Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/sec-makes-right-decision-eight-game-conference-schedule-remains
Body:

The future of scheduling in the SEC has been a hot topic in recent weeks, as the conference attempted to settle whether or not to stay with an eight-game conference slate each year.

And after much debate among coaches, presidents and athletic directors, the decision is official: The SEC will play eight conference games.

However, there is a slight twist to the schedule announcement. SEC teams have to play at least one team from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 every year. That requirement isn’t a huge switch for the SEC, as 13 teams fulfilled that obligation last year.

A switch to nine conference games had merit, especially as the SEC needed valuable inventory to fill its new network. However, nine conference games would hurt the bottom of the league and potentially had an impact on how many SEC teams made the playoff.

Although eight conference games doesn’t match the Pac-12, Big 12 or Big Ten’s scheduling philosophy, the SEC is widely considered the No. 1 conference in college football and additional schedule strength isn’t necessarily needed. However, the new playoff format is a wildcard and could force the SEC’s hand to switch to nine games in the future.

For now, the eight-game format is the right decision for the SEC. Until there’s more data on how the playoff teams are selected, the SEC doesn’t need to pile up additional losses on its resume, which could hurt its teams at the end of the year. Also, switching to nine games would have hurt the bowl prospects of the bottom of the league.

Permanent non-division opponents were also maintained in the announcement, but that’s something that should be revisited at a future date. Does the SEC really need Kentucky-Mississippi State or Texas A&M-South Carolina every year?

A better solution to the permanent non-division opponent structure is to protect the rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee or Auburn-Georgia and remove the others to allow teams to play opponents more often.

Nine conference games may eventually happen in the SEC. However, for now, the conference made the right decision to stick with eight league games every year.


 

Teaser:
SEC Makes the Right Decision: Eight-Game Conference Schedule Remains
Post date: Monday, April 28, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/duke-qb-brandon-connette-transfers-fresno-state
Body:

Fresno State has announced Duke quarterback Brandon Connette will transfer to the Bulldogs for the 2014 season. Connette is a graduate transfer and is eligible immediately.

Connette’s mother is battling cancer, and the senior quarterback wanted to transfer to Fresno State to be closer to her.

Connette threw for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 337 yards and 14 scores last season with the Blue Devils.

With Derek Carr departing Fresno State, Connette will have a chance to win the starting job this fall.

Connette will compete with Brian Burrell and Zack Greenlee this fall for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart and could be one of the top quarterbacks in the Mountain West if he wins the job.

Teaser:
Duke QB Brandon Connette Transfers to Fresno State
Post date: Monday, April 28, 2014 - 07:55
Path: /college-football/nebraska-or-iowa-which-team-finishes-higher-big-tens-west-division-2014
Body:

The Big Ten’s new 14-team and East/West Division alignment should provide for an intriguing 2014 season.

The East Division is loaded with likely top-10 teams in Ohio State and Michigan, followed by Penn State and Michigan – two of college football’s top programs. The depth in the East extends to the bottom tier of the division, as Maryland and Indiana could be bowl teams in 2014.

The West Division isn’t loaded with elite teams, but Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska each have a strong case to be ranked in the preseason top 25.

The Badgers lose a good chunk of talent, including several key members on one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. But even with the personnel losses, Wisconsin could be the favorite to win the West.

If the Badgers are the No. 1 pick in the division, then it’s a close call between Nebraska and Iowa for the No. 2 spots. The Cornhuskers have won at least nine games in each of Bo Pelini’s six seasons, while the Hawkeyes improved to 8-5 last year after a 4-8 mark in 2012.

Iowa has a favorable schedule in 2014, but Nebraska might have an edge in talent, especially with the return of standout running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Iowa or Nebraska: Which Team Finishes Higher in the West Division in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think these two teams are going to be almost identical in the win column this year, likely right around eight or nine victories. But I give a slight edge to Iowa over Nebraska, largely due to the Hawkeyes’ favorable schedule. Iowa returns 12 starters from last year’s 8-5 squad, which pounded the Cornhuskers 38-17 in Lincoln. Quarterback Jake Rudock was solid in his first year as the starter, and he should improve in 2014 after being pushed by C.J. Beathard in spring practice. The Hawkeyes are deep at running back and have one of the Big Ten’s top offensive lines. More big-play threats need to emerge at receiver, but there are options for Rudock. As usual, Iowa’s defense should be solid. The biggest concern on that side of the ball will be replacing three starting linebackers, including second-team All-Big Ten selection James Morris. The Hawkeyes usually quickly reload at this position, so there’s optimism the defense won’t have much of a drop in production at linebacker. I think Nebraska’s offense will improve as Tommy Armstrong has more time to develop at quarterback, but the Cornhuskers have to play at Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Iowa hosts Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks in late November and catches Indiana and Maryland in crossover play with the East Division. These two teams are fairly even, but the schedule favors Iowa. The margin between the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers is small and another 5-3 tie in Big Ten play wouldn’t be a surprise. However, considering Iowa hosts Nebraska late in the season, I like the Hawkeyes to finish ahead of Bo Pelini’s team in 2014.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
On paper, Nebraska is the better team. But, as they say, the game isn’t played on paper; more importantly, Iowa has the far easier schedule of the two teams. While the Hawkeyes lost a lot of talent, including their decorated linebacking trio, and don’t boast the star power Nebraska does, it’s impossible not to like this Big Ten draw: at Purdue; vs. Indiana; at Maryland; vs. Northwestern; at Minnesota; at Illinois; vs. Wisconsin; vs. Nebraska. Looking at that, it’s very possible Iowa brings a 6-0 Big Ten clip into the final two weeks, the final week being a home game vs. the Huskers. Nebraska doesn’t just travel to Iowa City, either, as it also visits reigning Big Ten and Rose Bowl champ Michigan State - which the Hawkeyes don’t play - and Wisconsin. Advantage, Iowa.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a facinating debate that we won't know the answer to until the final weekend of the year. That's when Nebraska visits Iowa the day after Thanksgiving. And in all likelihood, that game will decide second place in the Big Ten West. Nebraska returns a deeper roster with more talent across the board, but Iowa has an easier schedule — the Huskers get Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa on the road while the Hawkeyes get Indiana and Maryland in crossover and host both Wisconsin and Nebraska in divisional play. Both coaching staffs are difficult to trust and Iowa traditionally struggles when much is expected of it. It's splitting hairs and both teams should be in that 7-9-win range but, splitting hairs, I will take Bo Pelini and the Huskers to finish higher because they are a lock to win nine games (and lose exactly four) every single season.

Listen to our staff discuss every team in the Big Ten as they start to look to 2014.

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 

Mark Ross
For all of the criticism and scrutiny that's directed at Bo Pelini, he should at least get credit for what he has done at Nebraska - win at least nine games every year. If you want to make the case that he should have won more, fine, but that's not relevant for this exercise. As far as 2014 goes, if you are asking me to pick between Nebraska and Iowa, I'll take the Cornhuskers. The Pelini implosion factor aside, players keep showing up in Lincoln to play for him and again, the results speak for themselves. On the field, Nebraska entered the post-Taylor Martinez era at quarterback early because of injuries to the dual-threat signal-caller last season and the offense appears to be in pretty good shape with Tommy Armstrong running the show. All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah should be one of the most productive ball-carriers in the conference again, if not all of FBS, and Armstrong also has an all-conference target in wide receiver Kenny Bell. The defense returns a fair amount of talent and experience as well and let's not forget that side of the ball is Pelini's calling card. As far as Iowa goes, the Hawkeyes had a nice bounce-back season in 2013, but they will be without a lot of key pieces from the team that went 8-5. Two honorable mention All-Big Ten offensive linemen and one of the conference's top tight ends are gone. The defense was hit ever harder by graduation, as head coach Kirk Ferentz must replace all three standout linebackers and two starting defensive backs, all of whom earned all-conference honors last season. That's a lot of talent and experience gone from a team that consistently trails behind Nebraska in the recruiting rankings. Don't get me wrong, I think Iowa is a solid team, but I like Nebraska a little bit more in 2014. After all a "typical" season for the Cornhuskers under Pelini is nine wins. Iowa hasn't won that many in a season since 2008.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Nebraska is far more predictable than Iowa, so it would make sense to take the Cornhuskers. Nebraska overcame injuries at quarterback and all the questions surrounding Bo Pelini to win nine games last season. That should bode well, but I wonder if this is the year Nebraska takes a step back. With its schedule, Iowa would be in position to pounce in the standings. The Hawkeyes get Nebraska at home and miss Ohio State, Penn State and the Michigan schools in crossover games. Beyond the schedule, Iowa has a lot of things working in its favor: A returning starting quarterback (Jake Rudock), healthy running backs for a change, an All-America-caliber tackle and a mostly intact defense. Iowa has to replace all three starting linebackers, but that’s a spot where the Hawkeyes usually have success. Of course, the Hawkeyes haven’t always thrived when they’re the team to watch. Will that be the case again in 2014?

Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), CrystalBallRun.com and CollegeFootballTalk.com
Iowa is going to surprise some people this season. The running game was healthy last year and looks to be in good shape again after this spring. Put that typical brand of Iowa football in front of a favorable schedule and it would not be a surprise at all to see Iowa make a run to the Big Ten Championship Game. The schedule is clearly in favor of Iowa over Nebraska in the new division line-up. Iowa does not have to play any of the top programs from the East (Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State) and they also get Wisconsin and Nebraska at home to wrap up the regular season. There is barely a challenge ahead of them before that that should see Iowa as an underdog. Nebraska, on the other hand, must play at Michigan State and Wisconsin before the regular season finale at Iowa. This feels like advantage, Iowa.

Teaser:
Nebraska or Iowa: Which Team Finishes Higher in the Big Ten's West Division in 2014?
Post date: Monday, April 28, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/should-sec-stay-eight-conference-games-or-expand-nine
Body:

Future schedules are a hot topic in the SEC. With the creation of college football’s four-team playoff postseason format, most BCS teams have beefed up the non-conference schedule in order to improve the resume.

While improved non-conference scheduling seems to be directly tied to the new playoff format, that’s not the only discussion involving scheduling in most conferences.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 already play nine conference games, and the Big Ten is set to expand to nine league contests in 2016.

The ACC is considering a switch from eight games in the future, and the SEC is in discussions its schedules for upcoming seasons.

As college football’s No. 1 conference, is it worth it for the SEC to expand to nine league contests every year?

With the creation of the SEC Network, more inventory for television is needed. However, could a tougher schedule hurt the SEC when the playoff teams are announced?

To help answer this question, Athlon Sports has enlisted two editors to discuss the SEC schedule. Braden Gall breaks down why the SEC should expand to nine conference games, while Steven Lassan makes the case for staying at eight games.

The SEC Needs to Expand to Nine Conference Games:

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Don’t listen to my esteemed and respected colleague Steven Lassan. There is no rational, financial or strategic reason why the SEC should play eight conference games. There are only coaches acting in the interest of self-preservation. They've voted against nine-game SEC schedules because they want to go to bowl games and keep their jobs. That’s it. Otherwise, there is no other rational argument that can be made against a nine-game slate.

First, always follow the money. The money is really all that matters in this situation. Mike Slive and the SEC could play — and subsequently sell — 57 total SEC games to its TV partners. Or it can produce and sell 64 games to its TV partners. Which one do you think the TV partners are going to vote for? And when it comes time to renegotiate the deal? Slive and the SEC are in an even better position to drive the broadcasting price higher. The desire for more SEC football is only getting stronger and adding a game to the schedule enhances the conference’s situation financially.

That’s not all, however, as there's more than one money angle. A home SEC game is worth in excess of $10 million in revenue to the local economy. A fifth home SEC game for half of the league would be a huge coup to local businesses and the community in general. Additionally, the sport as a whole has seen its attendance numbers stagnate and even decline. The best way to curtail that trend is to put a better product on the field. Texas A&M and South Carolina is obviously a bigger draw than a game between the Citadel and South Carolina.

Lastly, and most importantly for the fans, is strength of schedule. From a strategic standpoint, strength of schedule is going to play a larger and larger role in determining playoff spots — no matter how big the College Football Playoff bracket gets. Every other major league plays nine conference games and adding a marquee SEC win to your favorite team’s resume will give it a much better shot at landing in the playoffs. Nick Saban knows this is the direction college football, the SEC and the selection committee is heading and he is simply the first one to jump on board the moving train. He’s not scared of anyone, not from the SEC or any other league. And as the college basketball selection committee has shown in recent years, the strength of one’s schedule is paramount to evaluation process. A ninth quality conference game and likely 10th opponent from another “Big 5” league will almost be a necessity rather than an obstacle.

To top it all off, I am a selfish college football fan and I want to see more good games and no more of these garbage, sacrificial showdowns between college football’s greatest teams and rosters that don’t belong anywhere near an SEC campus. Top that, Lasso.

The SEC Should Stay at Eight Conference Games:

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I can’t deny that Braden makes a lot of good points in his writeup. And I’m probably fighting an uphill battle here since it seems inevitable that the conference will go to nine games.

However, is it possible there is too much of a good thing here?

The SEC is the SEC, and as long as elite talent on the recruiting trail continues to flow into the conference, this league will always be No. 1 nationally. However, adding a ninth game could eat into the bottom of the league, and there's no need to make the path to a conference championship more difficult.

If I am Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Mississippi State, I do not want a ninth conference game. If a ninth conference game is added, could it widen the gap between the top and bottom of the league? Also, I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist, so I do not want to see rivalries like Auburn-Georgia and Tennessee-Alabama move away from their annual format. Sure, new ones will be created, but the SEC thrives on its old rivalries between crossover division rivals. 

Eliminating a non-conference game (likely a guaranteed win) would put a huge dent in the bowl hopes of the bottom of the league. Sure, you can argue there are too many bowl games, but let’s also not forget the postseason has expanded because bowls benefit television networks in December/January. The Pac-12 plays nine conference games and nine teams were eligible for the postseason last year. The Big 12 had six bowl-eligible teams and failed to fill two of their spots (Pinstripe, Texas). Heading into 2014, the SEC has at least 11 bowl tie-ins. I’m not defending the bowl system, but do we really want a postseason where 5-7 or 4-8 teams are reaching the postseason? I didn’t think so.

While the playoff has encouraged tougher scheduling, are we really sure that is going to last? I could be wrong, but the beefy non-conference schedules programs are touting may be a short-term gain of the playoff. In 10-15 years, it could go back to a weak non-conference schedule, especially as teams get a better grasp of how the committee will handle the rankings.

If the SEC expands to nine conference games, one would think a two-loss team from this league would still have a good shot at being ranked among the top four teams in the final committee poll. However, we can’t say for sure. What if the league ends up with a handful of two loss teams every year in the top 10? Would a one-loss team from the ACC, Big Ten or Big 12 rank ahead of the SEC? This is all hypothetical, but the SEC already has enough strength to stand on its own with eight conference games. Not to mention, check out the list of non-conference opponents SEC teams played during the 2013 regular season: Florida State, Miami, Washington State, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Clemson, TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon.

If I were in charge of the SEC tomorrow, I’d encourage my teams to schedule one marquee non-conference game (similar to the opponents above) and try to use only FBS opponents for all of the out of league matchups.

If something works, even if it may not be perfect, why change it? In this case, the SEC already has the No. 1 ranking among conferences, schedules plenty of good non-conference games and would seem to have the inside track on getting at least two teams in the playoff every year. Perhaps one way of improving the SEC schedule is to eliminate some of the crossover games every year (South Carolina-Texas A&M, Mississippi State-Kentucky) to allow teams to play every other program in the league more often.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the lure of nine conference games. But the SEC doesn’t need nine conference games to improve its national standing. As the No. 1 conference in college football, the SEC can afford to sit back and see how the new playoff works before changing its scheduling principles.

Teaser:
Should the SEC Stay at Eight Conference Games or Expand to Nine?
Post date: Friday, April 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ucla-usc-or-arizona-state-who-wins-pac-12-south-2014
Body:

With six teams expected to be ranked in the preseason polls, the Pac-12 should provide plenty of must-see games during 2014.

On paper, the South Division appears to be a three-team race between Arizona State, UCLA and USC. Arizona is slightly behind the top three teams, but if Rich Rodriguez can find a few answers on offense, the Wildcats will be a sleeper team. Utah and Colorado will likely be picked in the bottom two spots in predictions. However, both teams are capable of pulling an upset or two in 2014. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Buffaloes and Utes both found a way to get bowl eligible.

UCLA played for the conference title from the South Division in 2011-12, while Arizona State claimed the title last season. The South is 0-3 in Pac-12 Championship appearances, but the Bruins, Sun Devils and Trojans are all capable of ending that streak in 2014.

