ten for 2015
Post date: Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/5-players-replacing-biggest-names-pac-12-2015
Body:

Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.

 

The Pac-12 has made significant progress in catching the SEC in overall conference hierarchy over the last few seasons and is one of the deepest leagues in the nation. However, all of the expected frontrunners have key personnel voids to fill in 2015. Oregon heads into spring practice looking for a replacement for quarterback Marcus Mariota, while each of the key contenders on the South Division have question marks to address on both sides of the ball.

 

5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the Pac-12 for 2015

 

Jeff Lockie, QB, Oregon

Replacing: Marcus Mariota (2014 Heisman Trophy Winner)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


There’s no doubt Lockie has the biggest shoes to fill of any player on this list. Needless to say, following a Heisman winner and replacing Marcus Mariota’s production will be nearly impossible for the Ducks in 2015. The quarterback battle in Eugene is up for grabs, but Lockie has to have a slight edge based on his experience for the last two seasons as the backup. In his brief Oregon career (2013-14) Lockie has completed 29 of 41 passes for 264 yards and one score, while adding 32 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Although Lockie enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, the battle to replace Mariota is far from finished. Freshmen Travis Waller and Morgan Mahalak are expected to push for time, while sophomore Ty Griffin is eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules. Could the Ducks pursue a graduate transfer?
 

Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford

 

Replacing: LT Andrus Peat (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior


Stanford’s offensive line has been one of the Pac-12’s top units in recent years, placing a lineman on the first-team for all-conference honors for seven consecutive seasons. The Cardinal return four starters in 2015, but there’s a huge hole to replace on the left side. Andrus Peat finished his career with 27 consecutive starts at left tackle and should be a first-round pick in the 2015 draft after leaving with one season of eligibility remaining. Murphy started all 14 games at right tackle in 2014 and is a candidate to flip to the left side to replace Peat. Murphy earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be counted upon to replace Peat, as well as be the lead blocker for a Stanford ground attack that averaged 4.4 yards per carry in conference games last year.

Elijah Qualls, NT, Washington

Replacing: Danny Shelton (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore


Replacing Danny Shelton’s production from the nose tackle position (93 tackles, 16.5 TFL and nine sacks) will be a tough assignment for coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski. Shelton was a key cog in a rush defense that held Pac-12 opponents to 125.5 yards per game in 2014. He was also selected to the Athlon Sports first-team All-American squad and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014. Needless to say, Qualls has big shoes to fill in replacing the 339-pound nose tackle. In 14 appearances last season, Qualls recorded 13 tackles (two for a loss) and registered one quarterback hurry. The California native rated as the No. 116 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite, and the Washington defensive line needs him to emerge as a force in 2015.

 

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Replacing: Brett Hundley (second team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Freshman

 

A true freshman quarterback starting for UCLA? It’s certainly possible next season. Brett Hundley capped a standout career with the Bruins by recording second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014. Hundley threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his three years at UCLA and tossed 75 touchdown passes to just 25 interceptions. The battle to replace Hundley will begin this spring, with Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard competing with Rosen for the starting job. Neuheisel has the edge in experience, but there’s a clear talent edge to Rosen. The California native ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 12 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. How quickly can Rosen get acclimated to the collegiate level? If he picks up the offense this spring, there’s a good chance he takes the first snap for the Bruins in 2015.
 

JuJu Smith, WR, USC

 

Replacing: Nelson Agholor (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

USC is pegged as the early favorite in the Pac-12 South, but for coach Steve Sarkisian’s team to claim the conference title, the offense has to find a replacement for standout receiver Nelson Agholor. The first-team All-Pac-12 performer isn’t the only loss for USC, as top end Leonard Williams also must be replaced. Both sides of the ball have key holes to fill, but Smith is one of the Pac-12’s rising stars and caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores in his first season with the Trojans. The California native was a five-star prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and may play a few snaps on defense next year. Regardless of whether Smith is on offense or defense, he’s one of USC’s top playmakers and will play a key role in replacing Agholor.

Teaser:
5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in Pac-12 for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 - 10:00
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Body:

Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.

 

The Big 12 nearly landed two teams in the playoff last season, and the conference is expected to be in good shape for a spot in 2015, as TCU and Baylor are among the nation’s early favorites for the four spots next season. Every team in the Big 12 has personnel losses to address, but some are bigger than others. Can Baylor find the next star quarterback? Will TCU reload on defense? How will West Virginia replace receiver Kevin White? Let’s take a look at the potential replacements for the 2014 standouts.

 

5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the Big 12 for 2015

 

Deante Burton, WR, Kansas State

Replacing: Tyler Lockett (249 career catches, 29 receiving TDs)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Kansas State’s offense will have a different look in 2015, as quarterback Jake Waters and receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton expired their eligibility after the Alamo Bowl against UCLA. Lockett is arguably the biggest loss out of that trio, as the Oklahoma native was one of the nation’s most-explosive receivers and a dynamic weapon on special teams. In four seasons in Manhattan, Lockett caught 249 passes and scored 35 times (6 on special teams, 27 on receptions). Judah Jones (four receptions in 2014) was listed as Lockett’s backup but replacing his production simply won’t fall to one player. Burton ranked fifth on the team with 17 receptions for 171 yards last year and is expected to play an even bigger role in the offense without Lockett and Sexton as the primary options in 2015.

 

Matthew Romar, DT, Oklahoma

 

Replacing: Jordan Phillips (39 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 sacks in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

Outside of finding a quarterback to run new coordinator Lincoln Riley’s offense, a major focus in spring practice for Oklahoma will be what transpires in the trenches. The Sooners lose four starters on the offensive line, including standout tackles Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams. The defensive side of the ball loses Chuka Ndulue (expired eligibility), while Jordan Phillips left Norman for the NFL. Romar is slated to replace Phillips on the interior in Oklahoma’s 3-4 scheme, and the Texas native is due for a bigger snap count after recording only 10 stops and one sack in 2014. Don’t expect Romar to post monster statistical numbers, but his development will be critical if Oklahoma wants to rank near the top (No. 2 in conference-only games in 2014) of the Big 12 against the run again next year.
 

Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

 

Replacing: Bryce Petty

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

Bryce Petty will be missed, but Baylor’s offense isn’t going to miss a beat with a new signal-caller at the controls. In each of the last five years, the Bears had a quarterback throw for at least 3,500 yards. And from 2011-13, Baylor signal-callers eclipsed the 4,00-yard mark. Coach Art Briles clearly has one of the top offensive systems in the nation, and Russell is expected to take control of the high-powered attack in 2015. In two years of playing time in Waco, Russell has completed 74 of 128 throws for 1,231 yards and 11 scores. The Texas native also has good mobility, rushing for 332 yards and six touchdowns on 56 attempts the last two years. Russell will be pushed by sophomore Chris Johnson and incoming freshman Jarrett Stidham. However, he should get the first opportunity to replace Petty in 2015.

 

Ranthony Texada, CB and Kenny Iloka/Derrick Kindred, S, TCU

 

Replacing: Kevin White (2nd TM All-Big 12), Sam Carter/Chris Hackett (All-Big 12)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Texada (sophomore), Iloka and Kindred (senior)


Despite the loss of standout cornerback Jason Verrett to the NFL, TCU’s secondary remained stingy in 2014. The Horned Frogs allowed 16 passing scores in nine Big 12 contests but limited opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of just 49.1. Coach Gary Patterson is known as one of the top defensive minds in the nation, and he has plenty of work ahead in spring practice to rebuild the secondary for 2015. Cornerback Kevin White and safeties Chris Hackett and Sam Carter have departed Fort Worth, leaving Derrick Kindred (FS), Ranthony Texada (CB) and Kenny Iloka (S) as the top options in the secondary. Texada had a standout freshman campaign, recording 31 stops, one interception and seven pass breakups in 2014. Kindred finished third on the team with 79 tackles, while Iloka recorded 15 stops in 13 games.

 

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia

Replacing:
Kevin White and Mario Alford (174 receptions in 2014)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Replacing Kevin White and Mario Alford’s production won’t fall strictly on Thompson’s shoulders. The 5-foot-7 inside receiver is coming off his best year in Morgantown, catching 49 passes for 598 yards and two scores. Prior to 2014, Thompson had just 35 career receptions and zero touchdown catches. The Texas native made considerable progress in 2014 and posted two of his three highest yardage outputs for the year with 2015 starter Skyler Howard at quarterback. In addition to getting more out of Thompson, West Virginia’s coaching staff will ask more from Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts in the receiving corps next year. 

Teaser:
5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in Big 12 for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
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Body:

Attrition and finding replacements are a key part of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may find answers through the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.

 

The SEC largely had a forgettable bowl season, but the conference still ranks as the best in the nation. The East Division is expected to be Georgia’s to lose in 2015, with Missouri, Tennessee and Florida the next teams in the mix. The West Division is loaded with teams expected to be in the top 25 next year, starting with Alabama and Auburn at the top.

 

5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the SEC for 2015

 

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

 

Replacing: Nick Marshall (3,330 total yards in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott should be the early favorite to earn preseason first-team All-SEC honors next year. But don’t be shocked to see Johnson receive some consideration as the starter in a high-powered offense. The Montgomery native started two games over the last two seasons and appeared in 12 overall contests. In the 2014 season opener against Arkansas, Johnson started for Nick Marshall (suspension) and completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Razorbacks. In his two-year career, Johnson has completed 57 of 78 passes for 858 yards and nine scores. The junior isn’t as dynamic of a runner as Marshall was but has 40 rushing yards on 11 attempts in two seasons. Coming out of high school, Johnson was ranked as the No. 165 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and was regarded as a four-star recruit. Malzahn’s offense is adaptable to mobile quarterbacks or pro-style passers. Expect Johnson to thrive in his first year as the starter for Auburn.

 

Hunter Long, C, Georgia

 

Replacing: David Andrews (Second-Team AP All-SEC in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

David Andrews was regarded as one of the SEC’s top lineman and was a three-year starter at center for the Bulldogs. He was a key cog in a line that helped Georgia lead the SEC in rushing offense in 2014 and finish fourth in 2012. Long was listed as the backup to Andrews the last two years, so the job should be his to lose this spring. The Tennessee native played in three games in 2011 but was forced to miss 2012 due to injury. After a year on the sidelines, Long played in two contests in 2013 and received playing time in nine games last year. There’s a lot of pressure on Long to replace Andrews and keep Georgia’s offensive line performing at a high level in 2015.

 

Marcus Loud/Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

 

Replacing: Markus Golden/Shane Ray (24.5 total sacks in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Missouri consistently churns out talent from the defensive line to the NFL. Three linemen were selected over the 2013-14 drafts, and the number drafted only grows if you expand into 2011 (Aldon Smith) and 2009 (Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak). The Tigers will add to that total in 2015, as Shane Ray (a likely first-round pick) and Markus Golden (a top-100 prospect) will be targeted high in the draft. Replacing productive linemen is nothing new for the Tigers, and the focus shifts in 2015 to Harris and Loud as they replace Golden and Ray in the starting lineup. Loud recorded 14 tackles in 14 games last season, while Harris registered 19 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks in 14 appearances. Golden and Ray leave big shoes to fill, but Missouri also has a track record of finding the right answers at defensive end.

 

Cam Sims, WR, Alabama

 

Replacing: Amari Cooper (228 career catches)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Replacing Amari Cooper’s production will be more of a team effort than just one individual for the Crimson Tide in 2015. Cooper was one of college football’s top players in 2014, catching 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 scores. While there’s no doubt losing an All-American receiver is a huge blow to any offense, Alabama also has to replace DeAndrew White (40 catches in 2014) and Christion Jones (19 catches in 2014). Sims was regarded as the No. 84 prospect in the 2014 signing class and caught seven passes for 62 yards and one score in his true freshman campaign. Sims was listed as the backup to Cooper at the “X” receiver position, and the 6-foot-4 Louisiana native figures to be an even bigger part of the receiving corps next season for coordinator Lane Kiffin.

 

JaMichael Winston, DE, Arkansas

 

Replacing: Trey Flowers (68 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 6 sacks in 2014)

 

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

Winston isn’t technically stepping from a backup role to a starting job in 2015, but he’s the most experienced defensive end on the roster for coach Bret Bielema. In 13 games last season (12 starts), Winston recorded 26 stops (two for a loss) and registered one quarterback hurry. Winston's 2014 numbers were a solid improvement from his 2013 debut, which saw the Alabama native record just four stops and a forced fumble in 12 appearances. With Flowers and tackle Darius Philon departing Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are losing 10.5 of their 24 sacks from last season. Winston is still looking for his first career sack at Arkansas and will be asked to be more disruptive in 2015. 

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Attrition and finding replacements for departed players are a key aspect of any college football offseason. A coaching staff may look for answers in the junior college ranks for a quick fix, or they may feel comfortable with a replacement that’s been on the roster waiting for his turn to step into the starting lineup. Regardless of how the player is replaced, all-conference and All-America talent departs every year, leaving big shoes to fill for coaching staffs at all 128 FBS teams.

Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech each suffered key personnel losses in the offseason, but the Seminoles and Tigers were hit the hardest. Quarterback Jameis Winston left for the NFL, leaving coach Jimbo Fisher looking for a new signal-caller in the spring. Clemson loses several key pieces from a defense that was arguably the nation’s top unit in 2014.

Let’s take a look at five key personnel departures and their potential replacements:
 

5 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in the ACC for 2015

 

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Replacing:
Vic Beasley (33 career sacks, first-team AP All-American in 2014)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

Clemson’s defense led the nation by holding opponents to 4.03 yards per play in 2014. The Tigers also limited opposing offenses to 16.7 points per game, recorded 45 sacks and led the nation in third-down defense. Matching those totals in 2015 will be a challenge for coordinator Brent Venables. Of the nine players listed in the trenches on the final 2014 depth chart, six expired their eligibility after the Russell Athletic Bowl. Lawson was listed as the backup to Vic Beasley and is a breakout candidate for 2015 after recording 34 tackles (11 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks last year.

