Articles By Steven Lassan
It’s a classic Big Ten versus the SEC matchup on Saturday night, as Wisconsin and LSU meet in Houston for a neutral site kickoff for the 2014 season. The Badgers return just eight starters from last year’s 9-4 squad, but coach Gary Andersen should have this team in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race. LSU also had a significant amount of roster turnover from last year and several freshmen are expected to see time on Saturday night.
LSU owns a 2-0 series edge against Wisconsin. This is the first matchup between these two schools sine 1972. The Tigers and Badgers are slated to meet again in 2016 in Green Bay.
Wisconsin vs. LSU (Houston)
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Leonard Fournette
As mentioned above, LSU could play a handful of freshmen on Saturday night. And while several garnered national acclaim through recruiting, the one receiving the most hype is running back Leonard Fournette. The true freshman has everything coaches want in an every-down back. Fournette isn’t guaranteed to handle the full workload, as seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are slated for a big role in the offense. Fournette ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the 247Sports Composite and is running behind an offensive line that is considered among the best in the SEC. With Wisconsin replacing its entire front seven (in terms of starters), the Tigers should be able to use their offensive line to clear the way for Fournette to a big performance on Saturday night.
2. The Quarterbacks
Both teams enter Saturday night with question marks surrounding the quarterback position. LSU plans on using both sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris, while Wisconsin is slated to start Tanner McEvoy. Jennings played sparingly last year and completed 13 of 29 passes for 181 yards and one score. Harris ranked as the No. 3 dual-threat passer in the 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time to compete with Jennings in spring practice. The gap between Jennings and Harris does not appear to be wide (if any at all), so expect to see both quarterbacks play a couple of drives. McEvoy beat out last year’s starter (Joel Stave) for the starting job this fall, and the former South Carolina passer is back under center after playing safety in 2013. McEvoy did not attempt a pass for Wisconsin last season, but he fits what coach Gary Andersen and coordinate Andy Ludwig want under center. McEvoy gives the Badgers’ offense more mobility, which could be an asset against a fast and athletic defense on the other side.
3. Melvin Gordon vs. LSU’s defense
LSU did not have a vintage shutdown defense last year, allowing 170.3 rushing yards per game in SEC contests. The Tigers allowed only 22 points per game, but there was room to improve in the yardage allowed. Coordinator John Chavis had personnel concerns to address in the offseason, starting up front at tackle. Last year’s starters (Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson) departed, leaving Frank Herron, Quentin Thomas, Christian LaCouture and Maquedius Bain as the top options in the middle. All four are talented, but there’s not a ton of experience returning from this group. Considering this is McEvoy’s first start, expect to see Wisconsin’s gameplan based on getting running back Melvin Gordon 25-30 carries. The Badgers own one of the Big Ten’s top offensive lines, and with the uncertainty up front for LSU, Gordon should be able to find running room. And when Gordon needs a break, expect to see talented sophomore Corey Clement in the backfield.
This matchup is perhaps the most intriguing game of Week 1. Both teams usually replace departed talent with few problems. Expect much of the same in 2014, as LSU and Wisconsin will both push for 10 wins. Both teams should have success running the ball, which is critical due to the inexperience at quarterback. The Tigers may not have a prolific day through the air, but a big offensive line and trio of backs – led by Fournette – eventually wears down the Wisconsin defense.
Prediction: LSU 30, Wisconsin 20
Week 1 isn’t full of outstanding matchups, but the Georgia-Clemson meeting on Saturday afternoon could be the best of the opening weekend. These two teams met last year, with the Tigers edging the Bulldogs 38-35. Both programs return a chunk of their core from last season’s squads, but there are new faces stepping into key roles. Clemson is breaking in a new quarterback to replace Tajh Boyd, while Georgia hands the keys to the offense to senior Hutson Mason. There’s plenty of intrigue in this matchup, and this is an early barometer test to see where Clemson and Georgia stack up after Week 1.
Clemson vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. New Quarterbacks
Despite new quarterbacks taking over for both teams, there’s not much concern at Clemson or Georgia. Senior Cole Stoudt is slated to start for the Tigers, and talented true freshman Deshaun Watson will also factor into the mix for coordinator Chad Morris. On the Bulldogs’ sideline, senior Hutson Mason will get his third start. Mason gained valuable experience by starting the last two games of 2013 due to an injury to Aaron Murray and threw for 320 yards in the bowl loss to Nebraska and 299 in an overtime win over Georgia Tech. Although both Mason and Stoudt are expected to thrive in their starting roles, both quarterbacks will be under the spotlight on Saturday night. Georgia’s front seven is among the best in the SEC, while Clemson’s defensive line features four senior starters. Neither quarterback needs to throw for 300 yards for a win, but it’s critical for both to limit mistakes with a close game expected.
2. Clemson’s DL vs. Georgia’s OL
As we mentioned in the previous section, Clemson’s defensive line features four senior starters. End Vic Beasley – an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American – highlights the front group. On paper, an experienced defensive front for the Tigers should have an advantage on Georgia’s offensive line, which returns only two starters. But will that play out on the field? Can the Bulldogs’ revamped line hold its own and keep Mason upright in the pocket? How about clearing rushing lanes for running back Todd Gurley? Winning the battle in the trenches is critical to winning on Saturday afternoon, and the battle between Georgia’s offensive line and Clemson’s defensive line is a matchup to watch.
3. Georgia’s Defense
New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt played a key role in Florida State’s national championship last season, and coach Mark Richt hopes the former Seminoles’ play-caller is able to replicate that success for the Bulldogs in 2014. Talent in the front seven certainly isn’t an issue for Pruitt. Linebackers Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson each garnered some preseason All-SEC mention, and the defensive line should be solid once again. Despite the strength in the front seven, the secondary needs some work. Pruitt mixed and matched the personnel in the offseason, and this unit could be in flux early in the year. Can the pass defense hold up against a Clemson offense that averaged 332.9 passing yards per game last season? Even without Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, the Tigers aren't hurting for talent in the receiving corps.
New is the key word to remember in this matchup. Both teams have new quarterbacks and experienced and talented front sevens on defense. But Clemson and Georgia both have concerns in the secondary, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this one go well into the 30s for the final results. Of course, with all of the new faces and roster turnover on both sides, this could be a low-scoring affair as both teams acclimate starters to new roles. Much of this game’s outcome resides on the quarterbacks. Will it be Mason delivering with a quality performance? Or is it going to be Clemson’s Cole Stoudt (first career start)? With new faces stepping into big roles, it could be a lackluster defensive struggle, before UGA or Clemson takes control late.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Clemson 24
With 128 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2014 college football magazine.
We took a look through the rosters for the 128 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2014 season.
And yes, some reminded us of the famous Key & Peele college football skit.
Freedom Akinmoladun, TE, Nebraska
Geronimo Allison, WR, Illinois
Bozidar Antunovic, OL, SMU
Gage Batten, FB, Auburn
Faton Bauta, QB, Georgia
Bobo Beathard, WR, Appalachian State
Detric Bing-Dukes, FB, Georgia
Baylor Black, TE, Baylor
Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia
Cole Boozer, TE, Temple
Johnathan Boring, OL, Troy
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas
Brandon Bridge, QB, South Alabama
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Evan Butts, TE, Virginia
Squally Canada, RB, Washington State
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan
B.J. Chitty, WR, Troy
Jazzmar Clax, FB, UConn
River Cracraft, WR, Washington State
Uneik Crumbley, OL, UAB
Tank Davis, OL, Texas A&M
Mak Djulbegovic, OL, USF
Centarius Donald, RB, ULM
Teven Eatmon-Nared, OL, Kentucky
Quinterrius Eatmon, OL, USF
Hoko Fanaika, OL, LSU
Tanner Farmer, OL, Nebraska
Bear Fenimore, QB, Houston
Daxx Garman, QB, Oklahoma State
Crusoe Gongbay, RB, New Mexico
John Gruenschlaeger, OG, Kentucky
Thor Jozwiak, OL, USF
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, USF
Justice Hansen, QB, Oklahoma
Nyiakki Height, WR, UAB
Rush Hendricks, TE, South Alabama
Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
Gunnar Holcombe, QB, Marshall
Driphus Jackson, QB, Rice
Gunner Kiel, QB, Cincinnati
Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Quantavius Leslie, WR, LSU
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor
Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU
Mikingson Marsaille, OL, FAU
I’Tavius Mathers, RB, Ole Miss
Storm McPherson, QB, West Virginia
Tommy Mister, RB, Indiana
Grayson Muehlstein, QB, TCU
Shug Oyegunle, WR, FIU
Rafe Peavey, QB, Arkansas
Ross Pierschbacher, OL, Alabama
Dalvin Populist, QB, ULL
Rich Queen, OL, UMass
Michiah Quick, WR, Oklahoma
Devine Redding, RB, Indiana
Deuce Robinson, DL, Appalachian State
Blaze Ryder, OL, Navy
Manrey Saint-Amour, OL, Georgia Southern
Harley Scioneaux, TE, ULM
Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia
Thaddeus Snodgrass, WR, Kentucky
Jack Snowball, RB, Miami (Ohio)
Shawn Stankavage, QB, Vanderbilt
Tyrin Stone-Davis, WR, Illinois
Tennessee Su’esu’e, OL, Boise State
Altee Tenpenny, RB, Alabama
Poet Thomas, OL, Texas Tech
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, OL, New Mexico State
Stone Underwood, OL, WVU
Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State
Lucky Whitehead, WR, FAU
Hosey Williams, RB, Cincinnati
T.V. Williams, WR, Kentucky
Ucambre Williams, OL, South Alabama
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
Bearooz Yacoobi, OL, Purdue
Gussie Busch, LB, Alabama
Imarjaye Albury, DL, FIU
Thurston Armbrister, LB, Miami
Micah Awe, LB, Texas Tech
Maquedius Bain, DT, LSU
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Will Barrow, CB, Tulsa
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Jay-nard Bostick, DT, Florida
Bam Bradley, LB, Pittsburgh
Mookie Carlile, DB, UTEP
Destin Challenger, LB, UAB
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Wayland Coleman-Dancer, LB, Troy
Pudge Cotton, DB, Eastern Michigan
Blake Countess, DB, Michigan
Skyler Cracraft, DB, Washington State
Armonze Daniel, DL, Marshall
Prince Charles Iworah, DB, Western Kentucky
Step Durham, DB, Georgia Tech
Kingsley Ejike, DL/LB, UAB
Corn Elder, DB, Miami
Shattle Fenteng, DB, Georgia
Poona Ford, DT, Texas
Maxx Forde, DE, Idaho
Jack Gangwish, DL, Nebraska
Houston Glass, S, Buffalo
Sharrod Golightly, LB/S, South Carolina
Alanmichael Harkness, DL, Appalachian State
Vegas Harley, S, Georgia Southern
Brixx Hawthorne, S, Texas Tech
Zaycoven Henderson, DT, Texas Tech
K’Hadree Hooker, DL, East Carolina
Money Hunter, DB, Arkansas State
Great Ibe, LB, Eastern Michigan
Tank Jakes, LB, Memphis
Lion King, DL, Eastern Michigan
Abu Lamin, DL, South Carolina
Trey Lealaimatafao, DT, LSU
Nifae Lealao, DL, Vanderbilt
Dee Liner, DL, Alabama
Chaiziere Malbrue, LB, ULL
Marcus Mallet, LB, TCU
Praise Martin-Oguike, DL, Temple
Mercy Maston, CB, Boise State
Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Washington State
Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn
Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
SteveO Michel, LB, Colorado State
Finesse Middleton, DE, Louisville
Zelt Minor, DL, SMU
Wonderful Monds II, DE, FIU
Charmeachealle Moore, LB, Kansas State
Silverberry Mouhon, DL, Cincinnati
Chuka Ndulue, DL, Oklahoma
Picasso Nelson Jr., DB, Southern Miss
Noble Nwachukwu, DL, West Virginia
Tito Odenigbo, DL, Illinois
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Jock Petree, DL, UCF
Cody Poock, LB, Minnesota
Dad Poquie, DB, Penn State
Gimel President, DL, Auburn
Johnny Ragin III, LB, Oregon
Bruno Reagan, OL, Vanderbilt
Trevarris Saulsberry, DL, Tennessee
Gusty Schwartzmeier, DL, Buffalo
Patrick Sermersheim, DB, Kentucky
Aziz Shittu, DL, Stanford
Fish Smithson, S, Kansas
Breeland Speaks, DL, Ole Miss
Weston Steelhammer, DB, Air Force
Finis Stribling, DB, Missouri
Dwellie Striggles, DB, Buffalo
Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
Wonderful Terry, DB, Western Kentucky
Toronto Thomas, LB, Appalachian State
Fudge Van Hooser, CB, Tulane
Sir Calvin Wallace, DT, North Texas
Jihad Ward, DL, Illinois
Freedom Whitfield, LB, FAU
Tito Windham, CB, Oklahoma
Psalm Wooching, LB, Washington
DeJazz Woods, DL, Illinois
Carlutorbantu Zaramo, DL, Ball State
Moose Bingham, K, BYU
Chris Blewitt, K, Pittsburgh
Colby Delahoussaye, K, LSU
Younghoe Koo, K, Georgia Southern
Logan McElfresh, P, Minnesota
The ACC enters 2014 with momentum. The conference survived realignment, Louisville joined the league, and Florida State ended the SEC’s run of dominance by defeating Auburn in the national championship. 13 games dot the schedule for the ACC in Week 1, including the Seminoles taking on Oklahoma State in Arlington, Clemson traveling to Athens to take on Georgia, and Miami and Louisville meeting as the only conference game of the week on Labor Day night.
ACC Week 1 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson (-7.5) at Georgia
5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
In terms of overall intrigue and watchability, this is the premier game in the ACC for Week 1. Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the last three years, while Georgia is hoping to rebound from an injury-filled 8-5 campaign. Both teams have new faces stepping into key roles, but none bigger than Tigers’ quarterback Cole Stoudt as he replaces Tajh Boyd. Stoudt faces a Georgia secondary that has been in flux throughout the offseason and needs help from a front seven that will be among the best in the SEC. A similar scenario will play out when the Bulldogs have the ball, as senior quarterback Hutson Mason is making his third career start. Mason and Georgia’s offensive line has a tough matchup against Clemson’s veteran defensive front, but the Tigers have concerns in the secondary. This one could go either way. A high-scoring affair or a low-scoring defensive struggle wouldn’t be surprise.