It’s tough to pinpoint a favorite, as all three teams have plenty of concerns and strengths going into the season.

UCLA continues to trend upward under coach Jim Mora, while USC finished 10-4 under an interim coach. Arizona State is the defending South Division champs, but the Sun Devils must replace most of their core on defense.

Arizona State, UCLA or USC: Which Team Wins the Pac-12 South?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
While I think Arizona State is a top 15-20 team nationally, I would choose between USC and UCLA for the top spot in the South Division this year. And it’s a close call between the crosstown rivals, but I give a slight nod to the Bruins. UCLA coach Jim Mora has the Bruins on the rise, winning 19 games over the last two years, which is the most for the program since Bob Toledo won 20 games from 1997-98. Sure, there are some personnel losses to overcome, but quarterback Brett Hundley should continue to develop as a passer after an offseason to work under coordinator Noel Mazzone, and the Bruins have a plethora of talented skill players. The offensive line will miss guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, but Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche, along with the development of several young players should help this unit progress in 2014. Despite the departure of linebackers Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr and defensive end Cassius Marsh, new coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has no shortage of talent to mold. The Bruins could have the top secondary, linebacking corps and defensive line in the conference – and three top-20 recruiting classes certainly helps to improve the overall talent of the roster. The schedule isn’t easy, but UCLA hosts USC, Stanford, Oregon and Arizona. Road tests at Washington and Arizona State will be tough, but a 7-2 mark would probably be enough to win the division. There’s no question the Pac-12 is one of college football’s toughest conferences, and USC’s improvement under Steve Sarkisian will add another element to the South Division. However, not only does UCLA have all of the pieces to win the South, there’s more than enough talent here to win the Pac-12 in 2014.

Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), CFBHuddle.com and BleacherReport.com
UCLA is the Pac-12 South favorite--and really, it's not close. Each South contender has its glaring concerns heading into the season: USC is talented but the depth issues brought on by NCAA sanctions reach their peak in 2014. Arizona State is completely overhauling its defense. Arizona is left replacing a two-time All-America running back, its starting quarterback and still has strides to make defensively.

But UCLA is no favorite-by-default. The South has plenty of good teams; UCLA is a great team. Jim Mora's first two seasons at the helm were building to 2014. He's working with the most veteran starting lineup in the conference. Quarterback Brett Hundley's decision to return for his redshirt junior season should pay dividends, as he has the Pac-12's deepest and most diverse wide receiving corps.

The indecisiveness that sometimes vexed him in the pocket last season should be improved with an offseason of work, but he will also be playing behind a considerably more experienced offensive line.

Mora and his staff loaded up on defensive talent in each of their three recruiting classes. Obviously Myles Jack was a revelation as a freshman, and Zach Whitley can have similar impact this season. If Whitley can make a similar transition to the college game as Jack, UCLA will again have one of the better linebackers corps in the nation, with Eric Kendricks as its anchor. The secondary was young last year and should be improved in 2014. Ishmael Adams was coming along nicely at season's end in 2013 and could be on the cusp of a star turn.

The sky's the limit for the Bruins if they can put it all together. Nevermind a divisional title, UCLA just may be the favorite to win the whole conference.
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
UCLA has been building to a breakthrough season for several years, and 2014 might be the one where the Bruins start to join the Pac-12 elite. Last season was UCLA’s first 10-win season and first top-20 finish since 2005. Don’t forget that a year ago UCLA had the unfortunate schedule that included back-to-back road games against Stanford and Oregon. I doubt UCLA could have defeated either of them anywhere, but imagine if UCLA had an easier draw from the Pac-12 North. The Bruins get both this season at home and a road trip to Washington. That’s not easy, but UCLA should be ready for the challenge. With three consecutive top-20 signing classes and the return of Brett Hundley, UCLA will rival USC as the top roster in the South. There’s a lot to like here with young talent, not least of which Myles Jack, the linebacker/running back combo. Four offensive linemen return among 15 total returning starters from a team that beat USC by 21 last season and only lost to division champ Arizona State by five.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a fascinating debate that has many different angles making it virtually impossible to decide. The best starting 22 goes to USC, but the Trojans have the smallest margin for error with little depth on the sanctioned roster. The best starting quarterback goes to UCLA, but the Bruins will play the toughest schedule of the three. And the best head coach of the bunch is in Tempe, but Todd Graham has the most to replace. All three schedules are nasty as the Pac-12 could be the best league in the nation and all three teams will play each other — one at home and one on the road. Both USC and Arizona State miss Oregon in crossover play while the Bruins welcome the Ducks to town on Oct. 11 (as well as Stanford, USC and Arizona). All three will likely have to play on the road in the Pac-12 Championship game considering how difficult the division slate could be in the South. Arizona State might have the most question marks but it has the best combination of coaching, quarterback play, scheduling and depth chart. In a three way tie, Arizona State gets the nod because it will get two weeks to prepare for a potential division championship game on Thursday, Sept. 25 against the Bruins.

Mark Ross
Arizona State is the defending division champions, but I think the Sun Devils will have a hard time replacing some key pieces, most notably two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. I think it will come down to the two Los Angeles schools and while I feel that USC is in position to make some noise in Steve Sarkisian's first year at the helm, I'll give the edge to its crosstown rivals this season. Jim Mora has clearly put his stamp on this program in just two seasons, going 19-8 overall and 12-6 in conference play. This year's team could take the next step with quarterback Brett Hundley, a potential Heisman Trophy contender, running the offense and stud linebacker Myles Jack wreaking havoc on the other side of the ball, as well as making an impact as a running back. UCLA has some holes of its own to fill, but it has the edge over USC and Arizona State when it comes to quarterback and returning starters. The Bruins have to go to Tempe to play the Sun Devils and Seattle to face Washington, but they get to host the Trojans, as well as Oregon and Stanford. The schedule's not easy, but the pieces seem to be in piece for Mora to lead UCLA to a pretty special season.

Teaser:
UCLA, USC or Arizona State: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2014?
Post date: Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/duke-or-north-carolina-which-team-finishes-higher-coastal-2014
Body:

The ACC Coastal should be one of the toughest divisions to predict in 2014. After all, Duke won the league with a 6-2 conference record last season and three teams finished tied at 5-3 just behind the Blue Devils.

Considering how close the top six teams in the division are, another 5-3 record might be enough to finish second and 6-2 will probably win the division.

Duke and North Carolina are both in the discussion for the Coastal Division title in 2014, but both teams will be pushed by Virginia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech.

The Tar Heels finished two games behind the Blue Devils last year and barely lost to Duke 27-25 in Chapel Hill in the regular season finale. Larry Fedora’s team is expected to take another step forward in the win column in 2014, especially with an offense that should be among the best in the ACC. North Carolina’s schedule certainly isn’t easy, but home games against Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech will help in a tight division battle.

David Cutcliffe has raised the bar at Duke, guiding the Blue Devils to the most wins in school history last year. And even with a few concerns about the defense, Cutcliffe should have Duke back in the discussion for the Coastal Division title.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
 

Duke or North Carolina: Which Team Finishes Higher in the Coastal in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I don’t expect much separation in the win column among the top six teams in the Coastal this year, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if North Carolina and Duke tied with a 5-3 or 4-4 conference record. However, even with little room to maneuver in the win column, I think the Tar Heels will finish ahead of the Blue Devils. North Carolina finished last season on a tear, averaging 40.6 points per game (slightly skewed by the 80 points scored on ODU) over its final seven contests. Most of the offense returns intact, as coach Larry Fedora has assembled one of the ACC’s deepest collection of skill players, and quarterback Marquise Williams is a contender for All-ACC honors. The biggest concern is a line that loses standout tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine. And it’s a good thing North Carolina should have one of the best offenses in the ACC, as the defense is still searching for the right pieces. However, improvement should be noticeable on that side of the ball in 2014. Duke won’t take a huge step back in the standings, but this team is a good candidate to regress after being outgained by 73.4 yards per game in ACC contests last year. Also, the Blue Devils no longer have Brandon Connette to help with short-yardage and goal-line situations, the defensive line must be rebuilt, and standout cornerback Ross Cockrell has expired his eligibility. Duke also has four potential swing games on the road, including a crossover date against Syracuse and a Sept. 27 matchup at Miami. North Carolina and Duke should both go bowling in 2014, but I’ll take the Tar Heels to finish ahead in the standings.

Mark Ross
I realize the Blue Devils are the reigning Coastal Division champions and I am not expecting David Cutcliffe's team to take a gigantic step backwards this season. However, I also think it's perfectly fair to say that Duke got quite a few breaks to go its way last season. After all, this is a team that while it won 10 games, it was out-gained by more than 73 yards per contest in ACC play. The blowout loss to Florida State in the conference championship game has a lot to do with this deficit, if you will, but Duke beat Virginia Tech on the road by three points in a game in which the Blue Devils didn't convert a single third down and threw four interceptions. What's more, most of the starting defensive line and all-conference cornerback Ross Cockrell are gone, leaving some pretty big holes to fill. Cutcliffe's team doesn't have a particularly (ahem) devilish schedule to contend with this season, but I don't expect him to orchestrate anything that closely resembles a repeat of 2013's success either.

To that point, North Carolina was a late defensive stop away from ruining Duke's title chances last fall. The Tar Heels fell to the Blue Devils 27-25 in Chapel Hill, a victory that put Duke in the ACC Championship Game. But with UNC welcoming 14 starters back and the pieces in place to produce one of the nation's most prolific offenses, there's a chance that the roles between these two basketball-centric schools could be flipped for 2014. Yards and points shouldn't be an issue for Larry Fedora's team this fall, at least not from an offensive standpoint. With dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams leading the way, the Tar Heels should improve on their production from last season, when it ranked 49th in the country in total offense and 43rd in scoring. The key will be the improved play of the defense, which struggled mightily to start but got better as the season progressed. An early road trip to Clemson will serve as an ideal barometer for how far the defense has come and if the Tar Heels can be considered a legitimate contender in the Coastal. But regardless of the outcome in Death Valley, I expect North Carolina to finish higher in the division standings than Duke this fall. Who would have ever thought that a Duke-UNC matchup in late November would generate as much attention as one in February or March?


Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.

 

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 


John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com
Both teams have their issues -- Duke's running game, North Carolina's defense -- but for the last few seasons (and this year, too), they're pretty evenly matched. So in what should be a wide-open division yet again, it may end up coming down to schedule construction. Both squads visit Miami, while Duke's other conference road games include Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Syracuse; a slightly easier group of teams than the Heels' respective ACC road opponents, Clemson, Virginia and Duke. The winner of that mid-November Duke-UNC matchup may not only finish higher in the division of these two teams, but also end up representing the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game. And for right now, I'm going with the Blue Devils there, who should look even more consistent on offense now that Anthony Boone has more experience under his belt. With Miami already dealing with a key injury (QB Ryan Williams), and Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech breaking in new quarterbacks themselves, this division may find itself ruled over by its North Carolina squads in 2014.

Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky), NunesMagician.com
Really, when you're talking Duke and North Carolina, you're talking Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Wil...oh, right, this is football! And isn't it nice that the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are both relevant enough on the gridiron to be worth discussing? David Cutcliffe and Larry Fedora seem to have their respective teams heading in the right direction and the beauty of that is the two rivals are in the same division.

Actually, he two are flying high after Duke took the Coastal last season and North Carolina ending the year with a bowl win over Cincinnati. Good times behind with good times seemingly ahead. So which one will finish higher in 2014? Well, that answer will likely come November 20, when the Tar Heels head to Durham for a game that could rival their basketball counterparts in terms of hype.

Still, with the Blue Devils hitting the road for four of their first five ACC games, Cutcliffe's boys may be destined for something of a letdown. Plus, quarterback Brandon Connette, who accounted for 27 touchdowns in 2013 alone, is transferring to be closer to home to be with his is ailing mother. Of course, Anthony Boone, who split time at QB with Connette, looks ready for prime time but Cutcliffe also has to replace the likes of Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx on the defensive front line. The foundation is certainly set in Durham for success, so the seasons of two or three wins are gone, but it will be tough to replicate the meteoric rise last season brought.

That's not to say UNC doesn't have issues of its own -- the offensive line being a major concern. But quarterback Marquise Williams looks like the real deal with a ton of skilled talent for him to get the ball to on offense. Plus, the final month of the season gives the Tar Heels a bye week and two home games sandwiched around the trip to Durham. Ultimately, it will be close, but I'm going with UNC to finish higher than Duke in the Coastal and to likely contend for the division championship -- only fitting the year after the Blue Devils take the Coastal, the Tar Heels get their answer. It's what makes a rivalry fun to talk about.

Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
This is a pretty tough question with how wide-open the Coastal Division is. The first thing to keep in mind is that North Carolina’s game at Notre Dame is a non-conference one this year, so that might tip the scales their way. 

When I look at the two teams’ conference schedules in late April, I would give them the same number of games I expect each to win, lose and what I’d deem toss-ups games. With everything still pretty equal, it’s time to look at what each squad lost and returns.

UNC won six of its last seven games, but lost its best two offensive linemen, its stud tight end and several key pieces on defense. Meanwhile, Duke returns 17 starters off of their 10-win squad, including eight on offense and six on defense. The transfer of quarterback Brandon Connette, who was an automatic seven inside of the red zone, is underrated, but I’m putting my faith in David Cutcliffe to keep the Blue Devils from taking too far of a step back and stay ahead of the Tar Heels in 2014.

Teaser:
Duke or North Carolina: Which team finishes higher in the Coastal in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-updates-uniforms-2014
Body:

After a disappointing 3-9 record in Bret Bielema’s first season at Arkansas, the Razorbacks are hoping for bigger and better things in 2014.

And what better way to build momentum for 2014 than the release of new uniforms and logos?

It seems every BCS school is releasing uniforms recently, and the Razorbacks unveiled an updated look for 2014 on Monday night.

Here are some photos of Arkansas’ new uniforms, as well as updated logos:
 

Teaser:
Arkansas Updates Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/who-leads-sec-rushing-2014
Body:

2013 was the year of the quarterback in the SEC. The league featured standouts in AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, James Franklin and Connor Shaw.

But heading into 2014, the SEC is a league searching for answers at quarterback. Auburn’s Nick Marshall ranks as the No. 1 signal-caller, with Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Missouri’s Maty Mauk in the next tier.

With the SEC losing several quarterbacks, expect the league to feature its rushing attacks and defenses more in 2014.

The SEC is loaded at running back in 2014, as Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Arkansas’ Alex Collins could all be All-Americans this year.

Gurley missed action last year due to a foot injury, but the junior is expected to be at full strength in 2014. Collins and Yeldon should have plenty of opportunities, but both players will have competition from a talented backfield. Davis should have no trouble matching last year’s numbers, especially with an offensive line that could be the best in the SEC.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Who will lead the SEC in rushing in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The SEC is loaded at running back this year. Just how loaded? One of these backs: Mike Davis (South Carolina), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama) or Todd Gurley (Georgia) will have to be placed on the second-team All-SEC squad this preseason. And the depth extends deep in the conference, as Derrick Henry is ready for a breakout year at Alabama, Jerron Seymour could shine at Vanderbilt under new coordinator Karl Dorrell, and Texas A&M has a talented trio of running backs waiting for more opportunities. With the losses at quarterback this offseason, expect to see a return by the offenses in the SEC on the ground attack. While I expect this will be a close race for the top spot, I’ll take Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Despite a nagging ankle injury last season, Gurley finished fourth among SEC running backs by averaging 98.9 yards per game. Gurley also averaged six yards per carry and opened the year with back-to-back 100-yard games (Clemson, South Carolina). The Bulldogs’ offensive line is a work in progress, but I suspect a motivated (and healthy) Gurley will finish atop the SEC leaderboard in rushing yards in 2014.

Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
I’ll take Todd Gurley. He averaged six yards a carry last year despite playing at less than 100 percent for much of the season. Gurley has the perfect combination of size and running ability and should enter his third season at Georgia in the best shape of his career. There are other strong choices for this question – Mike Davis at South Carolina and Alex Collins at Arkansas come to mind – but I’ll stick with Gurley. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason called Gurley the “best back in the country” when he’s healthy. Sure, Mason is biased. But that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Kevin Causey (@CFBZ), CrystalBallRun.com
Last year, the SEC was a QB driven league that was deep at that position. This year, those QBs have exited but a bunch of great RBs remain. Todd Gurley, TJ Yeldon, Mike Davis, Alex Collins and Derrick Henry just to name a few. In looking at this question, I looked back at the last four years in the SEC and noted that the player that led the SEC in rushing was either the best RB in the league (Tre Mason, Trent Richardson) or a QB (Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton).