Sterling Korona, OG, Duke

Replacing:
Laken Tomlinson (first-team AP All-American in 2014)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

An underrated reason in Duke’s recent success has been the development of its offensive line. The Blue Devils have allowed less than 20 sacks in four consecutive seasons and gave up only 13 (No. 2 in the ACC) in 2014. This unit loses two key performers in Laken Tomlinson (right guard) and left tackle Takoby Cofield as the focus shifts to 2015. Korona was listed as the top backup to Tomlinson, but this line may shuffle bodies around prior to spring practice. Korona redshirted in his first season on campus (2013) and appeared in five games in 2014. Regardless of whether it’s Korona or another lineman, Tomlinson leaves big shoes to fill in Durham next year.

 

Sean Maguire, QB, Florida State

Replacing:
Jameis Winston (2013 Heisman winner)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior


Out of the five players mentioned in this article, Maguire has the biggest shoes to fill. The New Jersey native has played in 12 career games and made one start against Clemson in 2014. With Jameis Winston suspended against the Tigers, Maguire stepped into the starting lineup and completed 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. And in his career, Maguire has completed 38 out of 70 passes for 455 yards, three scores and four interceptions. Regardless of whether it’s Maguire, J.J. Cosentino, John Franklin III or an incoming freshman, Florida State’s quarterback in 2015 isn’t going to match Winston’s production and ability to perform in the clutch. However, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top quarterback gurus in the nation. The Seminoles will find enough production in the passing game to conted in the ACC in 2015.

Shaq Wiggins/Josh Harvey-Clemons, DB, Louisville

Replacing: Charles Gaines (CB), Gerod Holliman (S), James Sample (S), Terell Floyd (CB)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Wiggins (sophomore), Harvey-Clemons (junior)

Considering Louisville loses all four starters in the secondary, we will cheat a bit and list Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons as one. The Cardinals ranked No. 5 in pass efficiency defense last year and allowed only eight passing scores in conference games. In order for Louisville to match those totals in 2015, it needs Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons – two Georgia transfers – to pickup where Gaines, Holliman, Sample and Floyd left off. Harvey-Clemons recorded 66 tackles and made 11 starts at Georgia in 2013, while Wiggins picked off two passes and started eight games for the Bulldogs.
 

Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami

Replacing: Duke Johnson (3,519 career rushing yards)

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

Duke Johnson was one of the nation’s top running backs over the last three seasons, and there’s no doubt the explosive Miami native will be missed in Coral Cables. However, coach Al Golden shouldn’t have too many sleepless nights when thinking about his rushing attack for next year. Joseph Yearby rushed for 509 yards and one touchdown on 86 attempts in his Miami debut last season. Gus Edwards also returns after rushing for 349 yards last season. Yearby was ranked as the No. 44 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and could be poised for a 1,000-yard season as the Hurricanes’ new feature back in 2015.

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College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

 

While repeating as a national champion in college football isn’t easy, Ohio State opens as the overwhelming favorite for 2015. The Buckeyes return nearly everyone from last year’s team and are only getting better with the addition of a solid recruiting class. Elsewhere in the East Division, all eyes will be on Michigan with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. Wisconsin is the favorite to win the West, but Nebraska and Minnesota aren’t far behind. 

 

Early Big Ten Rankings for 2015
 

East Division Rankings

 

1. Ohio State
2014 Record:
14-1 (8-0)

The defending national champions are a heavy favorite to repeat in 2015. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as only one team during the BCS era (Alabama) was able to claim back-to-back titles. Ohio State’s path to the championship next season is favorable. Michigan State, Minnesota and Penn State visit Columbus next year, with the season finale at Michigan the toughest road game in conference play. The quarterback battle between Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller (if he stays at Ohio State) will be one of the nation’s most intriguing storylines to watch this preseason. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the supporting cast is loaded with returning talent. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is one of the leading candidates for the 2015 Heisman Trophy, and four starters are back on the line. Receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman will be missed, but Michael Thomas (14.8 ypc) and Jalin Marshall (6 TDs) are capable options. Tackle Michael Bennett, end Steve Miller and cornerback Doran Grant are the biggest losses on defense. However, with end Joey Bosa and linebacker Darron Lee returning, the Buckeyes aren’t likely to take a step back in defensive production. 

2. Michigan State
2014 Record:
11-2 (7-1)

Coach Mark Dantonio has guided Michigan State to four seasons of at least 11 victories in the last five years. The Spartans could hit that mark in 2015, but Dantonio’s team isn’t without question marks. Coordinator Pat Narduzzi left to be the head coach at Pittsburgh, and Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett will call the defensive signals next season. The promotion of Tressel and Barnett ensures continuity for a group that limited Big Ten offenses to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014. And the transition of Tressel and Barnett into their new role was made easier by the return of end Shilique Calhoun (eight sacks in 2014). Each level of the defense has personnel to replace, but the biggest area of concern has to be in the secondary where safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerback Trae Waynes departed East Lansing. Barnett and Tressel will be counting on young players like Montae Nicholson (safety) and Darian Hicks (cornerback) to step up next season. Quarterback Connor Cook won't have top receiver Tony Lippett or running back Jeremy Langford, but the offensive line should be one of the top units in the Big Ten.

3. Penn State
2014 Record:
7-6 (2-6)

High expectations surrounded coach James Franklin’s first season at Penn State, but the Nittany Lions needed a win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl to finish with a winning record and won only two games in Big Ten play. Even though expectations were certainly higher than seven wins, scholarship limitations, injuries and overall depth issues was largely to blame for last year’s record. Depth issues will continue for this team into 2015, but there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic for improvement. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is still one of the nation’s most talented signal-callers. Hackenberg has a talented group of receivers and a solid running back in Akeel Lynch at his disposal. However, the passing game and offensive production won’t take a step forward unless the line performs (44 sacks allowed in 2014) at a higher level. Left tackle Donovan Smith left early for the NFL, but the coaching staff hopes incoming junior college recruit Paris Palmer helps to fill one of the voids on the line. Despite the problems on offense, Penn State’s defense was one of the best in the nation. Coordinator Bob Shoop must replace end Deion Barnes and linebacker Mike Hull, but the Nittany Lions should remain one of the top defenses in the Big Ten.

4. Michigan
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-5)

With Jim Harbaugh taking over in Ann Arbor, Michigan will be one of the nation’s most intriguing teams in 2015. Sure, the Wolverines have some personnel issues, but this team will be better with Harbaugh at the helm. How much? That’s hard to say. Michigan will be challenged in its non-conference schedule with games against Utah, Oregon State and BYU, while road trips to Maryland, Minnesota and Penn State are slated for conference play. On the bright side for Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State visit Ann Arbor next year. Lost in the Brady Hoke hot seat talk and a struggling offense was the play of the defense in 2014. The Wolverines limited Big Ten foes to 23.5 points per game and allowed only 4.8 yards per play. New coordinator D.J. Durkin should keep this defense near the top of the league, and the secondary will benefit from the return of talented freshman Jabrill Peppers from injury. Harbaugh’s background and experience should help a struggling offense. Michigan averaged only 20.9 points per game last season and has several question marks heading into 2015. Is Shane Morris the answer at quarterback? Can this team develop a consistent rushing attack? Also, who steps up to replace Devin Funchess at receiver? Improvement should be expected. Michigan hasn’t been hurting for talent. However, now the team has the right coaching staff in place.

 

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5. Rutgers
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

Rutgers was pegged by most to finish last in the East last season, but coach Kyle Flood’s team surprised with an 8-5 record and a fourth-place finish in its division. The hire of Ralph Friedgen as the team’s offensive play-caller paid dividends and was a key piece in this team’s improvement. The Scarlet Knights averaged 26.7 points per game, and quarterback Gary Nova finished his last season of eligibility with the best overall performance of his career. Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig will battle to replace Nova this spring. Talented running backs Robert Martin and Josh Hicks should anchor the offense until a quarterback emerges, and top receiver Leonte Carroo is back after considering a jump to the NFL. Flood and coordinator Joe Rossi will spend the offseason looking for a few answers after the defense allowed 6.6 yards per play in conference games in 2014. Each level of the defense has key departures, but the return of tackle Darius Hamilton, linebacker Steve Longa and end Kemoko Turay provides plenty of hope for improvement.

6. Maryland
2014 Record:
7-6 (4-4)

The Terrapins have recorded back-to-back seven-win seasons and finished with a .500 mark (4-4) in their first year in Big Ten action. Coach Randy Edsall’s team may have trouble hitting seven wins in 2015 with the attrition on both sides of the ball, but Maryland should be a bowl squad. The departure of C.J. Brown leaves Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills competing for the starting quarterback position this spring. Rowe attempted 54 passes in a reserve role last season and appears to have a slight edge over Hills. In addition to finding a new signal-caller, Edsall must replace top receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs and three starters on the offensive line. Diggs’ big-play ability will be missed, but the receiving corps may not miss a beat if Amba Etta-Tawo and Juwann Winfree develop as expected, and Levern Jacobs (47 catches in 2013) quickly shakes off the rust after missing 2014 due to suspension. The offense has big shoes to fill at a couple of positions, but the rebuilding effort is even bigger on defense. Coordinator Brian Stewart has only three returning starters from 2014, and the losses in the front seven are heavy.

7. Indiana
2014 Record:
4-8 (1-7)

 


Coming off a 5-7 mark in 2013, Indiana seemed to have a little momentum going into the 2014 season. And with 16 starters back, a reasonable expectation – even in a tougher division – was a bowl appearance. However, the Hoosiers lost all momentum after quarterback Nate Sudfeld was injured and ruled out for the season halfway through the year. Without Sudfeld, Indiana’s quarterback situation was a major problem. The Hoosiers tossed only one touchdown pass over the final six games. Running back Tevin Coleman carried the offense and finished 2014 with 2,036 yards and 15 scores. Coleman left Bloomington for the NFL, but UAB transfer Jordan Howard should be a solid replacement. Defense has been an ongoing issue for Indiana in recent years, and this unit showed some – albeit still not enough – progress on the stat sheet. The Hoosiers gave up 7.4 yards per play in Big Ten games in 2013 but cut that number to 6.4 in 2014. With most of the depth chart coming back, can Indiana’s defense show marked improvement next year?
 

 

West Division Rankings

1. Wisconsin
2014 Record:
11-3 (7-1)

Wisconsin has played in three of the four Big Ten Championship Games, and the Badgers are the early favorite to claim a spot in the 2015 version from the West Division. New coach Paul Chryst returns to Madison after a three-year stint as Pittsburgh’s head coach. Chryst is back in familiar surroundings and scored a key addition to his staff when defensive coordinator Dave Aranda agreed to stay in Madison. The Badgers’ formula for success won’t much under Chryst, as the rushing attack and defense will carry this team next season. Melvin Gordon is a huge loss, but Corey Clement is ready to step into the No. 1 role. Improving the passing game is a priority for Chryst, and in addition to getting better play from quarterback Joel Stave, the receiving corps needs more big-play ability. Tackle Rob Havenstein and guards Kyle Costigan and Dallas Lewallen are huge losses from an offensive line that was one of the best in the nation last year. Despite the return of just three starters, the Badgers ranked second in the Big Ten with just 4.7 yards per play allowed in conference games. Aranda will have to replace linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch, but this unit should be one of the best in the conference once again.

2. Nebraska
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

New coach Mike Riley inherits a program that has won at least nine games in seven consecutive seasons. And the new coaching staff isn’t starting with an empty cupboard, as there’s plenty of talent to keep Nebraska in contention for the West Division title in 2015. The biggest departure on offense is standout running back Ameer Abdullah, but the rushing attack can turn to Imani Cross (5.1 ypc in 2014), Terrell Newby (4.4 ypc) and sophomore Adam Taylor. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong needs to raise his completion percentage (53.3 in 2014), and the junior should benefit from an opportunity to learn under Riley and underrated coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Getting the defense back on track is another spring priority for the new staff. Nebraska slipped from No. 2 (2013) in yards per play allowed (conference-only games) to No. 9 in 2014. Tackles Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins need to anchor the line with the departure of end Randy Gregory, while the back seven suffered a few departures with safety Corey Cooper, cornerback Josh Mitchell and linebackers Trevor Roach and Zaire Anderson expiring their eligibility. Junior Nate Gerry should be one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backs next season.

3. Minnesota
2014 Record:
8-5 (5-3)

The Golden Gophers were a win against Wisconsin away from playing for the Big Ten championship. Can Minnesota take the next step in 2015? In order for coach Jerry Kill’s team to contend for the West, improving the passing game and finding a replacement for running back David Cobb is atop the spring priority list. Quarterback Mitch Leidner is an effective runner (452 yards, 10 TDs in 2014), but he completed only 51.5 percent of his throws last year. Adding the passing game concerns is the departure of standout tight end Maxx Williams to the NFL. Although Cobb’s sheer production from last season (1,629 yards, 13 TDs) will be tough to replace, Rodrick Williams and Berkley Edwards have showed flashes of potential in limited work. Linebacker Damien Wilson, safety Cedric Thompson and cornerback Derrick Wells are big losses, but the defense should be a strength. Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun might be one of the nation’s most underrated defenders.

4. Iowa
2014 Record:
7-6 (4-4)

Since the Big Ten expanded and added divisions in 2011, Iowa is just 15-17 in conference play. And needless to say, the fanbase is getting even more restless with coach Kirk Ferentz after a disappointing 7-6 record in 2014. Despite a favorable schedule – no Ohio State or Michigan State and Wisconsin and Nebraska visiting Kinnick Stadium – the Hawkeyes finished 7-6 and lost four out of their final five games. Improving on last year’s win total is possible with another favorable slate, but Ferentz has a couple of key personnel concerns to address. Will it be Jake Rudock or C.J. Beathard under center? Also, how will the offense replace standout left tackle Brandon Scherff?  End Drew Ott should be one of the top linemen in the Big Ten next season, but the talented duo of Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat will be missed on the interior. Cornerback Desmond King is one of the conference’s rising stars on defense.

