Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/auburns-defense-or-alabamas-quarterback-play-which-bigger-concern-2014

The SEC West is the toughest division in college football, with the Iron Bowl rivalry between Alabama and Auburn taking center stage once again in 2014.

Auburn experienced a quick turnaround in Gus Malzahn’s first year, finishing 12-2 and losing to Florida State in the national championship. The Tigers defeated the Crimson Tide in their regular season finale on a memorable last-second returned missed field goal for a touchdown.

Alabama continues to set the bar high in the West, winning 11 games last year and reeling in another elite recruiting class.

With both teams expected to be picked high in most preseason top 25 polls, the November Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West champion once again.

However, both teams have significant question marks to address before late November, as Alabama’s quarterback situation and Auburn’s defense are the top concerns in the SEC West at the conclusion of spring practice.

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, will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Alabama’s QB Play or Auburn’s Defense: Which is a Bigger Concern in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although there may be a transition period at quarterback for Alabama, I have less concerns about the Crimson Tide offense than I do Auburn’s defense. Jacob Coker should be a good fit in Tuscaloosa, and he has plenty of help from one of the top receiving corps in the nation and a deep stable of running backs. The Tigers return six starters on defense, and another offseason under coordinator Ellis Johnson should help this unit show progression on the stat sheet. But in conference games last year, Auburn allowed 6.4 yards per play and gave up 45 plays of 30 yards or more – the most in the SEC in 14 games. This unit has reason to expect improvement, especially with a talented line returning in 2014. End Carl Lawson and tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams could all be in contention for All-SEC honors, but the secondary must replace three key players, including cornerback Chris Davis. There’s no question Alabama will be in big trouble if Coker or Blake Sims fails to provide adequate quarterback play. However, the Crimson Tide can mask some of their quarterback issues with a strong defense and rushing attack. Although Auburn can outscore most of the teams in the nation, I don’t think it can win the SEC West again without improvement on that side of the ball. Both of these parts are a concern, but I have bigger issues with the Tigers’ defense in 2014.

Mark Ross
Although I do think Alabama will miss the underrated AJ McCarron, especially once conference play heats up, the Crimson Tide have enough talented skill position players to ease Jacob Coker's transition into the starting lineup. Plus the defense should be more than capable of picking up the slack, if necessary. On the other hand, there's Auburn's defense, which ranked 86th in FBS last season in yards allowed and 100th against the pass. Yes, the Tigers are the defending SEC champions and were 79 seconds away from winning the national title, but this is a team that was on the receiving end of numerous lucky bounces last season (see: Georgia game, Iron Bowl) and out-gained conference foes by less than 19 yards per game. So while the offense was churning out more than 500 yards per game, the defense was giving up more than 420. This defense also lost two of its best players in first-team All-SEC end Dee Ford and second-team cornerback Chris Davis. With no Ford rushing (10.5 sacks) the quarterback and Davis not patrolling the secondary (or able to run back a missed field goal to put the Tigers in the SEC Championship Game), I'm leery of any marked improvement from a defense that returns just six starters. So while quarterback play may be a question mark for Alabama entering this season, the Crimson Tide have a well-rounded supporting cast that should provide plenty of answers. As good as Auburn's offense was last season, it took a tipped, last-second Hail Mary and one of the most improbable endings in college football history to bail out a rather generous defense. If the status quo holds for these two units, I think it's too much to expect a repeat this fall of what transpired in 2013.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This is an easy one, right? It’s the Auburn defense. The Tigers, to their credit, did most of their defensive work last season when it counted. Auburn led the SEC in third down defense and finished third in touchdown rate in the red zone. The Tigers were fourth in sacks per game and fifth in tackles per game. Yet at the same time, Auburn was 10th in yards per pass and yards per carry. To me, that means the departure of Dee Ford and three other key contributors from the defensive line will be missed even more than anyone would anticipate. Alabama adds a potential two-year starting quarterback in Jacob Coker, who challenged Jameis Winston for the starting job at Florida State. It’s unreasonable to expect Coker to come close to what Winston did last season, but with Alabama’s skill position talent on offense, Coker doesn’t need to be Heisman-caliber. Coker will at worst be a caretaker of the offense in Tuscaloosa. I'm not sure Auburn has a similar solution on defense. In 2014, Auburn will have a much tougher time replacing Ford than Alabama will have replacing AJ McCarron.

Kevin Causey (@CFBZ),
Auburn's defense finished the year 12th in the SEC in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. In year one of the Ellis Johnson era, they weren't great but generally they made plays when they had to (and in some cases they got bailed out by miracles). This year, they should be better although they will have to find a replacement for star Dee Ford. Gus Malzahn's offense will also be able to hide some of the deficiencies of Johnson's defense.