So the way I figure, it's either going to be Todd Gurley, Mike Davis, Derrick Henry, Nick Marshall or Dak Prescott. Alabama and Georgia are deep at RB and I think that will take some carries away from Gurley and Henry (and you also have to factor in Gurley's past durability). South Carolina will rely more on Davis this year but I still wonder how much the Ol' Ball Coach wants to pound the rock play after play. I might be going outside the box a bit but my pick is Nick Marshall.

He finished 7th in the league last season in rushing, but he also had to learn Gus Malzahn's offensive system and he had a feature back in Tre Mason to hand the rock to. He had at least 89 yards rushing in six games last season and he got better at making decisions as the season went on. Auburn will still have some good RBs in the backfield but I foresee more of an onus being put on Marshall to carry the load in 2014 and it will result in more carries and more yards and maybe, just maybe, for the third time in five years a QB will lead the SEC in rushing yards.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
History says the SEC’s rushing leader will be something of a surprise. I doubt anyone would have predicted Tre Mason to win the rushing title by more than 400 yards last year. Or that a quarterback would do it in 2012 and 2010. The off-the-wall pick would be Arkansas sophomore Alex Collins, but the Razorbacks might not give him enough leads to protect late in the game. My guess, then, is Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Think about what he did last season before he got hurt: 154 yards against Clemson, 132 against South Carolina. Going back to his freshman season, Gurley topped 100 yards in five of the final seven games. With a new quarterback and the possibility that Keith Marshall will redshirt, Georgia will need to rely on Gurley. We know he’s up to the task.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
With the recent departure of elite quarterbacks from the SEC, fans should expect a return to normalcy in the nation's toughest league in 2014. That means running the ball with a deep and talented collection of running backs. Georgia's Todd Gurley is the most gifted back, but he has dealt with injuries and may lose touches with the return of Keith Marshall. Alabama's T.J. Yeldon is an All-American back but should also lose touches to the very talented Derrick Henry in Nick Saban's traditional two-back system. Alex Collins at Arkansas is in the same boat with Jonathan Williams expecting at least 150 carries for the Hogs. So I will go off the board with South Carolina's Mike Davis. He is as talented as any of the aforementioned runners and will be playing behind five returning starters for the Gamecocks. The schedule isn't all that daunting as Steve Spurrier's bunch will miss all of the toughest defenses from the West: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Davis dealt with his own small injuries a year ago and still managed to finish fourth in the SEC with nearly 1,200 yards. Should he play in every game, my money is on the rising junior star in Columbia to lead the SEC in rushing.

Mark Ross
I'm going to give a slight edge to Todd Gurley over Mike Davis. Gurley, a junior, has been consistent in his first two seasons in a Georgia uniform, averaging 98.9 yards rushing per game. Last season, Gurley missed three-plus games because of an ankle injury. Taking his 98.9 yards per game average into consideration, if Gurley had played all 13 games he would have finished with 1,286 yards rushing. That total would have placed him third in the SEC behind Auburn's Tre Mason (1,816) and LSU's Jeremy Hill (1,401). Both Mason and Hill are gone, so as long as Gurley stays healthy, I think he will get more than enough carries to post some pretty big numbers, especially with unproven Hutson Mason entering his first full season as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. South Carolina's Davis, a fellow junior, averaged basically the same number of rushing yards per game (98.6) as Gurley last season, and he definitely should be the Gamecocks' workhorse this fall. However, I'm giving Gurley the slight edge over Davis in this matchup of SEC East ground-gainers based on Gurley's more impressive track record and the assumption that he will be able to stay healthy this season.

Teaser:
Who Leads the SEC in Rushing in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/tcus-qb-concerns-could-be-answered-texas-am-transfer-matt-joeckel
Body:

Despite owning one of the Big 12’s top defenses last season, TCU finished with its worst record under Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs finished 4-8 overall and just 2-7 in Big 12 play.

The main culprit of last season’s four-win mark was an offense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total yards per game (349.1) and managed just 4.9 yards per play.

Some of TCU’s offensive struggles were due to bad luck, as quarterback Casey Pachall was injured early in the year, which hindered the development of the passing attack.

Despite last year’s disappointment, there is plenty of optimism in Fort Worth going into 2014.

New co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham have installed an up-tempo attack, and TCU landed Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel after spring practice to bolster the quarterback spot.

Joeckel doesn’t have a wealth of experience from his three years with the Aggies. Joeckel threw for 335 yards in his Texas A&M career and tossed two touchdown passes in 2013.

Despite his lack of experience, Joeckel’s transfer is a key addition for TCU. While eight overall losses on the resume last year looks bad, the Horned Frogs had several close calls against some of the top teams in the Big 12. TCU lost by only two points against Kansas State, by three to Baylor and by three to Oklahoma.

With slight improvement on offense, the Horned Frogs would easily make a bowl in 2014.

That’s where Joeckel comes in.

Why is his transfer important for TCU in 2014? Joeckel should claim the starting job in the fall, which would allow Trevone Boykin to switch to receiver. The Horned Frogs need more weapons on the outside, and moving Boykin from quarterback would bolster the passing game.

Also, Joeckel is no stranger to this style of offense. At Texas A&M, he was tutored by Kliff Kingsbury and Jake Spavital – both coaches that worked under Dana Holgorsen, who spent time at Oklahoma State with Meacham. So switching from the offense in College Station to TCU's up-tempo attack shouldn't be much of a concern.

Joeckel probably isn’t going to be an All-Big 12 quarterback, but he should help TCU’s passing attack improve, as well as allow Boykin to become one of the offense’s top receivers.

And while a Big 12 title seems unrealistic, with Joeckel in command, the Horned Frogs could be the most-improved team in the conference this year.

Teaser:
TCU's QB Concerns Could be Answered With Texas A&M Transfer Matt Joeckel
Post date: Monday, April 21, 2014 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/will-indiana-make-bowl-2014
Body:

Under coach Kevin Wilson, Indiana has made steady progress over the last three years. The Hoosiers went 1-11 and winless in Big Ten play in 2011, but Indiana improved to 4-8 in 2012.

Wilson continued his improvement project in Bloomington in 2013, as the Hoosiers went 5-7 last season and 3-5 in conference play. Just how close was Indiana to playing in a bowl last season? The Hoosiers lost by six to Navy and by three to Minnesota.

After improving their win total in each of the last two years, getting to six victories would be quite an accomplishment for Indiana in 2014.

The Big Ten realigned the divisions with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, which placed Indiana in the East Division. The Hoosiers are now division rivals with Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. While the division should produce plenty of games against top-25 teams, getting to a bowl game will be a huge challenge with a tougher schedule.

Indiana’s non-conference schedule provides few breaks in 2014, as Kevin Wilson’s team plays at Bowling Green and Missouri – two potential 10-win teams. North Texas also visits Bloomington, and the Mean Green could be the favorite in Conference USA’s West Division.

If Wilson is able to guide Indiana to a bowl in 2014, he could be one of the top candidates to win coach of the year honors in the Big Ten.

Will Indiana Make a Bowl in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tough call. I think Indiana will be right in the 5-7 win range once again. The Hoosiers should have one of the Big Ten’s most-explosive offenses, but the defense is a huge question mark. In conference play last year, Indiana allowed a whopping 7.4 yards per play. The Hoosiers also gave up 41.9 points per game in eight conference contests. Those two numbers have to improve if Kevin Wilson’s team wants to make a bowl. With 10 starters back, there is certainly potential for this unit to show improvement. However, it’s hard to envision significant growth by the defense in 2014, even with new coordinator Brian Knorr. Once again, the Hoosiers’ bowl hopes will rely on an explosive offense. Quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson are two of the best in the Big Ten and have weapons at their disposal in running back Tevin Coleman and receiver Shane Wynn. And Indiana quietly has one of the Big Ten’s best offensive lines. Despite possessing a dynamic offense, I think the Hoosiers are going to fall short of a bowl. Swing games against Missouri, Rutgers and Iowa are away from Bloomington, and Indiana was one of the losers in the Big Ten’s newly aligned divisions with Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule every year. It’s possible the Hoosiers are a better team in 2014 than they were in 2013. However, a bowl will be just out of reach due to a tougher schedule this year.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
Yes. The Hoosiers have gone from one to four to five wins in Kevin Wilson’s first three seasons, so they’re moving in the right direction. Expect the trend to continue in Year 4 – even in the loaded East Division and with OC Seth Littrell now at North Carolina. We know the offense is going to be exciting and as prolific as any in the Big Ten, with QBs Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson both back, in addition to underrated RB Tevin Coleman and WR Shane Wynn. The defense, well, there’s always the hope a new DC (Brian Knorr) and schematic change (4-3 to 3-4) can do the trick. Thing is, the defense doesn’t even have to be average to get the Hoosiers to six wins; it just has to show some improvement and avoid being the Big Ten’s worst unit for the fourth consecutive season. 

Mark Ross
Offense was not an issue for Indiana last season (9th nationally in yards gained, 16th in scoring), but defense certainly was. The Hoosiers ranked near the bottom of FBS teams in all four major defensive categories. This is why a team that piled up more than 500 yards and 38 points per game only won five games. In Big Ten play alone, Indiana was out-gained by 71 yards per game and out-scored by a total of 52 points, nearly a touchdown per contest. The defense returns all but one starter this season, but is that a good thing? The offense should be pretty productive once again, but I don't see it putting up big enough numbers to offset what was one of the worst defenses in college football a year ago. Then there's the schedule. The Hoosiers should (hopefully) beat Indiana State and North Texas in non-conference action while Purdue and Big Ten newcomer Rutgers figure to bring up the rear in the East and West divisions, respectively. However, after that I have a hard time finding two more wins. Missouri is the defending SEC East champion and Bowling Green won the MAC last year. Both should be pretty good again in 2014 and these two games are on the road. The rest of Indiana's conference slate consists of Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland at home with road dates against Ohio State, Michigan and a crossover game at Iowa. Maryland may be the other new kid on the Big Ten block, but I actually think the Terrapins are more talented and better than the Hoosiers. So unless Indiana pulls off an upset or two at some point in the season and doesn't lose a game it's expected to win (and I'm not sure I would put the Bowling Green game in that category), I think Kevin Wilson's team will be hard-pressed to put together six wins this fall. In fact, from my perspective, five would be nothing to be ashamed about.

Kevin McGuire
It is hard to not appreciate the work done by Kevin Wilson since his arrival in Bloomington, because he has managed to build something at Indiana. The Hoosiers had nowhere to go but up when Wilson was hired and this season could be the best yet. The Hoosiers return all 11 starters an offense that has become one of the more entertaining units in the Big Ten and 10 on defense that could benefit from the experience. The problem is Indiana has quite the uphill battle to get to the minimum six victories. Road games at Bowling Green (defending MAC champions) and Missouri (defending SEC East champions) could be extremely difficult in the non-conference slate, and North Texas will not be a pushover either. The Hoosiers are also lumped in the same division with both of the Big Ten’s 2013 division winners (Ohio State, Michigan State) and play at Michigan and at home against Penn State in back-to-back weeks (and I suspect Penn State will not unravel the way they did in Bloomington last season). Indiana came close with five wins last year, but five games may be the high mark again unless the defense drastically improves.

Teaser:
Will Indiana Make a Bowl in 2014?
Post date: Monday, April 21, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/washington-gets-new-uniforms-start-chris-petersen-era
Body:

It’s a new era in Seattle, as Chris Petersen was hired away from Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian. Petersen is regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation, so it’s no surprise there is plenty of excitement around the program in 2014.

The Huskies continued to build on their offseason momentum with the release of new uniforms and helmets for 2014.

And by all accounts, these new uniforms are a hit with the players and fans.

Check out the full gallery of the new uniforms here and below are a few selected images from today’s release:
 

Teaser:
Washington Unveils New Uniforms for 2014
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 21:56
Path: /college-football/texas-or-kansas-state-who-finishes-higher-big-12-2014
Body:

Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the favorites in the Big 12 for 2014, but Kansas State and Texas aren’t too far behind.

The Wildcats and Longhorns both finished 8-5 last season, but Texas held a two-game edge in conference play.

Texas defeated Kansas State 31-21 in 2013, but prior to last season, the Wildcats had won five in a row over the Longhorns.

With Charlie Strong taking over, Texas is due for a transition period, but there’s still a ton of talent on the roster.

Kansas State finished 2013 on a tear, winning six out of the last seven games. And with 10 starters back, the Wildcats are a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12 in 2014. The offense should have no trouble scoring points with the return of quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, and the defense will get a boost from a couple of key recruits from the junior college ranks.

Even though Oklahoma and Baylor are considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference (in whatever order you prefer), it’s not out of the question Texas or Kansas State could win the Big 12 title if all of the pieces come together.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Texas or Kansas State: Who Finishes HIgher in the Big 12 in 2014?


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Tough call. There’s very little separation between these two teams, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kansas State and Texas tie in the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats have a huge schedule advantage by hosting the Longhorns, but Bill Snyder’s team plays at Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Although Texas has to play in Manhattan, its road schedule in conference play seems to be more manageable. Talent certainly hasn’t been an issue for the Longhorns, but this roster has underachieved in recent years. Strong should fix that problem by bringing discipline and a better fundamental, X’s and O’s approach than former coach Mack Brown. But much of Texas’ chances of finishing ahead of Kansas State in the standings will rest on the quarterback position. The Wildcats have a huge edge over the Longhorns in that department, as Jake Waters should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2014. The health of quarterback David Ash is a concern for Strong, but the Longhorns can win games with their stable of running backs and a solid defense. A compelling case could be made for either team in this discussion, but I will give a slight edge to the Longhorns. Yes, the home matchup favors Kansas State, and Bill Snyder on the sidelines is worth an extra win or two every year for the Wildcats. However, Strong should be what Texas needs to maximize the talent on the roster, and the Longhorns should narrowly edge Kansas State for the No. 3 spot in the Big 12. 

Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
The correct answer is neither. Or perhaps both.

I've got Texas projected to finish the year at 6-3 in conference. Wins: Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State, Baylor. Losses: Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State.

Same for Kansas State. Wins: Texas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech. Losses: Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU.

If you want to get all technical about it, the Wildcats would have the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head win. Record-wise, however, the two teams tie for third place. Feel the excitement.

Mark Ross
As much as I like the Charlie Strong hire for Texas, I have learned it's never a wise move to count out Bill Snyder. All the man has done as Kansas State's head coach is win consistently with less talent, at least according to the recruiting services, than the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and more recently, Baylor. Over the past three seasons, the Wildcats have won 29 games, gone 20-7 in Big 12 play, including claiming the conference crown in 2012. K-State has enjoyed all of this success due to Snyder's steady hand, solid coaching and the impressive ability to mine the junior college ranks for impact talent on a year-in, year-out basis. That's why even though the Wildcats return just 10 starters, just four of those on defense, I still expect Snyder to find a way to coax enough wins out of this roster to finish ahead of Strong and the Longhorns. For one, Jake Waters is fully entrenched as the starting quarterback and appears to have the same type of dual-threat skill set that thrives in Snyder's offense. Waters also has some playmakers around him, namely All-Big 12 standout wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The defense is inexperienced, but there's talent for the coaching staff to work with and, as always, reinforcements on the way in the form of junior college transfers and redshirt freshmen.

The other reason I like K-State a little better than Texas this season is the schedule. The Wildcats have a big showdown with defending SEC champion Auburn on Sept. 18, but that game takes place in Manhattan, Kan. Likewise, Snyder's team also will welcome Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and, that's right, Texas, to the Little Apple this fall. Road trips to Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and West Virginia won't be easy, but this schedule appears, at least on paper, more palatable than the Longhorns'. Before Strong even gets his first taste of the Big 12, he will have played both BYU and UCLA in his new home state, the latter coming at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Texas' conference slate has them visiting Stillwater, Lubbock, the aforementioned Manhattan and of course Dallas for the newly re-branded AT&T Red River Showdown with an Oklahoma team that's still smarting from last year's beatdown to the 'Horns. And don't forget home dates with Baylor and TCU. Yes, Texas made a wise choice in tabbing Strong as the successor to Mack Brown, but that doesn't mean he will immediately return the Longhorns to the top of the Big 12. Not with wily old Snyder and Kansas State seemingly flying under the radar for yet another season.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The safe pick is Kansas State. The upside pick is Texas. Kansas State has the more stable quarterback situation with Jake Waters’ development pushing Daniel Sams to wide receiver. Kansas State has the fortuitous schedule with three off weeks and Texas at home. That said, both teams have big time questions that may prevent them from contending for the Big 12. I like Texas’ potential. While the Longhorns don’t have an easy solution at quarterback with the injury-prone veteran David Ash, the upstart Tyrone Swoopes or the potential newcomer Max Wittek, as long as any of them are competent, Texas can win thanks to the run game. Joe Wickline is a quality offensive line coach, and his arrival is huge for Texas. Texas will find some answers there. And even if we don’t know some of the names on defense, Texas has the talent. If I’m feeling safe, I go Kansas State. If I’m feeling lucky, I’ll go with Texas.