5. Illinois
2014 Record:
6-7 (3-5)

Under Tim Beckman, Illinois has improved its win total by two games in each of the last two years since a 2-10 debut in 2012. While improvement has been noticeable, the Fighting Illini is just 4-20 in conference action. 2015 seems to be a make-or-break year for Beckman, and there’s enough returning personnel to expect another bump in the win column. Quarterback Wes Lunt was off to a good start last year before a leg injury limited the Oklahoma State transfer in the second half of 2014. Lunt should regain the controls of the offense after Reilly O’Toole expired his eligibility after the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Fighting Illini returns some solid skill talent, including running back Josh Ferguson (1,162 total yards) and receiver Mike Dudek (1,038 yards, 6 TDs in 2014). However, this team won’t take a step forward unless the offensive line improves after giving up 37 sacks last season, and the defense finds a way to cut down on its points allowed. Illinois has allowed three consecutive seasons of 32 points or more, and there’s pressure on coordinator Tim Banks to produce results.

6. Northwestern
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-5)

Since winning 10 games in 2012, the Wildcats are just 10-14 over the last two seasons. And this program has missed out on bowl appearances in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006-07. There’s enough talent in place for Northwestern to finish a spot or two higher than No. 6 next season, but a quarterback has to emerge to return to the postseason. Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti received limited snaps in 2014 and neither showed enough to enter spring as the clear No. 1 option. Redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson is a name to watch under center next year. Running back Justin Jackson returns after a standout freshman season (1,187 yards and 10 TDs), but the receiving corps loses Kyle Prater (51 catches) and Tony Jones (35 catches). Safety Ibraheim Campbell and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo are the biggest losses from a group that limited Big Ten opponents to 5.3 yards per play. Despite losing Campbell and Ariguzo (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2014), the defense should be the strength for coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team next year.

7. Purdue
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-7)

The Boilermakers made slight progress in coach Darrell Hazell’s second year. Purdue’s win total improved by two games, which included a Big Ten victory over Illinois. Of the Boilermakers seven losses in conference play, only two came by a touchdown or less. Needless to say, this team has a ways to go before it can contend for a winning season. The first priority for Hazell is settling on a quarterback. Will Austin Appleby remain the starter over Danny Etling? Or will redshirt freshman David Blough make a push for the No. 1 spot? The team’s top rushers (Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert) depart, leaving Keyante Green (199 yards in 2014) as the top option at running back. The defense limited Big Ten opponents to 5.7 yards per play last season, which was an improvement from giving up 6.5 yards per play in 2013. However, this unit still has room to grow, and most of the core returns for 2015. Safety Frankie Williams should be in contention for All-Big Ten honors, and the linebacking corps features promising sophomores in Ja’Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu.

Teaser:
Early Big Ten Football Predictions for 2015
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Coastal Carolina is one of the nation’s most intriguing programs on the FCS level. The Chanticleers are led by coach Joe Moglia (a former CEO of TD Ameritrade) and will have a new “Teal Green Turf” coming to their stadium in 2015.

The different colors for turfs are no stranger to college football, as Boise State’s blue turf and Eastern Washington’s red field are two recognizable places for fans.

Now Coastal Carolina hopes to make an impression with the new field, which is slated to debut in 2015:
 

Teaser:
Coastal Carolina Unveils New Teal Green Turf for 2015
Post date: Monday, January 26, 2015 - 09:00
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College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

 

Florida State dominated the ACC over the last two seasons, but the gap between the Seminoles and the rest of the league has narrowed entering 2015. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has several personnel concerns, and Clemson returns promising sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. On the other side of the league, Georgia Tech is the favorite to repeat as the Coastal champion. Virginia Tech is a team to watch next season if coach Frank Beamer’s team improves on offense.

 

Early Atlantic Division Rankings for 2015

 

1. Florida State
2014 Record:
13-1 (8-0)

It’s a close call between Florida State and Clemson for the top spot in the Atlantic. And in a potential tiebreaker between these two programs, this year’s game is in Death Valley. But for now, the Seminoles get the nod as the favorite in this division. The losses on both sides of the ball are heavy for coach Jimbo Fisher. However, only one team – Alabama – has a better average recruiting rank than Florida State over the last five seasons. Junior Sean Maguire is the favorite to replace Jameis Winston at quarterback. Maguire threw for 304 yards (Clemson) in his only career start. Until Maguire settles in under center, expect the offense to use a heavy dose of running back Dalvin Cook. In addition to replacing Winston, four starters are gone from the line and receiving targets Rashad Greene (WR) and Nick O’Leary (TE) expired their eligibility. After holding opponents to 12.1 points per game in 2013, Florida State’s defense regressed on the stat sheet. The Seminoles allowed 25.6 points per game and 5.5 yards per play in 2014. Getting the defense back to an elite level next year will be a challenge with the departure of tackle Eddie Goldman, end Mario Edwards Jr. and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. However, much like the offense, there’s no shortage of promising young talent waiting to emerge next season.

2. Clemson
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

The Tigers are coming off their best four-year stretch in school history, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team is poised to contend for the league title in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson shined in limited action, and if healthy, will be one of the top signal-callers in the nation next year. Receivers Artavis Scott (1,002 total yards) and Mike Williams (18.1 ypc), and running backs Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye headline a talented group of skill players. Protecting Watson is a priority, and the line needs to be revamped with three starters departing. While there’s a lot of talent in place, coordinator Chad Morris – arguably one of the top offensive minds in the nation – left to be the head coach at SMU. Can Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott continue to keep the offense performing at a high level? And the biggest concern for this team in 2015 will be replacing the defensive losses from a unit that led the nation in fewest yards per play allowed (4.0) in 2014. Standouts Vic Beasley (DE), Corey Crawford (DE), Grady Jarrett (DT), Stephone Anthony (LB) and Garry Peters (CB) have expired their eligibility. How quickly can coordinator Brent Venables restock the cupboard?

3. Louisville
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

Louisville’s first season in the ACC was a success. The Cardinals lost four games, but three of those defeats were against Florida State, Georgia and Clemson – teams ranked among the top 15 in the nation in the final Associated Press poll. Coach Bobby Petrino has some rebuilding to do this offseason to get Louisville back into the mix for nine wins in 2015. Who starts at quarterback in 2015? Will it be Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin or Will Gardner? Or will Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson win the job in the spring? In addition to settling the quarterback battle, top receiver DeVante Parker, tight end Gerald Christian and three starters on the offensive line must be replaced. The biggest surprise in 2014 was the defense, which despite the return of only four starters, limited opponents to 4.5 yards per play in ACC games. This unit loses a key player at each level, including safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin.   

4. NC State
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

The Wolfpack improved by five victories in coach Dave Doeren’s second season in Raleigh. The five wins were the biggest jump in overall improvement by an ACC team from 2013 to 2014. NC State probably won’t see another five-win increase in victories next year, but this team should take another step forward under Doeren. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is back after passing for 2,606 yards and 23 scores last year. The senior helped the offense score at least 30 points in each of its last three games. Brissett’s return will help this unit continue to improve statistically, but top receivers Bo Hines and Marquez Valdes-Scantling decided to transfer. The running back duo of Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes should be one of the best in the ACC next year. It’s a good thing the Wolfpack should have no trouble scoring points, as the defense allowed 31.3 points per game in ACC contests in 2014. Improvement should be expected on defense, but there are some significant losses in the trenches – Art Norman, Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill.

5. Boston College
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

Make no mistake: The Eagles are going to lose some key pieces off last year’s team. But after winning seven games in 2014 with just nine returning starters, it’s safe to assume coach Steve Addazio will find a few answers this offseason and keep this team in contention for bowl games. The biggest question mark of the spring will be who replaces Tyler Murphy at quarterback. Darius Wade is expected to replace Murphy, and the sophomore is considered another dual-threat option with potential in the passing game. The strength of Boston College under Addazio has been its offensive line and rushing attack. However, Addazio must replace all five starters on the line and more playmakers need to emerge at receiver to help an inexperienced quarterback. A handful of key defenders depart from a unit that allowed only 21.3 points per game in 2014.

6. Syracuse
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-7)

Scott Shafer’s second season saw a four-game regression in the win column, and Syracuse’s only victory in ACC play came against Wake Forest. Needless to say, the third year is a critical one for Shafer. Can the program get back on track? Or will the Orange finish 3-9 again? Injuries were partly to blame for Syracuse’s regression in the win column, but there’s hope for improvement with a healthy Terrel Hunt at quarterback. In addition to Hunt’s return, the offense needs receivers Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime to avoid injuries after each played in only five games in 2014. Left tackle Sean Hickey and running back Prince-Tyson Gulley are other key losses for an offense that failed to score more than 17 points in each of its last five games. The defense suffered losses at each level, including standout safety Durell Eskridge and leading tackler (LB) Cameron Lynch.

7. Wake Forest
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-7)
 

Dave Clawson has been a head coach in the FCS and FBS ranks at four different programs. At his first two stops, Clawson’s team showed marked improvement from the first season to year two. Expect Wake Forest to take a step forward on the stat sheet and on the field in 2015, as Clawson inherited a roster in need of repair and a young depth chart. The Demon Deacons aren’t slated to lose many players, but cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel, safety Anthony Wooding Jr. and end Zach Allen are big losses on defense. Improvement on offense is a must after averaging just 3.1 yards per play in eight ACC contests this year. The statistics weren’t pretty, but Wake Forest has some promising young talent in the mix. Quarterback John Wolford and tight end Cam Serigne are two players for Clawson to build around. However, the skill talent won’t matter if the Demon Deacons can’t fix their offensive line (48 in 2014).
 

Early Coastal Division Rankings for 2015
 

1. Georgia Tech
2014 Record:
11-3 (6-2)

The defending Coastal champs should be the favorite to win this division in 2015. Georgia Tech rebounded from a 14-13 record from 2012-13 to finish 11-3 in 2014 – its first season of double-digit victories since 2009. A big reason for the improvement in the win column was the emergence of quarterback Justin Thomas. In 14 games, Thomas rushed for 1,086 yards and eight scores and passed for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Having a veteran quarterback like Thomas executing the triple option offense is critical, especially since Georgia Tech is losing five of its top seven rushers from 2014. Guard Shaquille Mason was one of the best in college football and will be missed next year. The defense gave up 6.2 yards per play in 2014 but compensated by forcing 29 turnovers. With a chunk of the starting 11 on defense returning, improvement on the stat sheet should be expected. A key scheduling note for 2015: Georgia Tech hosts Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

2. Virginia Tech
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)

Thanks to a favorable schedule and 13 returning starters, Virginia Tech was considered by some to be a contender in the Coastal Division in 2014. However, the Hokies never emerged as a threat to win the division and needed a victory over Virginia in the season finale to get bowl eligible. In order for coach Frank Beamer’s team to contend in the ACC once again, fixing the offense has to be a priority. Quarterback Michael Brewer has to cut down on his mistakes (15 picks) but also needs more help from the offensive line and young receiving corps. Having a healthy stable of backs after injuries robbed Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie of large chunks of playing time in 2014 will help an offense that averaged only 4.9 yards per play. As usual under coordinator Bud Foster, the defense should be among the best in the ACC. Safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner and linebacker Chase Williams are key losses, but the defense regains the services of tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson after both missed nearly all of last season due to injury. Cornerback Kendall Fuller is one of the ACC’s top defenders.

3. North Carolina
2014 Record:
6-7 (4-4)

Since an 8-4 record in Larry Fedora’s debut in 2012, North Carolina has regressed in the win column over the last two seasons. The Tar Heels went 6-7 last season and continued to struggle mightily on defense. North Carolina allowed 6.5 yards per play and gave up 39 points per game. While the defensive numbers aren’t pretty, there’s reason for optimism entering 2015. Most of the depth chart on defense was comprised of underclassmen last season, and new coordinator Gene Chizik has a strong track record. If the Tar Heels find a few answers on defense, they can contend in this division in 2015. The offense averaged 33.2 points per game in 2014 and returns largely intact. Quarterback Marquise Williams should be in the mix for All-ACC honors, while all five starters are back on the offensive line.

4. Miami
2014 Record:
6-7 (3-5)

Miami is just 16-16 in ACC play under coach Al Golden. Is this the year the Hurricanes win the division crown or finish in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 2009? Running back Duke Johnson and standout left tackle Ereck Flowers left for the NFL, but the offense can build around rising star Brad Kaaya at quarterback. As a true freshman, Kaaya threw for 3,198 yards and 26 scores in 2014. Joe Yearby is a breakout candidate as Johnson’s replacement, and the Hurricanes need receiver Stacy Coley to regain his explosiveness (17.9 ypc in 2013) after averaging only eight yards per catch in 2014. The performance on defense has been an ongoing issue for Miami under Golden, but this unit limited opponents to 4.9 yards per play in ACC games. However, the Hurricanes struggled to get stops on third downs and in the red zone, while recording only 15 sacks in conference play. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo are two huge losses on defense.

5. Duke
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

Duke’s 19 wins from 2013-14 is the best two-year stretch in school history. Coach David Cutcliffe has elevated the program, and the Blue Devils will be in the mix for a finish among the top three in the division once again. Quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Laken Tomlinson are big losses for an offense that averaged 32.4 points per game in 2014. Running back Jela Duncan’s return from an academic suspension deepens a backfield that already returns Shaquille Powell (618 yards) and Shaun Wilson (7.7 ypc). Thomas Sirk is the favorite to replace Boone at quarterback. The defense was hit hard by departures in the front seven, but the secondary could be among the best in the ACC with the return of safety Jeremy Cash. 

6. Pittsburgh
2014 Record:
6-7 (4-4)

Pat Narduzzi is Pittsburgh’s fourth head coach in six seasons. Stability at the head coach position is crucial for the Panthers in the long-term, and Narduzzi seems to be the right fit in the Steel City. Pittsburgh lost five games by five points or less in 2014, so a little improvement on both sides could result in a two-game swing in the win column. Narduzzi’s speciality is defense, which is an area of focus for the Panthers after giving up 29.6 points per game in 2014. Running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd are two of the ACC’s top players, and both should thrive under new coordinator Jim Chaney. Quarterback Chad Voytik threw for 2,233 yards and 16 scores in his first season as the starter, and to help the junior progress as a passer, Chaney needs to find a few more weapons to complement Boyd in the receiving corps. The offensive line returns largely intact, but standout tackle T.J. Clemmings must be replaced.