For Alabama, a change in quarterback is not something that has happened often in the Nick Saban era. In fact, in Saban's eight years he's only had three starters (John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron). Now they must replace a four-year starter and do so with a wildcard offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin. Like Auburn's offense, Bama's defense will cover a lot of faults of their offense but at some point during the year Alabama's QB (be it Jacob Coker or Blake Sims) is going to have to step up and make game winning plays. When you combine that with the question mark of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, I have to say that Alabama's quarterback play is more of a concern heading into the 2014 season than Auburn's defense.

Auburn's Defense or Alabama's Quarterback Play: Which is a Bigger Concern in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/who-leads-big-ten-rushing-2014

The Big Ten produced seven 1,000-yard rushers last season, headlined by Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah with 1,690 yards on 281 attempts. Abdullah was joined in the 1,000-yard club by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and James White, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford and Minnesota’s David Cobb.

Hyde and White expired their eligibility, but the race to be the Big Ten’s leading rusher should be a tight battle once again in 2014.

Abdullah is the default favorite after leading the league in rushing last season, but Gordon and Langford are expected to improve on their totals in 2014.

Gordon shared time with White last season, but the Badgers are expected to give Gordon more carries this year with White expiring his eligibility. Corey Clement should pickup some of White’s workload after averaging 8.2 yards per carry last year. However, Gordon could increase his attempts to 275-300 as the Badgers look to lean on a solid rushing attack and one of the nation’s best offensive lines.

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, will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Who Leads the Big Ten in Rushing in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This seems like a two-man battle between Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. Both players should be All-American selections for 2014 and two of the top running backs in the nation. But with that being said, I like Gordon to edge Abdullah in the final rushing tally of the season. Gordon finished second in the Big Ten last year, recording 1,609 yards to Abdullah’s 1,690. Gordon has room for his total to increase, as he had 75 less carries than Abdullah in 2013. Also, Gordon produced more big plays last season, recording nine carries over 30 yards, six over 40 yards and four over 50. All of those numbers were better than Abdullah, and Gordon should add to those totals with more carries in 2014. Corey Clement is a capable No. 2 in Wisconsin, but Gordon should approach 275 carries, which will allow the junior to make a push for 2,000 rushing yards in 2014.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), Senior Editor
I love Indiana’s Tevin Coleman this season, but it’s hard to go that bold when last year’s leading rushers, Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon, return. So, to answer the question, I’ll take Gordon, the guy who finished 81 yards behind Abdullah for the 2013 lead. Gordon is the ideal mix of speed and power, and he’s a back who absolutely shreds average defenses – to be fair, at 7.8 yards per carry, he was pretty strong against all comers. Whatever the case, Gordon doesn’t face Michigan State, the Big Ten’s expected top defense, or Ohio State, an annual run-stuffer, while he does draw Illinois and Purdue, units that finished outside the top 100 against the rush. Another reason to like Gordon: James White is out of the picture, which should yield more opportunities. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Despite the loss of Carlos Hyde and James White, the Big Ten is still loaded with elite ball-carriers. The Spartans Jeremy Langford plays for the defending champs and was arguably the most important back in conference play a year ago. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is the most physically talented player at his position in the league. Northwestern welcomes back do-everything dynamo Venric Mark after he missed all of last year. And Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah actually led the league in rushing a year ago and is back in Lincoln. Needless to say, the Big Ten is stacked at the position entering a critical first season in the playoff. But with one of the nation's top offensive lines returning and no James White to steal 200 carries, I have to go with the Badgers Melvin Gordon. He is the most explosive back in the league and has the best supporting cast returning up front. He proved he can score from anywhere on the field at anytime by averaging nearly eight yards per carry (209 att.). Now, he is now the true featured back in an always run-heavy UW offense.

Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), and
If there is one thing we know about Wisconsin, it is the Badgers are going to thrive running the football. That will absolutely be the case once again in 2014 with Melvin Gordon leading the way on the ground. Gordon led the Badgers with 1,609 rushing yards and paired that with 12 touchdowns in a dynamic duo with James White. With White gone, the bulk of the carries will be put in Gordon’s hands behind an offensive line that returns four starters. The carries will be there for Gordon, as will the protection. The schedule certainly helps as well, after facing LSU in the season opener at least. Five of Wisconsin’s new division opponents finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten in rushing defense in 2013.