2. Miami at Louisville (-3.5)
Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The only game featuring two ACC opponents takes place on Labor Day night in Louisville. Miami and Louisville met in the Russell Athletic Bowl, with the Cardinals giving the Hurricanes a 36-9 whipping. But that was last season, and plenty has changed between the two programs. Louisville is now under the direction of Bobby Petrino, and Teddy Bridgewater left for the NFL. Miami returns a good chunk of last year’s roster (12 starters) but will start a true freshman under center (Brad Kaaya). Petrino and quarterback Will Gardner won’t have top receiver DeVante Parker at their disposal due to injury. Parker’s injury will create more opportunities for sophomore James Quick and seniors Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz in the passing game. This game also features the return of running back Duke Johnson for Miami, and it’s critical for the junior to get on track to take some of the pressure off of Kaaya in his first start. There’s a lot of new in both programs for this game. Has Miami closed the gap since last year’s bowl loss? Or is Louisville still the better program right now?
Listen to Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Week 1 Preview
3. Florida State (-17.5) vs. Oklahoma State (Arlington)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Florida State begins its national title defense in a neutral site environment against a rebuilding Oklahoma State team. The Seminoles are big – and for good reason – favorites in this matchup. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team returns 16 starters, including defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston. The Cowboys return just eight starters and must replace 28 seniors from last year’s squad. A rebuilt offensive line is the biggest concern for coach Mike Gundy, but quarterback J.W. Walsh also needs to play with more consistency. Even though Oklahoma State’s defense has a couple of All-Big 12 candidates, this should be a good opportunity for Winston and his revamped receiving corps (including true freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane) to gain valuable reps before a key ACC contest against Clemson on Sept. 20. Barring a sluggish performance by Florida State, it’s hard to see this one being close in the fourth quarter.
4. UCLA (-21) at Virginia
Noon ET, ESPN
With an 18-31 record in four years, 2014 is a make-or-break season for Virginia coach Mike London. But London’s future certainly isn’t helped by a schedule that features non-conference games against UCLA and BYU, combined with a crossover division matchup against Florida State and Louisville. The Bruins are one of the favorites in the Pac-12 and return 14 starters from last year’s 10-3 team. Virginia’s defense is a good matchup for UCLA’s young offensive line, but the Cavaliers need to find a way to generate points. Sophomore Greyson Lambert edged David Watford at quarterback this offseason, and he should have his hands full against a UCLA defense that finished No. 4 in the Pac-12 in fewest points allowed (conference-only games). It’s a long road trip from Los Angeles to Charlottesville, and a Noon ET start means an early wake-up call for the Bruins. A few early struggles are possible, but UCLA has too much talent for a Virginia team that’s still searching for answers on offense.
5. Wake Forest at ULM (-1.5)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The Dave Clawson era at Wake Forest opens with a tricky road trip. ULM has improved under fifth-year coach Todd Berry and returns 14 starters from a team that finished 6-6 last year. The Warhawks also have a familiar face at quarterback in NC State transfer Pete Thomas. The Demon Deacons are a young team and plan to start only seven seniors in the opener. True freshman John Wolford is slated to open under center, and Clawson needs to find new playmakers and develop an offensive line to help his young quarterback. Points could be at a premium on Thursday night.
6. Georgia Southern at NC State (-20.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
The Wolfpack enter 2014 riding an eight-game losing streak, but there’s hope for a turnaround in 2014 with the arrival of transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Georgia Southern joins the FBS ranks in 2014 and ended 2013 by winning its final three games last year, including a 26-20 upset over Florida. With a favorable non-conference schedule, it’s important for NC State to get off to a good start and have a 4-0 mark before playing Florida State on Sept. 27.
7. William & Mary at Virginia Tech
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS
An upset is unlikely here, but William & Mary could make Virginia Tech sweat for a while. The Tribe ranked No. 2 among FCS teams in scoring defense (14 ppg) and held opponents to just 118.1 rushing yards per game last season. It’s a good thing for William & Mary to have a good defense, especially with a new starter at quarterback (Steve Cluley) in a hostile environment. Virginia Tech’s offense is filled with unknowns, starting at quarterback with Michael Brewer and with talented, but unproven playmakers at running back and receiver. It may take a quarter or two for the Hokies’ offense to get on track, but the defense is enough for Frank Beamer’s team to pull away from the Tribe in the second half.
8. Boston College (-17) at UMass
3 p.m. ET, ESPN3
With a matchup against Pittsburgh next Friday, Boston College hopes to use UMass as a tune-up for its ACC opener. The Eagles have several new faces stepping into key roles on offense, including Florida transfer Tyler Murphy at quarterback, UConn transfer Shakim Phillips at receiver and sophomore Myles Willis replacing Andre Williams at running back. The Minutemen are 2-22 over the last two seasons and is under the direction of new coach Mark Whipple. UMass is slated to start Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel at quarterback.
9. Delaware at Pittsburgh
Noon ET, ESPN3
Openers have not been kind to Pittsburgh’s third-year coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were upset by Youngstown State in 2012 and lost to Florida State last year. Chryst hopes the third time is a charm, taking on a Delaware team that just missed the first FCS top 25 poll. New Pittsburgh quarterback Chad Voytik looked sharp in limited action last year, and this will be his first taste of extended action. The Panthers’ rebuilding defense also figures to get a good test from a Blue Hens’ offense that averaged 32.8 points per game last year.
10. Villanova at Syracuse
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The Orange finished 2013 with momentum on their side, winning four out of their last six games. With 13 starters back, second-year coach Scott Shafer has a chance to push Syracuse to eight wins in 2014. Shafer and coordinator George McDonald want to push the tempo on offense this season, which largely depends on the development of quarterback Terrel Hunt and the receiving corps. Villanova ranked as the No. 8 team in Athlon’s projected 2014 FCS top 25 and hope to bounce back after finishing 6-5 last year.
11. Liberty at North Carolina
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
All eyes in Chapel Hill will be at quarterback on Saturday night. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora won’t reveal his starter, as the battle between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky continued into fall practice. In addition to the quarterbacks, the Tar Heels will play a handful of young players on defense, which could present a few headaches against a balanced Liberty offense. The Flames (led by coach Turner Gill) could hang around for a while, but North Carolina simply has too much firepower on offense.
12. Wofford at Georgia Tech
12:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports South
Don’t expect the forward pass to be utilized much in this one. Georgia Tech averaged only 15.6 attempts per game and Wofford averaged 12.5 last season. This matchup against the Terriers will be the first start for new Yellow Jackets’ quarterback Justin Thomas. The sophomore’s development is critical for Georgia Tech’s Coastal Division title hopes. Paul Johnson has won five out of his six openers with the Yellow Jackets and should cruise to an easy victory.
13. Elon at Duke
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Duke shouldn’t have too much trouble in its season opener, as the defending Coastal Division champs host an Elon team that went 2-10 last year. The Blue Devils suffered season-ending injuries to tight end Braxton Deaver and linebacker Kelby Brown, and this game should allow coach David Cutcliffe a chance to play a few younger players to build depth.
Week 1 ACC Predictions
|Clemson (-7.5) at Georgia||UGA 24-14||UGA 24-21||UGA 27-24||UGA 31-24|
|Miami (+3.5) at Louisville||UL 21-14||UL 34-27||UL 31-24||UL 27-20|
|FSU (-17.5) vs. Okla. State||FSU 49-10||FSU 44-17||FSU 48-17||FSU 41-17|
|UCLA (-21) at Virginia||UCLA 42-10||UCLA 38-13||UCLA 34-13||UCLA 33-14|
|Wake Forest (+1.5) at ULM||ULM 17-14||ULM 31-28||ULM 24-20||ULM 34-24|
|Ga. Southern (+20.5) at NC State||State 21-13||State 34-17||State 38-10||State 34-17|
|William & Mary at Va. Tech||VT 35-3||VT 27-3||VT 34-10||VT 30-10|
|Boston College (-17) at UMass||BC 42-7||BC 34-17||BC 38-10||BC 37-14|
|Delaware at Pittsburgh||Pitt 31-7||Pitt 38-14||Pitt 40-20||Pitt 30-17|
|Villanova at Syracuse||SU 28-10||SU 34-17||SU 41-17||SU 33-17|
|Liberty at North Carolina||UNC 42-10||UNC 45-10||UNC 45-17||UNC 41-13|
|Wofford at Georgia Tech||GT 38-10||GT 38-17||GT 45-13||GT 41-13|
|Elon at Duke||Duke 35-13||Duke 38-10||Duke 41-13||Duke 33-14|
College football’s 2014 season officially gets underway on Thursday, as South Carolina hosts Texas A&M on the new SEC Network. The Gamecocks begin 2014 as a preseason top-10 team and should be one of the favorites to win the East Division. The Aggies are in rebuild mode without quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews. But coach Kevin Sumlin's team features plenty of young talent, including freshmen receivers Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. This matchup is also the first game on the new SEC Network.
This will be the first meeting between South Carolina and Texas A&M.
Texas A&M at South Carolina
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. South Carolina’s OL vs. Texas A&M’s Front Seven
South Carolina’s offensive line ranks as one of the best in the SEC and should have their way with Texas A&M’s front seven. The Aggies allowed 236.3 rushing yards per game last season (conference-only contests), and depth along the defensive front is a bigger concern after the departure of end Gavin Stansbury and the dismissal of tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne. True freshman Myles Garrett is not listed as a starter on the first depth chart, but the five-star prospect is slated to play major snaps. Talent isn’t a problem on Texas A&M’s defensive front. However, how quickly can players like Garrett, true freshman Zaycoven Henderson and sophomore Daeshon Hall acclimate to life in the SEC? If the Aggies struggle to stop the run once again, South Carolina’s offensive line and rushing attack – led by All-SEC running back Mike Davis – will have its way up front.
2. Debut of New Quarterbacks
Thursday night’s game is the first for Texas A&M in the post-Johnny Manziel era. The Aggies will certainly miss Manziel, but this offense isn’t hurting for talent at the skill positions and on the offensive line. Sophomore Kenny Hill edged true freshman Kyle Allen for the starting job in the fall and Thursday night’s game is his first opportunity to start. Hill played limited snaps last year and finished with 183 passing yards on 16 completions and 37 rushing yards on seven attempts. On the other sideline, Dylan Thompson is no stranger to the starting lineup, as this will be his fourth start as a Gamecock. Thompson has been a capable fill-in for Connor Shaw over the last two years, but 2014 is his first chance to be the full-time starter. The South Carolina native is 3-0 as a starter and could have a huge debut against Texas A&M’s suspect defense.
3. South Carolina’s rebuilt defense
Texas A&M isn’t the only defense with concerns heading into the opener. South Carolina returns six starters on defense, but the Gamecocks suffered significant losses on the defensive line and in the secondary. Up front, end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles depart, while three true freshman are slated for major snaps in the secondary (Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and Al Harris Jr.). Although the Aggies won’t have Johnny Manziel under center, this offense is still dangerous. New quarterback Kenny Hill has a deep group of receivers, and there’s options at running back with Trey Williams, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams. Coordinator Lorenzo Ward plans on mixing in more three-man fronts to take advantage of the depth at linebacker. Will this unit perform at a high level from the opening snap? Or will it take Ward a few games to find the right mix. Texas A&M should be a good barometer test.
Even with three first-round picks departing, Texas A&M’s offense will be dangerous. South Carolina’s defense has enough new pieces stepping into the lineup to keep this one close, as the Aggies should have success moving the ball. However, can Texas A&M get stops? If the defense continues to struggle, the Gamecocks will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground or through the air. Running back Mike Davis was injured in fall camp, but he is expected to be in the lineup on Thursday. Considering South Carolina’s strong offensive line and Davis leading the way on the ground, the Gamecocks will simply wear down the Aggies and open the year with a key conference victory.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Texas A&M 24
Louisville’s offense suffered a significant setback on Monday, as top receiver DeVante Parker suffered a foot injury in fall camp and will miss 6-8 weeks.
Parker was expected to be the Cardinals’ top receiving threat after recording 55 catches for 885 yards and 12 scores last season. Parker was limited some by injury in the middle of the year but averaged 16.1 yards per reception in 2013.
The timetable for Parker’s return is uncertain, but if the 6-8 week span holds true, the senior could miss key ACC contests against Florida State and Clemson.
There’s no doubt Parker’s absence will be a huge loss for Louisville. However, coach Bobby Petrino is one of the best in the nation at maximizing the X’s and O’s. Expect to see more of sophomore James Quick and seniors Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz targeted in the passing game. And senior tight end Gerald Christian should be an even bigger part of the offense and should push for All-ACC honors in 2014.
Parker’s injury is a definite setback for Louisville, but the Cardinals could still be favored to win their first six games.
The quarterback position has been a revolving door for Miami this offseason, but coach Al Golden ended the carousel by naming true freshman Brad Kaaya the starter for the Week 1 matchup against Louisville.
While Golden’s decision to name Kaaya the starter was made easier due an injury to Ryan Williams (torn ACL), and a suspension for Kevin Olsen, this is the right move for Miami in 2014 and beyond.
Kaaya was competing with Jake Heaps for the starting job this fall, as both quarterbacks enrolled this summer to push for the starting job. Having a veteran like Heaps is beneficial, but he’s struggled in two previous stops (BYU and Kansas).
After throwing 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a true freshman at BYU in 2010, Heaps lost the starting job to Riley Nelson in 2011 and transferred to Kansas to start in 2012. However, Heaps was benched after a slow start, completing only 49 percent of his throws and tossing 10 picks on 261 attempts.
There’s no doubt Kaaya is going to make mistakes – he’s a true freshman after all. Starting a true freshman quarterback on the road in a hostile environment (Louisville) is tough, but the upside is worth the risk over Heaps. The senior is a known commodity, and he’s been limited some in fall camp due to an elbow injury. Maybe Heaps is a better quarterback than he showed at BYU or Kansas, but it's tough to envision the Washington native being the answer for Miami in 2014.
On the other side, Kaaya is a quarterback with enormous upside. The California native ranked as the No. 141 national recruit by 247Sports in the 2014 signing class and was considered a four-star prospect.
