Articles By Steven Lassan

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2014 Sun Belt Predictions
 Sun BeltOverall
1. UL Lafayette (No. 60)8-010-2
2. South Alabama (No. 84)7-18-4
3. Arkansas State (No. 93)6-27-5
4. Troy (No. 108)5-36-6
5. ULM (No. 110)5-35-7
6. Texas State (No. 113)4-45-7
7. Georgia Southern (No. 122)3-54-8
8. Appalachian State (No. 123)2-64-8
9. Idaho (No. 125)2-62-10
10. Georgia State (No. 126)1-72-10
11. New Mexico State (No. 128)1-72-10

The Sun Belt is a conference in transition, but even with the changes around the league, the contenders remain the same. UL Lafayette has won nine games in each of the last three seasons and is Athlon’s projected champion for 2014.
 

The Ragin’ Cajuns return 15 starters and coach Mark Hudspeth is the best in the Sun Belt. Quarterback Terrance Broadway guides an offense that averaged 33.8 points per game last season and features a deep stable of running backs. Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire will both push for all-conference honors in 2014. Hudspeth’s team doesn’t have many personnel concerns, but the secondary and linebacking corps are two areas for the coaching staff to watch in the fall. UL Lafayette will also have a chance to play spoiler on the Sept. 13 date at Ole Miss.
 

UL Lafayette was a clear No. 1 in Athlon’s projected Sun Belt predictions, but it was a close battle for No. 2 with South Alabama and Arkansas State. The Red Wolves are on their fourth coach in four years, but a strong core of talent remains in Jonesboro. Running back Michael Gordon is poised for a breakout year, and receiver J.D. McKissic is back after catching 82 passes in 2013. The departure of Ryan Carrethers on the defensive line is one of Arkansas State’s biggest concerns for 2014.
 

South Alabama has made steady progress under Joey Jones, finishing 6-6 in its second year of Sun Belt play. The Jaguars return 12 starters, but quarterback Ross Metheny and a couple of key defenders must be replaced. South Alabama also has a tough November road stretch, featuring trips to Arkansas State and UL Lafayette. However, if Brandon Bridge settles in at quarterback, the Jaguars will have a chance to win both games.
 

After the top three teams, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Sun Belt.

Troy and ULM are proven programs within the Sun Belt, and both teams should be in the mix for bowl games in 2014. The Trojans need to replace quarterback Corey Robinson, but the skill players and offensive line should be among the best in the league. For Troy to push for a spot among the top three, the defense has to improve after allowing 35.9 points a game in 2013.
 

ULM will miss quarterback Kolton Browning, and a challenging non-conference schedule doesn’t leave much margin for error for a bowl appearance. But the Warhawks should be solid on defense with the return of nine starters, and NC State transfer Pete Thomas could be the answer at quarterback.
 

Texas State is a program on the rise, but only four starters are back on defense, and there figures to be a few growing pains in Tyler Jones’ second year under center. The Bobcats own one of the league’s top linebacking corps with senior Michael Orakpo and David Mayo leading the way.
 

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State headline four newcomers into the Sun Belt for 2014. The Eagles finished the 2013 season by beating Florida in the Swamp and catch a break in scheduling by not playing UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. New coach Willie Fritz was one of the top hires of the offseason.
 

Appalachian State played better at the end of 2013, which was the first year under the direction of Scott Satterfield. The Mountaineers are a solid program and will eventually be a consistent winner in the Sun Belt. With running back Marcus Cox leading the way, Appalachian State could match last year’s win total.
 

Idaho and New Mexico State join the Sun Belt after spending 2013 as a FBS Independent. Both teams are in rebuild mode, with the Vandals in better shape in terms of personnel. However, Idaho is banned from postseason play in 2014. The Aggies return just eight starters and have uncertainty at quarterback and several holes to fill on defense.
 

Georgia State didn’t win a game in Trent Miles’ debut, but the Panthers showed progress. With Miles upgrading the roster through recruiting, as well as his track record of success at Indiana State, expect Georgia State to show more improvement in 2014. 



Sun Belt Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

New Orleans Bowl: MW vs. Sun Belt

GoDaddy Bowl: Sun Belt vs. MAC

Camellia Bowl: Sun Belt vs. MAC


2014 Sun Belt Team Previews
Appalachian
State
Texas
State
Arkansas
State
Troy
Georgia SouthernUL Lafayette
Georgia
State
ULM
Idaho 
New Mexico State 
South Alabama 

 

Teaser:
Sun Belt 2014 Football Predictions
Post date: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/big-ten-win-total-projections-2014
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The start of the 2014 college football season is still over 80 days away, but there is no shortage of news to fill the offseason in the Big Ten. Although there’s a long way until kickoff, the preview magazines for 2014 are already on newsstands, and Vegas isn’t far behind with its projections for the upcoming season.
 
CG Technology has released some its win total projections for 2014, and Athlon Sports examined the SEC totals on Thursday. With the early picks for the SEC in the books, it’s time to shift focus and examine the Big Ten.
With the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the Big Ten is now a 14-team league and has shuffled the divisions once again.
 
The East is stronger than the West in 2014, as Ohio State and Michigan State are both contenders for the college football playoff. There’s also quality depth in the East with Penn State, Michigan and improving teams like Indiana and Maryland. The West Division is headlined by Wisconsin, with Iowa and Nebraska not too far behind.
There is plenty of time to refine predictions over the next few months, but with the release of the win total projections, let’s take a look at the early thoughts on the over/under projections.
 
Athlon’s Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) give their early thoughts on CG Technology’s projections for 2014.
 

Big Ten Win Total Projections for 2014: Over, Under or Push

 

Big Ten East Division

 

Indiana (Opening Number: 5)

Braden Gall: Push

The Hoosiers draw the much tougher division and non-conference games with Missouri and Bowling Green seem to indicate making a bowl game is a long shot. Push or under for Indiana.
 
Steven Lassan: Push
Indiana is on the right track under Kevin Wilson, but the schedule is brutal in 2014. Non-conference games against Bowling Green, Missouri and North Texas are challenging, and the Hoosiers get Iowa in crossover play. With an explosive offense, Indiana could sneak into an upset somewhere along the way. However, the Hoosiers need new coordinator Brian Knorr to quickly find answers on a defense that allowed 7.4 yards per play in conference games last year.
 
 

Maryland (Opening Number: 6.5)

Braden Gall: Under
Maryland is in much better shape to compete in the new league than Rutgers, but three interesting non-conference games and landing in a brutal division makes a winning season seem far-fetched. This team still gets to a bowl game but does so at .500.
 
Steven Lassan: Under
I think six wins is reasonable for Maryland in 2014. The Terrapins are transitioning to a tougher league, but the offense will be dangerous if receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Getting to seven victories is possible if Maryland picks up a win in a swing game against Syracuse in non-conference play.
 
 

Michigan (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Push
Vegas knows what it’s doing. This team has talent, and the new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier should be an improvement. But the schedule is still hard enough that challenging for the division is likely out of the conversation.
 
Steven Lassan: Push
Plenty of talent in Ann Arbor, but Michigan’s win total rests on an unsettled offensive line and rushing attack. Hitting the over likely rests on swing games against Notre Dame and Penn State.
 
 

Michigan State (Opening Number: 9.5)

Braden Gall: Over
There are a lot of losses on defense but some serious talent returning as well. The offense is a strength for the first time in years, and Mark Dantonio is still running the show in East Lansing. Getting Ohio State at home makes the over almost a foregone conclusion.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
This pick seems like one of the safest on the board in the Big Ten. I think Michigan State could win at Oregon, but road trips to Penn State and Maryland (one week after playing Ohio State) could be tougher than some may expect. Even though Mark Dantonio needs to replace a few names on defense, the offense will be dangerous with the return of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford.
 
 

Ohio State (Opening Number: 10.5)

Braden Gall: Over
The Buckeyes have been 12-0 in the last two regular seasons and this defensive line is much better than the previous two teams. With Braxton Miller and Urban Meyer still joined at the hip on offense, there is no reason to think they won win at least 11 games again.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
There are few obstacles standing in the way of a playoff run by Ohio State. The offensive line is a concern, and the defense has to improve, but coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Braxton Miller is still one of the best combinations in the nation. The Buckeyes play at Penn State and Michigan State, but a split of those two games is likely.
 
 

Penn State (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Over
The offensive line is a major concern but the quarterback is special and the new coaching staff is one of the best in the land. Most importantly, the schedule is a cinch with two, maybe three, tough games all year.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
Perhaps our magazine prediction of 10 wins for Penn State is a bit high, but I think the over is very attainable. The Nittany Lions host both Ohio State and Michigan State this year and catch UCF without Blake Bortles in the opener. Also, new coach James Franklin always maximized the talent on the roster at Vanderbilt.
 
 

Rutgers (Opening Number: 4.5)

Braden Gall: Under
Rutgers got a really bad draw in its first Big Ten season with a tough non-conference game in Seattle against Washington State, as well as Wisconsin and Nebraska in crossover play. More than one Big Ten win is a long shot.
 
Steven Lassan: Under
Expect Ralph Friedgen to help the offense, but Rutgers still has concerns about its secondary and the consistency of quarterback Gary Nova. The schedule is brutal, and after winning six games in the American Athletic Conference, some regression is ahead in the Big Ten in 2014.
 
 

Big Ten West Division

 

Illinois (Opening Number: 5)

Braden Gall: Under
The talent simply isn’t there for Tim Beckman to work with. The offense under Bill Cubit will be solid, but this team has to play at Washington in non-conference action before getting Ohio State and Penn State in crossover matchups. Unlucky Illini win four times in 2014.
 
Steven Lassan: Under
Tempted to take the push here. I have no doubt Illinois is going to score a ton of points this year. Unfortunately, the Fighting Illini still has major concerns on defense. Perhaps Illinois pulls an upset at home against Minnesota or Penn State, but until I see improvement on defense, the under is the better pick.
 
 

Iowa (Opening Number: 8.5)

Braden Gall: Under
The schedule sets up nicely for Iowa, but this team rarely is good when it’s supposed to be. The defense is rebuilding and the offense is still one of the Big Ten’s worst (9th a year ago). The Hawkeyes will slip up once on the road (at Pitt, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois) and that gives me the under.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
Iowa is the biggest threat to Wisconsin in the West Division this year. Sure, the Hawkeyes need to replace all three linebackers, but that’s usually a strength under Kirk Ferentz. With the Badgers and Nebraska visiting Kinnick Stadium, Iowa will have a chance to surprise in 2014.
 
 

Minnesota (Opening Number: 6.5)

Braden Gall: Under
This program is heading in the right direction but some key pieces are gone from a team that won eight games last year. A non-conference road trip to TCU makes seven wins look very difficult.
 
Steven Lassan: Under
I think it’s likely the Golden Gophers could be a better overall team than they were in 2013, but it may not show in the win column in 2014. A road trip to TCU limits the win total to three in non-conference play, and the November slate is brutal with games against Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Seems like six is the perfect number for Minnesota.
 
 

Nebraska (Opening Number: 8)

Braden Gall: Push
Death, taxes and four losses for Bo Pelini. Another 8-4 season appears to be in the cards for Nebraska with two tricky non-conference game (at Fresno State, Miami) as well as a really tough road Big Ten slate: at Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa.
 
Steven Lassan: Push
This one is tough. I think eight or nine is the right number, and I could probably switch my opinion on that one on a daily basis. With Miami breaking in a new quarterback, the Sept. 20 matchup against the Hurricanes looks very winnable. However, the road slate in the Big Ten is challenging, and Bo Pelini’s team catches Michigan State in crossover play.
 
 

Northwestern (Opening Number: 6)

Braden Gall: Push
There is no way the Wildcats are as unlucky as they were a year ago (See: Hail Mary and injuries). Logic would indicate with a coach as solid as Pat Fitzgerald and just a touch of luck, Northwestern will at least get back to a bowl game.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
Bad luck and injuries hindered Northwestern last season. A healthy Venric Mark makes a big difference at running back, and the defense takes a step forward with seven starters returning.
 
 

Purdue (Opening Number: 3.5)

Braden Gall: Under
This team was so uncompetitive a year ago that winning three more games in 2014 seems highly unlikely. The West Division is easier but Notre Dame and Michigan State are on the slate too. A 3-9 season would be marked improvement (right?).
 
Steven Lassan: Under
Darrell Hazell’s second year at Kent State resulted in a six-game improvement from a 5-7 record in 2011. Don’t expect to see a similar jump in the win total, but I do see Purdue making small progress in 2014. However, small progress is winning only three games and being more competitive against Big Ten opponents.
 
 

Wisconsin (Opening Number: 9.5)

Braden Gall: Over
The schedule is very manageable with the exception of one tough non-conference game (LSU) and two tough divisional bouts. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the Badgers losing very often.
 
Steven Lassan: Over
There’s a ton of new faces stepping into the starting lineup for the Badgers in 2014. However, the schedule is very manageable, with the toughest games against Nebraska and Iowa taking place late in the year – allowing plenty of time for Wisconsin to develop its passing attack.
Teaser:
Big Ten Win Total Projections for 2014
Post date: Friday, June 6, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/mountain-west-2014-football-predictions
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2014 Mountain West Predictions

Mountain DivisionMWOverall 
1. Boise State (No. 46)7-111-2 
2. Utah State (No. 49)6-29-4 
3. Colorado State (No. 74)5-37-5 
4. Wyoming (No. 94)3-55-7 
5. Air Force (No. 105)1-74-8 
6. New Mexico (No. 106)1-73-9 
West DivisionMWOverall 
1. Fresno State (No. 62)8-57-1 
2. Nevada (No. 82)5-36-6 
3. San Diego State (No. 83)5-37-5 
4. UNLV (No. 101)4-45-8 
5. San Jose State (No. 103)3-54-8 
6. Hawaii (No. 118)1-72-11 
Mountain West Championship
 Boise State over Fresno State 
The Mountain West didn’t have any changes in membership or realignment talk this offseason, but it was a busy period for the conference’s top programs.
 
Boise State lost coach Chris Petersen to Washington, but former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was hired away from Arkansas State to keep the program at the top of the conference. Harsin inherits a team that returns 12 starters, but there are concerns for the Broncos on the offensive and defensive lines. Youth and injuries hurt Boise State’s overall depth last season, and a challenging schedule is on tap early in the year, including a neutral site game against Ole Miss.
 
Boise State is Athlon’s projected champion in the Mountain West, but the Broncos are ranked only No. 46 nationally. The Mountain West isn’t as strong as it was in 2013, largely due to the personnel losses at Utah State and Fresno State. The Aggies are a close No. 2 in the Mountain Division to Boise State, and quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back from a torn ACL suffered in early October. Keeton’s return is crucial for an offense that returns only three starters and must replace four key cogs on the line.
 
Even though Colorado State loses standout center Weston Richburg and running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams were a clear No. 3 in Athlon’s predictions for the Mountain Division. Quarterback Garrett Grayson leads an improving passing attack, and third-year coach Jim McElwain has the program trending in the right direction.
 
Rounding out the rest of the Mountain Division is Wyoming, Air Force and New Mexico. New Wyoming coach Craig Bohl was one of the top hires by any program this offseason, and the Cowboys could push for a bowl in 2014. Air Force and New Mexico will also show improvement, but both programs have to find answers on defense to push for a postseason appearance.
 