 

Teaser:
Texas or Kansas State: Who Finishes Higher in the Big 12 in 2014?
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The Big Ten isn’t particularly deep at quarterback this season, but there’s plenty to like at the top.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller takes the No. 1 spot in the quarterback rankings, and the senior is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy in 2014. Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 scores in 12 games. The Buckeyes will feature a deep group of receivers and running backs to help Miller, but the departure of four starters on the line is a concern for coach Urban Meyer.

After Miller, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Michigan State’s Connor Cook take the next two spots. Hackenberg was outstanding as a freshman in 2013, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 scores. He also completed 58.9 percent of his throws and should thrive under new coach James Franklin. The Spartans entered last season with uncertainty under center, but Cook eventually claimed the top spot over Andrew Maxwell. Cook threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan State’s Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld/Tre Roberson are other intriguing names to watch in 2014. Gardner has a new coordinator (Doug Nussmeier), but for the Wolverines’ passing game to take a step forward, the offensive line has to develop after struggling in 2014.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the Big Ten's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (SR)
There is no doubt about Miller’s overall talent. He is explosive, versatile, accurate, tough and always seems to make the big play when Ohio State has needed one. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year enters his final season with eyes on finally winning a conference title after going 24-0 as a starter in the regular season the last two years. Miller has thrown for 5,292 yards, rushed for 3,054 yards and scored 84 total touchdowns (52 pass, 32 rush) in 36 career games. He needs to prove he can stay healthy, as Ohio State is a national title contender with No. 5 under center. But without him, the Buckeyes wouldn't be the favorite to win the division.

2. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (SO)
From a pure NFL talent perspective, only Jameis Winston is in the same category as Hackenberg. As a true freshman, he set all types of Penn State passing records and will only continue to get better as his career progresses. The Virginia native lost QB guru Bill O'Brien and star safety blanket Allen Robinson at receiver, but gained uber-coach James Franklin and has an elite collection of tight ends and running backs at his disposal. The offensive line will be a concern, but Hackenberg should easily improve on his freshman statline of 2,955 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State (JR)
Michigan State opened last season with major question marks under center, as Andrew Maxwell entered his second year as the tentative starter. By the third week of the season, Cook had wrestled the starting job from all other contenders by throwing four touchdowns and 202 yards in an easy win over Youngstown State. Cook lost only once in his first year as Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback and finished with a sterling 2,755-yard, 22-TD, 6-INT statline. And he saved his best for the biggest stage, throwing for over 300 yards in both the Big Ten Championship game win over Ohio State and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. Cook has the chance to mix the talent of Drew Stanton with the leadership and poise of Kirk Cousins — a scary combination for the rest of the league.

4. Devin Gardner, Michigan (SR)
Gardner is perhaps the toughest quarterback to rank in the Big Ten for 2014. While Gardner didn’t meet the lofty preseason expectations, his numbers in conference play weren’t bad. In eight Big Ten games, Gardner led the conference by averaging 269.9 passing yards per contest. He also threw only three interceptions in Big Ten contests last year. Gardner finished the year on a high note by throwing for 451 yards and four touchdowns against rival Ohio State but missed the bowl game due to injury. While Gardner had his share of struggles, he wasn’t exactly awful. But in order for the Michigan native to take the next step in his development, Gardner needs more help from a struggling supporting cast.

5. Nate Sudfeld (JR)/Tre Roberson (JR), Indiana
Normally, only one name is supposed to be listed here, but Kevin Wilson has talked openly about using a two-quarterback system. And since the Hoosiers' duo complements each other so well, both make the list. Roberson is the better athlete who can make things happen outside of the pocket with the ball in his hands. Sudfeld is the accomplished pocket passer with better over accuracy and touch. Wilson ran the Big Ten's top passing offense a year ago and the league's No. 2 overall unit, so no one can really doubt what is normally a very questionable strategy under center.

6. C.J. Brown, Maryland (SR)
Heading into 2013, no Terrapin had passed for more than 1,700 yards since 2010. However, that was until Brown finally proved he could stay relatively healthy (he still missed two games). He finished with 2,242 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, making his 135.90 passer rating the highest for a Maryland starter since Chris Turner in 2007. While his arm was better than anticipated, his real value was on the ground as he rushed for 576 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. A repeat of that performance would make him one of the more productive players in the Big Ten in 2014.

7. Jake Rudock, Iowa (JR)
Prior to last season, Rudock had yet to take a snap in a regular season game in an Iowa uniform. However, the Florida native quietly had a solid debut, throwing for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns on 204 completions. Rudock tossed 13 picks but completed 59 percent of his throws and added 218 yards and five scores on the ground. Helping Rudock’s cause in 2014 will be a strong offensive line, three steady options at running back, and the return of No. 1 receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley. Rudock won’t post huge numbers in Iowa’s offensive scheme, but the junior is due to improve on the stat sheet in 2014 and could approach 3,000 passing yards.

8. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska (SO)
Armstrong was placed into a difficult role last year, taking over as Nebraska’s starting quarterback after Taylor Martinez was lost for the year due to a foot injury. Despite the lack of experience and difficult circumstances, Armstrong held up relatively well in his first taste of FBS action. The Texas native completed 68 of 131 passes for 966 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 202 yards and two scores on the ground. With the starting job in hand this offseason, Armstrong will benefit from the opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense in preseason practices. A completion percentage of 51.9 is a potential trouble spot, but Armstrong should be more comfortable in his second year under center. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he will have potential All-Big Ten candidates in receiver Kenny Bell and running back Ameer Abdullah returning in 2014.

9. Joel Stave, Wisconsin (JR)
Stave is coming off a solid 2013 campaign, throwing for 2,494 yards and 22 touchdowns on 208 completions. However, his spot on the top of Wisconsin’s depth chart is far from certain. The junior suffered a shoulder injury in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina and was shut down for the final week of spring practice to allow him time to rehab for the fall. But even if Stave returns at full strength, he isn’t guaranteed to take the first snap of the year against LSU. Junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy had a solid spring and is expected to push Stave again in the fall. McEvoy started his career at South Carolina but transferred to Arizona Western College to play in 2012. McEvoy played some snaps at safety last season but is moving back to quarterback. Wisconsin ranked No. 8 last year in the Big Ten (conference-only games) in passing offense, so whether it’s Stave or McEvoy under center, the Badgers need more out of the passing attack. If we knew who the starter was, they would probably rank a little higher on this list.

10. Wes Lunt, Illinois (SO)
The Illinois’ coaching staff won’t hand out the official starter designation until the fall, but all signs point to Lunt as the No. 1 quarterback. In 2012, Lunt threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns on 81 completions at Oklahoma State. The Illinois native transferred from Stillwater after 2012 and spent last season as a redshirt for the Fighting Illini. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Lunt has all of the physical tools necessary to succeed under center. But with less than a season of experience under his belt, Lunt will have a few growing pains at Illinois. However, as a four-star prospect, the future looks bright for Lunt, and with a struggling defense, he could be forced to win plenty of shootouts for the Fighting Illini this year.

11. Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (SR)
Siemian has shared the quarterback duties over the last two years with Kain Colter, but the Florida native is set to assume the No. 1 spot on the depth chart this season. Over the last two years, Siemian has thrown for 3,461 yards and 17 touchdowns and tossed 12 picks. In the season finale against Illinois in 2013, Siemian torched the Fighting Illini defense for 414 yards and four scores. And he also threw for 308 yards against Indiana in 2012. Perhaps dropping the two-quarterback system and allowing Siemian to take all of the snaps will help Northwestern’s offense, especially since he won’t have to look over his shoulder waiting to be removed from the game or wonder when the next snap may happen. Siemian has plenty of talent to work with and should help Northwestern rebound into a bowl in 2014.

12. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota (SO)
With Philip Nelson transferring to Rutgers, Leidner will take control of the Minnesota offense. Although losing a starting quarterback is always a setback, the Golden Gophers’ offense shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with Leidner under center. Last season, the Minnesota native completed 43 of 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns. Leidner also added 407 yards and seven scores on the ground last year. Considering coach Jerry Kill’s background at Northern Illinois and how Minnesota used Nelson over the last two years, it’s safe to say Leidner could approach 700 rushing yards this season. But the bigger concerns for coaching staff are improving the passing attack, which averaged only 148.1 yards per game last year. If he develops as a passer, Leidner should move up this list by the end of the season.

13. Danny Etling, Purdue (SO)
The Boilermakers struggled mightily in Darrell Hazell’s first season, finishing 1-11 with its only victory coming against FCS opponent Indiana State. You have to look hard to find bright spots in a one-win season, but Etling was one of the few promising players for Hazell to build around in 2014. The Indiana native finished 2013 with 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns and completed 55.8 percent of his throws. Etling closed the year on a high note by throwing for 485 yards and four scores against rival Indiana. Although Etling has to make strides as a passer, he also needs more help from his supporting cast. Of the four players that caught at least 25 passes in 2013, only one averaged more than 11.5 yards per catch. The Boilermakers also allowed a whopping 32 sacks in eight Big Ten contests. Etling certainly has upside and should improve with a full offseason to work as the No. 1. However, his upside will be limited until Hazell improves the supporting cast through recruiting or player development.

14. Gary Nova, Rutgers (SR)
Nova threw for fewer yards (2,159), fewer touchdowns (18), a lower completion percentage (54.5%) and nearly as many interceptions (14) in 2013 as he did in 2012 (2,695 yards, 22 TDs, 57.0%, 16 INTs). He was benched for the final three games of 2013 and will need to hold onto the job throughout the offseason if he wants to have the chance to reverse the concerning trend in his production. If he's not going to produce on the ground — Nova has minus-251 career rushing yards and has never had more than minus-44 yards in a season — he has to be excellent through the air. Although the numbers so far are concerning for coach Kyle Flood, the addition of play-caller Ralph Friedgen should help Nova’s development in 2014.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Friday, April 18, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/uniform-upgrades-coming-illinois-2014
Body:

Illinois joined the new uniform release party this spring, unveiling helmets and jerseys for 2014 on Wednesday night.

The program is switching to a power “I” design on the helmets, which is a needed change from the simple Illinois underlined on the helmets.

And the overall design of the jerseys is pretty solid. White, orange and blue will be the three jersey colors, and the Fighting Illini will also have three different helmets to choose from.

Check out the photos below:
 

Teaser:
Uniform Upgrades Coming for Illinois in 2014
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The SEC was home to some of college football’s top quarterbacks in the nation last year. However, one offseason later, and the conference is essentially rebuilding from scratch at the quarterback spot.

The list of names departing is heavy: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Missouri’s James Franklin, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

After one of the best seasons from the quarterback spot in recent years for the SEC, it will be tough for the league to match that production in 2014. However, the cupboard isn’t entirely bare, as Auburn’s Nick Marshall is a fringe candidate for All-America honors, and Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace, Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are primed for big seasons.

The conference also has several intriguing options in Alabama’s Jacob Coker, Vanderbilt’s Stephen Rivers, Kentucky’s Drew Barker and LSU’s Brandon Harris.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the SEC's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Nick Marshall, Auburn (SR)
Marshall’s career path is one of the most interesting stories for a starting quarterback on the FBS level. After playing at Georgia as a defensive back in 2011, he was dismissed from the team and landed at Garden City Community College in 2012. And after one season on the junior college ranks, Marshall landed at Auburn and led the Tigers to a berth in the national championship game against Florida State. Marshall finished 2013 by throwing for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding 1,068 yards and 12 scores on the ground – all impressive totals when you consider that was his first taste of action on the FBS level. With another offseason to work under offensive mastermind Gus Malzahn, look for Marshall to take the top spot in the SEC quarterback rankings this year.

2. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (SR)
With 14 starters back, there is plenty of buzz surrounding this Ole Miss team in 2014. With LSU, Alabama and Auburn each losing some key personnel from last year’s teams, the door is open for the Rebels to make some noise in the SEC West. In order for Ole Miss to climb in the division standings, Wallace has to have a huge season. The Tennessee native threw for 3,346 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and added 355 yards and six scores on the ground. The senior has thrown for 40 touchdowns over the last two years but has also tossed 27 picks during that span. Finding more overall consistency as a passer, along with eliminating the turnovers will be a key to watch for Wallace in 2014. Of course, it should help that he is now a full year removed from shoulder surgery (see Missouri’s James Franklin in 2013).

3. Maty Mauk, Missouri (SO)
Mauk owns every major high school passing record from his days in Ohio, and his short time under center as a freshman a year ago proved his gaudy prep numbers were no fluke. He isn’t the largest quarterback - cut more from the Aaron Murray cloth rather than the Zach Mettenberger mold - but he has loads of confidence, moxie, leadership and even some athletic ability. He was thrust into a nasty situation on the road against Georgia and delivered a huge win before leading his team to easy wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss. Mauk finished his freshman season with 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions and 229 yards rushing. In Gary Pinkel’s system, Mauk has a chance to blossom into one of the SEC’s best.

4. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (JR)
After coming off the bench to lead Mississippi State to an Egg Bowl victory over rival Ole Miss, and a standout performance in the Liberty Bowl, Prescott is poised for a breakout year. The Louisiana native threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and added 829 yards and 13 scores. Prescott averaged 269.3 total yards per game through eight SEC contests and should build off of those totals with a full offseason to recover from a shoulder injury. There’s a ton of upside with Prescott in 2014, especially with a strong supporting cast at his disposal. If all of the pieces come together at Mississippi State, there’s a good chance Prescott ranks higher on this list at the end of the year.

5. Jacob Coker, Alabama (JR)
Despite not taking a snap in an Alabama uniform until this summer, all signs point to Coker as the frontrunner to replace AJ McCarron in Tuscaloosa. Coker graduated from Florida State this spring, and with Jameis Winston entrenched as the starter, he decided to transfer and play immediately at another school. In two years as a backup with the Seminoles, Coker threw for 295 yards and one touchdown on 21 completions. The Alabama native isn’t short on all of the physical attributes coaches are looking for in a quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Coker is ready to handle the rigors of the SEC. Despite the lack of overall experience, Coker has the talent to make an instant impact at Alabama. And if he fails to claim the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, look for Blake Sims or Cooper Bateman to start in the opener against West Virginia.


6. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina (SR)
Much like Mason at Georgia, Thompson has been in the Gamecocks system for years and is ready to take over as the starter after sitting behind a historically great player. Thompson got a few starts behind Connor Shaw, and his big arm fits the downfield gameplan Steve Spurrier so desperately enjoys. The South Carolina native threw 127 passes in 2012 and 89 a year ago with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions in spot duty for South Carolina. He has an elite O-Line returning in front of him and a great back in Mike Davis behind him, so success should find the first-year starter in Columbia.

7. Hutson Mason, Georgia (SR)
Mark Richt was very clear when Aaron Murray was lost for the season against Kentucky with one regular season game left to play: Mason has been ready to be a starter for quite sometime. And after a very shaky start to the Georgia Tech game, Mason proved his coach right by leading a miraculous comeback to top the Dawgs rival in overtime. In his two starts, the Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter senior averaged over 300 yards passing per game and completed over 60-percent of his passes. With a supporting cast that should be even healthier and more talented in ’14, Mason could be poised to pick up right where Murray left off.

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida (JR)
Driskel is obviously not as good as his five-star ranking indicated when he signed with Florida out of Oviedo, Fla. But he also isn’t as bad as fans like to think. He’s dealing with his third offensive coordinator during his college career and has shown the ability to make big plays outside of the pocket (ask Tennessee) — something the new offensive system will foster rather than discourage. Driskel was completing nearly 70 percent of his passes when he was lost for the year in the third game of last season. So if he can prove to stay healthy, his dynamic skillset should flourish in Kurt Roper’s up-tempo, spread scheme.

9. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M (FR)
With Matt Joeckel’s decision to transfer, combined with Kenny Hill’s suspension in the spring, Allen appears to be the likely starter for Texas A&M when it opens the year against South Carolina. Breaking in a true freshman quarterback on the road is never easy, but Allen will have one of the SEC’s top offensive lines blocking for him, along with a talented group of skill players. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete this spring. Expect a few ups and downs as a true freshman. However, the future looks bright in College Station with Allen leading the offense.