7. Virginia
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-5)

2015 is a make-or-break year for coach Mike London at Virginia. The Cavaliers showed improvement in 2014, going from 2-10 (2013) to 5-7 last season. But even though the five victories represent the second-highest total of London’s tenure, Virginia has only one winning season over the last five years. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for the Cavaliers. Using the 2010-14 signing classes, Virginia has the No. 6 roster in the ACC. For this team to reach the six-win mark, the offense has to take a step forward. The Cavaliers averaged 20.9 points per game in eight ACC contests last season and lost 24 turnovers. The defense was the strength of this team in 2014, but standouts Eli Harold (DE), Max Valles (LB), Henry Coley (LB) and Anthony Harris (S) must be replaced. 

Teaser:
Early ACC Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Friday, January 23, 2015 - 09:00
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College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

The SEC had a disappointing bowl season, but the conference is loaded for another run at the national title in 2015. Georgia opens as the slight favorite in the East Division, while it’s hard to pick against Alabama as the early frontrunner in the West. However, Auburn is a close No. 2 in the West. In a loaded division, it’s difficult to expect any team to run the table in 2015. Could we see a couple of one-loss SEC teams in contention for a playoff spot next year?

 

Early East Division Rankings for 2015

 

1. Georgia
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

There’s a lot of uncertainty among the East Division teams for next season, but it’s hard to pick against Georgia as the early favorite. However, the Bulldogs aren’t without question marks or personnel concerns. How will new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer adjust after spending the last 15 seasons in the NFL? Schottenheimer doesn’t need to overhaul the offense, as Georgia ranked second in the SEC (conference-only games) by averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2014. The ground attack should remain the staple of the offense, headlined by rising star Nick Chubb and Sony Michel next season. Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park will compete to replace Hutson Mason at quarterback. The defense took a step forward under Jeremy Pruitt’s direction in 2014 and should be one of the best in the conference next year. A potential roadblock in Georgia’s East Division title hopes could be its schedule, Alabama and Auburn – the likely No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the SEC next season – both play the Bulldogs in 2015.

2. Missouri
2014 Record:
11-3 (7-1)

Even though Missouri has some significant personnel losses, it would be foolish to dismiss the Tigers from the SEC East title picture. After all, this team has won the division in back-to-back years and has one of the league’s top coaches in Gary Pinkel. Quarterback Maty Mauk had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter but finished with 25 passing scores. Mauk will have plenty of help in the form of four returning starters on the offensive line and talented running back Russell Hansbrough in 2015. The receiving corps must be revamped after Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White expired their eligibility after the Citrus Bowl. The losses are heavier on defense, as coordinator Dave Steckel left to be the head coach at Missouri State, while All-SEC ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray and standout safety Braylon Webb are off to the NFL.

3. Tennessee
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)


There’s a lot of positive momentum building in Knoxville. Tennessee is a program on the rise entering coach Butch Jones’ third season, and the Volunteers are coming off their first winning season (7-6) since 2009. There’s no shortage of young talent in the program, and another offseason should help the development of players like quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett. Dobbs and the growth of the offensive line will be critical to how high Tennessee can climb in the East next year. The defense returns nearly intact, with cornerback Justin Coleman, tackle Jordan Williams and linebacker A.J. Johnson (suspended last three games) the unit’s departing seniors. With Georgia visiting Knoxville next year, combined with personnel losses at Missouri and Florida, the Volunteers have a chance to surprise in the East.  

4. Florida
2014 Record:
7-5 (4-4)

New coach Jim McElwain has plenty of work to do this spring. The Gators won seven games in 2014 and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. However, the expectations in Gainesville are higher than finishing 7-5, and this program has just one season of more than eight wins since 2010. McElwain’s background on offense should help a unit that averaged 4.9 yards per play in 2014. Quarterback Treon Harris showed promise in limited action, but the Gators are shorthanded on proven options at receiver, and the offensive line returns only one starter from the Birmingham Bowl depth chart. Even though end Dante Fowler will be missed, the strength of Florida’s team will once again be the defense. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is among the nation’s top defensive backs, and there’s talent returning in the front seven. McElwain’s arrival should help the offense, but the Gators may have to lean on their defense once again in 2015.


5. South Carolina
2014 Record:
7-6 (3-5)

The Gamecocks went into 2014 with East Division title aspirations, but coach Steve Spurrier’s team finished with its lowest win total (seven) since 2009. Both sides of the ball enter spring with question marks. The offense must replace quarterback Dylan Thompson, running back Mike Davis and the top two players on the line – tackle Corey Robinson and guard A.J. Cann. Brandon Wilds and David Williams should be an effective one-two punch at running back, and receiver Pharoh Cooper is one of the best in the SEC in 2015, but the losses up front and at quarterback will be tough to overcome. The defense is in need of major repair after allowing 6.5 yards per play in SEC contests last season. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, South Carolina returns most of its personnel from the final depth chart. Can the returning talent improve after gaining experience and working with the staff in spring ball?

6. Kentucky
2014 Record:
5-7 (2-6)

Kentucky had a three-game improvement in the win column from 2013 to 2014 and missed out on a bowl by one victory. Third-year coach Mark Stoops has this program moving in the right direction and another step forward should come in 2015. New coordinator Shannon Dawson is tasked with elevating the offense after Neal Brown established a solid foundation over the last two seasons. Quarterback Patrick Towles accounted for 20 touchdowns in 2014, and if he can hold off redshirt freshman Drew Barker, the junior should be poised for a jump in production with the skill talent returning to Lexington next year. The Wildcats bring back Stanley “Boom” Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton at running back, while Ryan Timmons, Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker return at receiver. While the offense won’t lose much from last season’s group, there are bigger question marks on defense. Ends Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree must be replaced, and the secondary loses safety Ashely Lowery. Dupree recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014 and was the team’s top force in the trenches.


7.  Vanderbilt

2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8)

 

James Franklin set the bar high for Derek Mason, and the first-year coach struggled in his debut on West End. The Commodores finished winless in SEC play for the first time since 2009, averaged just 12.8 points in conference games and allowed 5.7 yards per play. Mason decided to shake up the staff following the three-win season and hired veteran play-caller Andy Ludwig to coordinate the offense. Ludwig inherits a veteran offensive line and a talented running back in Ralph Webb, but the quarterback situation is filled with uncertainty. Johnny McCrary, Patton Robinette and Wade Freebeck each started a game in 2014 and will contend for the job in the spring. Mason is going to call the defensive signals in 2015 and returns the bulk of the depth chart from a unit that allowed 35.4 points in SEC games. The good news for Mason is there’s plenty of room to grow with a defense that featured several young players receiving major snaps last season.


Early West Division Rankings for 2015

1. Alabama
2014 Record:
12-2 (7-1)

The SEC’s West Division is loaded once again. Alabama gets a slight nod as the pre-spring favorite, but the gap between the Crimson Tide and Auburn is slim. Talent isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama has owned the top spot in the recruiting rankings from 2010-14 and is expected to ink the No. 1 class in 2015. However, there are a few glaring personnel concerns for this team going into next season. Who steps up to replace Blake Sims under center? Is it Florida State transfer Jacob Coker? Or could freshmen (redshirt) David Cornwell or Blake Barnett (true) compete for the starting job? The supporting cast for the new quarterback is solid, but a go-to target must emerge to replace Amari Cooper at receiver. Alabama’s defense will be among the nation’s best once again in 2015. The front seven is loaded with talent and depth. However, the secondary is the biggest concern once again. Safety Landon Collins must be replaced, and coach Nick Saban needs another cornerback (or two) to emerge after giving up 19 plays of 30 yards or more in 2014.

2. Auburn
2014 Record:
8-5 (4-4)

The Tigers were unable to recapture the magic from the run to the national championship game in 2013 and fell to an 8-5 record last season. But Auburn wasn’t far off from double-digit wins, as coach Gus Malzahn’s team lost two games by three points (Texas A&M and Wisconsin). Auburn’s defense will receive most of the offseason attention. The Tigers have allowed at least six yards per play in three consecutive years and gave up 68 plays of 20 yards or more (most in the SEC). New coordinator Will Muschamp is one of the offseason’s top assistant hires, and the former Florida coach inherits a group that returns a good chunk of talent. The defense should get a boost from the return of end Carl Lawson from injury. A few key pieces must be replaced on offense – quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, receiver Sammie Coates and center Reese Dismukes – but expect Malzahn to keep this unit near the top of the SEC. Junior Jeremy Johnson is a rising star at quarterback.

3. LSU
2014 Record:
8-5 (4-4)

LSU is just 9-7 in the SEC over the last two seasons, but the talent is there for a rebound in 2015. The passing game is still a major question mark until Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris consistently beat defenses with their arm. However, until the passing attack develops, the Tigers can lean on a veteran line and running back Leonard Fournette. The defense is under the direction of new coordinator Kevin Steele but should be a strength with the return of cornerback Tre’Davious White, safety Jamal Adams, linebacker Kendell Beckwith and tackle Davon Godchaux. LSU also has a manageable schedule, featuring crossover games against South Carolina and Florida, along with Texas A&M and Arkansas visiting Baton Rouge next season.
 

4. Ole Miss
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-3)

The Rebels head into 2015 with similar question marks about the roster. The defense should be among the best in the SEC, but the offense has major question marks at quarterback and at running back. Is junior college recruit (and former Clemson QB) Chad Kelly the answer under center? Or will coach Hugh Freeze turn to DeVante Kincade or Ryan Buchanan? In addition to finding an answer at quarterback, the offense has to develop more consistency on the ground. I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson decided to transfer at running back, which leaves Jaylen Walton (5.5 ypc, 586 yards) as the No. 1 option. Having a healthy Laquon Treadwell at receiver and Laremy Tunsil at left tackle will be critical for the Rebels’ chances of winning the West in 2015. The defense has a few holes to address, but the line will be one of the best in the nation. The secondary loses standout safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson, but the return of linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and cornerback Tee Shepard from injury will help the defense maintain its 2014 production.

5. Arkansas
2014 Record:
7-6 (2-6)

Bret Bielema’s rebuilding project at Arkansas is ahead of schedule after a 7-6 record in 2014. The Razorbacks were closer to 10 victories than some may have realized, as this team lost four games by a touchdown or less. Even though coordinator Jim Chaney left for Pittsburgh, the formula for success on offense isn’t going to change. Arkansas has a run-first mentality, with 1,000-yard rushers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins leading the way on the ground. Also, the offensive line should be one of the best in the nation next year. Quarterback Brandon Allen improved in his second year as the starter but more weapons must emerge at receiver. Robb Smith was one of the nation’s top assistant hires in the 2014 cycle, and the Arkansas defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in each of its last five games. Smith will have his hands full in the spring trying to find replacements for end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon and linebacker Martrell Spaight.

6. Texas A&M
2014 Record:
8-5 (3-5)

Since the Aggies joined the SEC, the offense has clearly been the strength of this program. However, has coach Kevin Sumlin finally found an answer for the defense? New coordinator John Chavis is one of the best in college football and comes to College Station after six years at LSU. Chavis will make a difference with Texas A&M’s defense, especially if Sumlin continues to reel in elite talent on the recruiting trail. End Myles Garrett will flourish even more under Chavis’ watch, and the defense doesn’t lose much from a unit that has plenty of room to improve after allowing 6.9 yards per play in SEC games last season. Quarterback Kyle Allen is expected to build off his Liberty Bowl performance (294 yards, 4 TDs) in 2015. The receiving corps is loaded with talent, but the line loses tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guard Jarvis Harrison.


7. Mississippi State
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-2)

Regardless of which team is picked No. 7 in the preseason by the media, keep in mind that program will be a top 25 team in 2015. So whether it’s Mississippi State, Arkansas or Texas A&M, a team is going to be picked to finish last, yet could be ranked No. 20 in the final poll next year. That’s how loaded this division is. The Bulldogs return quarterback Dak Prescott – the likely first-team All-SEC signal-caller in 2015 – but there’s some work to do to fill out the offense. Running back Josh Robinson, receiver Jameon Lewis and tight end Malcolm Johnson depart, and the line loses three starters, including left tackle Blaine Clausell and center Dillon Day. Manny Diaz has returned to Starkville to call the defensive signals, and just like the offense, the defense has holes to fill this spring. Each level of the defense has key contributors to replace, but the biggest loss is in the linebacking corps with the departure of Benardrick McKinney to the NFL. 

Teaser:
Early SEC Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 09:30
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College football’s coaching carousel for the 2014-15 season has finished and only 14 programs changed coaches. The 14 changes among FBS programs is the lowest mark since the 2006 season (11). After at least 21 teams changed coaches from 2009-13, there’s a period of stability settling into the coaching ranks. However, the drop in changes isn’t expected to last forever.

Most programs seemed to hit the right marks in their coaching search this season. Michigan was the biggest winner in the carousel by hiring Jim Harbaugh from the 49ers. Harbaugh should win at a high level in Ann Arbor and is a critical hire for a program that needs to get back to the nation’s elite. Oregon State (Gary Andersen), Houston (Tom Herman), SMU (Chad Morris), Buffalo (Lance Leipold), Florida (Jim McElwain) and Pittsburgh (Pat Narduzzi) also earn high marks for their new coaching hires.   

Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2015

1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Previous Job:
49ers head coach
Career Record: 29-6 (San Diego), 29-21 (Stanford), 44-19-1 (49ers)

We could spend thousands of words discussing Harbaugh’s hire at Michigan, but it’s simply summed up in this statement: This is the best hire for the Wolverines and an opportunity for the program to reclaim its status as one of the nation’s elite. Harbaugh was the top target for Michigan after Brady Hoke was fired and is the best fit for a program that has been trending in the wrong direction since an 11-2 mark in 2011. Harbaugh’s ties to Michigan are no secret. He played four seasons for coach Bo Schembechler  and was the 1986 Big Ten Player of the Year. Harbaugh played in the NFL from 1987-2001 and worked as a volunteer assistant coach with his father (Jack) at Western Kentucky from 1994-2001. After his playing career in the NFL was finished, Harbaugh worked with the Raiders from 2002-03 and was named San Diego’s head coach in 2004. The Toreros went 29-6 under Harbaugh’s direction, who left in 2007 for Stanford. The Cardinal increased their win total in each of the four seasons under Harbaugh, culminating in a 12-1 record in 2010. And Harbaugh was successful in the NFL, finishing his tenure with the 49ers at 44-19-1. Michigan needed a home-run hire to get the program back on track. Harbaugh is exactly what the Wolverines needed, and his arrival certainly doesn’t hurt the Big Ten as a whole. If Michigan is in contention again, it only helps the perception of the conference.