Fresno State is Athlon’s projected champion of the West Division, and the Bulldogs have a considerable edge over Nevada and San Diego State. Despite losing quarterback Derek Carr, Fresno State is still a Mountain West title contender, as receiver Josh Harper is one of the best in the conference, and eight starters return on an improving defense.
 

Mountain West Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

 
Las Vegas: MW vs. Pac-12
New Orleans: MW vs. Sun Belt
Poinsettia: MW vs. Navy
Hawaii: MW vs. C-USA
Famous Idaho Potato: MW vs. MAC
New Mexico: MW vs. C-USA
It’s a tossup between Nevada and San Diego State for the No. 2 spot, but the Wolf Pack should be better in the second year under Brian Polian. Quarterback Cody Fajardo battled injuries last season, and new coordinator Scott Boone should help a defense that allowed over 500 yards per game in 2013. The Aztecs should be solid once again, but a tough road schedule could prevent this team from matching last year’s eight wins.
 
UNLV made considerable progress under Bobby Hauck last year, but the Rebels are banned from postseason play. Hauck will have to fight motivation concerns all year, and standout guard Cameron Jefferson transferred to Arkansas this summer.
 
San Jose State has to find a replacement for quarterback David Fales, and coach Ron Caragher hopes the addition of veteran coordinator Greg Robinson will improve a defense that allowed 35.1 points per game in 2013.
 
Hawaii is picked to finish No. 6 in the West, as the Warriors have a handful of question marks on both sides of the ball. A full season from running back Joey Iosefa will help, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback, and the defense allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2013. The Rainbow Warriors showed some improvement in Norm Chow’s second year and need to take another step forward to escape the bottom of the West Division in 2014.
 
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014
 
 

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff

 

Five Key Conference Games to Watch in 2014

 
San Diego State at Fresno State (Oct. 3)
Aztecs lost by seven in overtime last year. Without Derek Carr and Davante Adams, can the Bulldogs hold off San Diego State once again?
 
Fresno State at Boise State (Oct. 17)
Rematch of last year’s entertaining 41-40 shootout at Fresno, and this game could be an early preview of the Mountain West title game in December.
 
San Diego State at Boise State (Nov. 15)
Aztecs have won two in a row over Boise State. Can San Diego State continue their success against the Broncos?
 
Fresno State at Nevada (Nov. 22)
If the Wolf Pack want to challenge for the West Division title, beating the Bulldogs on Nov. 22 is a must.
 
Utah State at Boise State (Nov. 29)
The Aggies have not won a game at Boise since 1996. A win over the Broncos on Nov. 29 could decide the Mountain Division.
Teaser:
Mountain West 2014 Football Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12-football-2014-predictions
Body:
2014 Pac-12 Predictions
North DivisionPac-12Overall
1. Oregon (No. 6)7-211-2
2. Stanford (No. 12)7-29-3
3. Washington (No. 24)5-49-4
4. Oregon State (No. 53)3-66-6
5. Washington State (No. 56)3-66-6
6. California (No. 76)1-82-10
South DivisionPac-12Overall
1. UCLA (No. 7)7-210-3
2. USC (No. 14)6-39-3
3. Arizona State (No. 16)6-39-3
4. Arizona (No. 45)4-57-5
5. Utah (No. 54)4-56-6
6. Colorado (No. 71)1-84-8
Pac-12 Championship
Oregon over UCLA

The SEC is still college football’s No. 1 conference, but the Pac-12 has made considerable progress in closing the gap over the last few seasons. The Pac-12 is positioned to produce a few contenders in the new playoff format, and the league features a wide-open battle for the No. 1 spot in 2014.
 

Oregon is Athlon’s projected champion of the Pac-12, but Stanford, UCLA and USC aren’t far behind. The Ducks need to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy and find new set of receivers after the loss of Bralon Addison for the year due to injury.


Stanford has defeated Oregon in each of the last two years and is a close No. 2 in the North. Both teams are breaking in new defensive coordinators, but there is a clear advantage in the schedule to Oregon. The Cardinal has a tougher slate ahead – one that features five teams projected to finish in Athlon’s top 25 for 2014. Despite the changes on the coaching staff, Stanford should be solid on defense, while quarterback Kevin Hogan should benefit from a stocked receiving corps.
 

Washington is projected to finish No. 3 in the North, and the Huskies will be an intriguing team to watch. With quarterback Cyler Miles back in the mix, Chris Petersen’s first year in Seattle got a lot easier. Petersen was regarded as one of the nation’s top coaches from his stint at Boise State, and he inherits a team with enough talent to push Oregon or Stanford in the North standings.


Rounding out the North Division projections is Oregon State at No. 4, Washington State at No. 5 and California at No. 6. The Golden Bears struggled in Sonny Dykes’ first year, but injuries played a major role in the team’s win total. With better luck in the health department, combined with improvement by quarterback Jared Goff, California will be a much-improved team in 2014. Oregon State and Washington State have a chance to surprise this year, but both teams have considerable question marks on the offensive line.
 

Much like the North Division, the South is crowded at the top. UCLA is Athlon’s projected champion, but USC is a close No. 2. The Bruins have one of the conference’s toughest schedules in 2014. However, UCLA hosts USC, Stanford and Oregon this year. The Bruins also return quarterback Brett Hundley and seven starters from one of the Pac-12’s top defenses.

USC appears to have the right coach in Steve Sarkisian, but the Trojans still have depth issues from NCAA sanctions. If USC avoids major injuries – especially on the offensive line – the Trojans could be a top-10 team in 2014.
 

Arizona State is the defending Pac-12 South champion, and Todd Graham’s team will be in the mix once again. However, the Sun Devils have several holes to fill on defense. Only two starters are back, and standouts like tackle Will Sutton must be replaced.
 

Arizona is an intriguing team to watch in 2014. The Wildcats are making steady gains under third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but there’s uncertainty at quarterback, and running back Ka’Deem Carey must be replaced.

Utah and Colorado are predicted to finish at the bottom of the South, but both teams will show improvement in 2014.
 

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

 

Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions
 

Stanford has beaten Oregon two years in a row and won the division title two years in a row, yet Oregon is the pick again. Please explain.

Maybe we’re slow learners, but we still like Oregon in the Pac-12. A healthy Marcus Mariota is perhaps the top quarterback in the country and a Heisman contender. When Mariota’s mobility was hindered due to injury, Oregon’s offense stalled. He’ll have to stay healthy, and with five returning offensive linemen, that’s possible. We’re a little curious how the Ducks’ defense will turn out with Nick Aliotti gone, but Oregon has a building block at every level of the defense, led by Thorpe-contending cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford should remain a Pac-12 contender, but the Cardinal lost much of the foundation of the last two teams, both on the offensive line and in the linebacker corps. Stanford should be able to reload, but that process might not be immediate. We also have questions about Kevin Hogan’s potential. He doesn’t need to be as dynamic a quarterback as many of his counterparts in the Pac-12, but he needs to give Stanford more than he did last season. It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in the North, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Oregon has a much easier schedule than Stanford in 2014. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Washington, with Chris Petersen now in charge, seems to be on the move. Can this team challenge Stanford for second place in the North?

Yes. In our rankings meeting, we even talked about Washington finishing as high as second in the North. Many of the big names are gone on offense, including Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but Washington’s offense should be in capable hands with highly regarded quarterback prospect Cyler Miles, who was reinstated to the team after spring practice. Five offensive line starters return, three of whom were honorable mention All-Pac-12 selections. The defense also returns seven starters. Steve Sarkisian rebuilt the roster with top-25 classes from 2010-13, so the core of this team is ready to compete. Throw in a Stanford team with question marks, and one that Washington has played well the last two seasons, and the Huskies could be ready to make a move. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

What gives UCLA the edge in the South? The Bruins have a tough schedule.

The schedule is tough, as UCLA draws Oregon and Stanford for the second consecutive season, plus a road trip to Washington from the North. But compared to last season, UCLA gets a bit of a break. The Bruins faced both Stanford and Oregon last year, both on the road and in back-to-back weeks. Having both games at home separated by seven weeks is a fortunate change of pace. In addition, UCLA may be equipped to handle a tough schedule. Brett Hundley will be one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, and he is surrounded by outstanding talent. With a coaching change at USC and the defense rebuilding at Arizona State, the timing has never been better for UCLA to compete for a Pac-12 title under Jim L. Mora. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Is there a potential sleeper in the North?

Washington is definitely a team that could surprise this year, but let’s use the sleeper designation on a team picked No. 5 in the standings – Washington State. The Cougars took a step forward under Mike Leach last year, finishing 6-7 and winning four games in Pac-12 play. With 12 starters back, Washington State could improve upon its win total even more in 2014. Quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 4,597 yards and 34 scores last season and has another offseason to learn Leach’s pass-first offense. The Cougars also have one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps, along with an underrated front seven on defense. The biggest areas of concern are in the secondary, and an offensive line that has just two starters back. Expect more improvement from Washington State in 2014, and this team has potential to pull an upset or two this year. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff


Arizona has a big question at quarterback. If the Wildcats find a suitable signal-caller, can they challenge?

That’s an interesting question, considering that at this point last season, no one would have picked B.J. Denker to be the quarterback to lead Arizona to an 8–5 season. With Denker gone, Arizona has a crowd at quarterback, but the pieces are there for the winner of the job to succeed — an experienced offensive line and standout receiving corps. We wonder how the running game will recover without Ka’Deem Carey, but, again, this is an area to trust Rich Rodriguez. The defense has improved under RichRod, but this is still a team with too many questions to realistically compete with UCLA, USC and Arizona State. Can this team challenge for a bowl berth and a surprising season? Yes. A South Division title? No. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

What is Utah’s outlook in the South?

After winning four conference games in their Pac-12 debut in 2011, the Utes are just 5-13 over the last two years. Utah has also missed a bowl for two consecutive seasons. Despite the losing record from 2012-13, the Utes could rebound back into the postseason in 2014. Sure, the schedule is tough. Crossover games against Oregon and Stanford will be challenging, and Utah has a non-conference date against Michigan. However, quarterback Travis Wilson is on track to return to the team, and new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen should help an offense that averaged only 29.2 points per game last season. As usual, Utah will be solid on defense. It may require an upset, but the Utes have a good shot to get back into the postseason in 2014. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

Which of Cal or Colorado is closer to being relevant?

Both teams are a long way from returning to where they’ve been, but Colorado is in better shape for 2014 and the short-term future. Both teams struggled to compete against Pac-12 teams last year, but Colorado defeated Cal 41–24 in mid-November. Cal had an exodus of players leaving early for the NFL Draft, plus a restructuring of the defensive coaching staff. Colorado, which returns 14 starters, had no such turnover in Mike MacIntyre’s second offseason. That’s going to give Colorado a leg up as the Buffaloes try to return to bowl contention. Both teams are improving, but it would be a surprise to see either in a bowl this year. – David Fox (@DavidFox615) 
 

2014 Pac-12 Team Previews

 

Pac-12 Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

At-Large Access Bowl: Pac-12 Champion*

Alamo: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

Holiday: Pac-12 vs. Big Ten

San Francisco: Pac-12 vs. Big Ten

Sun: Pac-12 vs. ACC

Las Vegas: Pac-12 vs. Mountain West

Buffalo Wild Wings: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff

NorthSouth
CaliforniaArizona
OregonArizona State
Oregon StateColorado
StanfordUCLA
WashingtonUSC
Washington StateUtah



 

















 

Pac-12 Notebook

 

by Dan Raley

 

Help Wanted

In search of a starting quarterback, Arizona had six players take significant snaps in spring practice. There were recycled signal-callers galore, including little-used transfers from LSU, Louisiana Tech, USC and Texas. Big ones, short ones, everything but a clear-cut leader. It was a reality TV show in the making. Amazing Race II.


No Pac-12 position battle has more candidates, uncertainty or wackiness than the Wildcats’ long-running audition for someone to run the huddle. Coach Rich Rodriguez is still taking applications, checking references.
 

Just two of the spring QB candidates played in an actual game at the position, and their experience comes with a disclaimer: Nick Isham (transferred from Arizona after spring practice) started seven times for Louisiana Tech in 2011 and wound up that season as a wide receiver; Jesse Scroggins got in for a solitary play to end a USC game in 2011. That’s it.
 

Rodriguez likely will need most of fall camp to find his guy. Hey, does Nick Foles have any eligibility left?


“If you’re trying to figure that out, good luck,” Rodriguez says of the competition.


For Pete’s Sake 

He may be considered one of college football’s bright coaching minds after compiling a gaudy 92–12 record at Boise State, but Chris Petersen still has a lot to prove at Washington: Mainly, he needs to prove that, unlike his two Broncos coaching predecessors, he can make a splash at a bigger school.
 

In 2000, Dirk Koetter left Boise State — after collecting consecutive bowl victories and posting a 26–10 record — and landed at Arizona State, where he was fired after posting a mediocre 40–34 mark over six seasons. Dan Hawkins compiled a 53–11 record and won two of four bowl games in Boise through 2005, but he bombed at Colorado, winning just 19 of 58 outings in the Big 12. He was fired, too. 


“We just know our way,” a hopeful Petersen says of his Broncos-turned-Huskies staff. “It’s been successful for us.”


Leach’s Reach 

One of the Pac-12’s major developments in 2013 was Washington State’s return to the postseason. It had been a while — since the Holiday Bowl against Texas in 2003, to be exact. This particular step was an important barometer for rebuilding coach Mike Leach, overlooking the fact that the Cougars blew a 22-point lead to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl and lost 48–45.
 

“Even though we all felt like we left meat on the table, the program hadn’t been to a bowl game in 10 years,” Leach says. “So from that standpoint, we’re ahead of schedule.”


Oregon Identity Crisis

Arik Armstead is a 6’8”, 280-pound Oregon junior and a player long regarded as one of the top pro prospects in the Pac-12. The only question is where. The Ducks list him as a defensive tackle. He prefers defensive end. NFL scouts say, with his footwork, he should be an offensive tackle. One thing he’s not anymore: a college basketball player. After two abbreviated seasons with the Oregon hoops team, Armstead decided he was done trying to be a two-sport athlete and was ready to concentrate solely on football. “I have decided to focus my full attention on academics and being the best football player for the University of Oregon I could possibly be,” he said.
 

Secondary Issue

The late hiring didn’t get a lot of outside attention, coming on the eve of spring practice, but Stanford picked up one of the college game’s true characters in defensive backs coach Duane Akina. An inspirational and well-traveled leader, the fiery Akina was responsible for Texas being nicknamed “DBU” in his 13 seasons there, played a key role in the assembly of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense in his 14 seasons there, and first learned the game while handling two roles for Washington’s legendary coach, Don James, as a graduate assistant coach and Warren Moon’s backup quarterback. That’s a track record that's hard for anyone to beat.
 

Pros and Cons 

UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley took the bold step of passing on a certain NFL career and returning for one more season in Westwood. It was a decision worth millions. Had he come out, pro scouts considered Hundley a top-10 pick, possibly the top QB on the draft board.

Hundley, who will be a Heisman Trophy contender, consulted with former Bruins turned pro players in Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones, with the former telling him, “There are some things in life that you don’t want to rush.” Hundley’s decision likely would have been far different had UCLA coach Jim Mora accepted an offer to coach at Washington, his alma mater.