The bar has been set high by freshman quarterbacks in recent years (Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel), and it’s unfair to pin those expectations on Kaaya. However, the gamble and upside of starting Kaaya outweighs the risk.
Could Kaaya be the next star quarterback in Coral Gables? Perhaps. And knowing what Miami has in Heaps, it only makes sense to go with upside and Kaaya’s potential.
2014 isn’t a make or break year for Golden, but the Hurricanes need to take a step in the right direction. Step one is finding a quarterback. Maybe Kaaya is that guy. It’s better to find out now than next season.
Predicting the success of college football coaches on a year-to-year basis is nearly impossible. There’s a baseline of results and history to use, along with a program track record, but good coaches can raise the profile of a team in a short amount of time. Need evidence? How about James Franklin at Vanderbilt?
The group of first-year coaches in 2013 had a successful debut, starting with Gus Malzahn at Auburn and continuing through the rest of the FBS with Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen.
But as the calendar flips to 2014, what are the reasonable expectations for coaches in their second year on the job? Let’s take a look at last season’s grade and explore what a reasonable expectation should be for these second-year coaches.
Steve Addazio, Boston College
2013 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
First Season Grade: A
2014 Expectation: 6-6
Addazio and the Eagles exceeded preseason expectations last season, finishing 7-6 and ending a two-year postseason drought with an appearance in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. Despite the quick turnaround last year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Boston College took a small step back in 2014. Several key players have expired their eligibility, including standout running back Andre Williams. The ground attack should be fine with Myles Willis and a solid offensive line leading the way, but quarterback Tyler Murphy has to play better than he did in his limited stint at Florida last season. With only nine returning starters, a successful season at Chestnut Hill would be another trip to a bowl game, with an eye on bigger things in 2015.
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
2013 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
First Season Grade: A
2014 Expectation: 8-4/7-5
After winning four out of their last six games in 2013, the Orange has momentum entering 2014. The schedule certainly isn’t easy, but non-conference games against Notre Dame and Maryland are winnable, and quarterback Terrel Hunt should be comfortable in his second year under center. Replacing defensive tackle Jay Bromley is Shafer’s biggest concern, especially on a defense that allowed 40 or more points in four out of the six losses. Beating Florida State or Clemson for one of the top two spots in the Atlantic Division is out of reach, but another bowl trip and a one or two-game improvement in regular season record should be expected.
Dave Doeren, NC State
2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)
First Season Grade: C
2014 Expectation: 5-7/6-6
Last season’s 3-9 mark was a surprise for a program that won 24 games in the previous three years. However, Dave Doeren’s first year was marked by uncertainty at quarterback, largely due to a foot injury suffered by Brandon Mitchell in the opener against Louisiana Tech. The quarterback concerns in Raleigh should be eased by the arrival of Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, and the junior will have talent to work with at the skill positions. After averaging only 22.8 points per game last year, expect significant improvement on offense for NC State in 2014. Most of the roster is underclassmen, so this isn’t a team built to win big next season. With four winnable non-conference games to open the year, combined with home ACC swing games against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College, a bowl game is a very realistic goal for Doeren in Year 2.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-4)
First Season Grade: B
2014 Expectation: 8-4
If Texas Tech’s final record in 2014 is 8-4, it would represent only a one-game improvement from last year’s 7-5 mark in the regular season. However, it’s tough to envision a significant jump for the Red Raiders in Kingsbury’s second year. But even if Texas Tech finishes 7-5, the future is bright in Lubbock for a program that is on the rise. Quarterback Davis Webb is a breakout candidate for 2014, and there’s talent at skill positions even with tight end Jace Amaro and receiver Eric Ward leaving. Offense shouldn’t be a problem, but the defense returns only three starters and new faces must emerge on the line and in the secondary. The middle of the Big 12 is open, and there’s room for a dark horse like Texas Tech to make the jump into a No. 5 finish in the conference. A small step forward should be anticipated, with even bigger things set to come in 2015.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue
2013 Record: 1-11 (0-8)
First Season Grade: D
2014 Expectation: 3-9/4-8
Hazell inherited a rebuilding project, but the Boilermakers struggled to be competitive in Big Ten games last year, and its 1-11 mark was the worst since a 1-10 record under Jim Colletto in 1993. Hazell needs time to rebuild, so another losing mark wouldn’t be a surprise in 2014 or 2015. With 12 returning starters, combined with the development of quarterback Danny Etling, the Boilermakers should be more competitive in the Big Ten. However, victories in conference play will be tough to come by, as Michigan State and a road trip to Indiana are the crossover games with the East Division, while potential swing matchups against Minnesota and Illinois are on the road.
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
2013 Record: 9-4 (6-2)
First Season Grade: A
2014 Expectation: 10-2
Andersen was considered one of the top coaching hires of the 2013 carousel, and the former Utah State coach didn’t disappoint in his first year in Madison. The Badgers lost four games by 10 points or less, including a bizarre last-minute defeat to Arizona State. Even though Wisconsin’s front seven must be revamped on defense, and star receiver Jared Abbrederis has expired his eligibility, expectations are high in Madison. The Badgers have a favorable schedule, including a home date against Nebraska and no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State in crossover play. Sure, there are personnel concerns. However, the schedule is too favorable to finish 8-4 or 7-5.
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
2013 Record: 11-2 (7-2)
First Season Grade: B
2014 Expectation: Pac-12 title and a spot in CFB’s Playoff
Oregon has all of the necessary pieces to contend for a national championship in 2014. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the biggest challenger to Florida State’s Jameis Winston for the Heisman, and the Ducks are three deep with options at running back. The defense will be under the direction of a new coordinator (Don Pellum), but five starters are back, including senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and talented defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. With Mariota likely headed to the NFL after 2014, Oregon has another window of opportunity to play for the national championship.
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
2013 Record: 4-8 (1-8)
First Season Grade: B
2014 Expectation: 4-8
Colorado won only one Pac-12 game last season, but there was clear improvement in Boulder. And if you need reinforcement of that, other Pac-12 coaches anonymously praised MacIntyre for the job he did last year. But as the 2014 season approaches, it’s easy to see why Colorado is probably a year away from contending for a bowl. The Buffaloes catch Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North and must replace standout receiver Paul Richardson. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau is promising, and the depth on defense is getting better. An upset or two wouldn’t be a surprise in Pac-12 games. However, a 4-8 final record with a more competitive team in conference action is very likely for MacIntyre.
Sonny Dykes, California
2013 Record: 1-11 (0-9)
First Season Grade: D
2014 Expectation: 3-9
Thanks to a rash of injuries, new schemes on both sides of the ball, and a freshman quarterback, California slumped to a 1-11 mark in Dykes’ first year. While last year was brutal, there’s only one way to go - up - in 2014. California’s schedule is challenging, so drastic improvement in the win column is unlikely. But the Golden Bears are healthier, and the depth has improved due to the return of a few injured players on defense. Assuming Goff takes a step forward under center, California’s offense could average 30-35 points per game. Just being more competitive in conference play would be a step forward (and a victory) for Dykes in 2014.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)
First Season Grade: C
2014 Expectation: 4-8
Bielema’s debut wasn’t easy, as the Razorbacks went winless in conference play for the first time as a member of the SEC. Expectations were low in Fayetteville last season, but Arkansas lost its first six conference games by 10 or more points, including a 52-0 defeat at the hands of Alabama and a 52-7 loss to South Carolina. There were small signs of progress by the end of 2013, as the Razorbacks lost in overtime to Mississippi State and lost by four points at LSU. Bielema didn’t inherit much on the roster, so it will take time to rebuild. With one of the SEC’s top backfields, a promising sophomore tight end in Hunter Henry and two potential All-SEC linemen in Trey Flowers and Darius Philon, Arkansas should be more competitive in 2014. And a healthy year from quarterback Brandon Allen should help the offense improve after averaging only 20.7 points per game last season. After going winless in SEC play in 2013, a conference victory would be a reasonable expectation.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
2013 Record: 5-7 (2-6)
First Season Grade: B
2014 Expectation: 6-6
Considering the success of Tennessee in the 1990s, it seems odd to consider a 6-6 or 7-5 mark as a good year on Rocky Top. But that’s exactly the situation Jones finds himself in as the Volunteers are clearly in rebuild mode. Nine starters return from a Tennessee team that finished 5-7 last year and lost four out of its final five games. The Volunteers suffered massive personnel losses on the offensive and defensive lines, and both units could see a handful of freshmen taking major snaps. The personnel concerns are heavy, but the schedule is an even bigger hurdle. Tennessee plays Utah State and Oklahoma in non-conference play and catches Ole Miss and Alabama in crossover play. Just getting to a bowl would be a good season for Jones in Year 2.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
2013 Record: 12-2 (7-1)
First Season Grade: A
2014 Expectation: CFB Playoff
Malzahn set the bar high last season. The Tigers reached the national championship game after a 3-9 record under Gene Chizik in 2012 and lost to Florida State by only three points. Auburn certainly had good fortune on its side in 2013, using a returned missed field goal for a touchdown to beat Alabama, along with a tipped Hail Mary pass for a score to defeat Georgia. While the good fortune certainly helped, this team was certainly worthy of its No. 2 rank at the end of the season. A year after reaching the national title, Auburn’s goal is simple: Win it all in 2014. With 12 starters back, expect Malzahn’s team to be in the thick of the playoff race all season. One potential pitfall for the Tigers will be the lines of scrimmage, especially after injuries to end Carl Lawson and guard Alex Kozan. The schedule is challenging, but Auburn has the offensive firepower to win the SEC once again.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
2013 Record: 2-10 (0-8)
First Season Grade: C
2014 Expectation: 4-8
Stoops is not an easy coach to grade, and an incomplete might be more appropriate than a C rating from 2013. The former Florida State defensive coordinator didn’t inherit much to work with, and the Wildcats finished winless in SEC play for the second consecutive year. But despite the 2-10 record, there are plenty of positives in Lexington headed into 2014. Stoops has upgraded the roster talent through recruiting, and a good chunk of the team’s core is set to return in 2015. Small gains in the win column should be expected. And don’t be surprised if Kentucky finds a way to steal a victory in SEC play.
Oklahoma and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham received some bad news on Friday, as the NCAA denied the former Missouri standout’s request for immediate eligibility in 2014.
Green-Beckham will sit out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules and will be eligible to play for the Sooners in 2015.
Green-Beckham was dismissed from Missouri in mid-April after an off-the-field incident and was hoping to use the run-off rule to be eligible in 2014.
Even though there was some optimism about DGB’s hopes of getting a waiver to play in 2014, the standout receiver will be sidelined until 2015.
BREAKING: OU announces Dorial Green-Beckham's eligibility waiver has been denied by the NCAA. He won't play in 2014.— SoonerScoop.com (@SoonerScoop) August 23, 2014
College football’s 2014 season is slated to begin on Wednesday, Aug. 27, and the first playoff format of the FBS concludes on Jan. 12 with the national championship game. And with kickoff right around the corner, it’s time to finalize predictions, picks and rankings for the upcoming year.
Athlon’s editors met before the preseason magazine was released to iron out the predictions for the upcoming year, but there wasn’t a consensus on every conference title race or top 25 rankings.
From the ACC to the Sun Belt, there was plenty of disagreement from the staff on conference winners or the predicted order of finish.
In addition to the predicted winners of the conferences, Athlon’s editors also project the four teams to make the playoff and a national champion.
* Indicates projected champion of league's conference title game.
Predicting CFB's Conferences, Playoff and National Champion
Listen to Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Predicting the 2014 season
| || || || || |
The Big Ten may have slipped slightly in terms of conference pecking order over the last couple of seasons, but there’s no shortage of talent returning to the league in 2014. Of course, the season-ending shoulder injury to Braxton Miller eliminates one of the league’s Heisman contenders, but Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports, and there’s star power on defense with ends Shilique Calhoun and Randy Gregory.
In order to rank the top 15 players in the Big Ten for 2014, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2014 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2014.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Joe Rexrode (@JoeRexrode), Detroit Free Press
Jeff Potrykus (@JayPo1961), JSOnline.com
Brandon Cavanaugh (@Eightlaces), HuskerCorner.com
Joshua Henschke (@JoshuaHenschke), MaizeNBrew.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch), AthlonSports.com
Mike Fiammetta (@B5Q), Bucky's 5th Quarter
Mike Babcock (@MDBabs), HailVarsity.com
Jim Weber (@JimMWeber), LostLettermen.com
Pete Volk (@Pete_Volk), TestudoTimes.com
Kevin Noon (@Kevin_Noon), BuckeyeGrove.com
Kevin Trahan (@K_Trahan), InsideNU.com
Ross Binder (@BHGP), BlackHeartGoldPants.com
Travis Miller (@HammerAndRails) HammerandRails.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
David Fox (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com
Ranking the Big Ten's Best Players for 2014 (Experts Poll)
|1||Melvin Gordon, RB||15||3||7||4||3||0||0||0||0||0||444|
|2||Shilique Calhoun, DE||5||7||3||7||8||1||1||0||0||0||405|
|3||Brandon Scherff, OT||4||8||4||5||4||2||1||2||0||1||397|
|4||Ameer Abdullah, RB||0||5||7||7||5||4||1||1||1||2||376|
|5||Randy Gregory, DE||6||4||8||3||3||3||1||2||0||0||374|
|6||Stefon Diggs, WR||2||1||2||1||2||7||6||1||2||5||301|
|7||Christian Hackenberg, QB||1||3||2||3||2||4||2||6||4||3||298|
|8||Michael Bennett, DT||0||1||0||1||1||6||4||2||2||2||204|
|9||Joey Bosa, DE||0||0||0||2||0||3||4||2||2||0||156|
|10||Kurtis Drummond, S||0||0||0||0||2||0||4||2||4||2||155|
|11||Connor Cook, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||6||1||117|
|12||Devin Funchess, WR||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||2||3||3||114|
|13||Carl Davis, DT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||3||73|
|14||Jake Ryan, LB||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||3||1||1||66|
|15||Jeremy Langford, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||2||62|
|16||Trae Waynes, CB||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||1||2||60|
|17||Noah Spence, DE||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||0||50|
|18||Rob Havenstein, OT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||41|
|19||Tevin Coleman, RB||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||37|
|20||Kenny Bell, WR||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||0||0||36|
|21||Shane Wynn, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||27|
|22||Blake Countess, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||24|
|23||Jeff Heuerman, TE||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||1||23|
|24||Devin Gardner, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||21|
|25||Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||18|
|26||Ibraheim Campbell, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||12|
|27||Jack Allen, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||11|
|28||Taiwan Jones, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|29||Andre Monroe, DL||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|30||David Cobb, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|31||Jabrill Peppers, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|32||Kyle Costigan, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|33||Corey Cooper, DB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|34||Geno Lewis, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|35||Jesse James, TE||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|36||K. Martin-Manley, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|37||Darius Hamilton, DT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|38||Maxx Williams, TE||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|39||Sean Davis, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|40||Mike Sadler, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|41||Josh Ferguson, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|42||Matt Robinson, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|43||Michael Geiger, K||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|44||Alex Lewis, OT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|45||Maliek Collins, DT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|46||Jordan Lucas, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
A Few Observations:
* Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon had the most first-place votes (15), but the junior did not record a majority of No. 1 rankings among the voters. 18 other first-place votes were cast, including five for Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun.