Mark Ross
Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, third and first in the Big Ten in rushing last season respectively, certainly have to be considered the frontrunners to repeat their success in 2013. However, I'm going to go a slightly different direction and say Northwestern's Venric Mark will top them both. To start with, Mark rushed for 1,366 yards in 2012 when he was considered one of the conference's top playmakers. Injuries limited him to just three games last year because of injury, but he is reported to be back to health and should resume his role as the Wildcats' top ball-carrier. Additionally, all five starting offensive linemen return from a unit that paved the way for 172.4 rushing yards per game and Tervor Siemian, a more traditional drop-back passer, replaces dual-threat Kain Colter as the starting quarterback. When Mark ran for 1,366 yards two seasons ago, he did so on 226 carries (17.4 per game) while Colter had 169 rushing attempts. Combine those two factors with a schedule that includes porous rushing defenses like Purdue, Illinois, California and Northern Illinois and, perhaps more importantly, does not include Michigan State or Ohio State, and I like Mark's chances of putting together a big senior season. Provided he stays healthy and gets at least 20 carries a game, I think Mark could leave his on the Big Ten and lead the league, which does not lack for quality running backs, in rushing.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This may be crazy, considering Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah led the league in rushing last year and Wisconsin backs are pretty much a sure thing. I’m going to pick Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford. He finished last season as consistent a runner as any back in the country, rushing for at least 100 yards in the final eight games before the Rose Bowl (he rushed for 84 against Stanford). He also topped 20 carries in every game since Oct. 12. As much as Abdullah will be productive, he’s going to be under more pressure this season than last when he had a Big Ten-high 21.6 carries per game. Langford was right behind at 20.9, but I like quarterback Connor Cook and a deep group of backup running backs to keep Langford fresh and the offense more varied. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is probably the favorite since he topped 1,609 yards last season with James White in his backfield, but Corey Clement will be a worthy No. 2 to the Badgers’ top tailback.

Who Leads the Big Ten in Rushing in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/byu-football-how-many-games-will-cougars-win-2014

BYU returns 14 starters from last year’s 8-5 team, and with a favorable schedule, the Cougars could be poised to win 10 games for the first time since 2011.

Quarterback Taysom Hill had a standout debut as BYU’s starter, throwing for 2,938 yards and 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,344 yards and 10 scores. Hill has to find new receivers with the departure of Cody Hoffman, Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev, but UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and junior college recruits Nick Kurtz and Devon Blackmon should provide an easy transition in the passing game.

Running back Jamaal Williams is an underrated player nationally after rushing for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.

While the offense should have no trouble scoring in 2014, BYU’s defense is a concern with the departure of linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

BYU played a challenging schedule in 2013, but the 2014 slate is manageable. The Cougars could be favored to win 10 games this year and will be a darkhorse to play in one of college football’s top bowl matchups if they could finish 11-1.

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, 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 BYU Win in 2014?: Over/Under 9.5

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I’ll take the under and say BYU finishes 9-3. The schedule is very manageable for coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team, as the Cougars could be favored in 10 contests. Games at Texas and Boise State appear to be the toughest on the slate, but Utah State is one of the top teams in the Mountain West, while the season finale at an improving California team will be tough. There’s a lot to like about this team, starting on offense with the one-two punch of quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Hill will have to adapt to a new set of receivers, but UTEP transfer Jordan Leslie and junior college recruits Devon Blackmon and Nick Kurtz should provide an instant fix. The defense returns six starters, and this unit received help at linebacker with the return of Zac Stout. However, Kyle Van Noy was one of the nation’s top defenders and replacing his production won’t be easy. Although the schedule says to take the over and pick BYU to finish with 10 wins, I think the Cougars stumble on a game we don’t expect, perhaps at California or at UConn in the opener. Even if BYU finishes 9-3, I think this team has a good shot at finishing among the top 25-30 in the final Associated Press poll.

Mark Ross
BYU is always an interesting case study because of the schedule flexibility its independent status allows, and this season is no different. The Cougars will face at least one team from six different conferences, including one each from the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12. Bronco Mendenhall's teams have won fairly consistently and this year's team certainly brings some offensive firepower to the table in dynamic, dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. The defense has to replace standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy, but from my perspective the Cougars have enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to win a fair amount of games. In fact, there are only four matchups — at Texas, Utah State, at UCF and at Boise State —  on their slate that look troublesome to me. These four games will not be easy, especially the road trips to Austin and Boise, but I have enough confidence in Mendenhall and the duo of Hill/Williams to say that the Cougars will find a way to claw out at least one win from this group. I'm just not so sure about coming up with two, which is why I'll take the under. But it's close and I wouldn't be shocked if BYU got to double-digits by the end of November.

BYU Football: How Many Games Will the Cougars Win in 2014?
Post date: Monday, May 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/who-sleeper-team-watch-acc-2014

There are few certainties in the ACC this season. Florida State is expected to be selected by every preseason poll as the top team in the conference, with Clemson expected to be a clear No. 2 in the Atlantic. Louisville isn’t far behind the Tigers and could be a top-25 team this year.

In the Coastal, it’s a wide-open battle for the No. 1 spot. The top six teams in the division are close, and a 5-3 record may be enough to play in the conference championship.

Considering the uncertainty in the Coastal, along with the teams in the Atlantic outside of Florida State and Clemson, it seems the ACC is ripe for a surprise team to contend for a spot in the conference championship game.

With a favorable schedule, a solid rushing attack and a potential All-American in receiver Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh is an interesting team to watch this season. The Panthers have the schedule to be a factor in the Coastal, especially if Chad Voytik settles into the starting role at quarterback.

In the Atlantic, Syracuse is a team worth monitoring in terms of sleeper status. The Orange finished 7-6 in Scott Shafer’s first season and return quarterback Terrel Hunt and a solid group of skill players.