 

Pac-12 Coordinator Carousel

 

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

 

Arizona State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Chris Ball, Paul Randolph; New: Chris Ball, Keith Patterson

Randolph is still on staff and will continue to coach Arizona State’s defensive ends. Patterson, the defensive coordinator at West Virginia the past two seasons, has known Arizona State head coach Todd Graham for decades. The two were college roommates at East Central University in Texas, and Patterson previously worked for Graham at Pitt.
 

California: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Andy Buh; New: Art Kaufman

Buh is still at California but not in a coaching role. He was reassigned to a new role in the athletic department in March. Kaufman was fired as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in January despite leading the Bearcats’ defense to a final ranking of No. 9 nationally.
 

Oregon: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Nick Aliotti; New: Don Pellum

Aliotti retired following the 2013 season. Pellum was promoted after serving as a position coach — most recently linebackers — at Oregon since 1993. This is his first stint as a defensive coordinator on any level.
 

Oregon State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Danny Langsdorf; New: John Garrett

Langsdorf took a job as the quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants. Garrett was the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013 after a six-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys. His brother, Jason, is the Cowboys’ head coach.
 

Stanford: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Derek Mason; New: Lance Anderson

Mason is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. Anderson was promoted from his position as outside linebackers coach to defensive coordinator.
 

UCLA: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Lou Spanos; New: Jeff Ulbrich

Spanos was hired by the Tennessee Titans to coach linebackers. Ulbrich was promoted after serving as UCLA’s linebackers coach the past two seasons. 
 

USC: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Lane Kiffin, Clay Helton; New: Clay Helton

Kiffin was fired as the Trojans’ head coach last October. He is now the offensive coordinator at Alabama. Helton was retained by new USC coach Steve Sarkisian.
 

USC: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Clancy Pendergast; New: Justin Wilcox

Pendergast was not retained by Steve Sarkisian and did not have a job as of late April. Wilcox followed Sarkisian from Washington, where he had been the Huskies’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons.
 

Utah: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Dennis Erickson, Brian Johnson; New: Dave Christensen

Erickson was demoted and will now only serve as the running backs coach. Johnson, a former starting quarterback at Utah, left in February to take a job as the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. Christensen was fired as the head coach at Wyoming following the 2013 season.
 

Washington: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Eric Kiesau; New: Jonathan Smith

Kiesau is now the wide receivers coach at Kansas. Smith, a former standout quarterback at Oregon State, previously was the quarterbacks coach at Boise State under new Washington coach Chris Petersen.
 

Washington: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Justin Wilcox; New: Pete Kwiatkowski

Wilcox followed Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC. Kwiatkowski was the defensive coordinator at Boise State the past four seasons. This is his first job in the Pac-12.

Teaser:
Pac-12 Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-win-total-projections-2014
Body:

The start of the 2014 college football season is still over 80 days away, but there is no shortage of news to fill the offseason in the SEC. The preview magazines for 2014 are already on newsstands, and Vegas isn’t far behind with its projections for the upcoming season.

CG Technology has released its win total projections for 2014, with Alabama picked the highest at the over/under of 10.5. The lowest team in the projections was Kentucky at just 3.5.

As expected, the East was a tossup. South Carolina checks in at the over/under of 9.5, while Georgia is on the board at nine. CG Technology also thinks Florida makes a big jump in the win total this year, as the Gators are placed at eight.

There is plenty of time to refine predictions over the next few months, but with the release of the win total projections, let’s take a look at the early thoughts on the over/under projections.

Athlon’s Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) give their early thoughts on CG Technology’s projections for 2014.

SEC Win Total Projections for 2014: Over, Under or Push
 

East Division

Florida
Opening Number: 8

Braden Gall: Under
A four-game improvement isn’t out of the question and this offense should be dramatically improved. But Alabama, Florida State and LSU are just the tip of the scheduling iceberg in Gainesville this year. I’ll say 7-5.

Steven Lassan: Under
Under, but not by much. Florida has too much talent to finish 4-8 again, and the Gators should have better luck in the injury department. New coordinator Kurt Roper should help Jeff Driskel develop into a solid quarterback, and Florida should be solid on defense once again. Crossover games against LSU and Alabama keep the Gators’ win total under eight.
 

Georgia
Opening Number: 9

Braden Gall: Push
Two tough non-conference games and some brutal SEC tests (at South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, at Mizzou) means that the Bulldogs could win the East at 9-3 even if South Carolina has a better overall record.

Steven Lassan: Over
Georgia is my pick to win the SEC East this year, and I think the Bulldogs could push for 10 or 11 wins. Road games against Missouri and South Carolina are swing dates, and the annual trip to Jacksonville against Florida is never easy. The addition of Jeremy Pruitt as defensive coordinator, along with a healthy Todd Gurley at running back is enough for Georgia to get to 10 victories.
 

Kentucky
Opening Number: 3.5

Braden Gall: Over
The schedule is brutal, but the overall talent is improving for the Wildcats and this coaching staff has to be good for two more wins, right? Only one SEC win likely gets Kentucky to four wins.

Steven Lassan: Over
I see three guaranteed wins for Kentucky – Tennessee-Martin, Ohio and ULM. On paper, it’s hard to find a win in SEC play, but the Wildcats made progress under Mark Stoops last year and should take another step forward in 2014. I don’t know which team it will be, but I think Kentucky beats someone in the SEC this year.
 

Missouri
Opening Number: 8

Braden Gall: Push
I really want to pick Mizzou to win the East but a couple of tough road games temper my expectations . I will take the push, however, due to a very weak non-conference slate. A 5-3 SEC mark wins the over on this bet.

Steven Lassan: Push
Missouri’s slate isn’t overwhelming, but it seems there are a lot of swing games. The Tigers play at Texas A&M and Tennessee late in the year – two teams that will improve as the season progresses. Could easy take the over here if Missouri finds a replacement for receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
 

South Carolina
Opening Number: 9.5

Braden Gall: Over
There are holes to plug on both sides (QB/DL) but this is a great year to rebuild in the East and the Gamecocks schedule isn’t overly taxing. South Carolina gets a lot of key games at home.

Steven Lassan: Over
Over, but it’s close. Road dates against Florida and Auburn will be challenging, and I like Georgia to win in Columbia this year. Even with the departure of quarterback Connor Shaw and a couple of key losses on the defensive line, South Carolina will be a top-10 team.
 

Tennessee
Opening Number: 5

Braden Gall: Push
This is the hardest schedule in the SEC in 2014 and it includes a road trip to Oklahoma in the non-conference. Even the Vols pull an upset, Tennessee has to win three SEC games to reach bowl eligibility and that is difficult to see.

Steven Lassan: Over
Admittedly, this is going to be tough. However, as I mentioned with Kentucky, I think Tennessee beats someone we don’t expect. The Volunteers should go 3-1 in non-conference play and will need to pickup three wins against SEC foes. The late-season slate – Kentucky, Missouri and at Vanderbilt – might be the best opportunity for the Volunteers to get to six victories.
 

Vanderbilt
Opening Number: 6

Braden Gall: Over
The non-conference schedule (or lack there of) provides four locks for the Dores so a 3-5 mark in the SEC would win the over. This is the toughest conference slate Vandy has played three years but three SEC wins feels very doable for a team with 18 wins in the last two seasons.

Steven Lassan: Push
Derek Mason has a tough assignment ahead as he tries to replace James Franklin after back-to-back nine-win seasons. If LSU transfer Stephen Rivers brings stability to the quarterback position, the Commodores have the defense and rushing attack to push for seven or eight wins. Vanderbilt should go 4-0 in non-conference play, with swing games against Kentucky and Mississippi State the key to whether or not the Commodores hit the over.

 

West Division

Alabama
Opening Number: 10.5

Braden Gall: Over
But just barely. I have Bama winning the SEC and playing in the playoff so 11-1 is almost a must. Frankly, this isn’t an overly troublesome SEC schedule, especially for a team as talented as Bama.

Steven Lassan: Over
I get the preseason concerns about Alabama and the concern at quarterback. But let’s consider this: Only one of the Crimson Tide’s victories was decided by seven points or less last year (Texas A&M). Alabama still has plenty of talent, including a defense and rushing attack that will be among the best in the nation. It seems likely the Crimson Tide drops a game, but I can’t see two losses in the regular season.
 

Arkansas
Opening Number: 4.5

Braden Gall: Under
This one will be tight but with a really tough trip to Lubbock in the non-conference and another nasty slate in the SEC, it’s hard to find more than four wins for Bret Bielema and the Hogs.

Steven Lassan: Under
Much like Kentucky, Arkansas is going to show improvement in 2014. However, the SEC West is college football’s toughest division and there are few guaranteed wins. I would slot the Razorbacks in for wins against Nicholls State, Northern Illinois and UAB and bank on this team finding one in conference play. After all, Arkansas nearly beat LSU last year and lost by seven to Mississippi State on Nov. 23.
 

Auburn
Opening Number: 9.5

Braden Gall: Under
This might be the toughest team to tackle (literally) in 2014. The offense should be unstoppable again but the defense has questions and the road schedule is nasty: at Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Miss. State and Kansas State.

Steven Lassan: Over
This might be the toughest prediction on the board. Auburn’s offense is lethal even without tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason. The defense will show improvement in the second year under coordinator Ellis Johnson. However, the biggest obstacle to Auburn’s win total is the schedule. Road dates against Mississippi State, Kansas State, Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss are all games the Tigers could lose.
 

LSU
Opening Number: 9

Braden Gall: Push
The Tigers have issues under center and play a pretty nasty slate, including a neutral site game with Wisconsin. The talent is still there to post another 9-10 wins but the rest of the league appears to have caught up with Les Miles. I'd go under if I had to pick one but Vegas seems to have this one right on.

Steven Lassan: Push
Don’t see LSU hitting the over, but I could see the under. The Tigers have loads of talent, but Les Miles’ team is very young at some key spots – quarterback, defensive tackle and wide receiver. The schedule isn’t terribly taxing, but Ole Miss and Mississippi State have closed the gap and road dates against Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida will be a challenge.
 

Mississippi State
Opening Number: 7

Braden Gall: Push
I really want to take the over and Hail State is surging on defense and under center. But the slate is still really tough and this team rarely finishes better than 3-5 in SEC play.

Steven Lassan: Over
The Bulldogs should be 4-0 in non-conference play, which means they need to get four wins in SEC play to hit the over. That seems reasonable with crossover games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, along with home dates against Texas A&M and Arkansas.
 

Ole Miss
Opening Number: 7.5

Braden Gall: Over
This feels like one of the safer bets on the board as the talent for Ole Miss is as strong as its ever been. It also gets some big swing games at home. An 8-4 seasons feels almost like a lock with 9-3 well within reach.

Steven Lassan: Over
There’s little doubt Ole Miss is trending in the right direction. The talent level is improving under coach Hugh Freeze, and the Rebels should have a healthy Bo Wallace at quarterback and C.J. Johnson at defensive end in 2014. Boise State and UL Lafayette are tough non-conference matchups, but with Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State visiting Oxford, the potential is there for Ole Miss to play spoiler. 8-4 is reasonable and don’t rule out a 9-3 finish.
 

Texas A&M
Opening Number: 7

Braden Gall: Push
This number is right on. The Aggies will really struggle early in the year but could be very dangerous late in the season (especially, with all those home games). Four easy wins in the non-conference makes the under tough to see.

Steven Lassan: Push
Tempted to take the under here, but I will guess Texas A&M finds a way to get to seven victories. The defense is a huge concern and losing linebacker Darian Claiborne and tackle Isaiah Golden certainly doesn’t help. The Aggies still have a ton of talent, and the offense will score plenty. Expect Texas A&M to improve throughout the year, making this team a threat to Missouri or LSU at the end of 2014.

Teaser:
SEC Win Total Projections for 2014
Post date: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-finds-its-starting-qb-lsu-transfer-stephen-rivers
Body:

Vanderbilt heads into its first season under Derek Mason with uncertainty at quarterback, but the Commodores officially added LSU transfer Stephen Rivers into the mix on Wednesday. Rivers graduated from LSU, so he will be eligible to play immediately in 2014. The junior is expected to start for Vanderbilt in 2014, with Patton Robinette or Johnny McCrary battling for the No. 2 job.

In three years at LSU, Rivers threw two passes in mop-up duty and played in four career games.

The Alabama native is the brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and was a three-star recruit as a high school senior.

Although Rivers doesn’t have much experience, his addition bolsters a thin quarterback depth chart for Mason.

At 6-foot-7 and 223 pounds, Rivers is an intriguing prospect and will have to get acclimated to the offense in a hurry. Vanderbilt opens the year with Temple, followed by a SEC date against Ole Miss in Week 2.

New coordinator Karl Dorrell is expected to lean heavily on the ground game, but if Rivers develops into a solid option at quarterback, the Commodores should reach a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season.
 

Teaser:
Vanderbilt Finds its Starting QB in LSU Transfer Stephen Rivers
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 10:29
Path: /college-football/mac-football-2014-predictions
Body:

 2014 MAC Predictions

East DivisionMACOverall 
1. Bowling Green (No. 59)8-011-2 
2. Ohio (No. 95)5-37-5 
3. Akron (No. 97)5-36-6 
4. Buffalo (No. 104)4-46-6 
5. Kent State (No. 114)3-54-8 
6. Miami, Ohio (No. 120)2-63-9 
7. UMass (No. 121)2-62-10 
West DivisionMACOverall 
1. Toledo (No. 75)6-27-6 
2. N. Illinois (No. 77)6-28-4 
3. Ball State (No. 79)5-38-4 
4. Central Michigan (No. 107)4-45-7 
5. Western Michigan (No. 119)1-73-9 
6. Eastern Michigan (No. 124)1-72-10 
MAC Championship
 BGSU over Toledo 
College football’s new four-team playoff may have increased the gap between the power conference teams and the programs from conferences like the MAC, but the opportunity is still there for a team from outside the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC to make a splash on the national stage.
 
Northern Illinois crashed the BCS for the MAC during the 2012 season, and Bowling Green should be in contention for the top spot from teams outside of the power conferences. With college football’s new postseason format, the highest-ranked team from the five non-power conferences will play in one of college football’s top bowl games each year.
 
Guided by first-year coach Dino Babers, the Falcons are Athlon’s pick to win the MAC. Bowling Green averaged 34.8 points per game under former coach Dave Clawson, but with Babers at the controls and the return of quarterback Matt Johnson, the Falcons could push for 40 points a contest in 2014. Bowling Green’s schedule is very favorable, as a road trip to Toledo in late November is the toughest game on the slate.
 
After Bowling Green, the East appears to be up for grabs. Ohio versus Akron for the No. 2 spot was a huge debate in Athlon’s preseason prediction meeting, as the Bobcats have five consecutive winning seasons, while the Zips are making steady progress under Terry Bowden. The Nov. 18 road date in Athens could decide whether Ohio edges Akron for the No. 2 spot, or if the Zips are the biggest challenger to Bowling Green in the East.
 
Buffalo loses a handful of key players – including linebacker Khalil Mack and running back Branden Oliver – but Jeff Quinn’s team should remain in bowl contention. The Bulls return 11 starters, and quarterback Joe Licata threw only eight interceptions on 402 attempts last season. Buffalo will ask more of Licata in 2014, but a revamped receiving corps and a defense with seven new starters will be critical to the Bulls’ position in the MAC standings.
 
Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and UMass are the final three teams in the East predictions. The Minutemen and RedHawks should improve under new coaching staffs, while the Golden Flashes need to restock the offensive line and navigate a tough schedule that features crossover games against Northern Illinois and Toledo. The RedHawks were active in the transfer department under new coach Chuck Martin, with Notre Dame’s Andrew Hendrix (QB) and Lo Wood (CB) expected to play key roles in 2014. The Minutemen also landed a new quarterback in former Marshall product Blake Frohnapfel.
 
While the East Division pecking order seems to be more clear, the West Division is up for grabs. Three teams – Toledo, Ball State and Northern Illinois – are the frontrunners in 2014. However, there’s not much separation among those three programs. The Cardinals need to replace quarterback Keith Winning and receiver Willie Snead, but Pete Lembo – the No. 1 coach in the MAC, should find enough answers early in the year to keep Ball State in contention for the West Division title.
 
Toledo is Athlon’s pick to win the West, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Northern Illinois or Ball State finish No. 1. The Rockets should be explosive on offense with a standout offensive line and a solid set of skill players. Finding a new quarterback is the top priority for coach Matt Campbell.
 
Northern Illinois loses quarterback Jordan Lynch and safety Jimmie Ward, but there’s enough returning talent to compete for the West Division title. And it certainly doesn’t hurt the Huskies’ MAC West title hopes that Toledo visits DeKalb in November.
 

Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014

 

MAC Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

GoDaddy: MAC vs. Sun Belt
Camellia: MAC vs. Sun Belt
Boca Raton: MAC vs. C-USA
Famous Idaho Potato: MAC vs. Mountain West
Bahamas: MAC vs. C-USA
Central Michigan returns 16 starters and should have a chance to get back to bowl eligibility in 2014. However, the Chippewas are just 1-11 under Dan Enos against the top three teams in the MAC West. For Central Michigan to take the next step under Enos, quarterback Cooper Rush needs to develop after a promising freshman season, and the defense has to get better against the run.
 
Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan rank as the bottom teams in the West Division, but there are signs of progress at both programs. The Broncos signed the MAC’s top recruiting class, while the Eagles seem to have found the right coach in Chris Creighton.
 

 

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the College Football Playoff

 

Teaser:
MAC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2014-predictions
Body:

2014 Big Ten Predictions

East DivisionBig TenOverall 
1. Ohio State (No. 3)7-112-1 
2. Michigan State (No. 11)7-110-2 
3. Penn State (No. 22)6-210-2 
4. Michigan (No. 32)5-38-4 
5. Maryland (No. 48)3-56-6 
6. Indiana (No. 58)2-65-7 
7. Rutgers (No. 73)1-74-8 
West DivisionBig TenOverall 
1. Wisconsin (No. 15)7-110-3 
2. Iowa (No. 26)6-29-3 
3. Nebraska (No. 29)5-39-3 
4. Northwestern (No. 51)3-56-6 
5. Minnesota (No. 52)3-56-6 
6. Illinois (No. 68)1-74-8 
7. Purdue (No. 80)0-83-9 
Big Ten Championship
 Ohio State over Wisconsin 
It’s a new era in the Big Ten in 2014. The conference expands by two to become a 14-team league, as Maryland joins from the ACC, while Rutgers was added from the American Athletic Conference.
 
While Rutgers and Maryland joining the league is a key offseason storyline for the Big Ten, the debate at No. 1 in the East Division will dominate the headlines. Michigan State is the defending conference champion, but the Spartans have key holes to fill. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough are big losses, and the defense also has to replace both starting tackles. Even though Michigan State has won two out of the last three games against Ohio State, the Buckeyes are Athlon’s pick to win the Big Ten in 2014. Quarterback Braxton Miller is among the nation’s best players, and coach Urban Meyer has assembled plenty of talent at the skill positions. Ohio State also has the nation’s No. 1 defensive line for 2014. Filling the holes in the back seven of the defense is critical for the Buckeyes’ chances of making an appearance in college football’s four-team playoff.
 
Penn State and Michigan are the two wildcard teams to watch in the East. New coach James Franklin inherits a solid roster, especially with sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg on the verge of a huge season. The biggest obstacle for the Nittany Lions will be an offensive line that is thin on proven depth. Michigan also has plenty of talent, but the Wolverines underachieved in 2013. Will the hire of Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator resurrect an offense that averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game last year? Quarterback Devin Gardner needs to be more consistent and more targets need to emerge at receiver.
 
Indiana is another team that could easily outperform its projected ranking, but the Hoosiers have a brutal schedule, along with a struggling defense. If Indiana can find answers on defense under new coordinator Brian Knorr, the Hoosiers should make a bowl for the first time under Kevin Wilson.

Big Ten Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

 
Big Ten Champ: At-Large Access Bowl*
Orange: Big Ten/ND/SEC vs. ACC No. 1
Capital One: SEC No. 2 vs. Big Ten/ACC
Outback: SEC No. 3-8 vs. Big Ten
Holiday: Big Ten vs. Pac-12 No. 3
San Francisco: Big Ten vs. Pac-12 No. 4
Pinstripe: Big Ten vs. ACC
Gator/Music City: Big Ten/ACC vs. SEC
Detroit: Big Ten vs. ACC
Heart of Dallas: Big Ten vs. C-USA
 
* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff
Despite returning only eight starters, Wisconsin is Athlon’s favorite to win the Big Ten’s West Division. The Badgers’ passing attack is a work in progress, but running back Melvin Gordon can carry the offense until new receivers emerge. The defense does not return a starter in its front seven.
 
Just behind Wisconsin in the West Division is Iowa and Nebraska. There’s not much separating the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers for the No. 2 spot. Iowa has a favorable schedule and will have a chance to win the division with Nebraska and Wisconsin both visiting Iowa City in late November.
 
Northwestern and Minnesota are darkhorses to watch, especially as the Wildcats regain the services of standout running back Venric Mark.
 
Illinois and Purdue round out the West Division predictions for 2014. Both teams are looking for signs of progress after a disappointing 2013, and there are reasons to be optimistic for the Boilermakers and Fighting Illini. However, considerable improvement needs to be made before either team makes a bowl game this year.
 
Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
 

Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions

 

Michigan State beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Was there much thought to picking the Spartans to win the Big Ten?

We projected Michigan State and Ohio State to have similar records, but the Buckeyes are one of our picks to reach the College Football Playoff. The Spartans should be in the mix again, and they have the advantage of playing Ohio State at home. Even though Michigan State won head-to-head last season and won the Rose Bowl while Ohio State lost in the Orange, the Buckeyes have won 22 of their first 24 games under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes could have the top quarterback in the league and the top defensive line in the nation. True, Ohio State’s defense struggled at times last season, especially against the pass, but we like the additions of Larry Johnson and Chris Ash to the coaching staff. It’s tough to see Ohio State’s defense being such a liability once again. Michigan State’s offense rounded into form by the end of the season, but the Spartans are replacing three starters on the offensive line. And while we have faith in the defense, major pieces like two starting linebackers and lockdown corner Darqueze Dennard need to be replaced. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Penn State is still short-handed due to NCAA sanctions. Doesn’t third in the division seem a little high?

The depth concerns will be notable at Penn State for a few more years. Injuries here and there certainly will hinder the Nittany Lions’ ability to move up in the East division. But if we know anything about new Penn State coach James Franklin, it’s that he can thrive in adverse situations. At Vanderbilt, he started without an SEC-caliber roster and no track record of success. At Penn State, he’ll have to overcome having fewer players than his competition. At the same time, though, he’ll have something he never had at Vanderbilt — an elite quarterback. That should be an exciting prospect for Franklin. The main competition for the No. 3 spot in the East is probably Michigan, a team Penn State defeated 43–40 in four overtimes last season. That perhaps indicates that the gap between Penn State and Michigan is narrow, but given the roster circumstances, should it really be that close? – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Maryland or Rutgers: Which Big Ten newcomer will have a better record in 2014?

Maryland. Rutgers has played in a bowl in eight of the last nine years, but the Scarlet Knights finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last season and have personnel concerns at quarterback and in the secondary. Maryland is in much better shape as it enters the Big Ten, as receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return to full strength after season-ending injuries in 2013. The defense also returns nine starters and swing games against Iowa and Rutgers are at home. Both teams will have a challenge transitioning to the Big Ten, but Maryland has the edge in personnel and should edge the Scarlet Knights in the final standings. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014
 

Wisconsin lost a lot of key personnel yet is still the pick for No. 1 in the West. Was there much debate?

Not really. Wisconsin still returns Melvin Gordon and four starters on the offensive line. That’s the perfect recipe for the Badgers to win games. In addition, being the best team in the Big Ten West doesn’t necessarily make Wisconsin one of the best teams in the league. The Badgers are our third-ranked team in the Big Ten overall, behind Ohio State and Michigan State. Simply put, most of the West simply has more obvious flaws than Wisconsin, which ranked in the top 20 nationally in both total offense and total defense a year ago. We’re not quite ready to cast our lot with either Nebraska or Iowa or a sleeper like Minnesota or Northwestern to win the division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Northwestern or Minnesota: Which team has a better chance to win the West in 2014?

Close call, but we like Northwestern over Minnesota. The Wildcats have experienced a lot of bad luck over the last two seasons, and an injury to running back Venric Mark limited the offense in 2013. Mark is expected to return to full strength by the fall, and the offense could benefit from having one quarterback (Trevor Siemian) and not a two-quarterback system. The defense returns seven starters and improvement is expected after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in points allowed. Minnesota surprised last year by finishing 8-5 and earning wins over Nebraska and Penn State. The Golden Gophers should be in the mix for another bowl, but developing a consistent passing attack and replacing standout tackle Ra’Shede Hageman are two huge question marks going into 2014. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 
 

Michigan and Nebraska are both storied programs picked to finish in the middle of the pack. Which team is more likely to surprise in a good way?

That’s a tough question and probably a symptom of why these powers have been so infuriating of late. Michigan was actually plus-10 in turnover margin during the last nine games and still finished the season on a 3–6 slide. Clearly, Michigan has its share of holes to fill. Nebraska might be more likely to surprise. For one, we expect the West to be the weaker of the two new Big Ten divisions. 

Nebraska has the bread-and-butter of its offense in place with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross running the ball, and the Cornhuskers managed to win nine games despite quarterback injuries and turnover problems (minus-11 margin) a year ago. If things start to go Nebraska’s way, the Cornhuskers may be in a better position to make noise in the Big Ten title race. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Is a bowl a reasonable expectations for Illinois?

It should be. The Fighting Illini averaged 400.8 yards per game on offense last season, but the defense struggled by allowing 6.9 yards per play. Illinois will be dangerous on offense once again in 2014, especially with talented sophomore Wes Lunt stepping into the starting lineup at quarterback. Lunt needs a few receivers to emerge, but running back Josh Ferguson is an All-Big Ten candidate, and four starters are back on the line. While the offense will be deadly, Illinois’ defense is still a huge concern. There’s hope for improvement with eight starters back, but the overall talent is still a concern. The Fighting Illini will be favored in three non-conference games and an early October home date against Purdue. But where will the other two wins come from to make a bowl? Perhaps Nov. 22 versus Penn State or Oct. 25 against Minnesota? A bowl is a reasonable expectation, but the odds are stacked against Illinois to get to six wins. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 
 
 

Eastern Bloc

Many Big Ten fans are glad to see Legends and Leaders go, but the league’s new geographically named divisions create another potential complaint — lack of balance. The East Division appears to be significantly stronger entering 2014 and could stay that way if traditional powers Michigan and Penn State regain form.
 
Michigan State moves into the East after a breakthrough season that ended with Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships and a No. 3 ranking in the final polls. The Spartans have won 11 or more games in three of the past four seasons and aren’t slowing down under Mark Dantonio. Ohio State also will be in the East after winning the past two Leaders division titles and going 16–0 in regular-season Big Ten contests under Urban Meyer.
 
Although Michigan comes off of a disappointing 7–6 season and Penn State is midway through a four-year period of severe NCAA sanctions, the Big Ten East, some fear, could tip the scales much like the SEC West, Big 12 South and Pac-12 North have in previous seasons.
 

Bowl Reset

The Big Ten will feature not only a new bowl lineup in 2014, but also a new method for assigning teams to the postseason.
 
New additions include both the Holiday Bowl and the Fight Hunger Bowl, which give the Big Ten two more California destinations and two more matchups against the Pac-12. The Big Ten also will appear in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, and a new bowl in Detroit to be managed by the Detroit Lions. Big Ten teams will play in the Orange Bowl, the Music City Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl on a rotating basis.
 
The league retains agreements with the Rose, Capital One, Outback, Gator (rotating) and Heart of Dallas (rotating).
 
The Big Ten also is adopting a tiered system for assigning teams to bowls, designed to keep matchups fresh. Bowl officials will be involved, but the league will have more control over which team goes where. For example, at least five different Big Ten teams will appear in both the Holiday and Fight Hunger bowls during the next six years.
 

Home Runs

The Big Ten historically has been a running back’s league, and this season should be no different.
 
The league’s top two rushers return in Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, both of whom spurned the NFL Draft for another year in college. Michigan State returns a 1,400-yard rusher in Jeremy Langford, while Minnesota’s David Cobb, who gained 1,202 yards in his first year as a featured ball-carrier, also is back in the fold. Indiana and Illinois both return explosive backs in Tevin Coleman and Josh Ferguson, respectively, and Venric Mark, an All-Big Ten selection in 2012, is back at Northwestern for a fifth year after missing most of last season with leg injuries.
 
Depth also should be a strength around the league as both Iowa and Penn State return their top three backs from 2013. Minnesota should have more options with redshirt freshman Berkeley Edwards and decorated recruit Jeff Jones entering the fold. Teams like Maryland, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska look well-stocked in the backfield as well.
 

Pac-12 Connection 

The Big Ten’s scheduling alliance with the Pac-12 never came to fruition, but the leagues will see plenty of one another in the future, thanks to individual agreements. Michigan State begins a home-and-home series with Oregon this fall. Nebraska will face the Ducks in 2016 and 2017, as well as Colorado four times between 2018-24.
 
Wisconsin has finalized series with both Washington and Washington State, while Northwestern finishes a series with Cal this fall and is set to play Stanford six times between 2015-22. Rutgers will open two of the next three seasons in Seattle against Pac-12 foes Washington State (2014) and Washington (2016). Michigan faces two Pac-12 teams in 2015 (Utah and Oregon State) and another (Colorado) in 2016.
 
Illinois wraps up a series this fall against Washington.
 
Related Content: Projected Final Ranking for All 128 College Football Teams for 2014
 

Coaching Shuffle 

The Big Ten had only one complete coaching overhaul (Penn State) and fewer total changes (27) than either of the previous two offseasons. But there were several intriguing hires around the conference.
 
Longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson had a chance to remain on James Franklin’s staff, but after twice being passed over for the top job in Happy Valley, he left for rival Ohio State.
 
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill lost his first assistant since taking the job, as linebackers coach Bill Miller departed for Florida State. Maryland added former NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan McCardell to its staff to coach wideouts. Speaking of the Terrapins, the Big Ten now features current Maryland boss, Randy Edsall; his predecessor, Ralph Friedgen, the new offensive coordinator at Rutgers; and Franklin, who had been coach-in-waiting behind Friedgen.
 