10. Justin Worley, Tennessee (SR)
There is little doubt that Worley will be the starter in Week 1 against a talented and upset-minded Utah State squad. He is the most experienced and poised quarterback on the Tennessee roster. That said, he will have to play well against a brutal early schedule to keep his job. Riley Ferguson is regarded as the best pure passer on the roster, but he has yet to play a snap in a college game, while Joshua Dobbs is easily the best combination of athletic ability and maturity. Dobbs' poise, polish, intelligence and work ethic make him a darkhorse to win the job sometime in the first half of the season. Much like last year, fans in Knoxville should expect two — maybe three — starting quarterbacks in 2014.

11. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (JR)
Allen had his share of struggles in his first season as Arkansas’ No. 1 quarterback, but he also didn’t have much help from an inexperienced receiving corps and remodeled offensive line. Allen’s final totals weren’t particularly impressive, as he threw for 1,552 yards and 13 touchdowns on 128 completions. He also tossed 10 picks and completed just 49.6 percent of his passes – two numbers that have to improve in 2014. With another offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, combined with the development of the offensive line and rushing attack, Allen figures to have more help from his supporting cast and improvement should be noticeable. However, if he struggles, touted freshman Rafe Peavey will be a name to watch this fall.

12. Brandon Harris, LSU (FR)
It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in Baton Rouge. Anthony Jennings has the edge over Harris in experience, but he didn’t claim the starting spot in the spring, so the battle will continue into the fall. Harris – a true freshman – enrolled early to compete in spring practice. And the Louisiana native showed plenty of promise, completing 11 of 28 passes for 195 yards in LSU’s spring game. Jennings didn’t play well in the spring game but guided the Tigers to a touchdown in the final minute to beat Arkansas and helped LSU win the Outback Bowl against Iowa. If neither quarterback claims the job this fall, it’s possible both will see a lot of playing time this year. We will take the upside and list Harris here, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jennings take the opening snap. 

13. Drew Barker, Kentucky (FR)
Barker is a highly-touted four-star early enrollee who had offers from Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisville, Miami and both Magnolia State schools from the SEC. Needless to say, he is a gifted athlete. And his showing in Kentucky’s spring practice thus far has generated plenty of buzz about his ability to handle the rigors of the SEC as just a true freshman. The 6-foot-4 in-state talent will battle with former starter Maxwell Smith and rising sophomore Patrick Towles for the reigns of Neal Brown’s offense in Lexington (Jalen Whitlow has transferred). Barker has the most upside and raw physical talent of the group but is lacking in experience. Should his maturity, confidence and poise develop quickly, he could become one of the nation’s better true freshman signal-callers.

14. Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt (JR)
Assuming all of his T’s and I’s are correct at LSU, Rivers will show up in Nashville this summer as the frontrunner to start at Vanderbilt. The Athens, Ala., prospect has very little experience, playing just four games in his Tigers career but has graduated in three years and will transfer to West End with the best combination of experience and talent on the roster. Derek Mason will give a long look to talented redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary, who has loads of talent but has yet to take an SEC snap, while Patton Robinette proved last year that his upside is fairly limited despite winning games for the Dores down the stretch.

Teaser:
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/who-sleeper-team-watch-pac-12-2014
Body:

The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has closed the gap in recent years.

And the Pac-12 is expected to remain a close No. 2 in the conference hierarchy for 2014, as Oregon, UCLA, USC and Stanford could all begin this season as top-10 teams. Defending Pac-12 South champions Arizona State isn’t far behind, while the rest of the conference features an interesting group of teams in the next tier.

Washington could surprise with new coach Chris Petersen leading the way, especially with a defense that returns seven starters and could be among the best in the conference. The Huskies aren’t the only sleeper team to watch, as Oregon State is always a darkhorse to watch in the North. The Beavers return quarterback Sean Mannion and one of the top linebacking corps in the Pac-12.

Outside of Washington and Oregon State, keep a close eye on Utah, Arizona and Colorado. The Buffaloes should show significant improvement in Mike MacIntyre’s second season, and the Utes are expected to regain the services of quarterback Travis Wilson in 2014. Arizona is a bit of a mystery, especially with uncertainty at quarterback and running back.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Who is a Sleeper Team to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s tough to call Washington a sleeper team since it finished No. 25 in the final Associated Press poll last year, but I think the Huskies have a chance to challenge either Oregon or Stanford for the No. 2 spot in the North. Chris Petersen comes to Seattle after a successful stint at Boise State, and while he has to prove he can maintain that success at a higher level, Washington seems to have upgraded its head coach position with this hire. Quarterback Cyler Miles did not participate in spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, but he is expected to return by the fall. If Miles continues to build off his solid performance in limited action from 2013, the Huskies should have no trouble scoring points with a solid offensive line and a group of talented receivers. And with seven starters back, the defense could be among the best in the conference. Also, the schedule sets up favorably for Petersen’s debut year. Washington hosts Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State and should go 4-0 in non-conference play. The Huskies do have some personnel departures to address, but they finished two games behind Stanford/Oregon in the North last year. With both of those teams losing a couple of key pieces, Washington has a chance to make a move in the North in 2014.

Mark Ross
With Oregon and Stanford expected to go head-to-head for Pac-12 North supremacy once again and a Chris Petersen-led Washington team lurking, I think it's safe to say that many would be "surprised" should Oregon State end up crashing the party. After all this is a Beavers team that ended last season losing five of their last six games and also will be without all-conference performers wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Scott Crichton and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. However, there is still reason for optimism for Mike Riley's team, thanks in large part to the return of quarterback Sean Mannion, who threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013. If talented yet oft-injured running back Storm Woods can stay healthy, a rebuilt offensive line can keep Mannion upright and some reliable pass-catchers can emerge, Oregon State should be in decent shape offensively. I realize that's a lot of "ifs," but with Mannion running the show, I think the Beavers have at least a fighting chance. The defense lost some key pieces, but it also returns six players, including all three linebackers and both safeties. This unit has plenty of room for improvement, but also gets a slight break schedule-wise by drawing Colorado and Utah in crossover play, while avoiding projected South Division frontrunner UCLA. Road dates at USC and Stanford will be tough, as well as the Civil War regular-season finale against Oregon, but Riley's team gave the archrival Ducks a fight last season in Eugene before losing by one and then finished up its 2013 campaign with an impressive 38-23 win over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. Even with the personnel losses and questions on both sides of the ball, bowl eligibility shouldn't be a problem this fall. That said, if some new faces step up and the Beavers get a few bounces or breaks to go their way, the fans in Corvallis could be in store for a surprising season.


Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), CFBHuddle.com and BleacherReport.com
After consecutive 7-win regular-season finishes in each of his first two years at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez just might have the Wildcats ready to take another step. Losing All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey obviously leaves a void, but Rodriguez's offense helps foster productive ball-carriers. To that end, it's worth noting Carey was himself unproven commodity before his breakout performance in the system in 2012.

The Wildcats are again replacing a starting quarterback, perhaps more of a concern than the change at running back. But with the return of Austin Hill to lead a talented wide receiving corps and an experienced offensive line, the learning curve is somewhat shortened.

Arizona's defense made considerable strides in its second year under Jeff Casteel, and should continue to improve in 2014. Linebacker Scooby Wright is a star in the making, Jonathan McKnight is among the Pac-12's most dynamic playmakers in the secondary.

Arizona is not quite ready to compete for the division – preseason favorite UCLA should be as good as advertised – but a favorable schedule means the Wildcats should get past that seven regular-season win plateau. With the right breaks (and a surprise star-turn out of the new quarterback), Arizona could steal nine wins.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Since this league is so deep and is possibly the best in the nation, it's extremely difficult to pick a true sleeper. Arizona, Washington State and Utah could all make bowl games and all three could finish outside of the top seven in the league and outside of the Top 25 nationally. So that makes Washington the truest sleeper in the Pac-12. The Huskies are a team talented enough to make a push for a division crown but not perceived to be good enough to be ranked in the top 10-15 nationally in the preseason. The Dawgs have a great new coach, a loaded roster of developed defensive talent and an offense led by an extremely gifted but unproven signal caller in Cyler Miles. The schedule isn't easy, but the Huskies possess the necessary combination of talent, coaching, leadership and experience to make legit waves out West this fall.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The spoiler in the Pac-12 may end up being the same team it’s been for a few years — Arizona. The Wildcats have a knack for scoring the big upset. They did it against Oregon last year and USC a year before that. Arizona under Rich Rodriguez is classic spoiler material: Good enough to beat a good team on a bad day but not consistent enough to carry it through the season. This year, Arizona is a bit of a mystery, especially on offense. Transfers from USC, Texas and LSU via junior college plus a redshirt freshman are all in the mix at quarterback. The possible starter at running back didn’t play in the spring. And the top receiver is coming back from a torn ACL. None of that is great, but Rich Rodriguez should find an answer. On defense, this group returns six starters, but the Wildcats have improved in each of the last three seasons. No, this team isn’t going to contend for the South, but Arizona is good enough to knock a team out — again. 

Teaser:
Who is a Sleeper Team to Watch in the Pac-12 in 2014?
Post date: Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Syracuse Orange, News
Path: /college-football/new-uniforms-coming-syracuse-2014
Body:

New uniforms seem to be popping up for a handful of ACC teams this spring, as Florida State and Miami have already unveiled new looks for 2014.

Syracuse is the next ACC school to get a uniform makeover. The Orange unveiled three new combinations on Wednesday, featuring gray, white and blue jerseys and blue, white and orange helmets.

However, Syracuse’s nickname is the Orange. So why are the orange jerseys not a part of the uniform redesign?

Here’s a look at the uniforms for Syracuse:
 

Teaser:
New Uniforms Coming for Syracuse in 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 15:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-football-how-many-sec-games-will-aggies-win-2014
Body:

The SEC West is arguably the top division in college football, featuring two likely top-10 teams in Alabama and Auburn, while LSU always has one of the nation’s top rosters, and Ole Miss is a team on the rise under Hugh Freeze.

As we peek ahead to 2014, Texas A&M might be one of the biggest wildcard teams in the nation. The Aggies have recruited well under Kevin Sumlin, the cupboard is stocked with young talent ready to emerge.

However, Texas A&M’s defense struggled mightily last year and is still a huge concern going into 2014. With the departure of quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, it’s unlikely the Aggies will average 38.4 points per game in SEC contests this season. With Manziel gone, it’s up to the defense to help cover for the losses on defense and help to keep Texas A&M in the mix for a spot among the top three teams in the West Division.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

How Many SEC Games Will Texas A&M Win in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with four. Even though quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews are gone to the NFL, the cupboard is far from bare in College Station. Kevin Sumlin has recruited back-to-back top-10 classes, so there’s plenty of promising young talent. But that’s part of the problem for Texas A&M. The Aggies are young on defense, and the best quarterback on the roster could be a true freshman (Kyle Allen). Progress should be noticeable on defense in 2014 after allowing 6.4 yards per play last season. However, can the defense make enough progress to offset the loss of Manziel and Evans? Probably not. The opener at South Carolina, a mid-October road trip to Alabama and an early November game at Auburn are the only games I would pencil in an loss for Texas A&M. With swing games against Ole Miss, Missouri and LSU at home and later in the season, it should give the Aggies plenty of time to solidify some of the questions on the depth chart and make a run at repeating last year’s .500 mark in SEC play. When a coach is in the process of rebuilding a program, a small step back may be necessary in order to take a step forward. With all of the young talent on the roster, Texas A&M is only going to get better with each snap and will be a dangerous team heading into 2015.

Adam Cribbs (@AdamCribbs), RockMNation.com
Well first, let's get the obvious part out of the way. Johnny Manziel made Texas A&M a difficult team to beat. There was plenty of talent around him the past couple years in Mike Evans, Christine Michael, Ryan Swope, etc. but the offense would not have been the juggernaut it was without the unpredictability and unbelievable playmaking ability of Johnny Football. Now that he's gone, we'll see if Kevin Sumlin just lucked into finding a guy to carry his team through their first two years in the SEC or if Sumlin deserves more credit than he's been given.

Before Manziel, Sumlin was coaching Case Keenum at Houston. Keenum was putting up MONSTER numbers that year, having thrown for 5,631 yards and 48 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. My point is that Manziel isn't the first QB under Sumlin to put up ridiculous numbers, so maybe we should respect Sumlin's contribution to the offense as much as Manziel's. Having said all of that, you have to question just how quickly the Aggies can replace not only a guy like Johnny Manziel, but others like Jake Matthews and Mike Evans and still have success in the powerful SEC West. (Note, I'm only talking about the offense because I honestly don't have much to say about the Aggie defense this last season. They would have won 2-3 more games, including Alabama, if they had any kind of defense in 2013.)

I like the talent A&M has coming up on the offensive line with four returning starters including senior G Jarvis Harrison. At QB, there is a wealth of talent competing for the starting position including Kenny Hill and incoming five star early enrollee Kyle Allen. Malcome Kennedy and Sabian Holmes at WR will have big shoes to fill with Mike Evans on the way out, but it's not a weak receiving corps by any means. Even with this talent returning, the 2014 schedule is not an easy one. I think the Aggies will probably be right around the four win mark again this season, with wins over Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss (because it's at Kyle Field) and one more win coming from either Missouri or LSU. If the defense finds a way to make massive strides from 2013's poor performance, that number could go up, but that would mean some massive improvement.

Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
The season opener at South Carolina is a big test for both teams. The Aggies and Gamecocks are both introducing new quarterbacks. But South Carolina appears to have the advantage with Dylan Thompson, who has more starting experience than whichever quarterback Texas A&M chooses. I’ll give the nod to South Carolina. Games at Alabama and Auburn should be the most challenging for Texas A&M, which lost to both teams last season. That should be two more losses for Texas A&M. I have the Aggies finishing with a 5-3 record in the SEC after they end the season with home wins over Missouri and LSU.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
A season-opening road trip to South Carolina and two midseason visits to the State of Alabama to play Auburn and the Crimson Tide are as sure fire a trio of losses as any team in the nation may have in 2014. A home date with Arkansas needs to be a sure fire win for Kevin Sumlin. Otherwise, the rest of the SEC schedule is a bunch of potentially very entertaining swing games for Texas A&M. The Aggies should be able to win at least one - with a very outside shot at two - home tilt against LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri all in the second half of the season. The trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 4 will likely determine SEC West pecking order this fall and could be the difference in a very impressive rebuilding year or a sixth-place finish in the division. At this point, three league wins would be considered an excellent season and two is the most likeliest scenario.

Mark Ross
Texas A&M went 4-4 in SEC play last season and that was with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews on the roster. These three were first team All-SEC performers on one of the nation's most explosive offenses who are pretty much assured of hearing their names called when the first round of the NFL Draft takes place in less than a month. These three also represent the three biggest holes that Kevin Sumlin and his staff have to fill this season. The Aggies' offensive line should be fine with four starters returning and there are some talented pass-catchers on the roster as well. However, Manziel was the engine that made this offense hum the past two seasons and there doesn't appear to be a clear-cut leader when it comes to the next guy who will line up behind center. Yet even with a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and an explosive wideout like Evans making plays down field, Texas A&M finished .500 in conference play in 2013, as the fourth-ranked offense in the nation out-gained its SEC peers by a mere 15 yards per game. The Aggie defense was a disaster, finishing dead last in yards allowed and second-to-last in points. While this unit may return eight starters and has some promising recruits coming in, most notably defensive end Myles Garrett, there's no guarantee it will turn things completely around and it won't have Manziel or Evans on offense to help bail it out. The Aggies' margin of error has shrunk drastically, and with a schedule that includes the season opener at South Carolina, a crossover game against Missouri, along with trips to Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State, three SEC wins would have to be considered a successful start to the post-Manziel era in College Station. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Sumlin's squad finishes with just two conference victories, as Arkansas appears to be the only "sure" SEC win given all of the question marks associated with this team.

Teaser:
Texas A&M Football: How Many SEC Games Will the Aggies Win in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The ACC isn’t the deepest conference in terms of quarterback talent for 2014, but it clearly has the No. 1 passer in the nation in Florida State’s Jameis Winston. After a standout freshman season, Winston heads into 2014 with potential to lead the Seminoles to back-to-back national titles, as well as repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

While Winston is clearly the No. 1 quarterback, the rest of the rankings in the ACC are up for grabs.

North Carolina’s Marquise Williams and Duke’s Anthony Boone take the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Athlon’s 2014 rankings, but there’s plenty of upside among Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik, Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, Louisville’s Will Gardner and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett. 