* Nebraska claimed two of the top five players in the experts poll.
* Maryland receiver Stefon Diggs recorded two first-place votes and ranked the highest among players from the conference’s two new teams (Maryland and Rutgers).
* Three Ohio State defensive linemen ranked among the top 17 players.
* Four Michigan State defenders received votes, including two in the top 10.
* 13 teams had players receive votes. Purdue was the only team not to have a player receive a top 15 vote.
Florida State snapped the SEC’s reign of dominance by defeating Auburn 34-31 in the national championship last season, and the Seminoles are set for another run at the title in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston headlines a deep roster, including a secondary and offensive line that should be the best in the nation. Florida State’s top competition is likely Clemson, a team that features standout defensive end Vic Beasley and a track record of success on offense under coordinator Chad Morris.
In order to rank the top 15 players in the ACC for 2014, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2014 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2014.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Ryan Tice, (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
Ariya Massoudi, (@AriyaMassoudi), TomahawkNation.com
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com
David Fox, (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com
Brian Favat, (@BCInterruption), BCInterruption.com
Ranking the ACC's Best Players for 2014 (Experts Poll)
|1||Jameis Winston, QB||31||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||465|
|2||Vic Beasley, DE||0||19||8||1||2||0||0||1||0||0||412|
|3||Duke Johnson, RB||0||7||9||5||5||2||0||1||1||0||367|
|4||Cameron Erving, OT||0||4||2||7||5||3||3||1||2||0||312|
|5||Kendall Fuller, CB||0||1||0||2||2||7||3||3||3||2||235|
|6||Rashad Greene, WR||0||0||1||3||3||2||2||5||2||1||232|
|7||Jamison Crowder, WR||0||0||5||4||3||2||1||2||0||1||225|
|8||Tyler Boyd, WR||0||0||1||1||0||1||4||4||2||2||170|
|9||Mario Edwards Jr., DE||0||0||1||2||2||1||1||2||2||2||161|
|10||Tre Jackson, OG||0||0||1||1||1||2||3||1||3||2||146|
|11||DeVante Parker, WR||0||0||1||1||1||0||2||2||0||3||135|
|12||Denzel Perryman, LB||0||0||0||1||1||1||4||0||3||2||129|
|13||P.J. Williams, CB||0||0||0||0||1||6||1||3||1||2||127|
|14||Anthony Harris, S||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||1||0||2||81|
|15||Luther Maddy, DT||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||0||1||4||77|
|16||Jalen Ramsey, S||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||1||1||2||74|
|17||Karlos Williams, RB||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||4||0||65|
|18||Nick O'Leary, TE||0||0||1||0||1||0||1||0||0||0||58|
|19||Ryan Switzer, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||41|
|20||Ronald Darby, CB||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||0||1||33|
|21||Stephone Anthony, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||0||32|
|22||Grady Jarrett, DT||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||1||31|
|23||Jeremy Cash, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||28|
|24||Laken Tomlinson, OG||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||13|
|25||Anthony Boone, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||11|
|26||Lorenzo Mauldin, DL/LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||10|
|27||Terrance Smith, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|28||Quayshawn Nealy, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|29||Josue Matias, OG||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|30||Kevin Parks, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|31||Bobby Hart, OT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|32||Trey Edmunds, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|33||Isaiah Johnson, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|34||Marquise Williams, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|35||Andy Gallik, C||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|36||Jake Smith, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|37||Jacoby Brissett, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|38||Charles Gaines, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|39||Kevin Johnson, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|40||Shaq Mason, OG||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|41||Travis Rudolph, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
A Few Observations
* This poll reinforces just how loaded Florida State’s roster is for 2014. Jameis Winston is a clear No. 1 in the voting and five of the top 10 also represent the Seminoles.
* The Seminoles had 14 players receive votes in this experts poll.
* Four different Coastal teams had a player ranked in the top 10: Duke, Pittsburgh, Miami and Virginia Tech.
* There’s a clear drop in quarterback play for the ACC after Jameis Winston. Duke’s Anthony Boone recorded only 11 points, while North Carolina’s Marquise Williams received only three points.
* Four of the top 11 players were wide receivers: Rashad Greene, Jamison Crowder, Tyler Boyd and DeVante Parker.
Ranking the best college football players in the nation is an impossible task, but that’s exactly what Athlon Sports has set out to do with the start of the 2014 season less than 10 days away.
Florida State’s Jameis Winston takes the No. 1 spot in the player rankings, with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota a close No. 2. Winston and Mariota headline a deep group of quarterbacks in 2014, while there’s also a strong cast of options returning at defensive end, including USC’s Leonard Williams, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun.
The criteria for the top 50 player rankings includes a variety of factors. Performance from previous years, pro potential, recruiting rankings, projection on 2014 and value to a team. While running backs are a key part of any team, they are not as important as a standout quarterback, left tackle, defensive end or shutdown cornerback.
With the variety of factors in mind, it’s also important to consider what’s ahead in 2014. Every year is a different case study. Expecting a player to replicate his output from one year to the next is unlikely, as each team has personnel losses, scheme changes or new coaches on the staff.
As with any list, there will be plenty of disagreement about Athlon’s top 50 players for 2014. However, keep in mind, the criteria includes a variety of factors and is not strictly based on last year’s stats. Projecting what’s ahead in 2014, position importance and pro potential should be weighed more than stats from previous years.
Projecting CFB's Top 50 Players for 2014
|1||Jameis Winston, QB||Tough to repeat '13 stats, but Winston the No. 1 QB in nation.|
|2||Marcus Mariota, QB||Back to full strength after late-season knee injury.|
|3||Todd Gurley, RB||Needs to stay healthy after limited 2013 season.|
|4||Andrus Peat, OT||Anchors rebuilt Stanford OL - top OL in CFB.|
|5||Leonard Williams, DL||Has 14 sacks over the last two seasons.|
|6||Bryce Petty, QB||Threw only 3 picks on 403 attempts last year.|
|7||Brett Hundley, QB||Still developing as passer, best yet to come.|
|8||Melvin Gordon, RB||Averaged nearly eight ypc on 206 carries in 2013.|
|9||Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB||Has earned back-to-back 1st team All-Pac-12 honors.|
|10||Vernon Hargreaves III, CB||Bright spot on Florida's disappointing 4-8 2013 season.|
|11||Cedric Ogbuehi, OT||Third straight A&M LT to be selected in first round of draft?|
|12||Brandon Scherff, OT||Expected to be a first-round pick in 2015.|
|13||Vic Beasley, DE||Last year's 23 TFL is No. 1 among returning defenders.|
|14||Randy Gregory, DE||Led Big Ten with 9.5 sacks last season.|
|15||Shilique Calhoun, DE||Earned Big Ten DL of the Year honors last year.|
|16||Christian Hackenberg, QB||Rising star in Happy Valley.|
|17||Myles Jack, LB||Expected to focus mostly on defense in 2014.|
|18||Amari Cooper, WR||Expected to bounce back after quiet 2013.|
|19||Landon Collins, S||Key presence with inexperienced Alabama CBs.|
|20||Ameer Abdullah, RB||Topped 100 yards in 11 out of 13 games last year.|
|21||Nelson Agholor, WR||Should have big season under new coach Steve Sarkisian.|
|22||Mario Edwards Jr., DE||The nation's most underrated defender?|
|23||Duke Johnson, RB||Suffered broken leg in early November last season.|
|24||Chris Jones, DL||Settled at DT last year and got better as year progressed.|
|25||Nick Marshall, QB||Expected to improve as a passer in second year under Malzahn.|
|26||Cameron Erving, OT||Converted DL is one of top offensive tackles in nation.|
|27||Eric Striker, LB||Primed for big season after recording three sacks vs. Alabama.|
|28||T.J. Yeldon, RB||No question about talent. Expect more Derrick Henry in '14.|
|29||Derrick Henry, RB||Expect a bigger role for Henry in 2014.|
|30||Kendall Fuller, CB||Intercepted six passes as true freshman.|
|31||Michael Bennett, DT||One of three potential All-Americans on OSU's DL.|
|32||Mike Davis, RB||Rushed for 100 yards in 6 out of first 7 games in 2013.|
|33||Jaylon Smith, LB||Started all 13 games as true freshman in 2013.|
|34||Robert Nkemdiche, DT||Ole Miss expecting big things from Nkemdiche this year.|
|35||Taylor Kelly, QB||Accounted for 4,243 total yards last season.|
|36||Stefon Diggs, WR||Electric all-purpose threat for Terps.|
|37||Tyler Boyd, WR||Caught 85 passes in standout freshman campaign.|
|38||Shaq Thompson, LB||Already All-Pac-12 LB. Could see time at RB.|
|39||P.J. Williams, CB||Nation's No. 1 secondary resides in Tallahassee.|
|40||Nick O'Leary, TE||Should see more passes his way in 2014.|
|41||O.J. Howard, TE||Averaged 19.2 yards per catch in 2013.|
|42||A'Shawn Robinson, DL||Versatile lineman coming off breakout freshman year.|
|43||Joey Bosa, DE||Teams with Noah Spence to form dynamic DE combo.|
|44||Tre Jackson, OG||Started 28 career games for Noles.|
|45||Tyler Lockett, WR||All-purpose threat is No. 1 WR in Big 12.|
|46||Rashad Greene, WR||Should be Winston's favorite target once again.|
|47||Antwan Goodley, WR||Averaged whopping 18.9 ypc in 2013.|
|48||Taysom Hill, QB||Dangerous dual-threat, improving passer.|
|49||Leonard Fournette, RB||Could have huge season behind stellar OL.|
|50||Rakeem Cato, QB||Has 91 TD tosses in three seasons.|
Next Up: Florida State CB Ronald Darby, Florida State S Jalen Ramsey, Oregon C Hroniss Grasu, Texas DE Cedric Reed, Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, South Carolina OG A.J. Cann, Michigan State QB Connor Cook, Auburn C Reese Dismukes, LSU OT La'El Collins
Every college football team has personnel issues heading into the 2014 season. But some teams have roster concerns with national title implications. Whether it’s a quarterback battle, an open spot at defensive tackle or cornerback, every personnel concern is magnified in the race to win a national championship.
Florida State is college football’s defending national champion, and the Seminoles have few holes on a roster that might be the best in the nation this year. Replacing Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin at receiver is a tough task for coach Jimbo Fisher, but true freshman Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane look like future stars in Tallahassee. Finding replacements for defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan appears to be Fisher’s biggest task this fall.
And the personnel concerns among national title contenders aren’t just limited to Florida State. Alabama needs to settle its secondary and find a quarterback, while Auburn has concerns on both lines of scrimmage after preseason injuries. Oregon lost left tackle Tyler Johnstone due to injury this fall, and Michigan State must replace both starters at defensive tackle from last season.
What players could play a huge role in college football’s national championship picture? Athlon examined 10 key players to watch – some well-known names, as well as a few under-the-radar players at key positions for 2014.
10 Players Who Will Decide CFB’s National Title in 2014
Jacob Coker, QB, Alabama
Alabama’s biggest personnel concern could be its secondary, but this team needs to have stability under center to win another national title. Coker transferred from Florida State after spring practice and is eligible immediately after graduating in three years. The Alabama native completed 21 of 41 passes for 295 yards and one touchdown in two seasons of game action with the Seminoles and is being pushed by Blake Sims for the starting job this fall. Coker doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards every week, but in key games against Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn, can he make the necessary throws to lead Alabama to victory? With a strong defense and rushing attack, Coker won’t be asked to do much. However, his performance in key SEC contests could be the difference in Alabama winning the SEC or missing out on the college football playoff.
Shon Coleman, OT/LaDarius Owens, DE, Auburn
Auburn has been hit hard by the injury bug in the trenches this offseason. Defensive end Carl Lawson suffered an ACL injury in the spring and is expected to miss a significant chunk of the 2014 season. Guard Alex Kozan suffered a back injury and has been ruled out for the year. Kozan’s absence means Auburn will have a revamped left side of the line after tackle Greg Robinson left for the NFL. Kozan and Lawson are huge losses, as both players were slated to be All-SEC performers. Coleman is expected to win the left tackle job to replace Robinson, but he’s under extra scrutiny with the lost of Kozan. On the defensive side, Owens is the Tigers’ most experienced option at end, with sophomore Elijah Daniel and junior college recruits DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence also factoring into the mix. In 14 games last season, Owens recorded 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The senior will be asked to increase his production in 2014, especially as the defense could be without Lawson (a top pass-rusher) for most of the season. Auburn's defense made key stops on third downs and inside the redzone last season, but this unit has to take a step forward in its development to ensure the Tigers reach the SEC title game once again.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Florida State’s roster is arguably the best in the nation in 2014 and it’s hard to establish a (is there one?) glaring weaknesses. The receiving corps needs new targets to emerge with the departure of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, and the punting situation is a concern. However, the defensive tackle position is the one position to watch this year. The Seminoles must replace standout Timmy Jernigan (left early for the NFL Draft), while Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister expired their eligibility. Jernigan anchored the run defense in 2013, which limited opponents to just 118.7 yards per game in ACC contests last year. Goldman is slated to move from the outside to the interior to help replace Jernigan, and the junior has the size (320 pounds) to hold the point of the attack against opposing run offenses. The former five-star recruit has big shoes to fill in Jernigan’s place, and with little in the way of proven depth behind him, new coordinator Charles Kelly needs a big season from the Washington, D.C. native.