Four programs — Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern — kept all of their coaches from last season.
 

Big Ten Coordinator Carousel

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
 

Indiana: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Kevin Johns, Seth Littrell; 
New: Kevin Johns
Littrell left to take the offensive coordinator position at North Carolina. Johns, the co-coordinator last season, has been at Indiana since 2011. He will also coach the quarterbacks and wide receivers. 
 

Indiana: Defensive Coordinator

Old: William Inge, Doug Mallory; 
New: William Inge, Brian Knorr
Mallory was fired after the Hoosiers finished last in the Big Ten in total defense for the third straight season. Inge will remain as co-coordinator and linebackers coach. Knorr was the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest last year and served as the head coach at Ohio from 2001-04.
 

Michigan: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Al Borges; 
New: Doug Nussmeier
Borges was fired after three seasons at Michigan (five total with Michigan coach Brady Hoke). Nussmeier was the offensive coordinator at Alabama the past two seasons and was previously the coordinator at Washington.
 

Ohio State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Luke Fickell, Everett Withers; 
New: Chris Ash, Luke Fickell
Withers is now the head coach at James Madison. Ash was the defensive coordinator at Arkansas last year and was previously the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.
 

Penn State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Bill O’Brien; 
New: John Donovan
O’Brien left Penn State after two years and is now the head coach of the Houston Texans. Donovan followed new Penn State head coach James Franklin from Vanderbilt. He was the Commodores’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons.
 

Penn State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: John Butler; 
New: Brent Pry, Bob Shoop
Butler is the secondary coach of the Houston Texans, working for Bill O’Brien, his old boss at Penn State. Pry and Shoop were with James Franklin at Vanderbilt the past three seasons. Pry, who also serves as the linebackers coach, has the co-coordinator title, but Shoop is the man who runs the defense.
 

Rutgers: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Ron Prince; 
New: Ralph Friedgen
Prince left Rutgers after one season to take a job as the tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions. Friedgen was the head coach at Maryland from 2001-10 and has been out of coaching since.
 

Rutgers: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Dave Cohen; 
New: Joe Rossi
Cohen was fired after one season as the defensive coordinator at Rutgers. He was the Scarlet Knights’ defensive line coach in 2012 before becoming the coordinator. He is now the linebackers coach at Wake Forest. Rossi was promoted to coordinator after spending two seasons as Rutgers’ special teams coach.
Teaser:
Big Ten Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-101-128
Body:

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. The Nos. 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. The Nos. 61-80 projection features a few bowl teams from last season, including Syracuse, Boston College and Rutgers, along with some top teams from outside the power conferences (Northern Illinois, Ball State, Fresno State and Colorado State). The Nos. 81-100 range includes an improving South Florida team, several of Conference USA's top squads for 2014 (UTSA, RIce and North Texas), along with Wyoming under first-year coach Craig Bohl. The Nos. 101-128 completes the release of the projected 2014 rankings, with teams like New Mexico State, FIU and Idaho looking to build some positive momentum after a rough 2013 campaign.

With the completion of Athlon's college football Top 25 for 2014, it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings. You can view No. 26-40 hereNo. 41-60 here61-80 here and No. 81-100 here.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25. Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and David Fox (@DavidFox615).

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 101-128

101. UNLV
UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. Talk about bad timing. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hoped to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stood a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. Instead, UNLV will have to settle for trying to put together consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1983-84.

Read the full 2014 UNLV Rebels Team Preview

102. Tulsa
Tulsa won a conference championship in 2012 and finished with only three victories in 2013, the lowest total since a one-win campaign in 2002. TU will try to regroup in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season.

Read the full 2014 Tulsa Golden Hurricane Team Preview

103. San Jose State
The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Joe Gray or Blake Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.

Read the full 2014 San Jose State Spartans Team Preview

104. Buffalo
Plenty of attention has been paid to Buffalo’s heavy losses to graduation, and perhaps deservedly so, but the return of quarterback Joe Licata should be enough to carry the offense. It will be challenging to avoid a projected slide on defense, but a soft schedule in the early season should ease the growing pains. Four of the first five games are at home, including games with two FCS opponents in Duquesne and Norfolk State.

Bowling Green is clearly the team to beat in the MAC East, but the Bulls, if the defense comes through, will have a chance to be a factor once again in the division race.

Read the full 2014 Buffalo Bulls Team Preview

105. Air Force
Troy Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Kale Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.

However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.

Read the full 2014 Air Force Falcons Team Preview

106. New Mexico
Bob Davie has seen mild progress with seven wins in his first two years after taking over a program that went 3–33 in the previous three years. But he and his coaching staff know that there is a long way to go for the Lobos to compete in the upper half of the Mountain West. The offense should again be above average. The relative success of 2014 will be determined by what type of progress the defense can make.

Read the full 2014 New Mexico Lobos Team Preview

107. Central Michigan
Central Michigan was bowl-eligible in 2013 with a 6–6 record but did not receive a postseason invite. There is considerable pressure on Dan Enos and his staff to get the Chips back among the elite in the MAC West. Enos inherited a program that went 32–7 in the MAC from 2005-09, but is 13–19 in league play in four seasons.

There are reasons for optimism: The Chips return 16 starters from a team that went 5–3 in the league. But there are also reasons for concern: Four of the five victories came against teams that either went 1–7 or 0–8 in the MAC.

Bottom line: This team is competitive but still not ready to contend in the West.

Read the full 2014 Central Michigan Chippewas Team Preview

108. Troy
Troy’s offense kept things close last season — the Trojans lost 41–36 and 41–34 to Sun Belt co-champions UL Lafayette and Arkansas State, respectively — but the defense couldn’t get key stops in a 6–6 season. Troy’s three straight non-winning seasons are a first in revered coach Larry Blakeney’s 24-year career, and the weight of snapping that streak falls on the shoulders of untested quarterbacks. The Trojans loaded up on junior college talent to shore up the defense, but that group’s ability to mesh and finding a leader for a potentially dangerous offense remain huge questions.

Read the full 2014 Troy Trojans Team Preview

109. UAB
Don’t expect miracles from new coach Bill Clark in his first season, but do expect improvement from Garrick McGee’s short tenure as the program’s head coach. Defensive improvement is a must, and someone needs to secure the quarterback job. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see UAB double its win total from last season, which was two, but they are probably a couple of years away from turning things completely in the right direction.

Read the full 2014 UAB Blazers Team Preview

110. ULM
As usual, ULM has a challenging non-conference schedule with games against Wake Forest, LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. That makes it even tougher to get one of the Sun Belt Conference’s limited bowl slots, as its 6–6 record last season did not land a bid.

“We have got to schedule like that every year from a financial standpoint, so our players are all acclimated to those type of challenges,” coach Todd Berry says. “It can have an impact with the bowl tie-ins in our conference because of your overall record.”

ULM will have more experience than the majority of its opponents, but a lot rests on the performance of the starting quarterback, especially since Kolton Browning provided the team’s identity for so long. Berry’s teams have often overachieved, but with four new Sun Belt members it’s difficult to figure where the Warhawks should rank in the new lineup.

Read the full 2014 ULM Warhawks Team Preview

111. Army
Jeff Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.

Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule.

Read the full 2014 Army Black Knights Team Preview

112. Louisiana Tech
It was a rough first season for Skip Holtz, and Year 2 may be a struggle as well. Four of the first five games are on the road, including trips to Oklahoma and Auburn. For Louisiana Tech to improve, the quarterback situation needs to sort itself out, and the offensive line has to provide more help for the talented running back tandem of Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King. The defense has a chance to be decent if the front four can get stronger against the run. Bowl eligibility would be a significant step forward for Holtz and the Bulldogs.

Read the full 2014 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Team Preview

113. Texas State
This season will mark the first time in the past four years that the Bobcats will have spent back-to-back campaigns in the same conference after moving from the Southland to the WAC to the Sun Belt. Dennis Franchione has already said that this is the most FBS-ready roster he’s had at Texas State. The team will again have a backloaded schedule with plenty of tough games in the latter half of the season. The good news is that the Bobcats will play both UL Lafayette and Arkansas State — the Sun Belt co-champions in 2013 — at home.

After Texas State went 6–6 in 2013, a winning season and bowl game would be the next logical step for this program. For that to happen, though, the defense — with a rebuilt line and secondary — will have to overachieve while learning a new system. 

Read the full 2014 Texas State Bobcats Team Preview

114. Kent State
No one was quite ready for last year’s fall from grace. The 2012 season was marked by a school-record 11 victories and the first bowl game since 1972. Then coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, and Paul Haynes, a former Kent State player, replaced him. With a new quarterback and a new coach, KSU stumbled to a 4–8 record overall and a 3–5 mark in the MAC.

That was a collective shock to the Kent State faithful, and now comes the uncertainty about whether the program just suffered a temporary setback or whether the bad old days of the past are back.

This promises to be an interesting season around the confines of Dix Stadium. Whether it will be a successful one is far from assured.

Read the full 2014 Kent State Golden Flashes Team Preview

115. Southern Miss
Perhaps the nightmare is over for Southern Miss. After setting a standard for success in Conference USA, the Golden Eagles went winless in 2012 and lost their first 11 games in 2013. The Nick Mullens-Chip Lindsey combination seems destined to improve the offense, and the return of several key players from injury should bolster the defense. There’s a rough non-conference slate, but Todd Monken should have a competitive and relatively experienced squad —  as many as 14 freshmen and sophomores starting by season’s end — prepared to compete in league play.

Read the full 2014 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Team Preview

116. Old Dominion
Since the program restarted in 2009, the Monarchs have shown that they can adapt. In their second year in the powerful CAA, they won a league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. In their first season as an FBS program, they knocked off Idaho and hung with bowl teams East Carolina and Pittsburgh. In five seasons, all under Bobby Wilder, the Monarchs are 46–14.

The challenge will be steeper this season as there’s only one FCS school on the schedule as opposed to the seven that the Monarchs played in 2013.

But with quarterback Taylor Heinicke as the face of the program and last season’s young talent maturing, Old Dominion appears to have what it needs to keep that steady upward trajectory in place.

Read the full 2014 Old Dominion Monarchs Team Preview

117. UTEP
As long as the Miners stay healthy at the offensive skill positions, they should score enough points to keep them in most games. That happened for the first part of last season, but they didn’t win many games because the defense was so porous.

A combination of a second year in the system and a host of experience in the back seven should lead to improvement on defense, but it will have to be dramatic for UTEP to win six games and challenge for a bowl.

Read the full 2014 UTEP Miners Team Preview

118. Hawaii
After the worst two-season start (4–20) ever for a Hawaii head coach, the pressure is on for Norm Chow to show major improvement in 2014. That, however, will not be easy. The schedule is difficult — especially early with three Pac-12 opponents in the season’s first month — and there are significant personnel issues on both sides of the ball. The Rainbow Warriors appear headed toward another last-place finish.

Read the full 2014 Hawaii Warriors Team Preview

119. Western Michigan
P.J. Fleck strolled into Kalamazoo with plenty of bravado, ignoring critics of his age and his “Row the Boat” mantra. A humbling season did nothing to slow recruiting — Rivals ranked his 2014 class No. 59 nationally, ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — or his optimism for the future.

In the short term, Fleck sounds more realistic than a year ago, and more comfortable in his skin, aware that the odds are stacked against a team with only 29 upperclassmen, not enough of them up front on either side of the ball. “It’s a patient process, which in college football isn’t the friendliest process,” he says.

Read the full 2014 Western Michigan Broncos Team Preview

120. Miami, Ohio
Chuck Martin won two Division II national championships as the head coach at Grand Valley State and helped Notre Dame reach the BCS National Championship Game two years ago. He is used to winning. But this is a major rebuild. The RedHawks went 0–12 in 2013 and were perhaps the worst team in the nation. Quick turnarounds are possible in the MAC — see Ball State under Pete Lembo — but it’s hard to envision the RedHawks climbing too far up the league’s food chain in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Miami, Ohio RedHawks Team Preview

121. UMass
After two tough years under Molnar, who was fired in the offseason, UMass is hoping Mark Whipple can turn the program around for the second time. In his first stint in Amherst (1998-2003), Whipple turned a team that was 2–9 the year before he arrived into the 1998 Division I-AA champions, which made his return popular in Amherst. He coached UMass for six years before working as an assistant in the NFL and at the University of Miami.

The task could be tougher this time as he inherits a team that won only one game in each of the last two seasons.

Read the full 2014 UMass Minutemen Team Preview

122. Georgia Southern
In an otherwise average 2013 season, Georgia Southern received significant attention on Nov. 23 for beating Florida, 26–20, in its first-ever victory over an FBS opponent. Though some at Georgia Southern might have seen that performance as validation for the school’s decision to move up to FBS, there are still significant challenges ahead. It will also be a new experience for Willie Fritz, who has moved up the ladder from junior colleges to Division II Central Missouri, where he went 97–47, to his wildly successful run at Sam Houston State.

Though the Eagles had a solid structure in place before making the move, there are plenty of unknowns. “Instead of slaying one dragon a year,” Fritz says, “we’ve got to do it with great consistency. We’ve got to get a lot better.”

Read the full 2014 Georgia Southern Eagles Team Preview

123. Appalachian State
One of the dominant programs in the Southern Conference and on the FCS level for decades, Appalachian State is on the brink of its first season in the FBS ranks.

The Mountaineers — who matched their lowest win total since 1993 last season — will face several challenges, like depth issues stemming from the push to reach their full complement of scholarships and a lineup of new Sun Belt Conference opponents. So for a team and a fan base that’s used to success, this season could be a big adjustment.

But if things are kept in perspective, there’s reason for optimism.

While on the staff at Florida International, Scott Satterfield did win a Sun Belt title, so he understands what Appalachian State is up against. And with a team that will lean on young talent, there’s reason to believe that the Mountaineers will eventually be a force in their new league. Still, there’s a strong chance their first taste of FBS life — which begins with a trip to Michigan, site of their unforgettable 2007 upset — will have some bumpy moments.

Read the full 2014 Appalachian State Mountaineers Team Preview

124. Eastern Michigan
Eastern is not the type of program that can be fixed overnight by any coach, let alone one with zero experience — as a player, assistant or head coach — at the FBS level, although no experience should be required to improve upon the four wins Eastern has accumulated the past two seasons. Chris Creighton has a solid résumé, with an overall record of 139–46 as a head coach with stops at Ottawa (NAIA), Wabash (Division III) and Drake (FCS). His task at Eastern Michigan is immense. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995 and have been one of the worst FBS programs in the nation in recent years.

Read the full 2014 Eastern Michigan Eagles Team Preview

125. Idaho
Things can’t get any worse for Idaho, right? The Vandals are coming off a 1–11 season in which they weren’t very competitive as an independent. The Sun Belt Conference once again is home, which will lower the degree of difficulty on the schedule (Florida is the only major-conference opponent). But the conference affiliation brings additional travel — the Vandals will play half of their games in the Eastern and Central time zones.