Final Grade: A+
 

2. Gary Andersen, Oregon State   

Previous Job: Head coach at Wisconsin
Career Record: 19-7 (2013-14, Wisconsin), 26-24 (2009-12, Utah State), 4-7 (2003, Southern Utah)

Andersen’s decision to leave Wisconsin for Oregon State qualifies as one of the biggest surprises in coaching moves in recent years. Under Andersen’s watch, the Badgers went 19-7 and won the Big Ten West Division in 2014. Prior to his two-year stint in Madison, Andersen went 26-24 at Utah State, which included an 18-8 record over the final two seasons. In the six years before Andersen’s tenure in Logan, the Aggies did not win more than three games in a season. However, he guided Utah State to back-to-back bowl games and a No. 16 rank in the final Associated Press poll in 2012. Andersen also spent one year at Southern Utah (2003) and was an assistant from 1997-2002 and 2004-08 at Utah. Even though Andersen was successful at Wisconsin, he wanted to get back on the West Coast and Oregon State was open after Mike Riley left for Nebraska. Oregon State isn’t an easy job, but Andersen’s recruiting ties out west and in the junior college ranks will help to establish a solid talent base. Andersen is arguably one of the top 25-30 coaches in the nation. This is a great hire for an Oregon State program that struggled mightily prior to Riley’s first tenure in 1997.  

Final Grade: A
 

3. Tom Herman, Houston
Previous Job:
Offensive coordinator at Ohio State
Career Record: First season

Few coaches had a better 2014-15 season than Herman. The Ohio native played a huge role in Ohio State’s national championship run, won the Broyles Award as the top assistant in college football and landed a FBS head coaching gig at one of the best jobs in the American Athletic Conference. Herman was born in Ohio, but he has deep coaching roots in Texas. After a playing career at California Lutheran, Herman was hired as Texas Lutheran’s wide receivers coach in 1998. After one season at Texas Lutheran, Herman worked as a grad assistant at Texas from 1999-2000 and was hired at Sam Houston State from 2001-04 as a wide receivers/special teams assistant. Herman coordinated Texas State’s offenses from 2005-06 and spent the next two years at Rice (2007-08), guiding the Owls to an average of 41.3 points per game in 2008. After three seasons at Iowa State, Herman jumped at the opportunity to coordinate Ohio State’s offense in 2012. The Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points per game in Herman’s first year and jumped to 45.5 per game in 2013 and 44.8 in '14. Herman’s coaching ability was on full display this season after Ohio State lost starting quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller due to injuries, and third-stringer Cardale Jones guided the Buckeyes to the national championship. Despite this being Herman's first opportunity to be a head coach, there are few negatives for Houston. Herman is the right hire at the right time for the Cougars.

Final Grade: A

4. Chad Morris, SMU
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Clemson
Career Record: First season

Morris has been considered one of college football’s rising stars in the assistant ranks since he ascended to the play-caller position at Clemson in 2011. The Texas native lands in a good situation at SMU, as the program has the necessary resources and talent base to contend in the American Athletic Conference, and Morris has many ties to the state. June Jones helped the program get back on track after the Mustangs posted just one winning season from 1989-2008. However, Morris seems like the right hire to elevate SMU into conference title contention. The 46-year-old coach coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses at Clemson, guiding the program to its three highest point totals in school history. Additionally, the Tigers won at least 10 games in each of Morris’ four seasons and shared or won the ACC Atlantic Division title twice. Prior to the last four years at Clemson, Morris served as Tulsa’s play-caller in 2010 and guided the Golden Hurricane to an average of 41.4 points per game. He also worked as a high school head coach from 1994-2009 at five programs in Texas. The only downside to Morris is the lack of FBS head coaching experience. However, that shouldn’t prevent Morris from winning at a high level at SMU.

Final Grade: A
 

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5. Lance Leipold, Buffalo
Previous Job:
Head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater        

Career Record: 109-6 (2007-14 at Wisconsin-Whitewater)

Leipold has the best record among new coaches taking over a FBS program in 2014. The Wisconsin native went 109-6 in eight years at Wisconsin-Whitewater, leading the Warhawks to six national championships in that span. Under Leipold’s direction, Wisconsin-Whitewater had only one season of more than two losses (2012). Prior to taking over at UW-Whitewater, Leipold worked as an assistant coach from 1987-2006 at a handful of programs. Leipold served as Nebraska-Omaha’s offensive coordinator from 2004-06, was an assistant at Nebraska from 2001-03 and worked as a graduate assistant under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin from 1991-93. If Leipold continues to win at a high level, he won’t be at Buffalo for more than five years. But that’s a good problem for the Bulls to (potentially) have. Stepping up to the FBS level will present a few challenges, but Buffalo hit a home run by getting Leipold away from Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Final Grade: A

6. Jim McElwain, Florida
Previous Job:
Head coach at Colorado State
Career Record: 22-16 (2012-14 at Colorado State)

Florida is one of the top jobs in the nation, but this program has just one 10-win season since 2010 (11-2 in 2012). McElwain is tasked with bringing Florida football back to the nation’s elite and fix an offense that has struggled mightily in recent years. The Gators have not averaged more than 5.1 yards per play (in SEC play) since 2009. McElwain’s background on offense should pay dividends, as he helped to guide a Colorado State attack that averaged 33.9 points per game in 2014. And under McElwain’s direction as Alabama’s coordinator, the offense averaged at least 5.8 yards per play (SEC matchups). The Rams showed steady improvement in the win column, improving from 4-8 in McElwain’s first year to 8-6 in 2013 and 10-3 in '14. In addition to his stints at Colorado State and Alabama, McElwain spent time as an assistant at Fresno State, Michigan State, Louisville and in the NFL with the Raiders. McElwain isn’t necessarily the big-name hire most expected Florida to make. But what’s not to like about this hire? He’s a proven winner as a head coach, has worked in the SEC at Alabama and has been successful in developing offenses. McElwain should get Florida back on track in the next few years.

Final Grade: A-
 

7. Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Previous Job:
Defensive coordinator at Michigan State
Career Record: First season

Narduzzi was widely regarded as one of the top assistants in college football, and after eight years at Michigan State, the Youngstown native departs for his first opportunity to be a head coach. Under Narduzzi’s direction, the Spartans led the Big Ten in fewest yards per play allowed from 2011-13 and finished first in the conference in scoring defense in the 2012 and '13 seasons. And Narduzzi’s aggressive approach has paid off, as Michigan State recorded at least 32 sacks in four out of the last six seasons. Prior to his stint with the Spartans, Narduzzi worked at Cincinnati (2004-06) and Miami, Ohio (2003) as a defensive coordinator. And he also has stops as an assistant at Northern Illinois and Rhode Island. After having three coaches in the last five years, Pittsburgh needs stability at the top spot. Narduzzi is familiar with the area, is one of the nation’s top defensive minds and is ready to be a head coach. Everything points to this being a successful hire, but Narduzzi will need a year or two to shape the roster and accumulate the defensive talent needed to show marked improvement on that side of the ball.

Final Grade: A-

 

8. Mike Riley, Nebraska    

Previous Job: Head coach at Oregon State
Career Record: 93-80 (1997-98, 2003-14 at Oregon State), 14-34 (Chargers, 1999-2001)

Riley’s departure from Oregon State to Nebraska caught the college football world by surprise. Most expected Riley to finish his career in Corvallis, but the 61-year-old coach was ready for a new challenge. When Riley left his position as USC’s offensive coordinator to take the head coach job at Oregon State, he inherited a program that was just 13-52-1 in the six seasons prior to his arrival. The Beavers showed marked improvement under Riley’s watch, recording an 8-14 mark in his first two seasons. Riley left Oregon State for a four-year stint in the NFL, but he helped to build the foundation that allowed the Beavers to record three winning seasons in four years under Dennis Erickson. After Erickson left for the NFL, Riley came back to Oregon State. Since 2003, the Beavers have made eight bowl appearances, finished the season ranked in the Associated Press poll four times and only recorded one season of fewer than five wins. While Riley’s overall record (93-80) isn’t overly impressive, it’s important to remember Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Simply, it’s not easy to win in Corvallis. Riley has a knack for finding and developing overlooked recruits into star players. If he can continue that trend at Nebraska, along with maintaining his success in recruiting the state of Texas, Riley should help the Cornhuskers continue to win around nine games every year. Riley may not have been the home-run hire most expected when Bo Pelini was fired, but he won a lot of games at a program that’s much tougher to win at than Nebraska.

Final Grade: B+

 

9. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin      
Previous Job:
Head coach at Pittsburgh
Career Record: 19-19 (2012-14 at Pittsburgh)
 

Chryst is returning to familiar surroundings after three seasons at Pittsburgh. The Madison native played quarterback at Wisconsin from 1986-88 and coached with the Badgers in 2002 and from 2005-11. Prior to his stint with the Badgers in 2005, Chryst called the plays at Oregon State from 2003-04 and spent three years in the NFL with the Chargers (1999-2001). Chryst is a highly regarded offensive guru, and under his direction, Wisconsin led the Big Ten in scoring offense from 2009-11. The Badgers set a school record by averaging 44.1 points per game in 2011, and Pittsburgh averaged 6.2 yards per play in 2014 (fourth in the ACC). Chryst’s overall record with the Panthers was just 19-19, but he also inherited some personnel problems and roster gaps from the previous coaching staffs. However, Pittsburgh had a favorable schedule in 2014, two of the ACC’s top players in wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner and only went 4-4 in conference play. Chryst knows what it takes to win at Wisconsin, and after losing two coaches in the last three seasons (Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema), athletic director Barry Alvarez has his long-term answer as the team’s head coach. Fit isn’t necessarily the best indicator or judge of a hire, but Chryst’s familiarity with the program should keep Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten West Division.


Final Grade: B+
 

10. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Previous Job:
Offensive Coordinator at Georgia
Career Record: First season

After a successful stint under a previous SEC offensive coordinator (Jim McElwain) Colorado State is trying to replicate that same formula. Bobo is another successful offensive play-caller from the SEC, but is an odd fit since he has spent only one season (Jacksonville State) outside of the state of Georgia in his coaching career. While the geographic fit may not be perfect, Bobo – despite some of the criticism from Georgia fans – was one of the SEC’s underrated coordinators in recent years. Over the last seven seasons, the Bulldogs’ offense has not finished lower than sixth in the conference in yards per play. And Georgia led the SEC twice (2012, '14) during that span. Bobo has never been a head coach on any level but is a successful coordinator and hired a solid staff to help his transition. Will Friend followed Bobo from Georgia to Colorado State, while Tyson Summers was a key pickup from UCF as defensive coordinator.

Final Grade: B+
 

11. Neal Brown, Troy
Previous Job:
Offensive Coordinator at Kentucky
Career Record: First season

At 34 years old, Brown is the second youngest head coach in the FBS ranks. The Kentucky native is a highly regarded offensive mind and returns to Troy after working under Larry Blakeney from 2006-09. Brown worked as the team’s play-caller in 2008-09, and the Trojans averaged at least 32 points per game in both seasons. In 2010, Brown left Troy to join Tommy Tuberville’s staff at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders averaged at least 31 points per game in each of Brown’s three seasons calling the plays in Lubbock. Brown joined Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky in 2013 and helped the Wildcats take a step forward on offense. Kentucky averaged only 17.9 points a game in the season prior to Brown’s arrival, but the offense jumped to 20.5 points per contest in 2013 and 29.2 in '14. Additionally, the Wildcats averaged five yards per play (SEC games) last season for the first time since 2010. There’s very little downside to Brown’s hire at Troy. He has experience working at Troy, is a talented offensive coach and his youth should bring a spark to a program that has not recorded a winning record since 2010.

Final Grade: B

 

12. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa            

Previous Job: Offensive Coordinator at Baylor
Career Record: First season

With an enrollment of under 3,500 undergraduate students, Tulsa is the smallest FBS school in the nation. But despite the lack of a huge student base, the Golden Hurricane has experienced plenty of success in the win column. This program has four seasons of at least 10 victories since 2007, including an 11-3 mark in 2012. Montgomery has plenty of work ahead, as Tulsa has slipped to a 5-19 record over the last two seasons and can’t afford to fall too far behind in the new American Athletic Conference divisions. The Texas native has never been a head coach on the college level and has spent the last 12 years on Art Briles’ staffs at Houston and Baylor. Although Briles played a large role in shaping the offenses at both programs, Montgomery was the play-caller for the Bears. Baylor’s offense averaged at least 6.6 yards per play in each of the last five seasons and recorded 48.2 points per game in 2014. Tulsa needs to prominently recruit Texas and Montgomery’s ties to the state will help in that area. And with Montgomery’s background on offense, combined with the amount of talent at quarterback and wide receiver in the high school ranks, this hire should help get Tulsa back into contention for bowl games on a consistent basis.  

Final Grade: B

 

13. David Beaty, Kansas
Previous Job:
Wide receivers coach at Texas A&M
Career Record: First season

After missing on its last two hires – Turner Gill and Charlie Weis – Kansas needs to get this one right. Instead of turning to a proven coach, the Jayhawks picked former assistant David Beaty. The Texas native has strong ties to the state and is regarded as an excellent recruiter. In an area where Kansas needs to target for recruits, Beaty’s ties to Texas are a huge plus. Beaty spent the last three years at Texas A&M as the team’s receivers coach (2012-14) and the recruiting coordinator (2013-14). Prior to Texas A&M, Beaty had two previous stints at Kansas (2011 and 2008-09) and short tenures at Rice (2010 and 2006-07) as an assistant. Under Beaty’s watch, the Owls averaged 28.7 points per game in 2010. The biggest concern for Beaty is the lack of experience as a head coach – especially at a place that’s one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in the nation. To help Beaty’s transition, he hired a solid overall staff, which includes Clint Bowen (interim coach last year), Rob Likens (offensive coordinator) and Zach Yenser (OL coach).