Wesley Green/Al Harris Jr./Carlos Lammons, CB, South Carolina
Even though the Gamecocks’ defensive line must be revamped due to the departures of Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles, the biggest concern for coordinator Lorenzo Ward has to be the secondary. South Carolina lacks proven options at cornerback, and three incoming freshmen could see major snaps in 2014. Al Harris Jr., Wesley Green and Carlos Lammons were key pickups on the recruiting trail for Ward and coach Steve Spurrier, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for all three to make starts this year. With Texas A&M, East Carolina and Georgia through the first three weeks, South Carolina’s secondary and young defensive backs will be tested.
Joel Heath/Damon Knox, DT, Michigan State
The Spartans should have one of the nation’s top trios at defensive end with junior Shilique Calhoun, senior Marcus Rush and redshirt freshman Demetrius Cooper. Calhoun anchors a pass rush that recorded 22 sacks in Big Ten games last year but replicating that total in 2014 could largely depend on the development at defensive tackle. Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds were unsung cogs on the defensive front in 2013 and are slated to be replaced by Knox and Heath in 2014. Heath played in nine games last season, while Knox recorded 22 tackles and one sack in 14 appearances. True freshmen Enoch Smith and Malik McDowell will push for time, but all four players will be needed in the rotation up front. In order to keep Calhoun attacking off the edge, the tackles have to hold their own and prevent teams from keying too much on the ends. If Heath and Knox can successfully replace Reynolds and Hoover, Michigan State’s defensive line should be among the best in the nation once again.
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Baylor’s explosive offense garnered most of the headlines last season, but the turnaround on defense was just as critical to winning the Big 12 championship. The Bears allowed only 4.8 yards per play in conference games in 2013 and held league opponents to 25.7 points per game. Only four starters return for 2013, and coordinator Phil Bennett has to fill three spots in the secondary. Howard played in 13 games as a reserve last season and recorded five tackles and one interception. The sophomore has good size (6-foot-2) and speed to become a shutdown corner for the Bears. Baylor’s front seven should be solid, but Howard’s (and other new starters in secondary) development will be critical to keeping the Bears in the mix for a spot in the playoff. With quarterback play expected to improve in the Big 12 this year, it’s even more critical for Howard to assert himself as the team’s No. 1 cover option.
Jordon James, RB, UCLA
With 14 returning starters from a team that went 10-3 last season, the expectations are high for UCLA entering 2014. The Bruins are picked by some to win the Pac-12 and should be in the mix for a playoff spot if they can claim a conference title. UCLA isn’t without flaws, as its offensive line needs to play better, and the defense must find a replacement for standout linebacker Anthony Barr. Quarterback Brett Hundley led the team with 160 rushing attempts last season, while James ranked third with 101 carries. Keeping Hundley healthy is critical to UCLA’s title hopes, and coordinator Noel Mazzone needs to find more playmakers to take the pressure off of his junior quarterback. James opened 2013 with three consecutive 100-yard efforts but suffered an ankle injury early in the year and never appeared to be at full strength the rest of the way. If James is capable of handling 20-25 carries per game, it will allow Mazzone to save Hundley from unnecessary wear and tear.
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma
Was Knight’s standout performance against Alabama a sign of things to come? In Oklahoma’s 45-31 upset win over the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, Knight gashed Alabama’s secondary for 348 yards and four scores. Prior to the bowl, Knight had just five touchdown passes over his previous seven appearances. While Knight’s one-game performance is gaining all of the offseason headlines, let’s not overlook his output against Kansas State (171 passing yards, 82 rushing yards) from Nov. 23. The sophomore certainly has room to develop and will benefit from having a clear path to the starting job after battling with Blake Bell last season. With Oklahoma possessing one of the Big 12’s top defenses, Knight doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards every week for the Sooners to reach the college football playoff. However, if Oklahoma is to make the leap from fringe contender to national champion, Knight has to take a take step forward in his development over the course of the season.
Damian Swann, CB, Georgia
Senior quarterback Hutson Mason also deserves a mention in this space, but Georgia’s secondary is the bigger concern heading into 2014. This unit ranked No. 84 nationally in pass efficiency defense and intercepted a SEC-low two passes in conference games in 2013. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is revamping the defensive backfield and plans to play a handful of young players in 2014. Swann is the team’s most experienced option at cornerback with 28 career starts under his belt. The senior will have a handful of new faces surrounding him this year, which means Swann has to be a leader for the secondary and handle most of the duties against opposing team’s top receivers. With a front seven that should be one of the best in the SEC, Georgia’s secondary has plenty of help. However, Swann and his defensive backfield mates have to rebound after a tough 2014 season.
Andre Yruretagoyena, OT, Oregon
Yruretagoyena was slated to work as a backup tackle this year, but an injury to left tackle Tyler Johnstone pressed the junior into the starting lineup. Johnstone’s absence is a huge blow for Oregon’s offense, as the Arizona native started 26 games from 2012-13 and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection for 2014 by Athlon Sports. The Ducks were slated to have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines this year, especially if the play of guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt improved after an inconsistent 2013. Yruretagoyena does not have a career start but played in eight games last season. The Arizona native was considered a four-star recruit in the 2011 signing class and ranked as the No. 85 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Yruretagoyena will be thrown into the fire right away in 2014, as Oregon has a huge test against Michigan State – and All-America defensive end Shilique Calhoun – in Week 2. Protecting the blindside of Mariota is crucial to the Ducks’ Pac-12 title hopes.
Notre Dame’s uniforms haven’t changed much in its program history, but the Fighting Irish break out an alternate look for the Shamrock Series every year.
On Tuesday, the program unveiled its 2014 Shamrock Series uniforms for its Sept. 13 date against Purdue.
The special edition uniforms feature a helmet with the “ND” logo and alterations to the jersey and pants.
Here’s a look at Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniforms:
Notre Dame will wear interlocking "ND" on helmet for 1st time in its history on 9/13 pic.twitter.com/wGHgQ8XgGL— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) August 19, 2014
Ohio State’s playoff and Big Ten title hopes suffered a significant blow on Tuesday, as quarterback Braxton Miller was ruled out for the 2014 season as a result of a shoulder injury suffered at practice on Monday, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy.
Miller reportedly suffered the shoulder injury in a non-contact drill Monday. The senior had shoulder surgery during the spring and was slow to return to full work in Ohio State’s offense due to his recovery. Prior to his injury, Miller was being eased into a full workload for the opener against Navy.
The Buckeyes were projected to finish No. 3 by Athlon in the 2014 preseason magazine, but Miller’s injury will have a profound effect on the upcoming year.
Here’s a look at how Miller’s injury impacts the Big Ten, Ohio State, college football playoff and who is up next under center in Columbus.
What’s Next for Ohio State
The No. 1 priority for coach Urban Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman over the next 10 days is to get J.T. Barrett ready to play. The redshirt freshman recently passed Cardale Jones for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart and spent some time with the No. 1 offense due to Miller’s limited workload.
Barrett brings a similar skill set to the offense that Meyer and Herman were able to use with Miller. The Texas native is a dangerous runner and is regarded for his quick release in the passing game.
While Miller’s impact — one of the best quarterbacks in the nation — will be felt, Barrett is a talented option, and Ohio State isn’t short on skill talent. Barrett ranked as the No. 137 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in the 2013 signing class and spent 2013 learning under Miller and Kenny Guiton.
With Barrett likely to suffer a few growing pains in his first season under center, expect the Buckeyes to lean more on their defense and running backs. The back seven on defense needs to take a step forward under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, but the defensive line could be the best in the nation. And even though Carlos Hyde is no longer at running back, Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn are capable options on the ground.
Barrett’s mobility will be valuable with an offensive line that must replace four starters. Left tackle Taylor Decker is an All-Big Ten candidate, and guard Pat Elflein is a rising star after playing well against Michigan State in the conference title game.
Ohio State Can Still Contend
Yes, losing Miller is a huge loss. However, Ohio State’s Big Ten title hopes aren’t over. The Buckeyes own the Big Ten’s No. 1 roster (according to recruiting rankings), and coach Urban Meyer ranks as Athlon’s No. 2 coach. The two toughest games on Ohio State’s schedule — at Michigan State and at Penn State — are both past the midway point of the 2014 season.
With time for Barrett to develop until the showdown against Michigan State, along with an elite defensive line and crop of skill players, Ohio State is still slated to be a factor in the Big Ten. Prior to Miller’s injury, the Buckeyes were considered by most to be the favorites. But with Miller sidelined, the expectation only drops the No. 2 spot in the East Division and 10-11 wins is still a realistic goal.
Impact on Big Ten East
Michigan State is now the favorite in the East. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship last year and return 10 starters from a team that finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll. An offense that features quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford is set to improve after finishing No. 7 in the Big Ten in scoring last season. The defense allowed only 13.2 points per game in 2013 and returns a standout at each level.
While Miller’s injury would seem to benefit Michigan State the most in preseason predictions, this should allow Michigan and Penn State to close the gap in the division.
Impact on CFB Playoff
Ohio State was a popular pick for the college football playoff, but Miller’s injury adds another element of uncertainty to the new format. Florida State is a heavy favorite to claim one of the four spots, and the SEC champion — projected by Athlon to be Alabama — is expected to be a lock for the playoff. But what happens outside of those two spots? Can a 12-1 Michigan State team with a loss to Oregon rank in the top four? Assuming the Spartans beat Ohio State, how does Miller’s injury impact how the committee views the Buckeyes? Regardless of how much talent is still in Columbus, this is not the same team. How the committee will determine and view strength of schedule is up for debate, but Michigan State’s playoff hopes could take a hit without a win over a top-five (and Braxton Miller-led) Ohio State team.
If the Big Ten doesn’t have a playoff contender, this would help the odds of a two-loss Pac-12 team (with a strong schedule) or a second SEC team making it into the new four-team format.
What Happens Next for Braxton Miller?
With a redshirt year available, Miller could spend this season rehabbing his shoulder in Columbus for a chance to lead Ohio State into the playoff in 2015. However, Miller could choose to forego one more year in college and enter the 2015 draft.
Considering the slow recovery from shoulder surgery and the significant injury this fall, the odds of a return to Ohio State seem likely for the Ohio native.
If Miller returns in 2015, the Buckeyes would be one of the favorites once again for a spot in the playoffs. Ohio State could start only three seniors on defense and five on offense this year. A good chunk of the roster talent is in the sophomore and junior ranks in 2014, including skill talent at receiver and in the back seven on defense.
Even if Miller doesn’t return, Ohio State would be in good shape in 2015 with Barrett having a full year of starting experience.
While this injury is a significant setback to the Buckeyes’ national title hopes in 2014, whether it’s Miller or Barrett under center next year, Ohio State will be a factor for the top spot in 2015.
The SEC is college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 isn’t far behind. With playoff contenders in Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, the league has a deep group of teams pushing for a spot among the top 10 this year. And the depth of the Pac-12 is strong, highlighted by Arizona State, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona. Strong quarterback play highlights the Pac-12, including Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.
In order to rank the top 15 players in the Pac-12 for 2014, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2014 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2014.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Steven Lassan, AthlonSports.com, (@AthlonSteven)
Tyler Lockman, FoxSportsArizona.com, (@TylerLockman)
Braden Gall, AthlonSports.com, (@BradenGall)
Kyle Kensing, CFBHuddle.com, (@kensing45)
Mitch Light, AthlonSports.com, (@AthlonMitch)
Andrew Greif, The Oregonian, (@AndrewGreif)
Ryan Kartje, OCRegister.com, (@Ryan_Kartje)
Jeremy Mauss, MWCConnection.com, (@JeremyMauss)
Mark Ross, AthlonSports.com, (@AthlonMarkR)
Avinash Kunnath, PacificTakes.com, (@PacificTakes)
Ryan Abraham, USCFootball.com, (@InsideTroy)
Nick Krueger, HouseofSparky.com, (@NickPKrueger)
Jon Woods, RalphieReport.com, (@RalphieReport)
Jeff Nusser, CougCenter.com, (@NussCoug)
Jack Follman, PacificTakes.com, (@JackFollman)
Chris Huston, HeismanPundit.com, (@HeismanPundit)
David Fox, AthlonSports.com, (@DavidFox615)
Ranking Pac-12's Best Players for 2014
|1||Marcus Mariota, QB||14||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||252|
|2||Leonard Williams, DE||1||7||4||4||0||0||1||0||0||0||222|
|3||Brett Hundley, QB||0||6||4||3||3||0||1||0||0||0||214|
|4||Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB||1||0||4||1||6||3||1||0||1||0||191|
|5||Andrus Peat, OT||0||1||2||3||1||2||0||2||2||0||147|
|6||Myles Jack, LB||1||0||1||3||1||1||2||1||0||1||143|
|7||Taylor Kelly, QB||0||0||1||2||3||1||2||1||0||0||113|
|8||Sean Mannion, QB||0||0||0||1||2||2||1||2||0||2||98|
|9||Hroniss Grasu, C||0||0||0||0||0||3||2||2||2||2||97|
|10||Jaelen Strong, WR||0||0||0||0||0||2||3||0||1||2||89|
|11||Ty Montgomery, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||2||4||2||87|
|12||Nelson Agholor, WR||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||2||3||1||80|
|13||Shaq Thompson, LB||0||0||0||0||0||1||2||2||2||1||77|
|14||Henry Anderson, DE||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||26|
|15||Eric Kendricks, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||25|
|16||Byron Marshall, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||23|
|17||Hayes Pullard, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||22|
|18||Hau'oli Kikaha, DE||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||21|
|19||Marcus Peters, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||13|
|20||A.J. Tarpley, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||13|
|21||Danny Shelton, DT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||11|
|22||Jordan Richards, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||11|
|23||Su'a Cravens, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|24||D.J. Foster, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|25||Alex Carter, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|26||Darryl Monroe, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|27||Thomas Tyner, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||6|
|28||Jamil Douglas, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|29||Cyler Miles, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|30||Isaac Seumalo, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|31||Bryce Treggs, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|32||Buck Allen, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|33||Dres Anderson, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|34||Connor Halliday, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|35||Greg Henderson, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|36||Addison Gillam, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|37||Fabian Moreau, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
A Few Observations:
* Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota recorded 14 of the 17 first-place votes. Mariota did not rank lower than second on any ballot.