If Paul Petrino can overcome the travel and find some consistency in all phases, Idaho has a chance at making some noise in the overhauled conference. But even if the Vandals do surprise and find a way to get to six wins, they will not be spending the holidays at a bowl game. It was announced in late April that low APR scores had made the program ineligible for a postseason game in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Idaho Vandals Team Preview

126. Georgia State
Entering its fifth year of existence overall and second as an FBS program, Georgia State has experienced very little success, winning just once over the past two seasons. As players who were recruited for the FCS level cycle out of the program — including 27 seniors last season — the opportunity exists for Miles to upgrade the roster’s size, speed and depth. Still, the Panthers are probably two recruiting classes away from getting their numbers up to par, and in the meantime will have to rely heavily on underclassmen for production.

The Panthers were competitive at times in 2013, losing three times in conference play by a touchdown or less, but they’re still closer to the beginning than the end of a long rebuilding process.

Read the full 2014 Georgia State Panthers Team Preview

127. FIU
While the natural progression of players and the return of Richard Leonard at cornerback provide hope that FIU can improve, holes in the defensive front seven and the possibility that a true freshman will start at quarterback extinguish those small bits of positivity. Games against Louisville, Pitt, Marshall and even rival FAU are likely to be embarrassingly lopsided. The Panthers have a better chance of going winless than making a bowl game. 

Read the full 2014 FIU Panthers Team Preview

128. New Mexico State
The Aggies are a team in transition, if for no other reason than their youth and inexperience. The program signed 23 freshmen, a number of whom will be counted on this year.

The team does have a much more manageable schedule this season, moving to the Sun Belt Conference after competing as an FBS Independent. After winning only two games in Doug Martin’s first season as head coach, there will be pressure on the Aggies to be competitive with the lower half of the new-look Sun Belt. It will be a troubling sign if New Mexico State struggles with FBS newcomers like Georgia State and Georgia Southern.

Read the full 2014 New Mexico State Aggies Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #101-128
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2014-predictions
Body:
2014 SEC Predictions
East DivisionSECOverall
 1. Georgia (No. 8)6-210-3
2. South Carolina (No. 9)6-210-2
 3. Florida (No. 23)4-47-5
4. Missouri (No. 25)4-48-4
5. Tennessee (No. 42)3-56-6
6. Vanderbilt (No. 44)2-66-6
7. Kentucky (No. 70)1-74-8
West DivisionSECOverall
1. Alabama (No. 2)7-112-1
2. Auburn (No. 5)6-210-2
3. Ole Miss (No. 18)5-39-3
4. LSU (No. 19)4-48-4
5. Mississippi State (No. 33)4-48-4
6. Texas A&M (No. 34)3-57-5
7. Arkansas (No. 63)1-74-8
SEC Championship
Alabama over Georgia

The SEC’s dominance for the national championship ended last season, but the conference can still flex its muscles as the best in college football. The gap between the SEC and Pac-12 has narrowed, but the SEC will be tough to unseat as the No. 1 conference anytime soon.
 

As college football shifts to a new four-team playoff in 2014, the SEC is positioned to potentially have two teams in the new format. Alabama ranks as Athlon’s No. 2 team for 2014, with Auburn (No. 5), Georgia (No. 8) and South Carolina (No. 9) all viable options this year.
 

Picking the champion of both divisions will be a tough assignment this preseason. The East has more contenders for the top spot in its division than the West, but both sides of the SEC are strong. The East is headlined by Georgia and South Carolina, with Florida and Missouri also in the mix. The Gators are due to rebound after a disappointing 4-8 record last season, and the Bulldogs should have better injury luck in 2014 after a rash of key losses in 2013.
 

Alabama vs. Auburn for No. 1 in the SEC is one of college football’s top offseason topics, and the debate will continue into August. Athlon projects the Crimson Tide to get revenge on the Tigers this year and to play Florida State in the National Championship in early January. Why Alabama over Auburn? The Crimson Tide get the Tigers at home, and even though quarterback is a huge concern in Tuscaloosa, a strong running game and defense should carry Nick Saban's team until Jacob Coker is ready.
 

While Alabama and Auburn seem to be the clear contenders in the West, sorting No. 3-6 is difficult. Can LSU quickly reload once again? Will Ole Miss or Mississippi State take a step forward? Is Texas A&M’s defense ready to turn a corner? In the No. 3-6 race, keep an eye on quarterback play. Whichever team can settle its concerns under center the fastest will have an edge to challenge Auburn and Alabama.
 

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

 

Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions
 

What gave Georgia the edge over South Carolina, especially since the game is in Columbia?

South Carolina has been one of the most consistent teams in the league over the last three or four years, but the 2014 Gamecocks have more key players to replace than any recent Steve Spurrier team. You have to start at the quarterback position. Connor Shaw was one of the most valuable players in the league the last few years, both with his play on the field and his leadership in the locker room. Dylan Thompson is a solid player who has performed well when called upon, but it’s doubtful he will bring the same intangibles to the position. South Carolina also must replace its best wide receiver (Bruce Ellington), two All-America defensive linemen (Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles) and both starting cornerbacks (Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree). Georgia suffered a big loss at the quarterback position with the graduation of Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs have far fewer personnel issues elsewhere. And the defense, which underachieved in recent years, should be improved with the arrival of new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Georgia also had several key injuries last season and struggled in the turnover department (-7). The Bulldogs have to travel to South Carolina but otherwise has the slight edge with the schedule; both teams play Auburn, but Georgia gets the Tigers at home. In the other game against the SEC West, Georgia travels to Arkansas (winless in the league in 2013), while South Carolina hosts Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs keep running back Todd Gurley healthy, and Mason settles into the starting quarterback job as expected, Georgia will be a wildcard contender in college football’s new playoff format. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

What is a reasonable expectation for Tennessee?

Butch Jones’ second season on Rocky Top isn’t going to be easy. The Volunteers still have talent (No. 6 ranked roster in the SEC), but the schedule is brutal. Tennessee opens non-conference play with a dangerous Utah State team in the opener, followed by a trip to Oklahoma to play the Sooners two weeks later. It doesn’t get any easier in the SEC, as the Volunteers catch Alabama and Ole Miss in crossover play and travel to Vanderbilt to close out the regular season. As if the schedule wasn’t enough, Tennessee needs to replace all five starters on the offensive line, and there’s very little in the way of proven depth on the defensive front. The Volunteers have talent at the skill positions and should be able to get better play from their quarterbacks. Due to the holes on the depth chart and schedule, a good season for Jones is just getting to a bowl game. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

LSU has finished ahead of Ole Miss in the SEC West standings in each of the last five years and in 12 of the last 14 (with one tie). Why will it be different this year? 

This was the toughest decision among all of the predictions in the SEC. LSU has been so good for so long, it would be easy to pencil the Tigers in for third behind Alabama and Auburn (or even ahead of one of them) and assume they have the talent to once again win 10 or 11 games. And they still might, but this team has some issues. The quarterback position is a bit of a mystery; Anthony Jennings is No. 1 on the depth chart heading into preseason camp, but don’t be surprised if true freshman Brandon Harris seizes control of the job. The Tigers also lost their top two wide receivers (Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham) and have issues at defensive tackle and linebacker. LSU was 5-3 in conference play last year, and considering the personnel concerns, slipping to 4-4 isn't out of the question. Ole Miss probably doesn’t have as much overall roster depth as LSU, but you could argue that the Rebels have fewer weaknesses heading into the 2014 season. The key for Ole Miss is senior quarterback Bo Wallace. If he plays up to his potential on a consistent basis — and of course remains healthy — the Rebels should enjoy their first winning SEC season since 2008, Houston Nutt’s first year in Oxford. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

What is Florida’s ceiling?

Florida could be the most difficult team to forecast in the entire country. It would not be surprising if the Gators won the SEC East or if they finished fifth or six in the division. From a pure talent standpoint, Florida ranks among the top two or three teams in the league. But the majority of that talent is on the defensive side of the ball. The Gators are hoping the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper (from Duke) can solve some of the issues on that side of the ball, but what are realistic expectations for an offense that was so bad last year? Jeff Driskel gives Roper a solid option at quarterback (if he stays healthy), but there are few proven playmakers at the skill positions, and the offensive line has lacked toughness the last two seasons. The schedule is a mixed bag; Florida has to play Alabama and LSU in crossover games, but LSU, which shouldn’t be as formidable this year, visits Gainesville. Also, the Gators host both South Carolina and Missouri, giving them a possible edge against two teams they will be jockeying with for position in the East. There is considerable pressure on Will Muschamp in his fourth season in Gainesville. It’s likely Florida will need to emerge as a legitimate contender in the East for him to keep his job. That’s quite possible, but the guess here is that the Gators are closer to fourth than first or second in the division. - David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Is 2014 a rebuilding year at Texas A&M?

Yes, it appears so. Let’s keep this in mind: Texas A&M went 4-4 in the SEC last year with Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Without those three players on offense, just getting back to .500 in conference action would be a good season for coach Kevin Sumlin. Another huge concern for the Aggies remains on defense. Texas A&M allowed a whopping 6.7 yards per play in SEC games in 2013. With eight starters back and improved depth thanks to an outstanding recruiting class, the Aggies should be better on defense. But how much can this unit improve to take the pressure of off an offense that figures to have a few growing pains as Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen replaces Manziel at quarterback remains to be seen Texas A&M will take a step back in 2014. However, keep an eye on the Aggies throughout the year, as this should be a dangerous team in 2015. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

2014 SEC Team Previews
EastWest
FloridaAlabama
GeorgiaArkansas
KentuckyAuburn
MissouriLSU
South CarolinaMississippi State
TennesseeOle Miss
VanderbiltTexas A&M

SEC Notebook
 

by Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson)
 

Big Questions at QB

Never before has the SEC had such a departure of talent at the game’s most important position. That sets up a lot of uncertainty in 2014. There was an inordinate amount of star power among SEC quarterbacks last year, with the numbers to back it up: Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw and James Franklin.
 

Last year the SEC had five of the of the nation’s top 12 quarterbacks, as measured by pass efficiency rating, and eight of the top 36. Auburn’s Nick Marshall is the only one of those who is back this year.
 

Several new quarterbacks did get some early action, thanks to injuries: Georgia’s Hutson Mason got two starts and LSU’s Anthony Jennings one, though he still had to compete in the spring for the job. Missouri’s Maty Mauk received extensive action last year with Franklin hurt, and put up pretty good numbers (11 TDs, two INTs, 229 rushing yards.)
 

Then there’s Florida, which gets back Jeff Driskel after he suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. But marquee teams like Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M enter the year with big questions at quarterback. Then again, that doesn’t mean their seasons are doomed: Last year Marshall wasn’t named Auburn’s starter until just before the season began, and look what happened.
 

On the Other Hand 

Bret Bielema and Nick Saban lost the argument this year on slowing down the up-tempo offenses. But their conference could still end up returning to its reputation for defense and running the football, at least this season.

Yes, Gus Malzahn still has Nick Marshall and his offense. But will Texas A&M be as prolific without Manziel, or Missouri without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham? In fact, not a single member of the AP All-SEC first-team offense is back.
 

But here’s who does return: Tailbacks Todd Gurley (Georgia), T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Mike Davis (South Carolina) and Alex Collins (Arkansas). All but Gurley rushed for at least 1,000 yards last year, and Gurley was only 11 yards short despite missing three games.
 

The SEC also returns more players on defense — four who were on the AP first team, including the conference’s leaders in interceptions (Ole Miss cornerback Cody Prewitt) and tackles (Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson.)
 

Playoff Positioning

The SEC is one of the few major conferences sticking with an eight-game schedule. (At least for now.) So will that hurt its teams with the playoff selection committee?
 

SEC teams are not using their four open spots to load up on major opponents: This year only one SEC team (Georgia) is playing as many as two teams from one of the other four major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12).
 

That’s not to say there aren’t marquee non-conference games, especially the opening weekend: Alabama plays West Virginia in Atlanta, LSU plays Wisconsin in Houston, Georgia hosts Clemson, and Ole Miss plays Boise State, also in Atlanta. Later on you have Auburn at Kansas State, Tennessee at Oklahoma, and then the annual rivalry games (Florida at Florida State, Kentucky at Louisville, Georgia Tech at Georgia).
 

Ultimately, the SEC’s reputation should help it by the end of the year. One wonders if selection committee members like Condoleezza Rice and Archie Manning are going to be crunching the Sagarin rankings and schedule strength ratings.
 

But if it’s close, how the SEC does in those marquee games the first few weeks could end up being critical.
 

The Big Debut Arrives 

What do you give the conference that already seems to have it all? A television network to call its own. The SEC Network debuts in August and begins carrying football games this season.
 

The conference has pulled out a lot of stops for the channel, hiring Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer to call games, Paul Finebaum to stir it up in studio, and filling the roster with other established and rising broadcasting names.
 

In the long run, it should be great for the network, and good for fans of the conference who want their SEC (specifically, SEC football) fix as much as possible. In the short term, however, there will be bumps. The first is getting on cable systems, which creates a delicate balance for the conference: It wants to entice cable systems by putting marquee games on the SEC Network, but it also wants fans to watch the game. (And doesn’t want to alienate CBS.)
 

It will also take some time to figure out what to put on the channel all the time. It won’t be quite like the early days of ESPN, with tractor pulls and Australian Rules Football. But the SEC Network also can’t just put non-revenue sports on all the time, for logistical and financial reasons. So expect plenty of airings of classic SEC games, and a lot of in-studio analysis shows, which will re-air liberally.


SEC Coordinator Carousel
 

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
 
Alabama: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Doug Nussmeier; New: Lane Kiffin

Nussmeier left Alabama after two seasons to take the same position at Michigan. Kiffin was fired last October after three-plus seasons as the head coach at USC. He previously was the head coach for one season at Tennessee and for one-plus seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
 

Arkansas: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Chris Ash; New: Robb Smith

Ash left Arkansas to take a position as the defensive co-coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. Smith last season was the linebackers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator at Rutgers.
 

Florida: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Brent Pease; New: Kurt Roper

Pease was fired after two years at Florida and is now the wide receivers coach at Washington, working for his old boss at Boise State, Chris Petersen. Roper previously was the offensive coordinator at Duke, and he also spent time at Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss.
 

Georgia: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Todd Grantham; New: Jeremy Pruitt

Grantham left after four years at Georgia for the same job at Louisville. Pruitt was hired away from Florida State, where he was the defensive coordinator for the 2013 national champions. Pruitt was the 247Sports Recruiter of the Year in ’12 while on the Alabama staff.
 

Mississippi State: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Les Koenning; New: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy

Koenning is now the wide receivers coach at Texas. Gonzales coached wide receivers at Mississippi State in 2013. He will continue to do so while adding passing game coordinator to his title. Hevesy has been the offensive line coach and running game coordinator at Mississippi State since 2009. Head coach Dan Mullen will call the plays.
 

Texas A&M: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital; New: Jake Spavital

Spavital takes over play-calling duties from McKinney, who is still on staff but will serve only as the running backs coach.
 

Vanderbilt: Offensive Coordinator

Old: John Donovan; New: Karl Dorrell

Donovan, who came to Vanderbilt from Maryland with James Franklin in 2011, followed his boss to Penn State, where he will coach tight ends and serve as the offensive coordinator. Dorrell, a former head coach at UCLA, most recently was the quarterbacks coach with the Houston Texans. He was the offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in the early 1990s while new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was a defensive back for the Lumberjacks. 
 

Vanderbilt: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Bob Shoop; New: David Kotulski

Shoop joined James Franklin at Penn State. Kotulski was the inside linebackers coach at Stanford the past two seasons, working for new Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. He has been a defensive coordinator at Lehigh, Holy Cross, Utah State, Bucknell and Saint Mary’s.