Miami is expected to turn to Kevin Olsen after Ryan Williams was injured in the spring with a torn ACL, while Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer could win Virginia Tech’s starting job this fall.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the ACC's Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Jameis Winston, Florida State (SO)
After one of the best seasons by a freshman in the BCS era, the bar is set high for Winston in 2014. Despite losing receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, Winston should be one of the frontrunners to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner and will have Florida State back in the mix for the national title. In 14 games last year, Winston threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns and tossed only 10 picks on 384 attempts. He completed 66.9 percent of his throws and averaged 15.8 yards per completion. As if those numbers, a Heisman Trophy and All-ACC honors weren’t impressive enough, Winston connected on 25 passes of at least 30 yards and was picked as the offense’s most valuable player in Florida State’s victory over Auburn in the national championship. It will be hard for Winston to top last season, but here’s a scary thought for the rest of the ACC: He still has room to improve and can be a more complete quarterback in 2014.

2. Marquise Williams, North Carolina (JR)
It happened one calendar year earlier than Larry Fedora likely expected, but Marquise Williams got his feet wet as a starting quarterback in the ACC a year ago. And frankly, he showed more ability to produce and play efficient football than most first-year guys thrown into action by injury. He started six games and played in 11 as just a sophomore, and he brings a different dimension to fast-paced offense that Bryn Renner could not. Williams passed for 1,527 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air but added 490 yards rushing and six more scores on the ground. His 469 yards of total offense against Old Dominion was a school record and his five touchdown passes tied a school benchmark. With a year of off-season conditioning, preparation, study and development, Williams could be the ACC's best signal caller without a Heisman Trophy on his mantle. Of course, that's assuming he holds off a challenge from Mitch Trubisky this preseason.

3. Anthony Boone, Duke (SR)
There were some questionable showings for Boone in his first full season as the starter. Try 7-for-25, 104 yards, 0 touchdowns and four interceptions against Virginia Tech. But like the rest of the Duke squad, the Boone figured out a way to win that game and it catapulted the Blue Devils quarterback into an impressive stretch to the end the year. He threw eight touchdowns and just four interceptions over the final four games. With David Cutcliffe still leading the way on the sideline, Boone has a chance to take a major step forward. And backup (and touchdown vulture) Brandon Connette won't be breathing down his neck any longer on the depth chart after deciding to transfer, which should allow Boone to easily improve on last year's numbers.

4. Cole Stoudt, Clemson (SR)
With Chad Morris calling the plays, Clemson’s offense will be one of the best in the ACC once again. And yes, that’s even with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and standout receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Stoudt is set to replace Boyd, who guided Clemson to 32 wins over the last three seasons, including a No. 8 finish in the final Associated Press poll in 2013. In three years as a backup at Clemson, Stoudt has thrown for 742 yards and eight touchdowns. Although limited playing time or a backup role isn’t the best way to judge how a player will perform once he’s the starter, it’s important to note Stoudt has completed 72.2 percent of his passes over the last three seasons and has only one pick in 119 attempts. The senior also has good mobility and should serve as a mentor for incoming freshman Deshaun Watson. With Georgia and Florida State on the schedule early in the year, Stoudt’s experience will be valuable for Clemson as it hopes to record another 10-win season.


Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.

 

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 


5. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh (SO)
Many believed Voytik would be a perfect fit for Paul Chryst's offense when the four-star quarterback signed with Pittsburgh out of Cleveland, Tenn. The rising sophomore got very little experience behind Tom Savage a year ago, throwing just 11 passes during the 2013 campaign. That said, his quick release and elite high school pedigree give most confidence that is his fully capable of running Chryst's offense — especially, given the return of potential All-American wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Look for Voytik to be a pleasant surprise at quarterback in a league devoid of proven options under center.

6. Will Gardner, Louisville (SO)
Replacing Teddy Bridgewater is a difficult task for any quarterback, but it appears the Cardinals are in good shape under center with Gardner. It’s tough to read too much into spring performances, but Gardner’s numbers in Louisville’s spring game are certainly encouraging. The Georgia native completed 32 of 37 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinals’ spring game and is poised to have a huge season with Bobby Petrino calling the plays. In his first taste of FBS action last year, Gardner threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns on eight completions. With a solid group of receivers – including likely All-ACC target DeVante Parker – along with a backfield that features former Auburn standout Michael Dyer, Gardner has a good supporting cast in place. Petrino always finds a way to maximize his talent on offense, so expect Gardner to have a solid overall year in his first season as Louisville’s No. 1 quarterback.

7. Jacoby Brissett, NC State (JR)
The Wolfpack offense is desperately looking for a spark after averaging only 16.9 points in eight ACC contests last year. Second-year NC State coach Dave Doeren won’t have to look far for an answer, as Brissett is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer from Florida. During his two seasons in Gainesville, Brissett completed 41 of 74 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns. The junior closed spring practice by throwing for 365 yards and two scores in NC State’s Red vs. White game. Brissett was regarded as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks coming out of high school, but he has only two starts under his belt. Considering this is his first year as a full-time starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Brissett should be a major upgrade over Pete Thomas and Brandon Mitchell for NC State in 2014.

8. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse (JR)
Syracuse opened the Scott Shafer era with a quarterback battle between Hunt and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen. Allen started the first three games before Hunt claimed the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, and the New York native finished the year on a high note by throwing for 188 yards and adding 74 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Hunt ended 2013 with 1,638 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, while adding 500 yards and seven scores on the ground. In a positive sign for Syracuse in 2014, Hunt was arguably playing at his best in the final three games and completed over 60 percent of his passes during that span. Hunt threw only three touchdown passes and tossed eight picks in ACC games, but he should improve on those totals in 2014 with a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback.

9. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech (SO)
In one of the most bizarre exits to a program in history, Vad Lee inexplicably decided he didn't want to run the triple option any longer and left the team. Luckily for Paul Johnson, Thomas is not only talented but got plenty of experience a year ago behind Lee. He played in 10 games, rushing for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a backup. He will have to prove he is a capable passer, but his athletic ability should set up nicely as the next successful and productive Yellow Jackets' triple option spearhead.

10. Kevin Olsen, Miami (FR)
Stephen Morris is gone, and Ryan Williams is hurt. That leaves the highly touted but completely unproven Olsen as the frontrunner to win the Hurricanes starting QB job this summer. The four-star recruit from New Jersey enters his redshirt freshman season with loads of pressure but all the talent to make an impact right away. He is total unknown for Al Golden entering a critical year on the sidelines and the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder will have to beat out Gray Crow and touted freshman Brad Kaaya to earn the keys to the Miami offense.

11. Tyler Murphy, Boston College (SR)
Steve Addazio has plenty of work ahead this offseason as he hopes to get Boston College in another bowl game in 2014. Rebuilding the offense is the top priority this spring with the departures of quarterback Chase Rettig, running back Andre Williams and receiver Alex Amidon. Murphy transferred from Florida at the end of the 2013 season and is eligible to play immediately for the Eagles. Last season, Murphy threw for 1,216 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for three scores. The Connecticut native is a solid option for Addazio, especially until freshman Darius Wade is ready to take the No. 1 spot. Don’t expect huge numbers, but Murphy should be a solid starter for Boston College in 2014.

12. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech (JR)
Mark Leal is the only returning player at Virginia Tech with any experience at quarterback, and he threw four passes (29 overall if you caount the bowl) during the regular season a year ago. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who only threw 58 passes in Lubbock (but completed 70.7 percent of them), will arrive in Blacksburg this summer behind the curve when it comes to learning the Hokies offense. However, he is easily the most proven and talented pocket passer on the roster and it may not take long for him to pass Mark Leal and Brenden Motley — who is currently listed as the No. 1 on Frank Beamer's depth chart. Should the world be expected of Brewer right out of the gate? No. However, his pure throwing ability should give him a significant edge at earning the starting spot for the Hokies.

13. Greyson Lambert, Virginia (SO)
Mike London is in desperate need of a positive season in Charlottesville and that begins and ends with quality quarterback play. Lambert, a redshirt sophomore from Jesup, Ga.,
has the inside track on winning the starting job and will be faced with the pressure of a coaching staff squarely on the hot seat. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound passer played in seven games a year ago, throwing for 340 yards and on touchdowns on 33-of-75 passing. He got some college experience but needs to take major steps forward in his development process if he expects to lead Virginia to more than just two wins.

14. Tyler Cameron, Wake Forest (SO)
The No. 1 spot on the quarterback depth chart for new coach Dave Clawson is up for grabs. Cameron and junior Kevin Sousa are vying for the starting spot this spring, and this battle could extend into the fall. Both quarterbacks have limited game experience, as Sousa has yet to throw a pass on the FBS level, and Cameron completed only 7 of 24 passes for 85 yards and three interceptions last year. In addition to finding a quarterback, Clawson needs to find more playmakers at running back and receiver. All signs point to 2014 as a transition year for Wake Forest, and there could be plenty of growing pains at the quarterback spot unless Cameron or Sousa claims a clear hold on the starting job.

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-picks-cody-kessler-its-starting-qb-2014
Body:

There’s little doubt quarterback competitions are the position battle scrutinized the most in preseason practices. However, at USC, the quarterback battle is officially over - for now.

First-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian has picked Cody Kessler as the team’s starting quarterback. Kessler was competing with redshirt freshman Max Browne for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Sarkisian hasn't ruled out Browne unseating Kessler in the fall, but all signs point to Kessler opening the season as USC's No. 1 quarterback.

Browne ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in the 2013 signing class and redshirted his first season on campus.

Kessler edged Max Wittek for the No. 1 job last year and finished 2013 with 2,968 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.

Although there’s plenty of time to sort through a depth chart before the season opener, this seems to be a good move for Sarkisian.

If Kessler has outplayed Browne all spring, there’s no sense in waiting to pick a quarterback. Kessler seemed to make significant progress late last season and should have a chance to build on that in 2014 with a solid group of receivers returning to Los Angeles.

Teaser:
USC Picks Cody Kessler as its Starting QB for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 00:03
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

Every year, it seems the Pac-12 is home to some of the top quarterbacks in the nation. And it should be no surprise that narrative holds true in 2014, as the league possesses three potential All-American candidates this year.

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is one of the nation’s top signal-callers and should benefit form a full offseason to recover from a knee injury. Mariota is a Heisman contender and should battle Florida State’s Jameis Winston for the top spot on the 2014 All-America team.

After Mariota are two quarterbacks from the Pac-12 South battling for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in Athlon’s preseason quarterback rankings. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly should have prolific seasons, while Hundley could be one of the top-10 picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Pac-12 has plenty of quality options at quarterback outside of the top three, as USC’s Cody Kessler, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion all return from solid 2013 campaigns.

This league could get even deeper in 2014 if Utah’s Travis Wilson takes another step forward, while California’s Jared Goff and Washington’s Cyler Myles are two other passers to watch.

To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2014. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks based on accomplishments so far. 

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (JR)
It was painfully obvious to Oregon fans everywhere just how important Mariota was when a knee injury cost Oregon a Pac-12 championship. Mariota was clearly not at full strength when the Ducks lost on the road against both the Cardinal and Wildcats in a three-week span. When healthy, Mariota might be the best quarterback in the nation (just ask Texas). He owns the Pac-12 record for consecutive passes without an interception, is 23-3 as a starter, has nearly 8,000 yards of total offense and has accounted for 77 touchdowns and thrown just 10 picks. All in just two seasons of work in Eugene. Look for a run at Pac-12 title, playoff berth and Heisman Trophy from the dynamic Hawaiian signal caller.

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (JR)
It’s a close call for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings. Hundley and Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly are both deserving of this spot, but since we are projecting a bit with these rankings, a slight edge goes to Hundley. The Arizona native decided to turn down the NFL for another year in Pasadena, and UCLA is primed for a run at the Pac-12 title with Hundley back under center. In 2013, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 scores, while leading the Bruins with 748 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. In UCLA’s 42-12 Sun Bowl rout over Virginia Tech, Hundley threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 161 yards on 10 attempts. There’s no question Hundley still has some developing to do as a passer, but the Bruins have a solid collection of options at receiver, and another offseason to work with coordinator Noel Mazzone should help Hundley grow into one of the top quarterbacks in the nation.

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (SR)
Kelly was one of the catalysts for Arizona State’s Pac-12 South title, throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 608 yards and nine scores last year. Kelly’s 28 touchdown passes ranked third in school history for a single season, and the Idaho native earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors. In two years as the Sun Devils’ starter, Kelly has thrown for 57 touchdown passes and has back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons. With Arizona State losing a handful of key players on defense, the offense will have to carry this team in 2014. Kelly should have no trouble eclipsing the 3,000-yard passing mark again, especially with a potential All-American at receiver in Jaelen Strong making plays on the outside.

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SR)
Like Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Mannion posted huge numbers a year ago but those totals came with some struggles as well. He was fourth nationally with 37 touchdown passes and second with 4,662 yards. Yet, Mannion threw 12 interceptions in his final five games, and Oregon State won just once after the calendar flipped to November. His electric first half was erased quickly by second-half struggles. That said, Mannion has a chance to join some elite Pac-12 company with another 3,000-yard season. Only three players in league history have three 3,000-yard passing seasons under their belt (Andrew Walter, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart) and Mannion could join them in 2014. However, Mike Riley would trade that honor for a return to the top of the Pac-12 North Division. For that to happen, Mannion will have to be more efficient and take better care of the ball.

5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (JR)
Hogan entered his sophomore season with high expectations, and while his statistics didn’t mean the lofty preseason benchmarks, the Virginia native still led his team to a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl berth. His completion percentage dropped significantly (71.7 to 61.0) from 2012 to 2013 but his overall production went up (147.87 QB rating to 151.64). He has the ability to win a title against high-level competition as he proved a year ago, but in order to take the next step in his development, Hogan must prove to be more consistent. He threw one total touchdown in Stanford’s three losses a year ago and had four games in which he failed to reach paydirt. If he produces in conference at a more consistent level, the Cardinal quarterback could become one of the league’s best.

6. Cody Kessler, USC (JR)
Kessler and Max Wittek were neck-and-neck for the starting job last preseason, with Kessler eventually securing the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Kessler’s 2013 campaign started slow. In his first two games, Kessler threw for less than 100 yards in both contests and had only three touchdown tosses through the first three games. But as the season progressed, Kessler played better and seemed to benefit from the promotion of Clay Helton to coordinator. Kessler finished 2013 with 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He threw for 288 yards and one touchdown in a 20-17 win over Stanford, while torching Fresno State for 345 yards and four scores in the Las Vegas Bowl. Marqise Lee is gone, but USC still has plenty of talent at receiver. With stability on the coaching staff and a solid ground game to lean on, Kessler is poised to build off his solid finish from 2013.

7. Connor Halliday, Washington State (SR)
Halliday led the nation in interceptions a year ago with 22 picks. He also led the nation in attempts (714), was No. 2 nationally in completions (449), finished No. 3 with 4,597 yards and was seventh with 34 touchdown passes. He also got Wazzu back to the postseason for the first time in a decade and set the NCAA record with 89 pass attempts in a loss to Oregon. Mike Leach will chuck it around again in 2014, and Halliday should post similar numbers once again. Over the final four games of the year, including wins over Arizona and Utah, Halliday threw 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. If Halliday can continue to progress, he could be in for a monster season in Pullman.

Related Content: Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches for 2014
 

8. Cyler Miles, Washington (SO)
Miles was a four-star top-100 recruit who had offers from USC, Arizona State and Arizona among many others when he signed with Washington as the heir apparent to Keith Price. And in spot duty a year ago, Miles did nothing to dispel the idea that he will be an excellent Pac-12 quarterback. He saw action in eight games last fall with a brief stint in the starting lineup and that experience could be invaluable now that he is the full-time starter. Miles completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 418 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions for the season and helped UW defeat Oregon State on the road in his only start. Miles has not participated in spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, but he is expected to return to the team in the fall. Expectations with Chris Petersen and Miles under center will be sky high entering the playoff era.

9. Travis Wilson, Utah (JR)
Assuming Wilson is 100 percent healthy this year, the California native could be one of the most-improved quarterbacks in the conference. In nine games last season, Wilson threw for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 386 yards and five scores. Wilson delivered a solid performance in Utah’s upset win over Stanford, completing 23 of 34 throws for 234 yards and two scores. The California native needs to improve his consistency, tossing 16 picks last season and completing only 56.1 percent of his throws. Wilson should benefit from the addition of play-caller Dave Christensen in 2014. Considering the addition of Christensen, as well as another offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, Wilson is due for improvement on the stat sheet. However, his health is still a question mark. Wilson was sidelined the last three games due to health concerns but was cleared for non-contact practices this spring. Assuming Wilson is cleared to participate in game action this year, he’s a quarterback poised to move up the rankings in 2014.