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, will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Which Team is a Sleeper to Watch in the ACC in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Pittsburgh as a sleeper team to watch in 2014. The favorite in the Coastal Division is really anyone’s guess, and the Panthers have one of the league’s best crossover schedules. Pittsburgh doesn’t play Florida State, Clemson or Louisville from the Atlantic and hosts Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke in key games against its Coastal foes. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is impossible to replace, but Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render should form a solid duo on the interior. Second-year coordinator Matt House needs to replace two starters in the secondary as well, but there’s enough talent returning for this unit to ensure a huge drop-off won’t happen. While the defense has a few question marks, I think the offense could have a breakout year. Chad Voytik is a promising quarterback, the Panthers have two solid running backs in James Conner and Isaac Bennett, while receiver Tyler Boyd is already among the nation’s best. The offensive line has been a weakness in recent years, but this unit returns four starters and appears ready to turn a corner in 2014. With a tight Coastal race expected, very little will separate the top six teams in the division. And with a favorable schedule, Pittsburgh is a darkhorse team to watch in the Coastal title picture.

Mark Ennis, (@MarkEnnis),
This is going to sound ridiculous, given the way that last season went for them, but I have a feeling that one team worth watching that folks might not be talking about as much is NC State. Dave Doeren didn't forget how to coach or be innovative last year. He just took over a roster that didn't completely fit what he likes to do and, frankly, he didn't have a healthy quarterback. With Jacoby Brissett in the fold now, Doeren will get to unleash his unique version of a power spread offense and will lead the Wolfpack to a significant bounce back in 2014. The schedule doesn't hurt either. Non-conference games against Georgia State, Old Dominion, South Florida, and Presbyterian should guarantee a 4-0 start. They won't beat Florida State or Clemson, but they'll be 4-2 with games against Boston College, Syracuse, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. It's not unthinkable that they win 3-4 of those games to get to 7-5 or 8-4.

Mark Ross
Even though the Pittsburgh Panthers lost the ACC Defensive Player of the Year (Aaron Donald) and will have a new quarterback under center this fall, I think there's a chance this team could surprise in the Coastal Division. Head coach Paul Chryst will hand the reins of the offense over to sophomore Chad Voytik, who looked pretty impressive after taking over for an injured Tom Savage in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green. Voytik has wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who broke Larry Fitzgerald's freshman receiving records last season, to throw to and should get support from a ground game and offensive line that gained valuable experience in 2013. The defense will clearly miss Donald, but returns 21 players who saw significant action last season and should be led by a relatively deep linebacking corps. Another reason I like Pitt is its schedule. Outside of hosting Iowa, the non-conference slate is easy and the Panthers will host Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in divisional play. Crossover games are against Syracuse and at Boston College, so depending on how Pitt handles late road trips to Chapel Hill, N.C., and Miami, I think there's a chance for Chryst's team to post as many as nine wins and finish above .500 in the ACC. Considering how crowded the Coastal is expected to be with Virginia Tech, Duke, North Carolina and Miami jockeying for the top spots, don't be surprised if Pitt forces its way into the discussion too.

Matt McClusky, (@MatthewMcClusky),
I'm going to wimp out with this one and pick Louisville as my "sleeper" ACC team for 2014. I know, I know, I'm picking a team that has won 23 games in the last two seasons, including two bowl victories. Not exactly a gutsy pick, right? But with Charlie Strong off to Texas, Teddy Bridgewater off to the land of NFL Draft speculation and the Cardinals off to the Atlantic Coast Conference, it would be awfully easy to write off U of L this coming season.

Still, there is a lot to love about Louisville for 2014. Bobby Petrino's back in the fold to replace Strong, and Will Gardner seems groomed to replace Bridgewater (at least on paper). Plus, add in wide out DeVante Parker, an NFL-caliber player, and the Cardinals could be lighting up scoreboards like they did during Petrino's first go around in The Blue Grass State. The other side of the ball will likely be a different story, especially without Strong's guiding hand and a change of defensive schemes. But there is plenty of talent to be competitive in the Atlantic Division -- which, outside of Florida State, isn't exactly a Murder's Row (especially with Clemson looking to replace both Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd). Louisville could be off the national radar for a bit this coming season, but that probably won't be the case for long.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Technically, anyone not named Florida State has to be considered a "sleeper" in the ACC since the Seminoles are vastly superior to every other team and will be the prohibitive favorite to run away with the league. And since pretty much everyone in the Coastal is a contender, I will go further off the board with the Pitt Panthers. I have long been a believer in Paul Chryst and his ability to produce an effective offense dating back to his days in Madison. He now has his guy under center (Chad Voytik), returns four offensive line starters and has a developing superstar on the outside to work around (Tyler Boyd). Top off an emerging roster with a schedule that doesn't include Florida State, Clemson or Louisville in crossover play and Pitt could sneak into the Coastal Division mix as a true sleeper in the ACC this fall.

Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice),
Hopefully I’m not stealing a future topic with a bold prediction, but I think Duke will surprise and, while I’m not guaranteeing a Coastal title defense, they should be in contention once again.

When I first considered the question, I was trying to find a team that would make a dramatic jump in their win total. I had serious trouble finding an ACC squad that I thought will significantly improve in that department, but I think Duke staying near the top of the Coastal counts as a surprise. Simply because they are Duke, people will sleep on them heading into 2014.

The Blue Devil offense returns several key pieces, including starting quarterback Anthony Boone — seemingly a rarity in the ACC this year — as well as star receiver Jamison Crowder, tight end Braxton Deaver, who will be one of the league’s best, and running back Josh Snead, last year’s leading rusher. Also, the three top tacklers from 2013 — linebacker David Helton, safety Jeremy Cash and linebacker Kelby Brown — all return, and the trio combined for 368 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, four forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles.

As long as I justified why I can call the defending Coastal Champs a sleeper, put me down for David Cutcliffe’s squad as the one people will sleep on heading into 2014.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The ACC won’t be fun to watch. I’m going to start with that. Florida State may win its share of blow outs. Clemson is in a rebuilding year. Virginia Tech is ambling along. Louisville might be interesting in its first year in the league. Other than that, every team is just fighting for anything it can get. I suppose if any team could do what Duke did last year and emerge from obscurity to claim the Coastal Division title, it’s Pittsburgh. No one will pay too much attention to the Panthers without Aaron Donald, especially if Tom Savage ends up as a high draft pick. But there’s enough here to go 5-3 in the division, which, sadly, could be enough to win the Coastal. I like Chad Voytik as a quarterback, and he’ll have plenty of tools to succeed with a star receiver in Tyler Boyd, four starting offensive linemen returning and two capable running backs. Pitt’s defense will take a step back without Donald, but the Panthers face Boston College and Syracuse (rather than FSU, Clemson or Louisville) from the Atlantic. The defense might be able to hold on enough to make a run at the division.

John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo),
If we're going away from teams that everyone's picking to be at or near the top of their respective divisions (Florida State, Clemson, Duke, Miami, North Carolina), then the answer's pretty clear to me: the Syracuse Orange. Yes, total homer pick. But at the same time, why not SU? The Orange return four of five starters on the offensive line. They bring back Terrel Hunt, a very experienced group of receivers and outside of Jerome Smith, their entire running game. The secondary may be addition by subtraction, and the front seven has more depth than last year. Plus, look at that schedule. Four of their five toughest opponents -- Florida State, Notre Dame, Duke, Louisville -- are at "home" (they count MetLife as a home game). Three of their four non-conference matchups look very winnable. No, Syracuse is not going to win the Atlantic. But don't be surprised if the Orange make even more noise than last year, and find themselves somewhere around 8-4 (5-3) at the end of the regular season.

Who is a Sleeper Team to Watch in the ACC in 2014?
Post date: Friday, May 2, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/steve-sarkisian-or-chris-petersen-who-has-better-first-season-pac-12

The Pac-12 had a quiet offseason in the coaching carousel, as Washington and USC were the only head coach jobs to open.

After five years and a 34-29 record in Seattle, Steve Sarkisian was hired at USC. Sarkisian never coached a team that won more than eight games in the regular season at Washington, but the Huskies made considerable improvement under his watch. Washington was 0-12 under Tyrone Willingham in 2008 and went 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first year. The Huskies were never able to push Oregon or Stanford for the North Division title but four straight bowl games was a good rebound after a sluggish tenure under Willingham.

Petersen replaced Sarkisian at Washington after a 92-12 stint at Boise State. Replicating that record in the Pac-12 will be a challenge, but all signs suggest Petersen is up to the task. Under Petersen’s direction, the Broncos won 10 games in seven consecutive seasons from 2006-12.

Both of the Pac-12’s first-year coaches seem to be setup for immediate success. Washington and USC can be a factor in their respective divisions, and both have to be considered legitimate conference title contenders.

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, will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Chris Petersen or Steve Sarkisian: Which New Coach Has a Better Season in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough one. I think USC and Washington will both be in the mix for nine (and maybe more) wins in 2014, so there’s not much separating these two teams. I’m tempted to take Washington since I think the Huskies have a good shot at finishing ahead of Oregon or Stanford this year. However, even though I like Washington’s chances to surprise, I’m going to take Sarkisian. USC returns 14 starters, including eight on a defense that ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed. The Trojans also have an edge over the Huskies at quarterback and running back, although I think Cyler Miles is going to be a solid signal-caller in Seattle. USC’s schedule isn’t particularly friendly, as road trips to Stanford, Arizona, and UCLA will be tough. Washington should go 4-0 in non-conference play, and with home matchups against Stanford and UCLA, Petersen’s team will have a chance to make some noise in 2014. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Huskies finish ahead of Oregon or Stanford in the North. However, if UCLA is the favorite in the South, then USC isn’t too far behind. I’ll take the Trojans – but I’m also very intrigued about this year’s Washington squad.

Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), and
USC has a higher ceiling than Washington in 2014. However, Washington has a much wider margin for error.

When the NCAA first levied sanctions against USC, 2014 was the most obvious season to pinpoint as the program's rock-bottom. Two 10-win seasons and recruiting classes consistently heavy on talent, even if they were light on numbers, kept the ship steady. The situation Sarkisian inherits is not nearly as dire as it could have been, but the roster is at its thinnest.

The Trojans will walk a tightrope all season. Just a few injuries can derail USC from its goals.

Chris Petersen faces more question marks in his starting lineup than Sarkisian, particularly on the offensive end. Replacing Keith Price, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey is a tall order. However, Petersen starts with the foundation of an experienced offensive line and deep, talented defense. That suits Petersen.

His Boise State teams were often built from stellar offense lines and stout defenses. Filling the skill position roles isn't as urgent. And while the candidates may not match Price, Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins, Sarkisian left a stocked cupboard.

With a collectively clean bill of health and the right breaks, Sarkisian finishes with a better record than Petersen. But such good fortune is rare in college football. For that reason, I like Petersen in 2014.

Of course, since the Huskies play one more game--the result of a Hawaii road trip--the two teams could conceivably finish with the same record in the loss column, but USC with the better win percentage.

Mark Ross
Both teams should enjoy a fair amount of success under their new leadership, but I am really looking forward to seeing what Chris Petersen can do at Washington. His track record (92-12) during his eight seasons at Boise State speaks for itself and all eyes will be on him as he makes the move to a major conference. Petersen has plenty of talent to work with, as Steve Sarkisian did a fine job restocking the Huskies' roster and rebuilding a program that hit rock bottom under Tyrone Willingham. I think UW's defense is going to surprise some people and as long as Petersen can settle on a quarterback and develop some sort of running game, the Huskies should win plenty of games. In fact, while USC is probably considered the closest challenger to frontrunner UCLA in the Pac-12 South Division, I am expecting Washington to serve the same role to Oregon in the North. Considering this division also includes two-time defending league champion Stanford, I would think that result would count as a pretty successful first season in Seattle for Petersen. And I know it's something Huskies fans will gladly take.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Due to the incestuous coaching implications, watching both USC and Washington compete this fall should be fascinating. The two won't play unless they meet in the Pac-12 title game — which isn't THAT out of the question — so "better" likely has to be defined by where each finishes within their division and shouldn't necessarily be based solely on win-loss record. First, the Huskies play 13 games and don't have one difficult non-conference game. Meanwhile, USC plays 12 games and includes three non-conference games against bowl teams Notre Dame, Fresno State and Boston College. So unless Washington finishes ahead of either Stanford or Oregon in the North, Coach Sark and the Men of Troy get my vote for "better first season" — even if UW has more wins. Look for USC to compete for a division title and for Washington to hold firm to third place in the North. The slight edge goes to USC.

Steve Sarkisian or Chris Petersen: Who has a Better First Season in the Pac-12?
Post date: Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/tennessee-or-vanderbilt-which-team-finishes-higher-sec-east-2014

The SEC East isn’t as strong as the West in 2014, but this division features plenty of depth. Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri are considered the preseason favorites for the East title, but Florida should be improved with the addition of Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator and a healthy Jeff Driskel at quarterback.

While the top four teams in the East seem to be clear, it’s the next group of teams that isn’t easy to sort out. Kentucky is improving but will likely be picked No. 7 in the East by most in 2014. Vanderbilt finished two games ahead of Tennessee in the East last year, but the Volunteers are expected to improve in Butch Jones’ second season on Rocky Top.

Vanderbilt lost coach James Franklin to Penn State in January but hired highly regarded defensive coordinator Derek Mason from Stanford to lead this team in 2014. Mason has a tough assignment ahead in 2014, as the Commodores return only eight starters and have a question mark at quarterback. LSU transfer Stephen Rivers is expected to start the season opener against Temple, and the receiving corps is a concern with the departure of Jordan Matthews.

Tennessee showed progress in Jones’ first year, knocking off South Carolina and nearly defeating Georgia. But showing significant improvement in the win column will be tough with revamped offensive and defensive lines.

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, will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC East in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This one should be close, but I will go with Tennessee. Both teams have significant question marks, and Vanderbilt is going through a coaching change after a successful three-year stint under James Franklin. The Volunteers have an edge in talent, but this team has not won more than seven games since 2007. Can Butch Jones turn some of that top talent into victories? Time will tell, but the results in 2013 were a positive sign, especially as Tennessee beat South Carolina and lost to Georgia by three points. The Volunteers have several personnel concerns in 2014, starting at quarterback and on both lines of scrimmage. The offensive line is a huge issue, but if this unit meshes in the fall, there’s plenty of talent at running back and wide receiver for this offense to succeed. Much like its in-state rival, Vanderbilt has a question mark at quarterback, but LSU transfer Stephen Rivers is expected to win the job in the fall. The Commodores need to develop more receiving options at receiver, as well as transition to a 3-4 scheme on defense. On the positive side, Vanderbilt returns a solid offensive line, and running back Jerron Seymour could be in for an All-SEC season. The schedule favors the Commodores with a home game against Tennessee and crossover matchups against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, as opposed to Alabama and Ole Miss for the Volunteers. Derek Mason has a tough assignment following Franklin after back-to-back nine-win seasons. But Vanderbilt’s program is in good shape and should be in the mix for a bowl. However, Tennessee finds a way to just edge the Commodores in the standings in 2014.