Teaser:
SEC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/acc-football-2014-predictions
Body:
2014 ACC Predictions
Atlantic DivisionACCOverall
1. Florida State (No. 1)8-013-0
2. Clemson (No. 21)7-19-3
3. Louisville (No. 28)5-38-4
4. Syracuse (No. 61)3-56-6
5. Boston College (No. 64)3-56-6
6. NC State (No. 65)2-66-6
7. Wake Forest (No. 85)0-83-9
Coastal DivisionACCOverall
1. Virginia Tech (No. 27)6-29-4
2. Miami (No. 30)5-38-4
3. North Carolina (No. 31)5-38-4
4. Pittsburgh (No. 36)4-48-4
5. Duke (No. 38)4-48-4
6. Georgia Tech (No. 47)3-56-6
7. Virginia (No. 72)1-73-9
ACC Championship 
Florida State over Va. Tech 

The ACC heads into 2014 on stable ground and with plenty of forward momentum surrounding the conference.

Maryland is set to depart for the Big Ten on July 1, and the ACC welcomes Louisville into its 14-team setup. The Cardinals were one of the top programs in the American Athletic/Big East and should be a solid addition to the conference.
 

Not only is the ACC adding a program with the ability to be a top-25 team each season, the conference is home to college football’s defending national champion – Florida State. The Seminoles own arguably the No. 1 roster in college football for 2014, one of the nation’s top coaches in Jimbo Fisher, and the defending Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston. With a favorable schedule and a loaded roster, Florida State is positioned to repeat as college football’s national champions. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Only one team during the BCS era (Alabama) was able to go back-to-back.
 

After Florida State in the Atlantic, Clemson ranks as the No. 2 team. The Tigers lose quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there’s still a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. With end Vic Beasley deciding to stay at Clemson for his senior year, the defensive line is among the best in the nation. Despite the departures of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and coach Charlie Strong, Louisville is projected to finish No. 3 in the Atlantic. The Cardinals should remain explosive on offense with quarterback Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker, but the defense has some holes to fill, especially in the secondary with the loss of standout safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.
 

The second tier of the Atlantic Division starts with Syracuse, projected to finish No. 61 nationally. The Orange finished 2013 by winning four of their last six games and return an improving quarterback in Terrel Hunt, along with one of the ACC’s top offensive tackles in Sean Hickey.

Syracuse is projected to finish No. 4 in the Atlantic, but Boston College and NC State aren’t far behind. The Wolfpack could be the most-improved teams in the ACC behind transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
 

While the Atlantic Division has a clear pecking order, the Coastal is up for grabs. Six teams appear to have a shot at the division title, with Virginia projected to finish a distant seventh.
 

Virginia Tech is Athlon’s projected Coastal Division champion, but there’s very little separation between Frank Beamer’s team and Miami or North Carolina. The Hurricanes have concerns at quarterback and on defense, but in terms of overall talent, Miami owns the No. 2 roster in the ACC. The Tar Heels have an explosive offense, which will be needed with a defense that has concerns on each level.
 

Prep for the 2014 season, follow Athlon Sports and its college football editors on Twitter: @AthlonSports, Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

 

Inside the War Room: Key Questions That Shaped Athlon's 2014 Predictions
 

What gave Virginia Tech the edge in the Coastal?

The 2014 Coastal Division is as wide open as any division in any league that we can remember. Six of the seven teams — all but Virginia — were in the discussion for No. 1. Eventually, we boiled it down to Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. The biggest issues for North Carolina are a suspect offensive line and concerns on the defensive line and in the secondary. Miami’s schedule is very difficult — Louisville and Florida State are the crossover opponents — and the Canes’ defense has struggled in recent years. Also, there is now a concern at quarterback with Ryan Williams out with a torn ACL.

That leaves us with Virginia Tech. The Hokies have their problems on offense, but the defense will be outstanding. The schedule is also very favorable. They play Miami at home and do not play the top three teams in the Atlantic Division — Florida State, Clemson and Louisville. We’re not sure Virginia Tech will be the best team in the ACC Coastal in 2014, but it looks as though it is the team most likely to win the division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

With so many key players back, how can Duke go from division champs to fifth place?

Duke was one of the nation’s biggest surprises in 2013, but it took some fortunate bounces for the Blue Devils to win the Coastal Division crown. They managed a 6–2 league record despite being outgained by an average of 41.4 yards in their eight regular-season ACC games. They actually won a game on the road in which they did not convert a third-down attempt, beating Virginia Tech 13–10 in Blacksburg. This is in no way meant to discredit Duke’s accomplishments in 2013. It was an amazing season for a program that for years had been among the worst in the nation. But the numbers don’t lie; Duke was a good, but hardly great, team that could just as easily gone .500 in the league. Going forward, Duke should remain competitive, but it’s hard to envision this team posing a serious challenge in the Coastal. The offense should once again be potent, but the defense will remain a problem. The Devils ranked 13th in the league (in ACC games) in total defense last year, allowing 451.0 yards per game. That has to improve significantly. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

Is there a sleeper team to watch in the ACC in 2014?

Pittsburgh. Aaron Donald is a huge loss for the defense, but the offense has a chance to improve in the third year under coach Paul Chryst. New quarterback Chad Voytik is promising and had a good showing in the bowl win over Bowling Green. The Panthers also have a solid backfield with James Conner and Isaac Bennett returning after each rushed for over 700 yards last season. Receiver Tyler Boyd is one of the best in the nation, and the offensive line – a source of concern in recent years – appears to be taking a step forward. Also, Pittsburgh’s schedule is favorable. The Panthers won’t play Florida State, Louisville or Clemson in crossover play with the Atlantic. Instead, Pittsburgh plays a manageable slate of Syracuse and Boston College. And key games against Coastal foes Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are at home. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

Which prediction scares us the most?

Georgia Tech seems a little low at No. 6 in the Coastal Division. The Yellow Jackets went 5–3 in the league last year — highlighted by a 24-point win over Coastal Division champ Duke — and have a remarkable streak of 19 straight seasons without a losing record in league play. So why so low this year? Well, as we mentioned earlier, the Coastal is wide open, and not much separates the top six teams in the division. But we had to pick someone sixth, and Georgia Tech was the choice to finish behind Pittsburgh and Duke. The Jackets have some concerns at the skill positions, most notably at quarterback after the surprising transfer of quarterback Vad Lee. Some Georgia Tech fans might consider Justin Thomas an upgrade, but he has yet to prove he can operate Paul Johnson’s option attack with consistency. Also, Tech’s top two rushers (David Sims and Robert Godhigh) are gone, and the defense must replace six starters. The schedule presents some challenges as well; the Jackets — unlike Miami, Pitt and Duke — have to play Clemson from the Atlantic Division and two of their key swing games are on the road — at Pittsburgh and North Carolina. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)
 

What is Florida State’s biggest obstacle to repeat?

Good question. Take a look at Florida State’s roster and schedule. See many holes or concerns? Didn’t think so. The receiving corps needs to be revamped with the departure of Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, but there’s also a lot of talent. Five-star recruits Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph add depth and could make an instant impact if Christian Green or Jesus Wilson fails to secure a starting spot. The secondary is among the best in the nation, but the front seven has a few pieces to replace. Tackle Timmy Jernigan is the biggest loss from the 2013 unit, as there’s not a ton of proven depth on the interior. How the defense responds to new coordinator Charles Kelly will also be interesting to watch. Punting is also concern as Cason Beatty struggled in 2013. None of the mentioned obstacles could impact Florida State during the regular season but could be a bigger issue in the playoffs. Barring a complete meltdown with turnovers or sluggish play, the Seminoles should finish the regular season unbeaten and own the top spot in college football’s four-team playoff. – Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

Is there any hope for Virginia to finish anywhere but last in the Coastal?

Obviously, anything can happen, but the Cavaliers have a huge hill to climb in 2014. Virginia went 0–8 in the league last year — with all but one loss coming by 10 points or more — and doesn’t appear much better (on paper) this season. Plus, the schedule is very difficult, with crossover games against Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic Division. – David Fox (@DavidFox615)

 

2014 ACC Team Previews

 

ACC Bowl Tie-Ins for 2014

ACC Champ: Orange* vs. SEC/Big Ten/N. Dame

Capital One: Big Ten or ACC vs. SEC

Russell Athletic: ACC vs. Big 12

Gator/Music City: ACC or Big Ten vs. SEC

Belk: ACC vs. SEC

Sun: ACC vs. Pac-12

Pinstripe: ACC vs. Big Ten

Military: ACC vs. American

Independence: ACC vs. SEC

Detroit: ACC vs. Big Ten

St. Petersburg: ACC vs. American

* If conference champ is not in CFB Playoff

AtlanticCoastal
Boston
College
Duke
ClemsonGeorgia
Tech
Florida
State
Miami
LouisvilleNorth
Carolina
NC StatePittsburgh
SyracuseVirginia
Wake ForestVirginia
Tech
                    Notre Dame








ACC Notebook

 

by Nolan Hayes (@tnolanhayes)

 

QB Or Not QB?

Jameis Winston made the most of his first opportunity to be Florida State’s starting quarterback, winning the Heisman Trophy and guiding the Seminoles to the national championship last season. He returns for his sophomore season with only 14 career starts to his credit, but he is a grizzled veteran when it comes to ACC quarterbacks in 2014.
 

Amazingly, Winston has more career starts than any other signal-caller in the league.
 

Just five of the conference’s 14 teams — Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia — return their starting quarterback from last season. UNC is included in that group only because an injury to Bryn Renner allowed Marquise Williams to start five games that he would not have started otherwise.
 

Six of the teams in the conference do not have a quarterback who has started a major-college game. The number almost could be seven, with Miami’s Ryan Williams (who started 10 games for Memphis in 2010) suffering a torn ACL during the spring.
 

Clemson must move on without Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s career leader in passing efficiency. Louisville kicks off its first season in the league after saying goodbye to Teddy Bridgewater. Virginia Tech needs a replacement for Logan Thomas, the school record-holder for career total offense. Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee decided to transfer.
 

The list goes on and on, creating a sharp contrast to the experience the conference had at quarterback entering 2013. Last year, the ACC had a league-record five quarterbacks returning who had at least 6,000 career passing yards.
 

What are the consequences of the ACC’s inexperience at football’s most important position? It’s reasonable to expect more mistakes and less efficiency from ACC quarterbacks as a whole this season. While that’s less than ideal for a conference that is trying to build on the momentum created by a national championship and two consecutive Orange Bowl victories, some hope remains.
 

Maybe there’s another Jameis Winston ready to shine.
 

Prestigious Addition 

The ACC welcomes Notre Dame to the league this season … sort of. The Fighting Irish are not members of the conference in football, but they will play four ACC teams this season as part of an agreement with the league that granted Notre Dame’s other athletic teams membership in the ACC. Notre Dame plays Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. (Sept. 27), home against North Carolina (Oct. 11), at Florida State (Oct. 18), and home against Louisville (Nov. 22).
 

Notre Dame will play six games against ACC teams in 2015 and then five games against ACC foes in 2016. As part of the agreement with the conference, the Fighting Irish will play every ACC team at least once every three seasons.
 

A New ‘Big Game’ 

Speaking of the Coastal Division and its 2013 champion, Duke’s rise has been nothing short of amazing under coach David Cutcliffe. Opposing teams used to worry about playing at Duke because the atmosphere and opponent were so bad that it was hard to get excited about the game. These days, Duke’s opponents worry about playing against a team that can beat them.
 

How much progress have the Blue Devils made? They won six conference games last season — exactly twice the amount they won in eight years combined before Cutcliffe’s arrival in 2008. After back-to-back bowl appearances and back-to-back wins over rival North Carolina, this much is clear: The nation needs a new punchline, and the ACC needs a new doormat. Duke no longer fits the bill on either account.
 

“As far as I’m concerned, Duke is one of the top-tier programs right now,” UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer says. “Coach Cutcliffe has got them on a roll. They came into Kenan last year and whipped us. They’ve beaten us the past two years, so you can’t not put Duke as a big game. You can’t do it anymore. You can’t look past them.”
 

A League Divided

The critics of the ACC’s two-division format got louder after Louisville replaced Maryland, which bounced to the Big Ten, in the Atlantic Division. The Cardinals went 23–3 over the past two seasons, including a 3–1 mark against schools now in the ACC, and they have Bobby Petrino back as their head coach. So it’s safe to assume that Louisville will make life tougher for the other teams in the Atlantic than Maryland would have.
 

The reality for fans of Atlantic Division members Boston College, NC State, Syracuse and Wake Forest is sobering. They already had it tough with Florida State and Clemson, the top two programs in the league in recent years, in their division. But now they must find a way to hurdle another strong program just to earn a trip to the ACC Championship Game.
 

On the other side in the Coastal Division, the story is different. Miami and Virginia Tech have been perennially great in the past, and they might be perennially great again. But they aren’t special programs right now, and that has left the door open for other teams (hello, Duke) to walk through on the way to the league championship game.
 

ACC Coordinator Carousel

 

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)

 

Duke: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Scottie Montgomery, Kurt Roper; New: Scottie Montgomery

Roper, a longtime David Cutcliffe assistant, is now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Montgomery, who was an All-SEC wide receiver at Duke in the late 1990s, is now the lone offensive coordinator.
 

Florida State: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Jeremy Pruitt; New: Charles Kelly

Pruitt bolted after only one season at Florida State and is now the defensive coordinator at Georgia. Kelly was promoted from linebackers to coach to defensive coordinator. His duties will shift from coaching linebackers to defensive backs. He has been a coordinator at Jacksonville State, Nicholls State and Henderson State.
 

Louisville: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Shawn Watson; New: Garrick McGee

Watson followed Charlie Strong from Louisville to Texas. McGee resigned as the head coach at UAB to become the offensive coordinator at Louisville. McGee worked for Petrino at Arkansas from 2008-11 and had a previous stint as the offensive coordinator at Northwestern. He began his playing career at Arizona State but played his final two seasons at Oklahoma.
 

Louisville: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Vance Bedford; New: Todd Grantham

Bedford is now the defensive coordinator at Texas, working for his old boss at Louisville, Charlie Strong. Grantham spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator at Georgia. He also has experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, with the Browns from 2005-07.
 

North Carolina: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Blake Anderson; New: Seth Littrell

Anderson is now the head coach at Arkansas State — the fourth in the last four seasons for the Red Wolves. Littrell spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Indiana, where his offenses ranked near the top of the Big Ten. 
 

Wake Forest: Offensive Coordinator

Old: Steed Lobotzke; New: Warren Ruggiero

Lobotzke was not retained by the new staff and landed as the offensive coordinator at Division II Winston-Salem State. Ruggiero followed new Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson from Bowling Green.
 

Wake Forest: Defensive Coordinator

Old: Brian Knorr; New: Mike Elko

Knorr accepted a position as the defensive coordinator at Air Force but left 10 days later for the same position at Indiana. Elko made the move from Bowling Green with Dave Clawson. He was the Falcons’ defensive coordinator for five seasons.

Teaser:
ACC Football 2014 Predictions
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-football-2014-rankings-and-predictions-81-100
Body:

The start of the college football season is less than 100 days away, and Athlon Sports is counting down the top teams for the upcoming year.