Final Grade: C

 

14. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
Previous Job:
Head coach at Bishop Gorman High School
Career Record: 85-5 (2009-14 at Bishop Gorman)

UNLV is a tough place to win. The Rebels have just one winning season (2013) since 2001 and is 31-92 since 2005. Considering where UNLV resides on college football’s food chain, it wasn’t going to attract a big-name coach or nationally regarded coordinator. Instead, the program went outside of the box and hired Sanchez from Bishop Gorman High School. In six seasons at Bishop Gorman (located in Las Vegas), Sanchez recorded an 85-5 mark and never won fewer than 13 games in a season. To help with Sanchez’s transition to the FBS ranks, he hired a veteran staff, which includes Barney Cotton (former Nebraska assistant), Kent Baer (former Colorado defensive coordinator) and Joe Seumalo (former Oregon State assistant). The last high school to college hire didn’t work well (Todd Dodge, North Texas). However, there’s little risk involved for UNLV. If Sanchez doesn’t work out, the program isn’t worse off than it was in 2014. And who knows, maybe Sanchez can keep some of the talent in Nevada from leaving the state. This hire is worth the risk for UNLV.

Final Grade: C
 

15. John Bonamego, Central Michigan
Previous Job:
Special teams coach with the Detroit Lions
Career Record: First season

Central Michigan was put in a difficult spot once Dan Enos left Central Michigan for Arkansas less than two weeks before Signing Day. The Chippewas had to scramble to complete their 2015 signing class, and it was tough to fill a head coaching vacancy this late in the process. But Central Michigan found a familiar face in Bonamego that is ready for his first opportunity to be a head coach. Bonamego has worked for the last 12 years as a special teams assistant in the NFL, with his last collegiate experience coming in 1998 at Army. Bonamego played at Central Michigan in the 1980s and was an assistant at Mount Pleasant High School (Michigan) in 1987. As we mentioned earlier, finding a coach in late January/early February is challenging. Bonamego is familiar with Central Michigan and probably isn’t looking to bolt Mount Pleasant anytime soon. The Chippewas slipped after the Brian Kelly/Butch Jones era, and Enos was headed for the hot seat in 2015. Central Michigan is one of the better jobs in the MAC. Bonamego has no previous experience as a head coach and has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator. Hiring a good staff with proven coordinators will be essential.

Final Grade: D

Teaser:
Grading College Football's Head Coach Hires for 2015
Post date: Thursday, January 22, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/early-pac-12-football-predictions-2015
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College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

 

The Pac-12 has moved up the ladder in college football’s conference hierarchy in recent years. With Oregon replacing quarterback Marcus Mariota and a loaded group of teams battling for the top spot in the South Division, the conference has even more intrigue in 2015. Can the Ducks win the conference once again? Or will Stanford or a team from the South win in the championship game for the first time? 

 

Early North Division Rankings


1. Oregon
2014 Record:
13-2 (8-1)

The biggest challenge of coach Mark Helfrich’s tenure at Oregon starts in 2015. Helfrich must find a replacement for quarterback (and Heisman Trophy winner) Marcus Mariota this spring, and there’s not a proven option ready to take control of the Ducks’ high-powered attack. Could a transfer come into play as Mariota’s replacement? Regardless of which quarterback starts in 2015, the skill talent is among the best in the nation. Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman anchor a talented backfield, while the receiving corps returns Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington. After finding a replacement for Mariota, the biggest area of concern for Helfrich has to be the offensive line, which loses tackle Jake Fisher, guard Hamani Stevens and center Hroniss Grasu. The defense played better in the second half of the year under new coordinator Don Pellum. However, this unit must replace end Arik Armstead, linebacker Tony Washington and loses defensive backs Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB), Troy Hill (CB) and Erick Dargan (S).

2. Stanford
2014 Record:
8-5 (5-4)

The bar has been raised in Palo Alto. Stanford won 46 games from 2010-13 and recorded four straight years of finishes of 11th or better in the last Associated Press poll. Despite the recent success, the Cardinal slipped to 8-5 in 2014. The defense continued to perform at a high level without coordinator Derek Mason, limiting opponents to 4.2 yards per play. Second-year coordinator Lance Anderson has work to do this spring, as Stanford must replace a handful of key standouts, including end Henry Anderson, tackle David Parry, linebackers A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters, safety Jordan Richards and cornerback Alex Carter. The offense had its share of ups and downs last season and averaged only 23.8 points per game in Pac-12 contests. Even though left tackle Andrus Peat and receiver Ty Montgomery must be replaced, Stanford should be optimistic about improvement. Running back Christian McCaffrey showed promise in limited snaps, and quarterback Kevin Hogan ended the year on a high note (14 of 20 for 189 yards and 2 TDs against Maryland).

3. Washington
2014 Record:
8-6 (4-5)

Chris Petersen’s first year wasn’t necessarily a disappointment, but the bar was set high in Seattle after he recorded a 92-12 mark at Boise State from 2006-13. Petersen will continue reshaping the program into the offseason, and the Huskies have a chance to play spoiler in the North with Oregon visiting Seattle in mid-October. Quarterback play has to improve for Petersen to elevate the program into division title contention. Cyler Miles threw for 17 touchdowns and completed 66.6 percent of his throws in his first year as the starter. But the Huskies need more from this position, especially after the offense generated only 36 passing plays (11th in the Pac-12) of 20 yards or more. Developing the talent at receiver is another offseason priority for Petersen, and the line loses four starters from a group that limited Pac-12 defenses to just 21 sacks. Revamping the trenches on defense is also a necessity after standouts Danny Shelton (NT) and Hau’oli Kikaha (DE/LB) expired their eligibility, and linebacker Shaq Thompson left early for the NFL. The secondary gave up 55 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014 but should take a step forward in 2015 with Budda Baker, John Ross and Sidney Jones returning.

4. California
2014 Record:
5-7 (3-6)

The Golden Bears were one of the most-improved teams in the Pac-12 this season. After a 1-11 mark in coach Sonny Dykes’ debut, California jumped to 5-7 in 2014 and lost four games by eight points or less. The next step for Dykes is to get the Golden Bears back into a bowl. And there’s a good shot of this team reaching that mark in 2015, as quarterback Jared Goff is one of the best in the Pac-12, and the receiving corps returns standouts in Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler. Running back Daniel Lasco (1,115 yards in 2014) might be the Pac-12’s most underrated player. Dykes needs his offense to score 35-40 points a week until the defense turns a corner under coordinator Art Kaufman. The Golden Bears allowed 44.1 points in Pac-12 contests last season and did not place a player on the All-Pac-12 team. The challenge of getting to a bowl in 2015 won’t be easy with a schedule that features crossover games against USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Utah. Also, California plays at Oregon and Stanford next year.

5. Oregon State
2014 Record: 5-7 (2-7)

Change is inevitable at every college program. For the first time since 2002 (Dennis Erickson), someone other than Mike Riley will roam the sidelines as Oregon State’s head coach. Gary Andersen was one of the top hires this offseason and comes to Corvallis after a 19-7 mark at Wisconsin from 2013-14. Andersen has four consecutive winning seasons as a head coach, but that streak will be in jeopardy in 2015. Oregon State loses quarterback Sean Mannion, and defensive standouts in linebacker D.J. Alexander, cornerback Steven Nelson, end Dylan Wynn, and safeties Ty Zimmerman and Ryan Murphy. Running back Storm Woods and receivers Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin are a good place to start on offense, and the line – a source of concern in 2014 – should be better with all five starters back and a healthy Isaac Seumalo ready to contribute on the interior. Andersen’s background is on defense, and the hire of Kalani Sitake (Utah) should pay dividends for the Beavers.


6. Washington State
2014 Record:
3-9 (2-7)
 

The Cougars appeared to be trending in the right direction after a 6-7 mark and a bowl appearance in 2013. But an injury to quarterback Connor Halliday and a struggling defense prevented coach Mike Leach’s team from showing improvement in the win column. Washington State enters spring practice with several question marks, with the No. 1 priority starting at quarterback. Is Luke Falk the answer under center? Falk averaged 443.3 passing yards over the final four games but tossed six picks in his last two appearances. The return of Gabe Marks will soften the blow of losing No. 1 receiver Vince Mayle. New coordinator Alex Grinch inherits a defense that allowed 41.9 points in Pac-12 games and gave up 6.6 yards per play in league action. Grinch is already dealing with a few challenges this offseason, as linebacker Darryl Monroe transferred, cornerback Daquawn Brown was dismissed, and top lineman Xavier Cooper left for the NFL.

 

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Early South Division Rankings


1. USC
2014 Record:
9-4 (6-3)

The Pac-12 South is one of the toughest divisions in the nation to predict next season. Each team has personnel concerns, but a case could be made for five programs to have a legitimate shot at the division in 2015. The recruiting rankings favor USC as the most talented team in the South next season, but depth is an issue with the program still digging out from NCAA sanctions. Quarterback Cody Kessler is back for his senior year after throwing 39 touchdowns in 2014. Kessler headlines an offense that should be explosive once again, provided replacements are found for receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen. The offensive line is slated to return all five starters from the Holiday Bowl, including freshman standouts Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao. With the loss of defensive end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard and rush end J.R. Tavai, the biggest concerns for USC in 2015 are with its defense. The schedule sets up favorably for a run at the South Division title, as the Trojans host Stanford, Washington, Utah, Arizona and UCLA. 
 

2. Arizona State
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-3)

The Sun Devils have 20 wins over the last two seasons, which is the best two-year mark for the program since a 20-4 stretch from 1996-97. Coach Todd Graham’s team should squarely be in the mix for the South Division title in 2015, especially with Oregon, Arizona and USC visiting Sun Devil Stadium. Quarterback Taylor Kelly must be replaced, but Mike Bercovici (12 TDs, 4 INTs) has proven capable in limited opportunities. Receiver Jaelen Strong and left tackle Jamil Douglas are key losses for the offense. However, the return of running back (and potential slot receiver) D.J. Foster will help the receiving corps, while Damario Richard and Kalen Ballage is a solid one-two punch at running back. Graham’s aggressiveness on defense paid off with 39 sacks and 98 tackles for a loss. This unit returns largely intact but loses All-Pac-12 safety Damarious Randall and end Marcus Hardison (10 sacks).

3. Arizona
2014 Record:
10-4 (7-2)

The Wildcats are the defending Pac-12 South champions and should be in the mix for the conference title once again in 2015. Provided the line finds capable replacements for tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele and center Steven Gurrola, the offense could surpass last year’s 33.4 points per game average in Pac-12 contests. Quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson are back after standout freshman campaigns, and the receiving corps returns Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey, DaVonte’ Neal and Samajie Grant. While the offense is among the best in the league, the defense is still trying to find the right pieces under coordinator Jeff Casteel. Linebacker Scooby Wright is one of the nation’s top defensive players returning in 2015.


4. UCLA
2014 Record:
10-3 (6-3)

The Bruins are picked No. 4 in our early pre-spring rankings, but that’s largely a byproduct of how loaded this division will be in 2015. And if you need anymore evidence, it’s very likely five teams from the South rank among the top 25 in most preseason polls. How high UCLA climbs in next year’s projections largely depends on its ability to replace quarterback Brett Hundley. Will true freshman Josh Rosen win the job over Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard? Replacing a standout quarterback is a huge question mark to overcome, but the Bruins can shield their new starter with a strong supporting cast. Running back Paul Perkins returns after recording 1,575 yards and nine scores, while seven players that caught at least 26 passes are back. Each level of the defense has losses to address, with the biggest coming in the linebacking corps with the departure of Eric Kendricks.

5. Utah
2014 Record:
9-4 (5-4)

It’s been an interesting offseason in Salt Lake City. There was reported friction between coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill after assistant coaches Dave Christensen (OC), Ilaisa Tuiaki (DL), and Kalani Sitake (DC) departed for other jobs. While the Utes have holes to fill on the coaching staff, this team will be a tough out for the rest of the Pac-12 next year. Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL, but the offense returns largely intact. Is Travis Wilson ready to take the next step in his development? Or will Kendal Thompson claim the job after recovering from a knee injury. Until the passing game stabilizes, the offense can lean on running back Devontae Booker (1,512 yards and 10 scores in 2014). Although Sitake will be missed as the team’s signal-caller, Utah’s defense shouldn’t change much with Whittingham’s background on defense. The Utes led the nation with 55 recorded sacks and held opponents to 24.9 points per game. End Nate Orchard, tackle Sese Ianu, safety Brian Blechen and cornerback Eric Rowe are the biggest losses on defense.

6. Colorado
2014 Record:
2-10 (0-9)

The win column may not show it, but Mike MacIntyre has Colorado moving in the right direction. The Buffaloes have won six games under MacIntyre’s watch and are just 1-17 in Pac-12 games. However, Colorado lost four games by five points or less in 2014. The outlook for this team in 2015 has improved thanks to the development of quarterback Sefo Liufau, along with the return of Nelson Spruce to Boulder after he considered jumping early to the NFL. The defense allowed 7.1 yards per play in Pac-12 games and surrendered 43 points per contest in league matchups this season. That’s the bad news. On the positive sign, most of the defensive two-deep returns, and the line regains the services of Samson Kafovalu (missed 2014 due to personal reasons). Expect improvement from Colorado in 2015.

Teaser:
Early Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/early-big-12-football-predictions-2015
Body:

College football’s 2014 season has ended, and the focus shifts from the national championship picture to signing day, spring practice and early preseason rankings for 2015. While last year and Ohio State’s national title victory over Oregon is still fresh in our minds, it’s never too early to think about next season.

The Big 12 was the only power conference without a team in the college football playoff this season. However, that could easily change in 2015. Baylor and TCU are playoff contenders, while Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas should be in contention for a spot in preseason top 25 projections. 
 