* Three of the top nine players in this experts poll are from Oregon: Mariota, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu.
* The top 10 players in this experts poll are split evenly: Five from the North, five from the South.
* Arizona is the only team to not have a player represented in this poll.
* Four of the top 10 players are quarterbacks: Mariota, Mannion, Kelly and Hundley.
Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of 50 breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
50 College Football Breakout Players for 2014
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Had Alexander not suffered a groin injury in fall camp, it’s likely he would have played a major role in Clemson’s secondary last season. Alexander ranked as the No. 30 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and was widely considered one of the nation’s top freshmen on the defensive side. Although the groin injury prevented Alexander from getting involved last year, it allowed him extra time to learn the defense. The redshirt freshman is slated to crack the starting lineup for the opener against Georgia.
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
With a knee injury expected to sideline Bralon Addison for the 2014 season, the Ducks need new targets to emerge for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Addison isn’t the only loss at receiver in Eugene, as Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins (85 receptions in 2013) have expired their eligibility. Allen closed out a breakout spring with two catches for 94 yards and two scores in the spring game. And the gridiron isn’t the only place Allen is making news this offseason. He won the U.S. track title in 110 hurdles in late June and won USA Track & Field athlete of the week honors in early July. Allen has the speed and athleticism to become one of the Ducks’ top playmakers in 2014.
Victor Bolden, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks earned the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s No. 1 receiver last season, so Bolden and the other Oregon State receivers have big shoes to fill in 2014. Despite the loss of Cooks, the Beavers still have options in the passing game. Junior Richard Mullaney caught 52 passes last season, and tight end Connor Hamlett is back after grabbing 40 catches in 2013. Bolden caught only six passes for 62 yards, but he averaged 20.6 yards per kickoff return. The sophomore is projected for a bigger role in the passing game in 2014, and his explosiveness will help quarterback Sean Mannion stretch the field this year.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Baylor’s receiving corps is one of the deepest in the nation, headlined by Antwan Goodley (18.9 yards per catch in 2013) and seniors Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller. But with Tevin Reese departing, the Bears are looking for a new speed threat for quarterback Bryce Petty. Coleman impressed as a freshman in 2013, catching 35 passes for 527 yards. And in a good sign for Coleman’s development, the best game (seven receptions for 88 yards) of his 2013 campaign was the Fiesta Bowl. Expect the sophomore to become an even bigger target for Petty in 2014.
Stacy Coley, WR, Miami
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Hurricanes, expect to see more of Coley in Miami’s gameplan this year. As a true freshman in 2013, Coley caught 33 passes for 591 yards and seven scores. And Coley showed plenty of big-play ability, averaging 17.9 yards per reception. The freshman seemed to get stronger as the year progressed, catching 11 passes over the final three weeks, including five receptions for 81 yards against Virginia. The ACC has a handful of talented receivers, but Coley will be one of the ACC’s best in 2014.
Maliek Collins/Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska
Nebraska’s defensive line is young, but there’s no question the coaching staff has to be excited about the talent in place. End Randy Gregory is one of the top defensive players in the nation, and the combination of Collins and Valentine is a promising duo for coordinator John Papuchis. Valentine got better as the season progressed in 2013, capped by recording a sack and two tackles for a loss against Iowa. He finished 2013 with 21 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack. Collins wasn’t as active on the stat sheet last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. However, Collins and Valentine both will see a larger role in the defense in 2014. And with both players checking in over 300 pounds, opposing offenses won’t have much room to run on the interior against Nebraska.
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
Cooper didn’t make a huge impression on the stat sheet last year, recording 202 rushing yards, 29 passing yards and three receptions for 54 yards. However, expect that to change significantly in 2014. The sophomore is an all-purpose threat for the Gamecocks and should see some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. Cooper is also expected to handle returns this year.
Su’a Cravens, S, USC
Cravens was one of the top defensive players in the 2013 recruiting class and ranked as a five-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. And as a true freshman, Cravens certainly didn’t disappoint last year. He earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors after recording 52 tackles, four interceptions and one forced fumble. Cravens should benefit from the addition of coordinator Justin Wilcox, as well as another year to participate in offseason practices. Expect Cravens to push for All-America honors this year.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Carlos Hyde was the first back to top 1,000 yards under coach Urban Meyer, and his departure to the NFL is a big loss for Ohio State’s offense. Hyde’s tough running will be missed, but the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for options. Elliott is expected to handle the bulk of the carries, with Dontre Wilson, Warren Ball, Curtis Samuel, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn all expected to contribute to the rotation in 2014. Elliott impressed in limited action last year, rushing for 262 yards on 30 carries (8.7 ypc). He may not handle 250 carries, but Elliott will headline a deep and talented Ohio State backfield.
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
It’s a bit of a stretch to put Floyd on this list after he recorded 55 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks last year. However, we think the sophomore goes from All-SEC contention to All-America honors and earning national recognition. Floyd should anchor one of the edges in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, and the sophomore is expected to push for 10 sacks.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The No. 1 player in the 247Sports Composite rankings for 2014 could have a monster season in Baton Rouge. The LSU offensive line is one of the best in the SEC with four returning starters, and with a young quarterback (Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings) slated to start, expect the Tigers to lean on the ground attack. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Fournette has the size and skill-set to be an every-down back in the SEC. If he gets enough carries, the Louisiana native could finish near the top of the conference in rushing yards.
Will Gardner, QB, Louisville
Teddy Bridgewater is gone, but with Bobby Petrino at the controls, Louisville’s offense is expected to be one of the best in the ACC. Gardner is the frontrunner to replace Bridgewater under center and this will be the Georgia native’s first taste of extended snaps. In six appearances last year, Gardner threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns on eight completions. Gardner will have a few growing pains in his first season as the starter, but Petrino’s track record suggests quarterback play won’t be a problem at Louisville in 2014.
Joshua Garnett/Kyle Murphy, OL, Stanford
Four starters depart from a Stanford offensive line that was one of the best in the nation last year. However, there’s not much concern from coach David Shaw about the protection for quarterback Kevin Hogan. Left tackle Andrus Peat is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2014, and the line has breakout players like Garnett and Murphy ready to emerge. Murphy played in 13 contests last year, while Garnett made an appearance in 14 and started against Washington State. Both Garnett and Murphy should push for All-Pac-12 honors this year.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Some may not consider Goff a breakout player after he threw for 3,488 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. However, with California expected to improve overall in the second year under coach Sonny Dykes, along with the return of a talented receiving corps, Goff could approach 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014. As expected with any freshman quarterback, Goff had his share of ups and downs last season. He threw for 336 yards and one touchdown against Washington and completed 32 of 58 passes for 489 yards against Washington State. Goff finished the year by throwing for less than 200 yards in back-to-back games against Colorado and Stanford. With another offseason under his belt, look for Goff to take a step forward in his development and show a better overall command of the offense.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Fans around the SEC are familiar with Henry through recruiting and his limited playing time last year, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. Henry rushed for 382 yards and three scores last season, capped by a 100-yard performance in the Sugar Bowl. The Florida native should provide the thunder to T.J. Yeldon’s lightning in 2014, as his 6-foot-3, 241-pound frame is a handful for opposing defenses. Don’t be surprised if Henry surpasses the 1,000-yard mark in 2014.
Darian Hicks, CB, Michigan State
The Spartans no longer have Darqueze Dennard manning the “No Fly Zone” in East Lansing. But coordinator Pat Narduzzi isn’t too worried about his secondary in 2014, as junior Trae Waynes is a likely All-American and Hicks is ready to step up and replace Dennard at the other cornerback spot. Hicks played in all 14 games and recorded only two tackles, but the sophomore is primed for a bigger role in Michigan State’s defense this year.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill drew significant praise from coach Mike Gundy at Big 12 media days, and it’s clear the junior college recruit is going to play a major role in Oklahoma State’s offense this year. Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich plan to use Hill in an all-purpose role and indicated the junior will touch the ball 15-20 times each week. The Georgia native possesses elite speed and won the Big 12 indoor 200 meters title this year. Expect Gundy to get Hill involved in a variety of ways in 2014.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
For any first-year starting quarterback, a potential All-American at tight end is a nice security blanket to have. That’s the case for junior quarterback Jacob Coker in his first season in Tuscaloosa, as Howard should be one of the top tight ends in the nation after a solid freshman campaign. Howard caught 14 passes for 269 yards and two scores last year, averaging 19.2 yards per reception. Expect Howard to be an even bigger part of the Crimson Tide offense this season, likely doubling his catches under new coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
There’s no clear favorite in the MAC West this year, and the Rockets have a chance to unseat Northern Illinois as the division champ in 2014. Toledo has a new quarterback under center, but the rushing attack should be the strength of this offense. The line is one of the best – if not No. 1 – in the MAC this year, and Hunt is ready for a breakout year after rushing for 866 yards on 137 attempts last year. Hunt recorded five 100-yard efforts over the final six games in 2013.
Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jones ranked as the No. 18 overall player in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100, and the Mississippi native didn’t disappoint as a true freshman. Jones recorded 32 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and three pass breakups. He was at his best late in the year, recording three tackles for a loss and a sack against Ole Miss. After a solid freshman year, the best is yet to come from Jones. With a full offseason to work in the weight room and learn under coordinator Geoff Collins, Jones should build off a promising finish to 2014 and challenge for All-America honors.
Denver Kirkland/Dan Skipper, OL, Arkansas
Bret Bielema wants to establish a run-first, smashmouth mentality at Arkansas, and the second-year coach has two budding stars in the offensive line in sophomores Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper. Both players started eight games last year and earned all-freshman honors by Athlon Sports. Considering Bielema’s track record from Wisconsin on recruiting and establishing offensive lines, look for Skipper and Kirkland to develop into future stars for the Razorbacks.
Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame
With DaVaris Daniels’ status in doubt due to academic issues, Notre Dame is searching for new weapons in the passing game for quarterback Everett Golson. Koyack is slated to replace Troy Niklas at tight end in 2014, and the senior is poised to build off a promising junior campaign. In 13 games, Koyack caught 10 passes for 171 yards (17.1 ypc) and three scores. A tight end has caught at least 30 passes in three consecutive years for the Fighting Irish. Expect Koyack to increase that number to four in 2014.
Geno Lewis, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last season, leaving little in the way of proven options for quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2014. While there’s not much in the way of proven receivers, the Nittany Lions aren’t hurting for talent. Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman headline a deep group of tight ends, while Lewis is a rising star on the outside at receiver. After redshirting in 2012, Lewis caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores in his first season of action with Penn State. The Pennsylvania native closed out 2013 on a high note, grabbing three receptions for 91 yards and two scores against Wisconsin. Freshmen DaeSean Hamilton, Chris Godwin, Saaed Blacknall and De’Andre Thompkins are names to watch in the fall, but Lewis should be the top receiving target for Hackenberg.
Hutson Mason, QB, Georgia
Aaron Murray’s late-season knee injury allowed Mason to gain valuable experience in 2013, and the senior heads into 2014 with two starts under his belt. Mason threw for 189 yards and one score in relief of Murray against Kentucky, threw 299 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-34 victory over rival Georgia Tech and completed 21 of 39 throws for 320 yards and one score in the Gator Bowl versus Nebraska. Mason has waited his turn by sitting four years behind Aaron Murray. Expect the senior to deliver a big season in his first chance at the full-time starting job in Athens.
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
Most around the SEC are probably familiar with Mauk after his short stint as Missouri’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013, but the sophomore is poised for bigger and better things in 2014. Mauk threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while recording 229 rushing yards. The Ohio native needs to improve his completion percentage (51.1), but he should continue Missouri’s run of successful quarterbacks under coach Gary Pinkel.
Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State
With quarterback Connor Halliday and one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps returning, the Cougars’ offense will be tough to stop in 2014. Washington State led the nation with 756 pass attempts last year, so there’s plenty of opportunities for players like Mayle to catch passes. Gabe Marks led the team with 74 receptions last season, but Mayle is a name to remember after finishing his first season in Pullman with 42 catches for 539 yards and seven scores. The 6-foot-3 target slimmed down during the offseason, and all signs point to Mayle becoming a more prominent target for Halliday.
Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn
Melifonwu started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season and finished with 70 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. The Massachusetts native is one of just five returning starters on defense for the Huskies this year and helps senior Byron Jones anchor a secondary that could be one of the best in the American Athletic Conference. Melifonwu should be one of the key pieces in new coach Bob Diaco’s rebuilding effort at UConn in 2014.
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington
Miles was suspended for spring practice due to an off-the-field incident but was reinstated to the team in May. The sophomore is behind Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams in learning Washington’s new offense, but Miles is expected to claim the starting job for 2014. The Colorado native ranked as the No. 105 overall prospect in the 2012 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and worked as the backup to Keith Price in 2013. Price missed time against UCLA due to injury, and Miles completed 15 of 22 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns in relief. A week later, Miles threw for 162 yards and one score in a 69-27 victory over Oregon State. The sophomore has plenty of upside, and with an ability to hurt defenses through the air or on the ground with his legs, Miles is a quarterback to watch in 2014.
Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina
With the departure of ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton, along with tackle Kelcy Quarles, the Gamecocks may use more 3-4 looks in 2014. The linebacking corps should be the strength of Lorenzo Ward’s defense, as Moore led the team with 56 tackles as a true freshman last year. Moore also intercepted four passes and recorded 3.5 tackle for a loss in 2013. Expect Moore to challenge for All-SEC honors this season.
DaVonte’ Neal, WR, Arizona
After a one-year stint at Notre Dame, Neal transferred to Arizona and sat out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Neal didn’t make a huge impact in his one year with the Fighting Irish, but he’s poised to emerge as a key contributor for the Wildcats. Arizona is loaded with talent at receiver, including senior Austin Hill who returns after missing all of last season due to a torn ACL. In addition to Hill, the Wildcats return Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey in the receiving corps. With a crowded receiving corps, expect Arizona coaches to use Neal some in the backfield to take advantage of his athleticism and speed.
Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech
In a wide-open ACC Coastal Division, the one constant among the contenders is Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies have finished first or second in scoring defense (conference-only games) in the ACC for six consecutive seasons. With one of the conference’s top defensive backfields and lines in 2014, expect much of the same from the Hokies. Nicolas appears to be the next star on the front line for Virginia Tech, recording 32 tackles and four sacks in 13 games last year. The Florida native should easily shatter those totals in a full-time role in 2014.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
Yes, as the No. 1 recruit from the 2013 signing class, it seems obvious to mention Nkemdiche as a breakout player. However, the Georgia native seemed to find his role late last year. Nkemdiche finished with 34 tackles (eight for a loss), two sacks and one forced fumble. Six of Nkemdiche’s 10 starts came at defensive end, with the other four coming at tackle. The Rebels will regain the services of end C.J. Johnson (missed most of last year due to injury), and the other end spot is expected to go to FIU transfer Fadol Brown. With Brown and Johnson anchoring the end positions, Nkemdiche should settle back into the interior. The sophomore played better as the season progressed in 2013 and should build off that momentum.
Speedy Noil/Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
With Mike Evans, Derel Walker and Travis Labhart departing, the Aggies will be young (and very talented) at receiver in 2014. Redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and caught three passes for 84 yards and one score before suffering a season-ending injury last year. Noil – a Louisiana native – ranked as the No. 8 overall prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and could see touches in a variety of ways – special teams, catches or handoffs – for coach Kevin Sumlin.
Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
At 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, Oakman is an imposing figure off the edge for Phil Bennett’s defense. The Pennsylvania native started his career at Penn State but transferred after a redshirt year. Oakman’s first game experience in college occurred last season, as he played in all 13 games, recorded 33 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Most of Oakman’s production came early in the year, including 3.5 tackles for a loss against Wofford and two against Iowa State. He only recorded 0.5 tackles for a loss over the final six games, but the experience gained by Oakman through his first extended playing time should be valuable in 2014. Expect the junior to be one of the top defensive ends in the Big 12 this year.
Chikwe Obasih, DE, Wisconsin
The Badgers are breaking in several new faces on defense in 2014, as only three starters return from a unit that held opponents to 16.3 points per game last year. Obasih redshirted in his first season in Madison and was one of the spring standouts for coordinator Dave Aranda. Obasih ranked as the No. 343 player in the 247Sports Composite and recorded two tackles in the spring game. At 245 pounds, Obasih is undersized against traditional power offenses, but he has the speed and quickness off the edge to be a disruptive force in the backfield.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan
We could list a couple of Michigan defenders here, but Peppers is just too talented to leave off the list. Peppers ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and is slated to push for a starting job in the fall. The New Jersey native could play a number of roles in the Michigan secondary in 2014, as he might start at cornerback or safety or play in the nickel role for coordinator Greg Mattison. Regardless of where he lines up, Peppers is too valuable for the Wolverines to keep on the sidelines. The true freshman could be a difference maker in Michigan’s secondary and also could see time on special teams this year.
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
A number of LSU defenders could earn a mention in this space, but Robinson is Athlon’s pick to have a breakout year on defense for coordinator John Chavis. The 6-foot-3 corner has the size to matchup against the bigger receivers in the conference, along with the speed to prevent big plays in the passing game. Robinson was a late arrival to preseason camp last year but finished with 16 tackles and broke up three passes in 12 games. The emergence of Robinson and sophomore Tre’Davious White should give LSU one of the top cornerback tandems in the nation.
Tyree Robinson, S, Oregon
The Ducks have a few holes to fill in the secondary, but this unit is headlined by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Three starting spots were up for grabs this spring, with Robinson in the mix at the safety position. The California native ranked as the No. 150 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite and used a redshirt year in his first season on campus. At 6-foot-4, Robinson has the size and athleticism to be a future star in Oregon’s secondary.
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
With Aaron Colvin departing, Oklahoma is counting on Sanchez to be the top cornerback on a defense that should be one of the nation’s best. Most Sooner fans are familiar with Sanchez after a standout freshman season, but the Texas native is poised to emerge as one of the Big 12’s top defensive backs. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Sanchez started all 13 games, recorded 46 tackles and intercepted two passes. With Colvin on the other side last year, it was no surprise Sanchez was frequently targeted. However, he responded by defending 15 passes. Opposing Big 12 quarterbacks will likely stay away from Sanchez this season.
Jhajuan Seales, WR, Oklahoma State
There’s a significant amount of roster turnover for Oklahoma State in 2014. The Cowboys return only eight starters and lost 28 seniors from last season’s team. Despite the turnover, Mike Gundy’s team can still push for eight wins. For Oklahoma State to push for a spot among the top four teams in the Big 12, quarterback J.W. Walsh has to play with more consistency after an up-and-down stint in 2013. But Walsh should have plenty of help at the skill positions, as running back Desmond Roland rushed for 811 yards last year, and Seales is primed for a breakout year at receiver. As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Seales grabbed 39 receptions for 571 yards and three scores. The Texas native is a physical presence on the outside but also has the speed to be a big-play threat for Walsh.
William Stanback, RB, UCF
Storm Johnson bolted early for the NFL, but UCF’s backfield is set with Stanback returning after a solid freshman season. In 13 games, Stanback rushed for 443 yards and six touchdowns on 105 attempts. His best performance came against Houston (74 yards), while also rushing for 65 yards against Louisville. UCF must replace quarterback Blake Bortles, but the Knights can lean on Stanback until Justin Holman is settled under center.
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Running back is a position of strength for new coordinator Kurt Roper, as the Gators return three running backs that recorded at least 330 yards last year. Mack Brown led the team with 543 yards, but Taylor turned plenty of heads as a true freshman. In 10 games, Taylor rushed for 508 yards and four scores, including 90 or more yards in two out of his last three outings. If the offensive line is improved, Taylor could push for 1,000 yards.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Donte Moncrief’s big-play ability will be missed in Oxford, but quarterback Bo Wallace won’t have to look far for his replacement. Treadwell caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five scores as a true freshman last year and is slated to move from the slot to the outside in 2014. Treadwell averaged only 8.4 yards per catch in 2013, but that number could easily double in 2014.
Chad Voytik, QB, Pittsburgh
Paul Chryst got a glimpse of the future when Tom Savage suffered an injury in the bowl win over Bowling Green. Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t miss a beat with Voytik at the controls, as the Panthers posted 13 points in the second half and punted only once on five drives. Voytik completed 5 of 9 passes for 108 yards against the Falcons and rushed for 24 yards on two attempts. The Tennessee native threw only 11 passes last season, but there’s no question about his talent, ranking as the No. 16 quarterback recruit in the 2012 signing class. As evidenced by his work at Wisconsin, Chryst knows how to develop quarterbacks and make the most out of his talent. Voytik has the talent and intangibles and should flourish under Chryst’s tutelage this season. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Voytik’s development that he will be throwing to standout receiver Tyler Boyd and protected by a line that returns four starters.
P.J. Walker, QB, Temple
Temple started 0-6 last year but rallied to win two out of their final six games, including a 41-21 road contest at Memphis in the season finale. A key reason for the turnaround was Walker’s emergence as the team’s starting quarterback. The New Jersey native started the final seven contests and finished the season with 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns, while tossing only eight picks on 250 attempts. Walker also added 332 yards and three scores on the ground. Another positive sign for Temple was Walker’s completion percentage (60.8), as well as a solid 13.7 yards per completion. Even though top receiver Robby Anderson won’t return, Walker is poised to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech
With Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, Webb is the clear starter in Lubbock this year. With a clear path to the starting job, along with a standout performance in the Holiday Bowl, Webb appears to be on his way to emerging as Texas Tech’s next star quarterback. As a true freshman last year, the Texas native threw for 2,718 yards and 20 touchdowns on 361 attempts, while tossing only nine picks. Webb completed 62.6 percent of his throws and threw for at least 385 yards in five out of his last six games. The Red Raiders need to replace standout receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro, but Kliff Kingsbury should have this offense performing at a high level once again.
D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
The Tigers may look to throw more in 2014, as running back Tre Mason departed for the NFL, and quarterback Nick Marshall should be more comfortable in his second year under center in the SEC. Auburn’s receiving corps is also deeper in 2014, largely due to the emergence of junior Sammie Coates and the arrival of Williams in the spring. Williams ranked as the top junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite and caught five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State
Williams was a five-star talent out of high school and spent the first two years of his career on defense. But shortly after the win over Pittsburgh on Labor Day, the Florida State coaching staff moved Williams to offense, a move some believed should have taken place earlier in his career. As expected, Williams showcased his athleticism and speed in limited duty at running back in 2013, rushing for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns on 91 attempts. The Florida native averaged a whopping 8.0 yards per carry and is expected to open spring practice as the Seminoles’ No. 1 back. Williams won’t have to carry the entire workload for coach Jimbo Fisher, as top recruit Dalvin Cook will contribute right away, and Ryan Green and Mario Pender will be in the mix for snaps. Even if Williams doesn’t top 200 carries, it’s clear his athleticism and speed will be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses. Look for Williams to have a huge breakout season as the top back in Tallahassee.
Dontre Wilson, RB/WR, Ohio State
It seems Urban Meyer has been looking for the next Percy Harvin for a couple of years now, but Wilson could finally be the right fit as a hybrid receiver/running back. Wilson rushed for 250 yards and one score last season and caught 22 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. Expect Wilson to be more involved in the Buckeyes’ offense in 2014, as the departure of Carlos Hyde will open up more carries on the ground, while the receiving corps is searching for more playmakers.
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
Worley has generated plenty of buzz this offseason in Morgantown. As a true freshman, the 6-foot-1 cornerback from Philadelphia played in 11 games in 2013 and recorded 45 tackles and broke up five passes. Considering the offensive firepower in the Big 12, having a shutdown corner with the size to matchup against big receivers is a valuable asset for any defense. And the Mountaineers’ defense may have to shoulder more of the load in 2014, as the offense – especially the quarterback spot – is a work in progress. With another year to develop, expect Worley to challenge for all-conference honors this year.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season due to a shoulder injury suffered in practice on Monday. The news of Miller’s injury was reported by the Columbus Dispatch’s Tim May.
Eleven Warriors has more details on Miller’s injury, which will keep the senior out for the 2014 season. Miller is eligible for a redshirt season and could return in 2015.
Miller suffered a shoulder injury in the Orange Bowl loss against Clemson and did not participate in contact drills during spring practice.
The senior appeared to be on track to return after shoulder surgery in February, but he was limited by soreness in his throwing arm this fall.
With Miller out for the season, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones will compete for the No. 1 job. Barrett recently moved ahead of Jones on the depth chart and would be the favorite to start the opener against Navy.
With Miller ruled out for 2014, Michigan State is the favorite in the Big Ten. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes in the conference title game last season and is a contender for a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff format.
Arizona State already has a variety of uniform and helmet choices to sport in 2014, but the program unveiled a new copper-themed look on Monday.
The uniform helps to honor the state’s history of copper producing and could be worn at some point during the 2014 season.
Check out Arizona State’s new copper-themed uniform for this season:
The Big 12 heads into 2014 looking to rebound on the national stage. Oklahoma is coming off a huge Sugar Bowl victory against Alabama, and Baylor is likely to rank as a top 10 team by most this preseason after winning the conference title last year. The Sooners are a threat to win the national championship, but for the Big 12 to move up in the conference pecking order, Texas has to take a step forward under first-year coach Charlie Strong.
In order to rank the top 15 players in the Big 12 for 2014, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2014 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2014.
Allen Kenney, BlatantHomerism.com, (@BlatantHomerism)
Chris Level, RedRaiderSports.com, (@ChrisLevel)
Aaron Dickens, RedRaiderSports.com, (@AaronDickens)
Jesse Newell, Topeka Capital-Journal, (@JesseNewell)
David Fox, AthlonSports.com, (@DavidFox615)
Kevin Flaherty, The Shiver, (@KFlaherty247)
Ben Kerchveal, Bleacher Report, (@BenKercheval)
Seth Jungman, Viva The Matadors, (@VivatheMatador)
Jamie Plunkett, Frogs O'War, (@TheDSportsRant)
Garrett Cullen, West Virginia MetroNews, (@GarrettCullen)
Mark Ross, AthlonSports.com, (@AthlonMarkR)
Mitch Light, AthlonSports.com, (@AthlonMitch)
Ranking Big 12's Best Players for 2014 (Experts Poll)
|1||Bryce Petty, QB||13||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||228|
|2||Tyler Lockett, WR||2||10||0||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||206|
|3||Antwan Goodley, WR||1||1||4||3||1||2||2||0||1||0||174|
|4||Ryan Mueller, DE||0||1||2||4||4||0||0||1||1||1||164|
|5||Eric Striker, LB||0||2||4||3||2||0||2||0||1||0||163|
|6||Cedric Reed, DE||0||0||3||2||2||2||0||3||0||0||137|
|7||Spencer Drango, OT||0||0||1||0||1||1||3||0||2||0||83|
|8||Sam Carter, S||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||1||0||3||79|
|9||Davis Webb, QB||0||0||0||0||2||2||0||1||0||0||73|
|10||B.J. Finney, C||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||1||1||1||64|
|11||Le'Raven Clark, OL||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||2||1||63|
|12||Charles Tapper, DL||0||0||0||0||0||2||1||1||2||1||62|
|13||Trevor Knight, QB||0||0||0||2||0||0||1||1||0||1||59|
|14||Malcom Brown, DT||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||2||0||3||51|
|15||Quandre Diggs, CB||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||2||0||48|
|16||Malcolm Brown, RB||0||0||0||0||2||1||1||0||0||0||41|
|17||Shock Linwood, RB||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||0||1||2||35|
|18||Zack Sanchez, CB||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||1||0||0||31|
|19||Chucky Hunter, DT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||26|
|20||Jake Waters, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||21|
|21||Shawn Oakman, DE||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||19|
|22||Johnathan Gray, RB||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||19|
|23||Ben Heeney, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||14|
|24||Daryl Williams, OT||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||9|
|25||Quinton Spain, OG||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||8|
|26||Daryl Worley, CB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|27||Sterling Shepard, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||7|
|28||Matt Joeckel, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5|
|29||Bryce Hager, LB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|30||E.J. Bibbs, TE||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|31||J.W. Walsh, QB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||4|
|32||Desmond Roland, RB||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|33||Jakeem Grant, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||3|
|34||Karl Joseph, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|35||Levi Norwood, WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|36||Tyreek Hill, RB/WR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|37||Chris Hackett, S||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
A Few Observations
* In a conference that is usually dominated by Texas and Oklahoma, the top four players in the experts poll are from Baylor and Kansas State.