Mark Ross
If you had asked me this about a month or so ago, I would probably have said Tennessee since the Volunteers have the luxury of coaching stability and a distinct recruiting advantage over its in-state rival. However, even with James Franklin leaving for Penn State, I am slowly warming up to new Commodores head coach Derek Mason and how he has gone about remaking the program to fit his mindset and philosophies. Besides, Vanderbilt has clearly gotten the better of Tennessee in recent seasons and I'm also a believer in momentum. While mighty mo may be starting to swing in Butch Jones' favor, as his success on the recruiting trail this year attests, I think the Vols have too many holes to fill on a team that won just five games last season. The offensive line will be completely new as a wealth of NFL-caliber talent has departed and Jones still is trying to figure out his quarterback situation. The linebackers should be pretty solid, but the rest of the defense is full of question marks for UT. 

Vanderbilt's not exactly settled at quarterback either and has to find a way to attempt to replace the production of All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews, but I think there's enough experience and talent returning elsewhere to, at minimum, keep the Commodores' bowl streak alive. Then there's the schedule. Tennessee has to play Oklahoma in Norman and opens the season with difficult home games against Utah State and Arkansas State. Meanwhile Vanderbilt's non-conference slate consists of four home games against Temple and three teams that are relatively new to the FBS ranks — Charleston Southern, Old Dominion and UMass. I know the question is which team will finish higher than the SEC East, but I think the non-conference slate is certainly a factor in determining this. Both Vandy and UT will play Ole Miss in crossover action with the 'Dores also facing Mississippi State on the road and the Vols welcoming Alabama to Knoxville. Which team would you rather face? Mason's team also has the benefit of hosting South Carolina and Florida, while Jones' bunch will have to travel to Columbia to play the Gamecocks as well as Athens and Nashville. The Vandy-UT game could decide which team will finish higher in the SEC East standings and even though Franklin won't be around, I still like Mason's chances to extend the Commodores' winning streak over the Volunteers to three and maintain in-state bragging rights for at least one more season.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Vanderbilt fans don’t want to hear this, and Tennessee fans wish this had happened sooner: Eventually, balance will be restored in the SEC, and Tennessee will be better than Vanderbilt. This isn’t an indictment on Derek Mason any more than it’s a ringing endorsement of Butch Jones, but Vanderbilt just isn’t going to be a nine-win team on an annual basis at the same time Tennessee is missing bowl games. That said, I don’t think it will happen this year. Vanderbilt is set up to succeed in 2014 with a solid defense and all the tools for a run-first offense with two quality tailbacks and a veteran offensive line. In other words, exactly what Stanford was doing with Mason as a coordinator. Tennessee, meanwhile, has to replace an entire starting offensive line and find answers on a not-ready-for-the-SEC defensive front. That’s not a good recipe for the Volunteers. Yet Jones has shown an ability to install a system, and at Tennessee, he’ll be doing so with standout recruiting classes. That’s going to even out, just not in 2014.

Josh Ward,, (@Josh_Ward)
Tennessee faces another brutal SEC schedule. Look at the Vols’ first five league games: at Georgia, Florida, at Ole Miss, Alabama and at South Carolina. Tennessee should be an underdog in all five of those games as the Vols are working to replace all of their starters on the offensive and defensive lines.

But Vanderbilt has its own challenges. The Commodores have to replace key players like Jordan Matthews, Wesley Johnson and Kenny Ladler while adjusting to a new coaching staff. Vanderbilt will have to play at Mississippi State late in the season, which won’t be an easy road trip in between games against Florida and Tennessee.

It’s going to be a long year for both Tennessee and Vanderbilt. I think this will come down to their head-to-head matchup in the regular season finale on Nov. 29. I’ll take Tennessee to win that game in Nashville, helping the Vols finish ahead of Vanderbilt in the SEC East for the first time in four years.

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC East in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-how-many-games-will-fighting-irish-win-2014

Notre Dame has found stability and plenty of success under Brian Kelly, winning 37 games over the last four years and making an appearance in the BCS national championship after the 2012 season.

The Fighting Irish navigated conference realignment without many changes in its long-term outlook, but the program joined the ACC as a partial member and will play four opponents from that league in 2014. But beginning in 2015, the ACC and Notre Dame will play five conference games a year.