Early Big 12 Predictions and Rankings for 2015

 

1. TCU
2014
Record: 12-1 (8-1)


It’s a close call for the top spot in the Big 12 next season, but TCU edges Baylor in the pre-spring power rankings. The Horned Frogs have a proven option at quarterback (Trevone Boykin), while the Bears will be breaking in a new starter to replace Bryce Petty. And it certainly doesn’t hurt TCU’s chances of winning the division with the annual matchup with Baylor coming in Fort Worth this year. As usual in Fort Worth under coach Gary Patterson, defense should be a strength. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 by limiting opponents to 4.7 yards per play in 2014. TCU does have a few personnel losses to address, as tackle Chucky Hunter, linebacker Paul Dawson and defensive backs Sam Carter, Kevin White and Chris Hackett must be replaced.
 

2. Baylor
2014 Record:
11-2 (8-1)

With at least 10 wins in three out of the last four seasons, it’s safe to say Baylor no longer rebuilds. Under coach Art Briles, the Bears simply reload and will be in the mix for at least a share of the conference title for the third consecutive year. Seth Russell, Chris Johnson, and true freshman Jarrett Stidham are expected to battle to replace quarterback Bryce Petty, but the supporting cast is among the best in the nation. Shock Linwood returns at running back after recording 1,252 yards and 16 scores in 2014, and three receivers – Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and KD Cannon – are back after each caught at least 40 passes and averaged 15 yards per reception last season. The offense was a big winner around the draft deadline, as left tackle Spencer Drango decided to return to Waco for his senior year. Baylor is slated to return all five starters on its offensive line. The defense has room to improve after allowing 5.7 yards per play (conference-only games) in 2014. However, only two seniors are slated to depart, and end Shawn Oakman is back after recording 11 sacks last season.
 

3. Oklahoma
2014 Record:
8-4 (5-4)

 

The Sooners were one of the biggest disappointments in the nation last season. Oklahoma was pegged as a playoff contender in most preseason predictions, but coach Bob Stoops’ team finished 8-5 and lost the last two games of the year. But there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley inherits a talented backfield, and a passing attack that is in need of an upgrade after the Sooners tossed only 13 scores in nine Big 12 games. Although Riley is an Air Raid disciple, Oklahoma needs to maximize its stable of running backs – Samaje Perine, Alex Ross, Keith Ford and Joe Mixon – until the quarterback situation is established. Trevor Knight couldn’t capitalize off his Sugar Bowl success and finished 2014 with just 14 touchdowns to 12 picks in 10 games. Knight will have a chance to reclaim the starting job, but he will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. Another concern for Riley is the departure of four starters on the line, including standout tackles Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball in need of repair. The defense had nine returning starters, yet allowed 5.6 yards per play, generated only 19 sacks in Big 12 play and gave up 29.2 points in conference-only matchups. Tackle Jordan Phillips and end Chuka Ndulue are big losses up front, but the linebacking corps returns intact, and Frank Shannon is back after a suspension. The secondary needs to cut down on its big plays allowed – 50 of 20 yards or more – in 2015.

 

4. Oklahoma State
2014 Record:
7-6 (4-5)
 

The Cowboys have momentum entering spring practice after a two-game winning streak to close out the 2014 season. Oklahoma State had massive personnel losses to overcome last year and returned just eight starters. The Cowboys used a win over rival Oklahoma to get bowl eligible and scored an impressive win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl. A big reason for optimism in Stillwater is the development of quarterback Mason Rudolph. The true freshman threw for 853 yards and six scores over the last three games and should benefit from the return of the top five statistical receivers from 2014. The offensive line has to play better after allowing 40 sacks last season. End Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson anchor a defense that should improve after giving up 5.9 yards per play in Big 12 games last year.
 

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5. Texas
2014 Record:
6-7 (5-4)
 

Charlie Strong will get Texas back in contention for the Big 12 title. But don’t expect a conference championship in 2015 or even significant improvement in the win column. Texas won three out of its final five games but had a dismal showing in the Texas Bowl and was soundly defeated by TCU (48-10) in late November. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes needs to make a big jump in performance for the Longhorns to finish in the top half of the Big 12, and top receivers Jaxon Shipley and John Harris must be replaced. Until Swoopes is ready to shoulder more of the offense, this team can lean on running back Johnathan Gray and five starters on the line. The arrival of Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford paid immediate dividends for the defense. Texas held opponents to just 4.7 yards per play and only 23.4 points per game in Big 12 action. Each level of the defense has a key player to replace, but the biggest and most significant loss is tackle Malcom Brown.

 

6. Kansas State
2014 Record:
9-4 (7-2)

 

It’s tough to pick against Bill Snyder, but the Wildcats are losing a handful of key contributors from their 2014 team. Quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett are the biggest departures on offense. Waters passed for 22 scores and 3,501 yards in 2014, while Lockett was one of the nation’s top receivers (106 catches, 1,515 yards). Replacing both players will be a challenge, and the offense has to find more consistency in its ground attack next year. While the skill talent needs to be stocked and a quarterback must be found, the offensive line returns four starters, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair. The personnel losses extend to the defense. End Ryan Mueller, linebacker Jonathan Truman and defensive back Randall Evans have expired their eligibility. Mueller is the biggest loss out of that trio, but K-State’s front seven should benefit from the emergence of linebacker Elijah Lee and the return of tackle Travis Britz.

 

7. West Virginia
2014 Record:
7-6 (5-4)

 

Coach Dana Holgorsen entered 2014 on the hot seat after a 4-8 finish in 2013. But the Mountaineers rebounded, finishing with a 7-6 record and a winning mark (5-4) in Big 12 play for the first time since joining the conference. Skyler Howard showed promise in limited action (8 TDs, 0 INTs), but needs to raise his completion percentage (50.9). In addition to getting Howard acclimated to the starting role, the receiving corps must replace Kevin White and Mario Alford, while standout guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski have expired their eligibility. The strength of the offense should be at running back, as Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Andrew Buie return after combining for 1,742 yards. Under the direction of first-year coordinator Tony Gibson, West Virginia’s defense cut its yards per play allowed from 5.9 to 5.4 and held opponents to 27.6 points per game (sixth in the Big 12). The Mountaineers should take another step forward on defense next year, as the secondary returns three standouts in cornerback Daryl Worley and safeties Dravon Henry and Karl Joseph. Pass-rush specialist Shaq Riddick, defensive end Brandon Golson and linebacker Wes Tonkery are the biggest losses on defense.

 

8. Texas Tech
2014 Record:
4-8 (2-7)

Since starting the 2013 season 7-0, Texas Tech is just 5-13 over its last 18 games. But the Red Raiders are a good candidate to rebound back to a bowl in 2014, as most of the team’s starting core returns, and new coordinator David Gibbs should bring stability to a defense that has struggled in recent years. Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes will battle to earn the starting nod under center for 2015, with Mahomes (averaged 439.7 total yards over last three games) likely holding an edge for the No. 1 spot. Mahomes isn’t hurting for skill talent, as DeAndre Washington (RB), Jakeem Grant (WR) and standout left tackle Le’Raven Clark are back. Gibbs’ defenses at Houston had a knack for forcing turnovers, and the Red Raiders need better discipline and takeaways after recording a -13 margin in 2014. Texas Tech allowed 41.3 points per game last season, and it’s clear Gibbs has a lot of work to do in the spring to generate improvement from the defense in 2015.

 

9. Iowa State

2014 Record: 2-10 (0-9)

 

Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs among Power 5 programs. The Cyclones are 5-19 over the last two seasons and went winless in Big 12 play in 2014 for the first time since 2008. Getting back to a bowl will be a challenge for coach Paul Rhoads, as Iowa State loses a handful of key seniors. The offense should be better under the second year of coordinator Mark Mangino, and the passing attack will benefit from a healthy Quenton Bundrage at receiver. In addition to Bundrage’s return, the coaching staff has to be pleased with the development of receiver Allen Lazard (45 catches as a true freshman in 2014). The defense allowed 6.8 yards per play in Big 12-only contests last season. But there’s optimism in Ames for improvement, as only two starting seniors depart – Jared Brackens (LB/S) and Cory Morrissey (DE). Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya should be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors next year.

 

10. Kansas
2014 Record:
3-9 (1-8)

 

New coach David Beaty is known for his recruiting ties to the state of Texas, and his previous experience at Kansas (2008-09 and 2011) should benefit the program. But the first-year coach is going to need some time to restock the roster and get the Jayhawks in contention for bowl games. This team played better after Charlie Weis was fired, and interim coach Clint Bowen remains on staff as the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator. Both sides of the ball have major question marks entering spring practice. Quarterback Michael Cummings and running back Corey Avery are two pieces for the offense to build around next season, but the receiving corps lost its top three options. All-Big 12 linebacker Ben Heeney has expired his eligibility, and Bowen must find a replacement for rush end Michael Reynolds, and three starters in the secondary. 

Teaser:
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Post date: Tuesday, January 20, 2015 - 10:00
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The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and the 72-hour window for players to remove their name is gone.

The NFL has released the official list of players declaring for the draft on Monday, as 84 players are set to depart college for the next level.

 

These 10 players were granted eligibility for the 2015 NFL Draft since they have graduated:

 

Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State

Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn

Zach D’Orazio, WR, Akron

Charles Gaines, DB, Louisville

Dee Hart, RB, Colorado State

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Nigel King, WR, Kansas

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Donovan Smith, T, Penn State

Tacoi Sumler, WR, Appalachian State

 

These 74 players were granted eligibility as underclassmen:

Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California

Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State

Kwon Alexander, LB, Louisiana State

Javorius Allen, RB, Southern California

Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon

Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

Alex Carter, DB, Stanford

B.J. Catalon, RB, Texas Christian

Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

Jalen Collins, DB, Louisiana State

Landon Collins, DB, Alabama

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State

Christian Covington, DT, Rice

DaVaris Daniels, WR, Notre Dame

Ronald Darby, DB, Florida State

Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina

Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

Lorenzo Doss, DB, Tulane

Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State

Durell Eskridge, DB, Syracuse

George Farmer, WR, Southern California

Max Flores, LB, Northern Colorado

Ereck Flowers, T, Miami

Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan

Jacoby Glenn, DB, Central Florida

Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Deontay Greenberry, WR, Houston

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Chris Hackett, DB, Texas Christian

Eli Harold, DE, Virginia

Chris Harper, WR, California

Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky

Gerod Holliman, DB, Louisville

D.J. Humphries, T, Florida

Danielle Hunter, DE, Louisiana State

David Irving, DT, Iowa State

Jesse James, TE, Penn State

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Matt Jones, RB, Florida

Tyler Kroft, TE, Rutgers

Ellis McCarthy, DT, UCLA

Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State

Patrick Miller, T, Auburn

Tyler Moore, G, Florida

Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Mississippi

Andrus Peat, T, Stanford

Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida

Marcus Peters, DB, Washington

Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

Darius Philon, DT, Arkansas

Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson

Jaquel Pitts, WR, Trinity International

Jeremiah Poutasi, T, Utah

Darien Rankin, LB, North Carolina

Shane Ray, DE, Missouri

Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

James Sample, DB, Louisville

Jean Sifrin, TE, Massachusetts

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

Max Valles, LB, Virginia

Easton Wahlstrom, LS, Arizona State

Trae Waynes, DB, Michigan State

Leonard Williams, DE, Southern California

Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

P.J. Williams, DB, Florida State

Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M

Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama 

 

 

 

Teaser:
84 Underclassmen Entering 2015 NFL Draft
Post date: Monday, January 19, 2015 - 16:19
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The early entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed, and while the overall number of players leaving for the next level won’t match the 98 that declared last season, there’s no shortage of talent departing the college scene.

With the early entrants declared, it’s time to take a look at the winners and losers from a college football perspective.

The early entry deadline is a key point in the offseason, as this is usually the final hurdle to determining which key players will return to a roster for the upcoming season.

Baylor, Auburn, Notre Dame and Ohio State are four winners from the draft deadline process, while Florida State, Oregon and Florida are three teams dealing with significant personnel departures to the next level.

 

Winners

 

Alabama

It’s hard to slot Alabama into either designation for this column. The Crimson Tide had major losses – receiver Amari Cooper, running back T.J. Yeldon and safety Landon Collins – but this team could have lost a few more players to the next level. Defensive end Jarran Reed and linebacker Reggie Ragland are returning to Tuscaloosa, which should ensure Alabama ranks at the top of the SEC in defense next season. Finding replacements for Cooper and Collins will be the two of the top spring priorities for coach Nick Saban this spring.

 

Auburn

Big-play receiver Sammie Coates is off to the NFL, but the damage could have been greater for coach Gus Malzahn. Instead, Auburn managed to keep linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost on campus for their senior season, and receiver Duke Williams returns after catching 45 passes in his debut with the Tigers.

 

Baylor

TCU is considered by most to be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2015, but Baylor isn’t far behind. The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four years and regain the services of left tackle Spencer Drango and defensive end Shawn Oakman after both decided to return for their senior year.

Clemson
Clemson lost only one player – punter Bradley Pinion – to the NFL Draft. But that’s not why the Tigers earn a mention in this space. With Florida State losing five players early to the NFL, the door is open for Clemson to jump to the top of the Atlantic Division once again. With the Seminoles trying to retool the roster next year, the Tigers hope a healthy Deshaun Watson at quarterback will be enough to overcome a revamped front seven on defense and earn the team’s first division title since 2011.

 

Colorado

Coach Mike MacIntyre’s rebuilding effort in Boulder will continue into 2015 with one of the team’s top offensive weapons. Receiver Nelson Spruce emerged as the offense’s go-to option after Paul Richardson left early for the NFL. The junior caught 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 scores. Spruce should be one of the Pac-12’s top receivers in 2015.

 

Georgia

As expected, running back Todd Gurley left Athens for the NFL, but the rushing attack won’t miss a beat with Nick Chubb stepping into the full-time No. 1 role. Outside of Gurley, Georgia did not lose another player to the early entry deadline. Tackle John Theus, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd were four players mentioned as potential departures, but all are slated to return to Athens in 2015.  