* Bryce Petty recorded 13 of the 16 first-place votes.
* Only three players made an appearance on all 16 ballots: Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett and Baylor receiver Antwan Goodley.
* Who is the No. 2 quarterback in the Big 12 this year? Some have Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, but in this experts poll, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb ended up second in voting among quarterbacks.
* A few names to watch that could rank higher in this poll at the end of 2014: Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters, West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley and Texas running back Johnathan Gray.
Texas A&M’s quarterback situation was one of the most intriguing battles of the offseason, as the Aggies looked for a replacement for standout Johnny Manziel. And at least for the opener, the starting job in College Station is slated to go to sophomore Kenny Hill. The news of Hill’s promotion to the top quarterback spot was announced by coach Kevin Sumlin.
Hill played sparingly in 2013, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and one score. He also rushed for 37 yards on seven attempts.
The most action in Hill’s 2013 season took place against Sam Houston State, completing 5 of 6 passes for 74 yards and one touchdown.
Hill has big shoes to fill with Manziel’s departure, but he is surrounded by a strong supporting cast. The Aggies possess one of the SEC’s top offensive lines and receiving corps, while running backs Brandon Williams, Trey Williams and Tra Carson are all capable options.
Allen – one of the top prospects in the 2014 signing class – will have a chance to unseat Hill as the season progresses. The true freshman should have a good grasp on the offense after enrolling early and could play against South Carolina if Hill struggles.
One positive for Hill in his first start: South Carolina could use three true freshmen extensively at cornerback in the opener.
Texas A&M’s high-powered offense may not be as explosive as it was in 2013, but whether it’s Hill or Allen at the controls, expect plenty of points and high-scoring affairs involving the Aggies in 2014.
Minnesota became the latest team to unveil an alternate helmet for the 2014 season, as the school released photos of a gold design slated to appear a few games this year.
The traditional “M” logo appears on the sides, and there’s a stripe down the middle featuring the Ski-U-Mah slogan.
Check out a full gallery of Minnesota’s new helmets for 2014:
The running back position is full of talent for 2014, headlined by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. And talented rushers like South Carolina’s Mike Davis, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Miami’s Duke Johnson aren’t far behind.
While the individual talent is important, depth and the No. 2 option – especially in the era of committee approaches – are also key factors to consider when ranking a team’s backfield.
Ranking the individual units among each conference is no easy task. However, determining where each team stacks up among its conference peers for each of the position groups is critical to determining potential strengths and weaknesses on the roster and potential landmines to a league title.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2014 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams like are ranked largely due to one player, some may lack a superstar this year but have no shortage of depth.
They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.
Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 14th annual Athlon Awards.
College Football's Top 30 RB Units for 2014
T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry headline a Crimson Tide backfield that features six four- or five-star recruits. Yeldon led the team with 1,235 yards and 14 scores last season, while Henry finished with 382 yards and three touchdowns. Henry’s role increased late in the season, and he is expected to earn a larger share of the carries in 2014. Kenyan Drake (694 yards in 2013), Jalston Fowler, Altee Tenpenney and Tyren Jones provide depth and plenty of big-play ability for new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
This unit was hit hard by injuries last year, but with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall back at full strength, combined with the addition of talented freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the Bulldogs have one of the top backfields in the nation. In two years at Georgia, Gurley has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rushed for 27 touchdowns. Marshall ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 but was limited to 246 yards last year due to a torn ACL. Michel and Chubb were both five-star recruits and should be future stars in Athens.
Melvin Gordon surprisingly turned down the NFL for one more year in Madison. In 2013, he was one of only two players to record 200 carries and average over seven yards per attempt, and his 1,609 yards ranked second in the Big Ten. With James White gone to the NFL, Gordon’s new sidekick in the Badgers’ backfield will be sophomore Corey Clement, who shined in a limited role last fall. Clement led the Big Ten by averaging 8.2 yards per rush on 67 attempts as a true freshman.
Ameer Abdullah headlines a Nebraska backfield that returns players responsible for 94.2 percent of the team’s rushing production from last season. Abdullah led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards last year and had eight rushes of 30 yards or more. Imani Cross, a 230-pound junior, is a valuable asset on short-yardage situations. He led the Cornhuskers with 10 rushing scores and ranked second on the team with 447 yards in 2013. Terrell Newby (298 yards in 2013) is expected to fill the No. 3 role with Adam Taylor out indefinitely due to an ankle injury.
5. South Carolina
Steve Spurrier was known for his passing offenses at Florida, but his South Carolina teams have been effective on the ground, averaging at least 190 yards per game in two out of the last three seasons. Mike Davis shined in his first year as the starter, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in SEC play. Davis is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014. The Gamecocks have plenty of depth behind Davis, as Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds both rushed for over 200 yards last year. Redshirt freshman David Williams is a name to watch.
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast:
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is short on proven targets at receiver, but the Ducks’ offense has a bevy of options at running back. Byron Marshall returns after recording 1,038 yards last year, and he will be pushed for time by talented sophomore Thomas Tyner (711 yards in 2013). True freshman Royce Freeman (229 pounds) is a bigger option than Tyner or Marshall and should help the Ducks in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Assuming Duke Johnson returns to full strength, the Hurricanes should have the ACC’s top running back corps for 2014. Johnson rushed for 920 yards prior to a season-ending leg injury against Florida State. The junior is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2014. Backing up Johnson will be touted true freshman Joseph Yearby (No. 7 running back in 247Sports Composite) and sophomore Gus Edwards (338 yards in 2013). Dallas Crawford finished No. 2 on the team with 558 yards last season, but he was moved to defensive back in the spring.
New coach Steve Sarkisian plans to install an up-tempo offense, but the former Washington coach isn’t going abandon the run. Buck Allen returns after leading the team with 785 yards and 14 scores last season. Allen finished 2013 by recording four 100-yard efforts over the final six games. He will be pushed for time by converted linebacker Tre Madden, who recorded four 100-yard games in the first five weeks of 2013. Justin Davis is expected to claim the No. 3 job.
Bret Bielema needs time to rebuild Arkansas into the smashmouth, run-first team he had at Wisconsin. The pieces are starting to come together though, as the Razorbacks have three potential standouts at running back. Alex Collins led the team with 1,026 rushing yards as a freshman and is expected to share carries with Jonathan Williams (900 yards in 2013) this year. Korliss Marshall was a spring standout and brings a big-play element to the backfield after averaging 8.6 yards per touch in 2013.
10. Florida State
Despite the departures of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., there’s very little reason to expect a drop-off in performance for Florida State’s backfield. Coach Jimbo Fisher has assembled an embarrassment of riches here, starting with Karlos Williams. The converted safety averaged eight yards per carry last season and is expected to be one of the ACC’s top breakout players in 2014. In addition to Williams, true freshman Dalvin Cook and sophomores Ryan Green and Mario Pender will see snaps in the backfield.
11. Michigan State
The emergence of Jeremy Langford and quarterback Connor Cook was a big reason why Michigan State won the Big Ten title last year. Langford recorded eight 100-yard games over the final nine contests and finished with 1,422 yards and 18 scores on 292 attempts. Nick Hill (344 yards in 2013) and Delton Williams (238 yards) are expected to spell Langford in 2014.
Freshman Leonard Fournette could have a monster season behind one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Fournette is expected to share carries with Terrence Magee (7.3 ypc in 2013) and Kenny Hilliard (310 yards, 7 TDs last year) in 2014.
Tre Mason will be missed, but Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense still has options at running back. Corey Grant averaged 9.8 yards per carry on 66 attempts last year and will team with Cameron Artis-Payne to handle a bulk of the carries. Freshmen Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber also factor into the rotation.
If Johnathan Gray returns to full strength from an Achilles injury, the Longhorns should rank much higher on this list by the end of 2014. Gray rushed for 780 yards and four scores in nine games last season. If healthy, Gray could be the best running back in the Big 12. Malcolm Brown returns after rushing for 904 yards and nine scores last season, but depth is a question mark after Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet were dismissed.
15. Ohio State
Carlos Hyde is gone, but the Buckeyes aren’t hurting for options. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott is in for a breakout season after averaging 8.8 yards per carry as a backup last year. Elliott is expected to be the leading rusher, but Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Curtis Samuel and Warren Ball will each see their share of opportunities.
16. Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel led the team in rushing over the last two seasons, but it’s likely the focus on the ground shifts to the running backs with a new quarterback under center. The Aggies have an underrated trio of backs, headlined by two transfers Tra Carson (329 yards in 2013) and Brandon Williams (269 yards). Trey Williams is a big-play threat (7.0 yards per carry last year) and should see more carries after recording only 58 last year. Redshirt freshman James White rounds out the backfield.
17. Penn State
New coach James Franklin inherits a backfield that returns two players (Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton) that combined for 1,792 yards last season. Zwinak scored 12 rushing scores in 2013, while Belton averaged 5.1 yards per touch. Akeel Lynch recorded 358 yards in his freshman campaign last year and should work in the No. 3 role once again in 2014.
Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be missed, but thanks to improved recruiting under Art Briles, the Bears are in good shape in the backfield. Sophomore Shock Linwood headlines the rushing attack after recording 881 yards (6.9 ypc) in 2013. Linwood will have plenty of competition for carries, including sophomore Devin Chafin and freshmen Terence Williams and Johnny Jefferson.
19. West Virginia
Considering coach Dana Holgorsen’s track record of high-powered offenses and quarterback play, it seems odd to suggest the Mountaineers will be a run-first team in 2014. However, West Virginia’s offense could lean more on its ground attack this year, as Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell is eligible after sitting out 2013, and Wendell Smallwood and Dreamius Smith return after combining for 715 yards last year. Freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams is another name to watch in 2014.
Quarterback Taysom Hill led BYU in rushing yards with 1,344 yards last season, but Jamaal Williams wasn’t far behind with 1,233 yards. Williams will miss the opener against UConn due to suspension. However, Williams is ticketed for another 1,000-yard season. Backing up Williams should be Paul Lasike, Algernon Brown and Adam Hine. Each of those three backs accumulated at least 200 rushing yards last year.
21. Boise State
Depth is a concern, but the Broncos have an All-America candidate in Jay Ajayi. He rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 scores last season, averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per touch. With Aaron Baltazar leaving the team, Jack Fields and Devan Demas are the top backups to Ajayi.
The strength of Virginia’s offense rests with its ground attack. Senior Kevin Parks has rushed for at least 700 yards in three consecutive years, including a 1,000-yard effort in 2013. Sophomore Taquan Mizzell was the No. 60 overall recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and should take on a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 184 yards last season. Senior Khalek Shepherd rushed for 304 yards in 2013 and will factor into the backfield mix once again.
23. North Carolina
The Tar Heels might have one of the nation’s most underrated group of rushers. True freshman Elijah Hood is too talented to sit on the bench and should push sophomore T.J. Logan (533 yards) for snaps. Romar Morris and Khris Francis also return after combining for 532 yards in 2013.
The Cardinal probably won’t have a clear No. 1 back in 2014, but a committee approach should work behind a deep group of options. Barry Sanders, Ricky Seale, Remound Wright, Kelsey Young and true freshman Christian McCaffrey will all factor into the backfield.
The Sooners are a hard team to rank. There’s talent, but also a lot of question marks. Will Joe Mixon play in 2014? Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine are a capable trio if Mixon is out indefinitely.
26. Notre Dame
Three of the Fighting Irish’s top four leading rushers from 2013 are back, and former top 50 recruit Greg Bryant returns after redshirting due to injury. Sophomore Tarean Folston should see a bigger role in the offense after rushing for 470 yards on just 88 carries last year.
Yes, Bobby Petrino likes the forward pass, but don’t forget about the successful running attacks during his Louisville and Arkansas tenures. Dominique Brown is back after rushing for 825 yards last year, while Michael Dyer is poised to make an impact in his senior season.
The Hawkeyes go four-deep at running back. Mark Weisman led the team with 974 yards last season, but Jordan Canzeri should see more carries after averaging 6.5 yards per carry in 2013. Damon Bullock (467 yards last year) also returns, while sophomore LeShun Daniels is another promising option for coordinator Greg Davis.
Kelvin Taylor had a promising freshman campaign, rushing for 508 yards and four scores. He should see an increased role in 2014, while Matt Jones and Mack Brown contribute as the No. 2 and No. 3 backs.
30. Bowling Green
Travis Greene could be one of the best all-purpose backs in the nation after recording 1,749 yards in 2013. Greene is the unquestioned starter, but he will be spelled by backups Andre Givens (255 yards last year) and Fred Coppet (214 yards).
The Next Five
32. UL Lafayette
34. Arizona State
Tennessee’s three-man battle for the quarterback job is officially down to one. Coach Butch Jones picked Justin Worley as the team’s starter, edging sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs.
Worley played in eight games in 2013, throwing for 1,239 yards and 10 scores. He also tossed eight interceptions and completed just 55.6 percent of his throws.
In three years at Tennessee, Worley has 1,977 career passing yards and 10 starts under his belt.
Worley has a talented supporting cast at his disposal, including talented sophomore Marquez North and freshman Josh Malone. The running back tandem of Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd should be solid, but the offensive line has five new starters.
While Worley won the starting job this fall, it will be interesting to watch what transpires over the season. Can Dobbs or Peterman surpass Worley for the top spot if he struggles?
Tennessee’s passing offense ranked seventh in the SEC with 211.1 yards per game last season. With more consistency from Worley, along with development on the offensive line, the Volunteers have a chance to take a step forward on offense.
JONES: @WorleyBird_14 has earned the right to the be starting QB. I believe Justin is playing the best football he's played in a long time.— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 14, 2014