10. Jared Goff, California (SO)
Zach Kline was supposed to be The Guy in Berkeley entering last season, but Goff had other ideas. The freshman beat out Kline and proceeded to attempt 529 passes for the lowly Golden Bears. There were plenty of growing pains, but Goff threw just seven interceptions over the last 11 games of the year, while getting little to no help from his defense. If he can be more proficient throwing the ball — he completed 60.1-percent of his passes — and can pull an upset or two in the league, the California native could create some actual buzz around the Cal program heading into 2015. In the short team, the goal for 2014 should be to show improvement with the football and win a couple of games.

11. Sefo Liufau, Colorado (SO)
Mike MacIntyre needs a little time to rebuild the roster, but the future for Colorado looks bright with Liufau at the helm. As a true freshman last season, Liufau finished the year with 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 43 yards on the ground. Liufau tossed eight picks on 251 attempts but averaged 11.9 yards per completion last season. The Washington native finished 2013 playing at a high level, throwing for 364 yards against California and 241 yards against Utah. Most importantly, Liufau’s touchdown total surpassed his interception rate over the final three games of the year (7 to 3). With Paul Richardson gone, Colorado needs a few receivers to emerge to help Liufau develop. However, MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren developed David Fales into a likely NFL draft pick at San Jose State, and Liufau should benefit from another offseason from working with both coaches.

12. Jesse Scroggins, Arizona (SR)
Arizona finished spring practice with uncertainty at quarterback. Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer appear to be the frontrunners to replace B.J. Denker, but this battle is expected to extend into the fall. Scroggins did not play last season, while Solomon redshirted and Randall spent 2013 in the junior college ranks at Northeast Mississippi Community College. For now, we will pencil Scroggins into the starting role for Arizona, but this could change hands a couple of times in the preseason and even during the year. And although the Wildcats’ quarterbacks rank last in this list, we suspect Rich Rodriguez will turn this into a strength by midseason.

Teaser:
Ranking the Pac-12's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-how-many-games-will-cardinals-win-2014
Body:

After Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, the ACC maintained its 14-team setup by adding Louisville from the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinals were one of the top programs in the old Big East and went 23-3 over the last two years.

As with any team transitioning to a new conference, Louisville will face a new set of challenges, but this program is equipped to compete at a high level in the ACC.

The Cardinals return 11 starters from last year’s 12-1 team, including receiver DeVante Parker and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Parker caught 55 passes last season, while Mauldin recorded 9.5 sacks and will be a valuable pass rusher in new coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach.

Replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a huge challenge, but Louisville appears to be in good hands with Will Gardner. The Cardinals are also deep at the skill positions and have four starters back on the offensive line.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

How Many Games Will Louisville Win in 2014?: Over/Under on 8.5

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’ll take the over. Sure, Louisville has some personnel concerns and is going through a transition on the conference and head coach side. But there’s still plenty of talent on the roster, and although schedule does have some challenging games, I think this team has more than enough returning to overcome those concerns. Bobby Petrino is one of the nation’s best coaches, and his return to Louisville should keep the Cardinals in the mix to win 10 games in 2014. Quarterback Will Gardner appears to be a capable replacement for Teddy Bridgewater, and he will have plenty of help at the skill positions from receiver DeVante Parker and running backs Michael Dyer and Dominique Brown. The Cardinals also return four starters on an improving offensive line. The defense is a bigger concern with the departure of Marcus Smith, Calvin Pryor, Preston Brown and Hakeem Smith. However, former coach Charlie Strong isn’t leaving the cupboard bare, especially with names like Sheldon Rankins, Keith Brown and Gerod Holliman ready to step up in 2014. On paper, road tests against Clemson and Notre Dame, along with a home date against Florida State will be the only games Louisville isn’t favored to win. If Gardner proves to be a capable replacement, and the defense adapts to Todd Grantham’s 3-4 approach, the Cardinals could push Clemson for the No. 2 spot in the Atlantic Division.

Mark Ennis, (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
After watching the way Will Gardner threw the ball in Louisville's spring game on Friday night, I'm much more optimistic about Louisville's chances to have a big first year in the ACC. It's never easy to replace a player like Teddy Bridgewater. Nevertheless, having receivers like DeVante Parker, James Quick, and Eli Rogers, a tight end like Gerald Christian, running backs Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer, and the entire offensive line returning should give Bobby Petrino a chance to put up a lot of points in 2014. Getting Miami, Florida State, NC State, and rival Kentucky at home should also cushion the landing in a much more difficult conference. Add to it that Petrino and company will get all summer to prepare for Miami, eight days to prepare for Clemson, and ten days to prepare for FSU, and I could see Louisville over an 8.5 win total.

Ethan Moore, (@LvilleSprtsLive), LouisvilleSportsLive.Net
I would take the under because Louisville will go through the toughest schedule in the history of its program. The Cards will travel to Clemson and Notre Dame and face a Syracuse team on the road returning a lot of experience. UofL opens the season against Miami at home and will welcome the defending champions in Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. With Petrino at the helm, the offense is sure to take off, but questions remain with a defense that will have to replace two veteran safeties. It wouldn't shock anyone to see UofL win 9 games, but given the schedule, coaching change, and replacing Bridgewater, that might be too much to ask.

 



Listen to our staff discuss every team in the ACC as Athlon starts to look to 2014.

 

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The addition of Bobby Petrino more than makes up for the loss of Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and a host of other talented players. The major step up in competition moving from the AAC to the ACC makes returning to double digit wins for a third straight season extremely difficult. That said, nine wins is well within reach in Petrino's first season. Games against Florida State (home), Notre Dame (road), Clemson (road) and Miami (home) appear to be the toughest tests on the slate, but road trips to Boston College, Syracuse and Virginia could be tricky as well. I will tentatively take the over with the season opener against the Hurricanes at home on Labor Day night as the most important swing game of the season. Should Louisville win that game, a 9-3 record is likely. If not, the under is a much better bet. I'll take emotion of the moment to play a huge role in the Cardinals win over The U on Sept. 1.

Related Content: Ranking the ACC Coaches for 2014
 

John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com
Louisville presents one of the more interesting "how will they finish?" cases in the country, if only because of all the change they're experiencing. No more Teddy Bridgewater and no more Charlie Strong means the on-field product will certainly be different. Plus the Cardinals move to the ACC, where the competition is considerably stronger top-to-bottom than what the AAC was last season. But despite the easy schedule and perception hits Louisville took in 2013, that 12-1 record was no joke (see: the 12th-place finish in combined F/+ ratings on Football Outsiders), and even with a new coach and quarterback, there's plenty of hope for similar success. They may not be at the same level as Florida State or Clemson within the Atlantic this year, but beyond that, the Cards should find themselves at least on par with the rest of the division. Still, I see at least three losses on the slate (FSU, Clemson, Notre Dame), and I wouldn't doubt a fourth from one of Miami or Syracuse. So I'll take the under, though 8-4 is far from a disappointment for Louisville this year, and is a nice stepping stone for future success in their new conference.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
As much as Louisville is built to be a competitive ACC program, the Cardinals may struggle early in the league. If the Cardinals were still in the American or even a league like the old Big East, the over would be a slam dunk. Give Bobby Petrino that offensive line, a solid run game and a game-breaking receiver, and he could win nine games in the American. But few teams take a step up in conference affiliation and maintain pace — think of West Virginia, TCU and Utah. With only four starters returning on defense and a new quarterback, hitting the nine-win mark will be tough. Let’s not forget that this was not always a dominant team in the American last season. The Cardinals beat Houston and Memphis by seven points at home and Cincinnati by seven on the road. And that was with Teddy Bridgewater.

Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
The changes in Louisville are numerous. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is off to the NFL, coach Charlie Strong is now in Texas and that’s just the beginning. Former Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino is back after the scandal at Arkansas, the school is now in the ACC and the defense is switching to a 3-4.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t some pieces in place for the offensive guru Petrino to work with. Will Gardner put up Bridgewater-like numbers in the spring game, Michael Dyer — who broke Bo Jackson’s freshman rushing record at Auburn in 2010 — should form a solid combination with last year’s leading rusher, Dominique Brown, and DeVante Parker is back out wide after he hauled in 885 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. The margin of error might be thin, but don’t forget how great that defense was last year. They return just four starters on that side of the ball, but when combined with their offense and that schedule, I’m taking the over.

Mark Ross
Bobby Petrino should enjoy a fair amount of success in his return as Louisville's head coach, but I certainly hope fans don't have visions of another 12-1 season in mind. Not only are the Cardinals making the transition from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC, unquestionably a much tougher, more competitive league, they have to begin the post-Teddy Bridgewater era with unproven Will Gardner under center. Charlie Strong didn't leave Petrino with a bare cupboard by any means, but there's no Connecticut, Memphis, Rutgers or Temple on the schedule this fall either. Instead, Petrino and the Cardinals open things by hosting Miami and also will welcome defending national champion Florida State to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in late October. These two games along with road dates against Clemson and Notre Dame are enough reasons to cap Louisville's regular-season win total at eight games. Throw in swing games at Syracuse and the finale against in-state rival Kentucky and I would consider 7-5 a respectable second start, if you will, for Petrino.

Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky), NunesMagician.com
You know why people say the expression "history often repeats itself"? Because...history often repeats itself! I mean, look at the Louisville, for example. Go back to the early aughts, a program led by the next "It" coach riding a wave of success from Conference USA to the Big East. Then, well, Bobby Petrino bolted and Steve Kragthorpe happened and the Cardinals football program slid right off the map.

Now? The man that led U of L back to relevancy post Steve Kragthrope has himself bolted for bigger and better things just in time for another massive conference jump for the Cardinals. Sound familiar? And, irony of ironies, Petrino is back at the helm for Louisville.  Actually, the real wonder here is which history is going to repeat? The tank-dive the Cardinals did in the new Big East with a new coach or will they thrive having the football-brilliant, commonsense-less Petrino leading the charge like he did back a few years ago? Losing Charlie Strong to Texas is detrimental, but my guess is having Petrino back "home" will likely be the saving grace to avoiding any Kragthrorpian slide to the dark depths of college football.

But we'll find out a lot about this Cardinals program right away. Game one of Year One, ACC will be the most pivotal: beat Miami and 9 to 10 wins is more than feasible; lose the opener against the Canes and 6 to 7 wins may be more realistic. Of course, catching Miami so early, at home nonetheless, coupled with the excitement surrounding Petrino's re-debut, will be the reason the Cardinals win their ACC coming-out party.

And from that point forward, with Will Gardner doing his best to replace Teddy Bridgewater, and a new defensive scheme designed to handle the Clemsons and Florida States of the world, U of L will whittle its way to nine wins, beating hated rival Kentucky to cinch the over on 8.5 wins. Actually, taking FSU out of the equation, it's not a bad time for Louisville to be jumping into the ACC, seeing as how there will be a lot of change surrounding a number of programs. Nine or more wins won't be easy, but with the foundation seemingly much more solid, there's no reason to think Louisville won't be every bit as competitive as it has been over the last few seasons.

You see, expressions are expressions for a reason: there's truth in them. And everything old in Louisville this season will once again be new, especially the winning, that never gets old.

Teaser:
Louisville Football: How Many Games Will the Cardinals Win in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/maryland-or-rutgers-which-big-ten-newcomer-has-better-record-2014
Body:

The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams in 2014. Rutgers and Maryland will officially join the conference on July 1, expanding the Big Ten to a 14-team league and changing the divisional alignment once again.

Rutgers was arguably one of the biggest winners in this round of conference expansion, moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights add a valuable market in the New Jersey/New York area and have improved their on-field product in recent years.

Adding Maryland also helps the Big Ten expand its reach on the East Coast, and the Terrapins are capable of competing in their new league after finishing 7-6 in the ACC last year.

Looking ahead to 2014, neither program is expected to challenge for a Big Ten title. However, Rutgers and Maryland both have potential to play for a bowl, especially with a good chunk of talent returning for the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Maryland or Rutgers: Which Big Ten Newcomer Will Have a Better Record in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The answer to this question seems to be pretty clear: Maryland. Rutgers made a nice addition by hiring Ralph Friedgen as the offensive coordinator, and this team has a handful of young talent, including linebacker Steve Longa, tackle Darius Hamilton and receiver Leonte Carroo. But the biggest concern for the Scarlet Knights is quarterback play, and a schedule that features non-conference games against Washington State and Navy. Rutgers also went 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last year, while Maryland was 7-6 in a tougher league (ACC). There’s a lot to like about the Terrapins for 2014, as Randy Edsall has improved Maryland’s win total in each of the last two years after a 2-10 debut in 2011. The Terrapins return 16 starters, and the offense will get a boost with a return to full health by receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. The defense has plenty of promise with nine starters returning, including end Andre Monroe, linebacker Cole Farrand and cornerback William Likely. Maryland’s schedule is also more favorable in 2014, as it hosts Rutgers and Iowa, and the non-conference slate features winnable games against Syracuse, West Virginia and South Florida. With the changes on the staff, Rutgers should be a better team than it was last year. However, I think the Terrapins are also due to take a step forward and should go to a bowl in their Big Ten debut.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
This is a really tough question. Both are coming off similar seasons (Maryland, 7-6, ACC; Rutgers, 6-7, AAC), both return a lot of starters (Maryland, 20; Rutgers, 17), both are members of the loaded East Division, and both draw grueling cross-division foes (Maryland, vs. Iowa, at Wisconsin; Rutgers, at Nebraska, vs. Wisconsin). Add it all up, and it’s hard to expect either team to match last season’s mediocre record.

All that said, I’ll take Maryland in a close race that could come down to the season finale vs., you guessed it, Rutgers. The Terps have the tougher nonconference slate of the two, which could hurt their case, but they’re working with more talent and played in the better conference a year ago.

Dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, who finished tied for fourth in the ACC with 12 rushing scores, is back, and so, too, are his five returning receivers, including the dynamic Stefon Diggs, who is recovering from a leg injury. The defense, while it wasn’t anything special, returns nine starters from a unit that totaled 37 sacks.
 

Mark Ross
Maryland will enjoy more success in its first year in the Big Ten than Rutgers and I don't think it will be close. The Terrapins went 7-6 in the ACC in 2013, while the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference, but I think the former is in much better shape for 2014 than the latter. Maryland returns 16 starters from a team that possesses quite a bit of talent, it just needs key playmakers, namely quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, to stay healthy. Rutgers returns 14 starters from a team that struggled mightily on offense last season and in certain defensive areas and doesn't appear to have much in the form of reinforcements on the horizon. Consider that Maryland's incoming recruiting class was ranked seventh in the Big Ten and 43rd overall by 247Sports' Composite team rankings while Rutgers' class was 12th in the conference and 60th overall. Rutgers has some talented players, like wide receiver Leonte Carroo and running back Paul James, but from an overall roster standpoint Maryland looks much more like a Big Ten team to me than its fellow newcomer. Rutgers lost to the top four teams in the AAC last year - UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston - by 24, 14, 35 and 35 points respectively. What do you think is going to happen this fall when the Scarlet Knights take on Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan or crossover foes Wisconsin and Nebraska? Welcome to the Big Ten Rutgers. I hope you enjoy languishing in the basement of the new-look Eastern Division.

Listen to our staff discuss every team in the Big Ten as they start to look to 2014.

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’ve certainly been skeptical of the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten, both from the perspective of the league adding two mediocre teams and the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins being able to compete. Maybe it’s that stage of the offseason where every team has reason for optimism, but Maryland might be a competitive Big Ten program in 2014. I’d be shocked if Maryland can win the division, but a .500 record in conference play seems possible. With 16 returning starters, the Terps have plenty of experience, in part by a handful of players getting thrown into the lineup due to injuries. The Terps’ defense returns nine starters from a group that was above average in the ACC (5.1 yards per play, fifth in the league). And the offense has to be better with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long healthy. This team has had so much bad luck under Randy Edsall, sooner or later things have to start to even out, right?

Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), CrystalBallRun.com and CollegeFootballTalk.com
While I do not think either team will do considerably well in their first season in the Big Ten, I think Maryland is better equipped to put together a better debut season in the new conference if they stay healthy. Maryland has a wide receiver unit that could be the best in the Big Ten and they have some winnable games at Indiana and home against Iowa and Rutgers. Neither team is going to come away with a winning record against division foes Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan this year, but Maryland avoids Nebraska in the cross-division match-ups. With the more talented offense and a slightly more favorable schedule (home against Rutgers in what could be the deciding game), Maryland gets the edge in year one.