 

LSU

LSU seemed to be a lock for the other side of this column after the Music City Bowl. The Tigers have suffered significant losses to the NFL over the last few seasons, which were a contributing factor in the team’s 8-5 record – the first season of less than double-digit wins since 2009. The losses in 2014 aren’t as heavy as the group leaving Baton Rouge after the 2012 season, but coach Les Miles has to replace end Danielle Hunter, cornerback Jalen Collins and linebacker Kwon Alexander. But the news for Miles isn’t all bad. Defensive back Jalen Mills and offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Vadal Alexander are expected to return after considering an early entry to the draft. With the concerns at quarterback, getting Hawkins and Alexander for another season is critical for a team that has to rely on the run in 2015.

 

Michigan State

The Spartans had some bad news at the deadline with cornerback Trae Waynes leaving East Lansing for the NFL. However, Michigan State returned arguably its best offensive and defensive player for next season after quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun turned down the NFL. The return of Cook and Calhoun should allow the Spartans to push for a spot among the top 10 teams next year.

 

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs lost All-SEC linebacker Benardrick McKinney and running back Josh Robinson to the NFL, but quarterback Dak Prescott is back for his senior year. Prescott was a first-team All-SEC selection and averaged 341.2 total yards per game in 2014. Losing McKinney and Robinson hurts, but Prescott’s return should keep Mississippi State in the mix to be a top 25 team next year.

 

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish finished an up-and-down season with a bowl win over LSU, which should give coach Brian Kelly’s team momentum heading into spring practice. And the good news didn’t stop with the Music City Bowl victory, as tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard/center Nick Martin and defensive end Sheldon Day all decided to return to South Bend next season. Notre Dame doesn’t lose much in the way of senior starters, so this team could easily improve off its 8-5 mark from 2014.

 

Ohio State

It’s unusual for a team to win a national title and lose zero players early to the NFL Draft. But that’s exactly what transpired at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had no players enter the draft and return to defend their title in 2015 with the depth chart nearly intact. Left tackle Taylor Decker, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and quarterback Cardale Jones were the candidates generating the most interest among NFL scouts, but all three will help Ohio State make a run at the title next year.

 

Utah

The Utes had a mixed bag of results at the draft deadline. Offensive tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (second-team All-Pac-12 in 2014) left Salt Lake City for the next level, but Utah returns standout running back Devontae Booker. In his debut with the Utes, Booker – a junior college recruit – rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 scores. He also added 42 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Virginia Tech

A 7-6 record was a disappointing finish for a Virginia Tech program that had a favorable schedule and hopes of winning the Coastal Division in 2014. While the fanbase is getting restless in Blacksburg, there’s hope for a turnaround in 2015. Cornerback Brandon Facyson and defensive tackle Luther Maddy are back from injuries, while defensive end Dadi Nicolas (18 TFL and 8.5 sacks) decided to pass on the NFL for another season at Virginia Tech.

 

Losers


Arkansas

The return of running back Jonathan Williams keeps Arkansas’ potent one-two punch on the ground intact, but the Razorbacks lost a key piece of their defense with the departure of tackle Darius Philon. The line was already set to lose standout end Trey Flowers (15.5 TFL), and Philon was set to be one of the SEC’s top defensive linemen in 2015. Now, not only are the Razorbacks replacing their best defensive end and linebacker, their best defensive tackle is off to the NFL.  

 

Florida

As if new coach Jim McElwain didn’t have enough personnel issues to sort out, the Gators lost four players – end Dante Fowler, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, running back Matt Jones and guard Tyler Moore – to the NFL Draft. Fowler is the team’s biggest loss, but Florida’s offensive line is thin on depth and proven talent. Restocking the trenches is McElwain’s biggest priority going into 2015.

 

Florida State

Five players from Florida State’s roster are off to the next level, and there are some heavy losses for coach Jimbo Fisher to address this offseason. Quarterback Jameis Winston was one of college football’s top players over the last two seasons and should be the No. 1 pick in the draft. The other four early departures are on defense, as Mario Edwards, tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams declared for the next level. All four players were considered among the ACC’s top defenders over the last few seasons.

 

Indiana

Running back Tevin Coleman carried the Indiana offense in 2014, recording 2,036 yards and 15 rushing scores on 270 attempts. Coleman’s totals are even more impressive when you consider the Hoosiers lost starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld early in the year due to injury, and the backup signal-callers combined for one touchdown pass over the final six games.

 

Louisville

The Cardinals lost three defensive backs off a defense that ranked second in the ACC by limiting opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. Safety Gerod Holliman, cornerback Charles Gaines and safety James Sample are leaving for the next level, and all three players were key pieces in the secondary. Holliman led the team with 14 picks, while Sample intercepted four passes and recorded 90 stops. Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the ACC this year, breaking up 10 passes in 13 games.

 

Miami

The Hurricanes are still looking for their first Coastal Division title. The path to a trip to the conference championship game isn’t going to be any easier in 2015 with the departure of running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers early to the NFL. Johnson ranked second in the ACC by rushing for 1,652 yards, while Flowers anchored the line from the left tackle spot. After losing their last three games in 2014, there’s pressure on coach Al Golden to turn things around in 2015. Needless to say, losing Flowers and Johnson doesn’t help those odds.

 

Missouri

The Tigers suffered only one loss to the NFL. However, it was a massive hit to the defense. End Shane Ray (22.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks) left after a standout 2014 season. Ray’s departure is magnified even more with starters Markus Golden (end) and Matt Hoch (tackle) exhausting their eligibility.

 

Oklahoma

Bob Stoops is searching for a few answers after Oklahoma finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2014. A revamp of the coaching staff is underway, but the roster suffered a blow on both sides of the ball in the draft process. Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham declared without playing a down in Norman, while defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is a huge loss on the interior of the line.

 

Oregon

The news at the deadline wasn’t all negative for the Ducks. End DeForest Buckner is coming back for his senior year, and his return helps to soften the blow of Arik Armstead’s decision to leave Eugene after his junior campaign. Despite Buckner’s return, that’s not enough to overcome quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy winner won’t be easily replaced in 2015.

 

Penn State

Due to NCAA sanctions, Penn State was shorthanded on scholarships over the last few seasons. First-year coach James Franklin had to overcome a lot of roster problems in 2014, especially up front on an offensive line that was thin on proven depth this year. The Nittany Lions reportedly played the Pinstripe Bowl with just 41 scholarship players, and Franklin’s job in 2015 got a little tougher with the departure of end Deion Barnes, tight end Jesse James and tackle Donovan Smith.

 

Stanford

In addition to replacing a handful of departing seniors, Stanford lost cornerback Alex Carter and left tackle Andrus Peat early to the NFL. Peat is regarded as one of the top tackle prospects for the 2015 draft and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Carter recorded 41 tackles and nine pass breakups in 2014 and is projected to go in the second or third round by some scouting services.

 

UCF

The Knights shared the American Athletic Conference crown with Memphis and Cincinnati this year and three of the team’s four losses came against Power 5 opponents. UCF’s league title hopes for 2015 took a hit this week with the departure of cornerback Jacoby Glenn (7 INTs) and receiver Breshad Perriman (20.9 ypc) – two first-team all-conference selections in 2014.

 

UCLA

The Bruins return a solid core of talent for 2015 and could win the Pac-12 South if the young talent on the roster develops this offseason. But coach Jim Mora has to fill a major void under center with the departure of quarterback Brett Hundley. With Hundley bolting to the NFL, UCLA could turn to incoming freshman Josh Rosen under center next year. Defensive lineman Ellis McCarthy (21 tackles, three sacks) also left Westwood for the next level.

 

USC

The good: Quarterback Cody Kessler (39 TDs) is back for his senior year. Kessler’s return could elevate USC as the favorite in the Pac-12 South, but the Trojans lost receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Buck Allen, receiver George Farmer and defensive end Leonard Williams to the NFL. Williams could be one of the first five picks off the board in the first round, while Agholor and Allen were two of the best at their position in the Pac-12 this year.

 

Virginia

Coach Mike London earned another year at Virginia after the Cavaliers finished 5-7 in 2014. But in order for London to stick around for the long haul, he needs to get Virginia back to the postseason. That goal got tougher with the draft deadline, losing end Eli Harold and linebacker Max Valles to the next level. Valles and Harold were key cogs in UVa’s pass rush, accumulating 16 of the team’s 34 sacks in 2014.

 

Washington

First-year coach Chris Petersen didn’t have the debut most expected, as Washington closed out the year with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl and finished 8-6 overall. The Huskies lose a handful of key seniors next season, and linebacker Shaq Thompson must be replaced. Thompson was a two-way threat for Washington, rushing for 456 yards and two scores and recording 80 tackles on defense. 

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The emergence and development of young talent can play a critical role in any team’s position in the race to win a college football national championship or conference title. And unpredictability of finding the next star or breakout player is also what makes preseason predictions difficult.  

 

The 2014 college football season ended on Monday night with Ohio State’s 42-20 win over Oregon, but it’s never too early to look at what’s ahead in 2015. The Buckeyes and Ducks had the obvious star players entering the 2014 campaign. However, the emergence of linebacker Darron Lee (Buckeyes) and running back Royce Freeman (Ducks) helped to answer two key question marks for their team over the course of the season.

 

Spring practice is still a month or two away for some teams, but let’s take a look at 10 potential breakout stars for 2015.

 

10 Early Picks for CFB’s Breakout Players in 2015

 

Jamal Adams, S, LSU

New coordinator Kevin Steele certainly isn’t hurting for young talent. Adams is one of the SEC’s top young defenders after recording 66 tackles (five for a loss) and five pass breakups as a true freshman in 2014. The Texas native ranked as the No. 31 overall prospect in the 2014 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and should be in the mix for a full-time starting job with the defense slated to lose one starting safety (Ronald Martin) and a cornerback (Jalen Collins). Look for Adams to become one of the top players in the LSU secondary and contend for All-SEC honors next season.
 

Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State

Apple started 14 of 15 games in Ohio State’s run to the national championship this season, and the New Jersey native is poised for even bigger things in 2015. The Buckeyes aren’t losing much on defense, but standout cornerback Doran Grant expired his eligibility after the national title. With Grant moving to the NFL, Apple is expected to become the No. 1 cornerback for Ohio State. And the rising sophomore is ready for the promotion. In 15 games this season, Apple recorded 53 tackles (5.5 for a loss), three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Apple should emerge as one of the Big Ten’s top cornerbacks next year.

 

Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker was pegged as the top recruit in Washington’s 2014 signing class, and the true freshman certainly lived up to the hype. Baker recorded 80 tackles (fourth on the team), one interception, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The Washington native earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 and will be a key cog in the rebuilding effort on defense next season. The Huskies had two freshmen and two sophomores listed as starters for the Cactus Bowl matchup against Oklahoma State. Although youth in the secondary can be problematic, the early experience and playing time should pay off for Baker and the other Washington defensive backs in 2015. 

 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon was the best running back in college football this season, but Wisconsin’s rushing attack is in good hands with Clement. As Gordon’s backup in 2014, Clement rushed for 949 yards and nine scores (6.5 yards per carry). He rushed for 105 yards in the bowl win over Auburn and recorded 164 yards on 13 attempts against Illinois. Clement averages seven yards per rush through his first two seasons in Madison and is due for a breakout campaign with the opportunity to record 250-275 carries next season.

 

Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA

The Bruins had to replace their top three statistical players in generated sacks from 2013, and the pass rush just wasn’t the same early in the 2014 season. UCLA ended the year with 29 sacks – tied for eighth in the Pac-12 – and improved over the course of the 13-game slate. Hollins came on strong over the final few weeks of 2014, recording six of his nine sacks in the final four games. Hollins was dominant at the line of scrimmage against Kansas State (three sacks) and recorded four tackles and a sack against USC.

 

Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

With two starts already under his belt, Johnson is the heavy favorite to replace Nick Marshall as Auburn’s starting quarterback in 2015. In 2014, Johnson completed 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards and three scores, including a 12 of 16 performance for 243 yards against Arkansas in the season opener. The Montgomery native also started as a true freshman in 2013 and completed 17 of 21 passes for 201 yards and four scores. Johnson isn’t as dynamic as Marshall was on the ground, but he is more advanced as a passer heading into the 2015 season. Coach Gus Malzahn is one of the top offensive minds in college football, and Johnson should thrive as the full-time starter in an offense that’s capable of averaging 35-40 points a game.

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Clemson’s defense led the nation by limiting opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables has his work cut out for him in 2015, as the front seven has to be revamped with the departures of ends Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes, along with defensive tackles Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson. Lawson is a key piece in the rebuilding effort and played in all 13 games in 2014. The South Carolina native recorded 34 tackles (11 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. With the departure of Beasley, the Tigers need Lawson to generate around 10 sacks in 2015. 

 

Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas

The Longhorns ranked second in the Big 12 by limiting opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014. Coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have holes to fill in order for this defense to perform at a high level next season, with the biggest departure coming at defensive tackle. Malcom Brown was arguably the top defender in the Big 12 this season, recording 72 tackles (a high number for an interior lineman), 6.5 sacks for a loss and two forced fumbles. Ridgeway started the final 10 games at nose tackle in 2014 and recorded 43 tackles (11 for a loss) and six sacks. The Texas native had a significant jump in terms of production and playing time from 2013 to 2014. Expect Ridgeway to anchor the defensive line for Strong and Bedford next year.

 

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

The Cowboys had a significant amount of roster turnover prior to the 2014 season and regressed in the win column to a 7-6 finish. However, the future looks bright in Stillwater, as quarterback Mason Rudolph (a true freshman in 2014) gave the team a spark in the final three games of the season. Rudolph completed 49 of 86 passes for 853 yards and six touchdowns and guided the team to a road win over Oklahoma and a bowl victory over Washington. After struggling with injuries and inconsistency at quarterback this season, the Cowboys have a future star in Rudolph ready to take a step forward next year.

 

Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

With the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston, receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary and four offensive line starters, Florida State’s offense is in transition for the 2015 season. While there are new faces cracking the starting lineup, there’s no shortage of talent available for coach Jimbo Fisher. Rudolph caught 38 passes for 555 yards and four scores as a true freshman this year. The Florida native grabbed 11 of his 38 receptions over the final two games, including a 96-yard performance in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. Rudolph and Ermon Lane were two of the top receiver prospects in the 2014 signing class, and both players looked like future stars in Tallahassee in their freshman debut.

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