Although joining the ACC as a partial member doesn’t change a ton for its football outlook, Notre Dame has an improved bowl situation with a potential bid in the Orange Bowl at the end of this season.

But as college football’s postseason format is changing, so is the personnel in South Behind. The Fighting Irish return only nine starters for 2014 but regain the services of quarterback Everett Golson.

Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t particularly overwhelming, but Brian Kelly’s team has a lot of transition in the lineup and must play 10 bowl teams from 2013.

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, 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 the Fighting Irish Win in 2014?: Over/Under on 9.5

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I will take the under and say Notre Dame wins nine games in 2014. The Fighting Irish weren’t able to repeat their success from 2012 last season, largely due to quarterback Everett Golson’s suspension. Golson is back in 2014 to lead the offense, and once he knocks off the rust, he could be one of college football’s top 10-15 quarterbacks. And Golson has no shortage of skill players at his disposal, as the backfield has three players that rushed for at least 200 yards last year, while redshirt freshman Greg Bryant is ready to contribute. Provided DaVaris Daniels returns to the team as expected, Notre Dame also has a good group of receivers for Golson, and the offensive line is solid with three starters back. My biggest concern for the Fighting Irish is a defense that returns only five starters and must replace end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Louis Nix. Despite the concerns on defense, there are enough winnable games on the schedule to get to 10 victories. I’m giving Notre Dame losses against Florida State and USC and there’s another likely to come against Stanford or Arizona State. But if the new pieces and coordinator mesh on defense, swing games against the Cardinal and Sun Devils suddenly become more manageable. I like the under, but this one will be right on the edge.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The state of the Irish program in is great shape despite the heavy departures along both lines of scrimmage over the last two seasons. Brian Kelly has recruited extremely well, more than a few young stars should step into bigger roles and the quarterback situation — be it Everett Golson or Malik Zaire — should be a major upgrade. But can the 2014 Notre Dame squad return to playoff contention — i.e., 10 or more wins? It's really difficult to say yes to 10 wins with the nasty slate the Irish must face this fall. A three-game round robin with Pac-12 powers Stanford, USC and Arizona State — with the latter two coming on the road — already makes 10 wins a tall order but add in a road trip to Florida State and it's darn near impossible. This speaks nothing of must-win battles against Michigan, North Carolina, Louisville and Northwestern as well. There is no doubt this Notre Dame squad should be improved from a year ago, and, certainly will be more fun to watch, but getting to 10 regular season wins seems like a reach. Even for Brian Kelly.

Mark Ross
I'll take the under, but barely. Notre Dame lost quite a bit of experience and talent, especially along both the offensive and defensive lines, from last year's team which went 9-4. However, head coach Brian Kelly has done a good job keeping the cupboard pretty well stocked, and the Fighting Irish offense should get a huge boost from the return of 2012 starting quarterback Everett Golson. Remember Golson was the signal-caller for the team that went undefeated in the regular season before losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Golson and company won't go 12-0 again, not with road games at defending national champion Florida State and historic rival USC on the slate. However, outside of these two tough tests, the only other really difficult matchups I see is an Oct. 4 home date with Stanford and a Nov. 8 trip out to Tempe to face Arizona State. The Irish should be able to handle the ACC-centric (FSU, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse) aspect of their schedule with just the one loss, and the rest of the schedule is made up of the likes of Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Rice and Navy. There's nary a preseason Top 25 team in that group. In fact, Notre Dame plays just three true road games (at FSU, Arizona State and USC) all season with neutral site matchups against Syracuse (MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford N.J.) and Navy (FedEx Field in Landover, Md.). Even with a schedule that gets tougher as the season develops, I think Kelly's team will find a way to match last season's win total before any bowl bids or playoff berths are decided.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Double-digit wins is a pretty high bar for a team with only nine returning starters and some pretty major departures. Give Notre Dame credit for winning nine games despite losing quarterback Everett Golson for the season in 2013. His return will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the season, but remember who Golson was in 2012. He was a solid quarterback on an undefeated team. He completed 57 percent of his passes against nine winning teams on his schedule that year with six touchdowns and five interceptions. And on defense, Notre Dame is regrouping without Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. That’s not easy. Certainly, Notre Dame is capable of defeating every opponent on its schedule, save for perhaps Florida State. But it’s tough to expect Notre Dame to win three of its four swing games against Michigan, Stanford, Arizona State and USC while staying perfect for the rest of the season.

Notre Dame Football: How Many Games Will the Fighting Irish Win in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-makes-right-decision-eight-game-conference-schedule-remains

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.


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

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.

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

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, 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), 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), and
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.

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

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.

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

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), and
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.

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

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, 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.


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John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo),
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),
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),
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.

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

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:

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

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, 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,, (@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),
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.

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

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.

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

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), 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.

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

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:

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

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, 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),
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.


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

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, 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.

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

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:

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

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, 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.

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

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, 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), and
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. 

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

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:

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

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, 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),
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,, (@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.

Texas A&M Football: How Many SEC Games Will the Aggies Win in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 07:15