Teaser:
Maryland or Rutgers: Which Big Ten Newcomer Has a Better Record in 2014?
Post date: Monday, April 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-12-coaches-rise-2014
Body:

Every year, there’s a new crop of rising stars in college football’s coaching ranks ready to make an appearance on the national stage. Alabama's Nick Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher are names familiar across the nation with any fanbase. 

However, what about the next wave of stars that could be at BCS jobs in the next five years?

Ball State’s Pete Lembo has been on a quick ascension through the coach ranks, starting his career at Lehigh in 2001 and moving to the FBS ranks in 2011 with Ball State.

Lembo is an excellent X’s and O’s coach and has produced 12 winning seasons in 13 years as a head coach. Considering Lembo’s success at Lehigh, Elon and Ball State, it won’t be long before FBS programs are interested in the New York native. But the Cardinals are making every attempt to keep him in Muncie, as Lembo inked a new five-year agreement with the program this offseason.

In addition to Lembo, Bowling Green’s Dino Babers, UL Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth, Memphis’ Justin Fuente and Colorado State’s Jim McElwain are names to watch as coaches on the rise. 

College Football’s Top 12 Coaches on the Rise for 2014

Dino Babers, Bowling Green
Career Record: 19-7 (2 years)

Babers has a wealth of experience in the assistant ranks, making stops at a handful of FBS programs, including Purdue, San Diego State, Arizona, UNLV, Pittsburgh, Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor. Eastern Illinois hired Babers prior to the 2012 season, and he proved to be an instant hit for the Panthers. Under Babers’ watch, Eastern Illinois went 19-7 in two years and made the FCS playoffs in both seasons. The Panthers averaged a whopping 589.5 yards and 48.2 points per game in 2013 and nearly defeated MAC West champion Northern Illinois in late September. With a loaded roster returning for Babers’ debut at Bowling Green, the Falcons should be the favorite to win the MAC in 2014.

Matt Campbell, Toledo
Career Record: 17-9 (2 years)

Campbell is one of college football’s youngest coaches and a rising star in the profession. He won his debut in the 2011 Military Bowl, defeating Air Force 42-41. The Rockets are 16-9 over the last two years and played in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Campbell received a contract extension until 2017 midway through last season and signed the No. 2 recruiting class in the MAC in 2014. Toledo should be one of the favorites to win the MAC West in 2014.

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
Career Record: 20-6 (2 years)

Fresno State is one of the premier programs in the Mountain West, and DeRuyter has continued to add to the foundation Pat Hill built from 1997-2011. In two years with the Bulldogs, DeRuyter is 20-6 and claimed the Mountain West title in 2013. The Bulldogs have to reload in 2014 without quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams. However, DeRuyter is the right coach to keep Fresno State among the top programs in the Mountain West. If DeRuyter finds a quarterback to replace Carr, the Bulldogs could repeat as champions of the Mountain West in 2014.

Justin Fuente, Memphis
Career Record: 7-17 (2 years)

Fuente only has seven victories over the last two years, but there has been considerable progress at Memphis during that span. The Tigers went 3-21 in the two seasons prior to Fuente’s arrival and won just one conference game in that period. But Memphis went 4-8 in his first year in 2012 and finished 3-9 in 2013 in its American Athletic Conference debut. The Tigers should take another step forward in 2014, and if the offense develops with a solid season from quarterback Paxton Lynch, Memphis has enough winnable games on the schedule to push for a bowl.

Related Content: Ranking All 128 College Football Coaches for 2014

Mark Hudspeth, UL Lafayette
Career Record: 93-33 (10 years)

Hudspeth should have his pick of BCS jobs if he’s interested in leaving UL Lafayette after 2014. In three years with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hudspeth is 27-12 overall and 17-6 in Sun Belt play. UL Lafayette claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013, and the program has three consecutive bowl victories. Hudspeth’s team is also the favorite to win the Sun Belt in 2014. Prior to his stint with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hudspeth went 66-21 in seven years with North Alabama. He also has stops in his career at Mississippi State (2009-10), Delta State and Navy. If a SEC job opens this offseason, keep an eye on Hudspeth as a potential replacement.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Career Record: 9-16 (2 years)

As a New Orleans native and an assistant with the Saints, there’s not a better fit for a coach at Tulane than Johnson. In two years, the Green Wave has made considerable progress under Johnson. Tulane finished 2-10 in 2012 but improved to 7-6 with a bowl appearance in 2013. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which is a valuable asset for Tulane with the talent in the state of Louisiana. Moving to the American Athletic Conference will be an increased challenge for the Green Wave, and this program appears capable of handling that transition with Johnson at the helm.

Joey Jones, South Alabama
Career Record: 34-28 (6 years)

Looking for a rising star in the Sun Belt? Keep an eye on Jones. UL Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth is expected to be a target for potential BCS openings this year, but Jones could be valued by other top programs if South Alabama posts another winning record. Jones – an Alabama native – is 31-21 in five years with the Jaguars, which includes a 6-6 record in 2013. Jones built the program from scratch and has South Alabama in contention for the Sun Belt title in 2014.

Pete Lembo, Ball State
Career Record: 104-49 (13 years)

It’s pretty easy to sum up Lembo’s coaching career in this simple statement: Three different head coach jobs, three very successful tenures. Lembo’s first head coaching gig was in 2001 at Lehigh. He guided the Mountain Hawks to a 44-14 record and two playoff appearances in five years. Lembo went to Elon in 2006 and won 35 games in five seasons. Lembo was hired at Ball State in 2011, and the Cardinals have yet to record a losing record under his watch. Ball State is 19-7 over the last two years and has played in back-to-back bowls. The Cardinals have some significant holes to fill headed into 2014, but there’s little doubt Lembo will keep Ball State in the mix to win the MAC West. There’s no question Lembo is one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks and could be poised for a jump to a BCS program in the next few years.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State
Career Record: 12-14 (2 years)

Looking for a coach that could move to a BCS job at the end of the 2014 season? McElwain is a name to remember. In two years with the Rams, McElwain has made significant strides in Fort Collins, guiding Colorado State to an 8-6 finish and a bowl victory over Washington State last season. Prior to taking over the Rams, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-11, made a one-year stop with Fresno State in 2007 and a short stint with the Raiders in 2006. With his experience in the NFL, along with his experience under Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, McElwain is a rising star to watch in the coaching ranks. Colorado State loses some key pieces from last year’s team, but McElwain should have the Rams back in the mix for a bowl.

Trent Miles, Georgia State
Career Record: 20-48 (6 years)

It’s impossible to judge a coach based solely on his record. Each program has its own set of expectations, which is especially true at a FBS program like Georgia State. Miles is the perfect case study for why records can be overrated for judging coaches, as he resurrected a struggling Indiana State program. The Sycamores went 1-22 from 2008-09 but finished with three consecutive winning records from 2010-12. Georgia State went 0-12 in Miles’ first season, but the Panthers made progress and were competitive in Sun Belt play by losing three games by a touchdown or less. It’s also noteworthy that 2013 was the first year Georgia State played on the FBS level and went 1-10 under Bill Curry in 2012. Give Miles a couple of years to recruit and Georgia State will move up the ladder in the Sun Belt.

Matt Wells, Utah State
Career Record: 9-5 (1 year)

Gary Andersen left behind plenty of talent in Logan, but Wells deserves a lot of credit for getting Utah State to a 9-5 mark last year. Wells joined Andersen’s staff in 2011 and worked for two years as an offensive assistant. He called the plays for Utah State’s 11-2 season in 2012 and was promoted to the top spot after Andersen left for Wisconsin. Last year, quarterback Chuckie Keeton was lost in the first half of the season with a knee injury, and the Aggies still managed to win the Mountain Division and play for the conference title. The real challenge for Wells starts in 2014, as Utah State returns only seven starters. However, all indications point to Wells being able to continue to build on Andersen’s success with the Aggies.

Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Career Record: 46-14 (5 years)

Wilder had the tough assignment of building a program from scratch, but Old Dominion has recorded five consecutive winning seasons after not fielding a team from 1941-2008. Under Wilder, the Monarchs are known for their high-scoring offenses, which feature standout senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke in 2014. Old Dominion may struggle early in its debut in Conference USA this season. However, Wilder has plenty of room to grow the program, especially with a strong recruiting area (Norfolk) and a high-powered style on offense to sell to prospects.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Rise for 2014
Post date: Monday, April 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-quarterbacks-2014
Body:

The Big 12 has been home to some of the top quarterbacks in college football during the BCS Era. The conference isn’t at an elite level under center in 2014, but the talent is clearly on the rise.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty should be a candidate for All-America honors after throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. As if those numbers aren’t enough to consider Petty among the best in the country, consider he tossed only three interceptions on 403 attempts and completed 62 percent of his throws.

Kansas State’s Jake Waters takes the No. 2 spot in Athlon’s Big 12 quarterback rankings, while Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb are close behind.

There’s plenty of uncertainty after the top four, as Texas’ David Ash, TCU’s Trevone Boykin, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach and Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh all have upside in 2014. However, each of the quarterbacks also has question marks, and some are still competing for a starting job.

Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the rankings that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Writeups compiled by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven).

Ranking the Big 12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2014

1. Bryce Petty, Baylor (SR)
From a statistical standpoint, Petty — not Manziel, Murray, Miller, Mariota or McCarron — could have been the best quarterback in the nation last year. The Baylor quarterback posted 4,409 total yards of offense at 8.9 yards per play, scored 46 touchdowns and threw just three interceptions (read that sentence again, please, so that it sinks in). He won 11 games, a Big 12 championship and embarrassed defenses along the way. Is it reasonable to expect a repeat performance in 2014? Probably not, especially with the losses on both sides of the ball. The Bears are replacing several key defenders, and guard Cyril Richardson, running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese have departed from the offense. But Petty is the complete package at the quarterback position and is in one of the best offensive systems in the nation. Heisman Trophy conversation isn't a stretch at all for the Bears QB.

2. Jake Waters, Kansas State (SR)
After a successful two-year stint at Iowa Western Community College, Waters continued to perform at a high level in his first season as Kansas State’s starter. Waters started all 13 games for the Wildcats, throwing for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 61.2 percent of his throws and tossed only nine interceptions on 260 attempts. Waters’ success wasn’t just limited to the air, as he added 312 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 118 attempts. Daniel Sams received some time under center last year, but he is expected to lineup at receiver in 2014. With Sams, Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton and junior college recruit Andre Davis returning as pass catchers, Waters will be throwing to one of the Big 12’s top receiving groups. And with another offseason to work with co-coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller, Waters is primed for a solid year in Manhattan.

3. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma (SO)
A bowl game isn’t the best judge of a player or team, but Knight’s performance in the Sugar Bowl could be a sign of major progress in his development. Against Alabama – one of the nation’s top defenses – Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 32 completions. The Texas native’s four passing touchdowns against the Crimson Tide nearly equaled his total from the regular season (five). The Sugar Bowl wasn’t the only standout performance for Knight, as he totaled 253 yards and two touchdowns in a huge road win over Kansas State. Injuries limited Knight’s snaps at times last year, as he finished with only 819 passing yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 445 yards and two scores. Knight is still developing, so there will be a few ups and downs in 2014. However, there’s a lot of upside, and Knight is ready to build off a strong finish to last season.

4. Davis Webb, Texas Tech (SO)
Unlike in his first season as the head coach, Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders enter 2014 with zero questions about the quarterback position. Webb, a sophomore from Prosper, Texas, entered the starting lineup midway through the season as a freshman and posted four 400-yard games. Among them was a Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP performance in an upset win over Arizona State. And if his excellent play in the second half a year ago wasn't enough to prove he was fully capable of grabbing the reigns to the Tech offense, his top two competitors for playing time — Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer — have left the program. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder did miss two games last year and his wiry, beanpole frame is in desperate need of added bulk and strength, but otherwise, Texas Tech is potentially poised for yet another 5,000-yard passer.

Listen to our staff discuss every team in the Big 12 as they start to look to 2014.

Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive

5. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State (JR)
Developing quarterbacks has been pretty routine for Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, so Walsh could be in for a big season as the starter in a potent offense. However, the Texas native isn’t completely secure as the No. 1 option in Stillwater, as true freshman Mason Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman are pushing for time. Walsh started five games in 2013 and finished with 1,333 passing yards and nine touchdowns. He also added 294 yards and three scores on the ground. Walsh spent the spring trying to become a better passer, as he finished 2013 by completing 59.5 percent of his throws and averaged 11.8 yards per completion last year. With Oklahoma State losing seven starters and a handful of backups on defense, the Cowboys will need their offense to carry this team early in 2014. Walsh has room to improve as a passer, but with Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich in control, Oklahoma State’s offense shouldn’t be much of a concern. 

6. David Ash, Texas (JR)
After showing marked improvement from his freshman season (1,068 yds, 4 TD, 8 INT) to his sophomore season (2,699 yds, 19 TD, 8 INT), the question of Ash's ability to make plays and win games was answered pretty clearly. However, he missed 10 games due to ongoing concussion issues a year ago and broke his foot late in spring practice. He is expected to be healthy for the start of fall camp and is clearly the best option to run Charlie Strong's new offense. But Ash is also one big hit away from being in the hospital and questions about his ability to stay healthy loom large in Austin. There is little experienced depth behind Ash on the roster and Strong desperately needs his junior quarterback to stay healthy. Should Ash prove capable of staying on the field, this Texas team has the roster and coaching staff to compete for a Big 12 title.

7. Trevone Boykin, TCU (JR)
Boykin is far from a polished passer but he may be Gary Patterson's best bet at the quarterback position. The junior from Mesquite, Texas has the most experience of any passer on the roster by a wide margin and is the best athlete of the bunch as well. That said, the Frogs staff would like to see more balance and stability from the quarterback position, and Boykin needs to improve from within the pocket as a passer. Coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie likely won't be afraid to give chances to the rest of the depth chart if Boykin — who can be used all over the offense — can't develop as a passer. Tyler Matthews and two freshmen, Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer, should all see plenty of snaps in the summer and both Meacham and Cumbie have started freshmen under center at previous jobs.

Related Content: Is TCU a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12 in 2014?
 

8. Grant Rohach, Iowa State (SO)
Rohach seized control of the starting job for Iowa State late last season, and all signs point to improvement in 2014. In the final two games of 2013, Rohach threw for 631 yards and six touchdowns, while tossing only two picks on 59 attempts. Yes, those statistics came against Kansas and West Virginia, but it represented a step forward for Iowa State’s offense. Rohach is surrounded by a solid cast of weapons at receiver and running back, and the offensive line will quietly be one of the best in the Big 12. New coordinator Mark Mangino is a good hire for Iowa State, and he should help mold Rohach into a much-improved quarterback in 2014.

9. Clint Trickett, West Virginia (SR)
Uncertainty surrounds West Virginia’s quarterback situation headed into the summer. Trickett missed spring practice due to shoulder surgery, which left Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and Logan Moore to compete for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Millard seems to be the best out of the trio from the spring, but Trickett should get the nod in the fall. After transferring from Florida State last year, Trickett finished the year with 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns in eight appearances. He was the Mountaineers’ No. 1 quarterback when they upset Oklahoma State early in the year and threw for 356 yards against Iowa State in the season finale. If Trickett’s shoulder is 100 percent and he has no ill-effects from last year’s injury, he should reclaim the starting job in the fall.

10. Jake Heaps, Kansas (SR)
Heaps gets the nod here, but Montell Cozart had a solid spring and could get the nod over Heaps for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. And for Heaps, it has been an interesting journey in his college career. He was No. 1 quarterback prospect in the nation and is now battling for starting time on the worst team in the Big 12. It's not what Heaps expected when he signed with BYU out of high school but that is exactly where the senior from famed Skyline High in Seattle finds himself entering his final collegiate season. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound signal caller threw for just 1,414 yards and eight touchdowns last year (11 games) and he didn't play in the lone bright spot — an upset win over West Virginia. This is why Heaps will have to hold off Cozart and sophomore T.J. Millweard if he wants to acquire the keys to the new no-huddle offense. Charlie Weis brought in coordinator John Reagan to install the spread offense and that is music to Heaps' ears as the senior ran a similar system both in high school and at BYU. Heaps has the knowledge and experience to lock down the starting spot in Lawrence early in the process. Should that happen, it would likely yield his best season to date.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12's Quarterbacks for 2014
Post date: Monday, April 14, 2014 - 07:15

Pages