Florida State is Athlon’s pick to win the national championship, with Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide projected to finish No. 2 nationally. Of course, there's a new element to college football's regular season with the addition of a four-team playoff, and Athlon Sports is picking Ohio State to finish No. 3 and Oklahoma to finish No. 4. The debate in the preseason is no longer about No. 1 and No. 2 and instead more about the top four teams in the nation.

While there is always plenty of intrigue in filling out the top 25, Nos. 26-40 feature a handful of teams that just missed. The Nos. 41-60 range features teams like Texas Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arizona. The Nos. 61-80 projection features a few bowl teams from last season, including Syracuse, Boston College and Rutgers, along with some top teams from outside the power conferences (Northern Illinois, Ball State, Fresno State and Colorado State). The Nos. 81-100 range includes an improving South Florida team, several of Conference USA's top squads for 2014 (UTSA, RIce and North Texas), along with Wyoming under first-year coach Craig Bohl.

With the completion of Athlon's college football Top 25 for 2014, it's time to take a look at the rest of the rankings. You can view No. 26-40 hereNo. 41-60 here and 61-80 here.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25. Follow Athlon's College Football Writers on Twitter: Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and David Fox (@DavidFox615).

Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2014 season

College Football 2014 Projected Rankings: 81-100

81. South Florida
Give coach Willie Taggart credit for this: Even after a horrendous 53–21 home loss against McNeese State to open the season, even after watching his offense struggle mightily just to move the chains, he remained undaunted. He insists his approach will work. It just needs patience and hard work.

The up-and-coming program that once upset the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson and West Virginia? That’s now ancient history. USF must rebuild from the ground up. The intermediate goal is obvious. If Taggart can coax USF’s first bowl trip since 2010, then the Bulls are definitely on their way back.

Read the full 2014 South Florida Bulls Team Preview

82. Nevada
With 16 returning starters, including quarterback Cody Fajardo, Nevada should improve over last season. The Wolf Pack’s 2014 slate lightens up from a brutal 2013. Mountain West heavyweights Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State all come to Reno. If the Wolf Pack improve substantially on defense and solve their second-half woes, they should make a bowl game and contend for the West Division title.

Read the full 2014 Nevada Wolf Pack Team Preview

83. San Diego State
San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.

That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.

Read the full 2014 San Diego State Aztecs Team Preview

84. South Alabama
USA finished its first full-fledged season of FBS play with bowl eligibility (6–6 record) and one win shy of the Sun Belt title. Now the bar is raised, and the Jaguars are no longer the ever-changing conference’s newcomer.

“We are not a veteran in this conference by any means, but things have changed quickly,” coach Joey Jones says. “We were about a play or two away from winning a conference championship and going to a bowl. There is some pep in our step.”

Taking another step forward is plausible but carries conditions. Last year’s team won by committing very few turnovers on offense and causing disruption on the defensive front. The 2014 squad must do the same with a new quarterback and new starters on the defensive line. After a tough home opener against Mississippi State, the Jaguars face five consecutive winnable conference games before difficult road trips to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. If the Jaguars are riding a winning streak at midseason, title contention could be a possibility.

Read the full 2014 South Alabama Jaguars Team Preview

85. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe led Wake Forest to five bowl games, but after five straight losing seasons, Grobe knew that the program needed new energy. Enter Dave Clawson, fresh off a successful stint at Bowling Green.

Clawson won’t have an easy time turning the program around. The offense was the ACC’s worst, and gone are the top passer, rusher and receiver. The defense should be the stronger unit, and he may have to rely on creating turnovers to help the offense. His biggest task so far has been to wipe away the losing culture:

“It’s definitely a higher standard that they are setting for us, and we couldn’t be happier,” safety Ryan Janvion says.

Read the full 2014 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Team Preview

86. North Texas
A new starting quarterback and a rebuilt defensive front seven usually point to a rebuilding year, and that still may be the case for the Mean Green. But there are enough concerns elsewhere in the C-USA West Division to keep North Texas right in the mix for contention. Plus, the program has a different feel after posting nine wins and the Mean Green’s first bowl victory in 11 years last season.

“(Rebuilding) is fair for people to say, but great programs reload,” coach Dan McCarney says. “Not many people knew about us when I got here. We need to keep it going and not go back into the woods.”

A home opener against SMU should be telling about the team’s potential. And if the Mean Green are still in the hunt, an Oct. 25 trip to Rice could provide a title shot. North Texas handed C-USA champion Rice its lone league loss last season.

Read the full 2014 North Texas Mean Green Team Preview

87. Rice
The Owls won 10 games last year and took the C-USA title by whipping Marshall in the championship game. Two years ago, Rice fans wondered whether David Bailiff was the man to run the program. Now, they are convinced of his ability to lead. The Owls are in a position where they can redshirt just about all their freshmen. That’s huge.

But Rice will be tested this year. The schedule features seven road games with four of the first five away from home. If quarterback Driphus Jackson can return to the form he flashed at the end of the 2012 season, Rice will be dangerous on offense, thanks to a strong supporting cast around him. The defense is deep and experienced. Another C-USA title may be asking too much, but the Owls should be bowling, for sure.

Read the full 2014 Rice Owls Team Preview

88. UConn
Bob Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. That’s why Diaco was given a five-year contract worth $8 million.

Read the full 2014 UConn Huskies Team Preview

89. UTSA
UTSA’s rise in its first three seasons as a football program has been remarkable. The Roadrunners have gone from not having a team to being a legitimate threat to reach the Conference USA Championship Game in just four years. This is a senior-laden squad with experience at every position except quarterback, and this group has been building toward the 2014 season, since it’s the first year that the program is eligible to participate in a bowl game.

Coach Larry Coker has built his team primarily from the Texas high schools, especially the San Antonio area, which is home to almost 30 players on the current roster. The transitional phase to the FBS has been smoother than expected, and now comes a new hurdle for this very new program — expectations.

Read the full 2014 UTSA Roadrunners Team Preview

90. MTSU
Almost always a contender but rarely a champion, MTSU has been bowl-eligible five times in Rick Stockstill’s eight seasons but has earned only a share of one conference title. Back-to-back eight-win seasons in two different conferences (Sun Belt, C-USA) provide a good springboard for another bowl bid this year.

With East Carolina out of the league, MTSU likely must beat out Marshall, Florida Atlantic and old Sun Belt rival Western Kentucky for the C-USA East title. Finding a dependable quarterback and duplicating last season’s terrific turnover margin will be key if the Blue Raiders want to make a run at a conference title rather than just hang around .500.

“Each year your team changes, but you know we’re close,” Stockstill says. “We were a game out of winning it in our last year in the Sun Belt. And we were basically a game out from winning it this past year in Conference USA. Marshall will obviously be the favorite, but we’re close.”

Read the full 2014 MTSU Blue Raiders Team Preview

91. FAU
If the offensive line can find cohesion, FAU has the weapons to put up a lot of points in 2014. The defense lacks depth but boasts an outstanding secondary and a defensive tackle rotation that should limit big gains by opponents via the ground game. FAU should make a bowl for the first time in six years and could gain some national notoriety with an upset in Week 1 at Nebraska. But the season will be defined in back-to-back weeks in October, when FAU hosts Western Kentucky and then travels to C-USA favorite Marshall.

Read the full 2014 FAU Owls Team Preview

92. Western Kentucky
After seven seasons as an NFL backup quarterback with six teams, Jeff Brohm quickly transitioned to college coaching. A dozen years later, he is getting his first opportunity as a head coach. And of the 20 new coaches in the FBS ranks, Brohm is the only one promoted to the top job from the previous staff. Six assistants also stayed instead of following Bobby Petrino or jumping elsewhere. That rare continuity after a coaching change should bode well for a team that was snubbed for a bowl berth despite winning eight games. The Hilltoppers figure to have a tough time matching last year’s win total — the schedule is more difficult — but this is a program that can compete for C-USA titles in the near future.

Read the full 2014 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Team Preview

93. Arkansas State
Coaching changes followed conference championships in each of the last three seasons at ASU. With a $3 million buyout in the first two years of his contract, Blake Anderson figures to have a longer stay than immediate predecessors Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. The former North Carolina offensive coordinator inherits more than expectations, too. The Red Wolves figure to experience some of the typical transition issues, and there are key players to replace on both sides of the ball, but they have enough talent to contend for another Sun Belt title and bowl bid.

Read the full 2014 Arkansas State Red Wolves Team Preview

94. Wyoming
Wyoming hired a proven winner in Craig Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS national titles. But the transition in all phases of the game will take time. The Cowboys lost to five teams that finished above them in the conference standings by nearly 30 points per contest last season. This season’s schedule does them no favors, with road games at Oregon and Michigan State in September. Anything close to a .500 record should be considered a success.

“We made good progress during the course of the spring, but we are not anything to where we are a finished product,” Bohl says.

Read the full 2014 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview

95. Ohio
Ohio has developed into a consistent winner under coach Frank Solich, and with a veteran defense and solid special teams, the Bobcats should again be a contender for a winning season and possible bowl bid. But with a complete rebuild in store for the offense, Ohio will have a tough time contending for a league title in 2014.

Read the full 2014 Ohio Bobcats Team Preview

96. SMU
The Mustangs came close to playing in their fifth straight bowl game despite a porous defense and virtually no running game in 2013. But they face even tougher obstacles with a new quarterback, a patchwork line and no proven running back. Best-case scenario, the defense plays over its head, buying some time for Neal Burcham to develop, and the incoming class is better than advertised. A tough non-conference schedule complicates matters. The Mustangs open at Baylor’s new stadium and then face other former Southwest Conference rivals Texas A&M and TCU.

Read the full 2014 SMU Mustangs Team Preview

97. Akron
Akron made major strides last season with a 5–7 record after winning only six games total in the previous four seasons. A winning season is possible if enough players turn potential into productivity. It helps that the league schedule seems more forgiving than in the recent past.

The offense needs quarterback Kyle Pohl to make better decisions and be more consistent than he was in 2013. The receiving corps may have put up some decent numbers, but there were far too many drops. A senior-style performance from Jawon Chisholm would take some pressure off the passing game.

Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Amato believes that question marks can be turned into exclamation points.

The feeling around the conference is that the Zips are finally going to have a team befitting the beautiful InfoCision Stadium. The university must feel the same way, because Terry Bowden was awarded a new two-year contract extension through 2018.

Bowden has built from the bottom, filled pieces slowly but surely and has a team that might be a surprise.

Read the full 2014 Akron Zips Team Preview

98. Memphis
It appears all the elements are in place for the Tigers to make a move in the American Athletic Conference. Coach Justin Fuente has increased the tempo of his offense and has a quarterback who he believes can lead the charge. Defensively, the Tigers likely will improve further under the direction of Barry Odom and make a run at bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2008.

Read the full 2014 Memphis Tigers Team Preview

99. Tulane
Was the 2013 success a legitimate breakthrough or the product of a weak schedule? Tulane’s move to the more competitive American Athletic Conference will provide that answer. On paper, the Green Wave could be an underdog to eight or nine of their 2014 opponents. Of course, the Wave were favored only three times last year, so coach Curtis Johnson is used to that role. Recruiting heavily in South Louisiana, he and his staff have upgraded the talent level significantly. The program is on the upswing, but the record may not reflect that growth as Tulane moves to an on-campus stadium (Yulman Stadium) for the first time in 40 years.

Read the full 2014 Tulane Green Wave Team Preview

100. Temple
The Owls made the switch from Steve Addazio’s run-first philosophy to Matt Rhule’s more wide-open approach, and the transition was far from smooth. Temple slumped to 2–10, the program’s worst record since 2006. But it wasn’t a complete disaster: Seven of the losses were by 10 points or fewer and four by three or fewer, including three on long, late passes. The Owls led by 21 in two losses. A few defensive plays at the right time could have led to another win or two.

Rhule was on the staff when Temple won 26 games while in the MAC from 2009-11. He’s confident that it can happen again, perhaps even soon. A lot depends on P.J. Walker’s continued progress. And the defense, which ranked last — by a wide margin — in the league, must improve considerably for Temple to take a step forward in the American Athletic Conference.

Read the full 2014 Temple Owls Team Preview

Teaser:
College Football 2014 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100
Post date: Monday, June 2, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/american-athletic-conference-announces-division-alignment-2015
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The American Athletic Conference has announced its new divisional alignment for the 2015 season. With Navy set to join the league in 2015, the American Athletic Conference will have 12 teams and will play a championship game on a campus site at the end of the year.

Here are the divisional breakdowns for 2015 and beyond:

EastWest
CincinnatiHouston
East CarolinaMemphis
TempleNavy
UCFSMU
UConnTulane
South FloridaTulsa

On paper, the balance of power seems to be tilted to the East Division. UCF is the defending league champion, and Cincinnati has been one of the league’s top programs over the last five years.

However, the West Division features a solid program in Houston, along with an annual bowl team in Navy. Tulsa struggled in 2013 but is a program capable of winning the league title. And teams like Memphis, SMU and Tulane have made improvement in recent years.

And with the American Athletic Conference going with a friendly geographic alignment, this should be easy for the fans to remember.

Teaser:
American Athletic Conference Announces Division Alignment for 2015
Post date: Friday, May 30, 2014 - 12:56
Path: /college-football/vanderbilts-derek-mason-has-most-awesome-business-card-college-football
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Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason has a tough assignment in Nashville, as the first-year coach has to follow James Franklin after back-to-back nine-win seasons for the Commodores.

But Mason appears to be up to the task, especially after coordinating one of the nation’s top defenses at Stanford over the last few years.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt Mason’s profile that he has one of the best business cards in the nation. This photo tweeted out by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples showcases Mason’s gold business card for 2014:

Teaser:
Vanderbilt's Derek Mason has the Most Awesome Business Card in College Football
Post date: Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 12:07
Path: /college-football/college-football-win-total-projections-released-2014
Body:

Need a good way to make it through the long offseason? First, buy and read an Athlon Sports College Football preview magazine and then take a look at these win total projections provided by 5Dimes.

With a few months until kickoff, expect to see more win total projections released, but 5Dimes has 35 teams and the wager prices for 2014 to help us pass the time until August.

Here’s a look at the team and projected win totals by 5Dimes:
 

TeamProjected Win Total
Alabama 10.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Auburn 9.5 (Over -155, Under +115)
Baylor 9.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
BYU 8.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Clemson 9.5 (Over -150, Under -190)
Duke 8.5 (Over +120, Under -160)
Florida 7.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Georgia 9.5 (Over -120, Under -120)
Indiana 5.5 (Over +145, Under -185)
Kansas State 8.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
Maryland 7.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Miami 7.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Michigan 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Michigan State 9.5 (Over -155, Under +115)
Mississippi 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Missouri 9.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Nebraska 7.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
North Carolina 7.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Notre Dame 9.5 (Over +110, Under -150)
Ohio State 10.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Oregon 10.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Penn State 8.5 (Over +100, Under -140)
Rutgers 4.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
South Carolina 9.5 (Over -140, Under +100)
Stanford 9.5 (Over -120, Under -120)
Tennessee 5.5 (Over -160, Under +120)
Texas 8.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
Texas A&M 7.5 (Over -110, Under -130)
TCU 6.5 (Over +120, Under -160)
UCLA 9.5 (Over +100, Under -150)
USC 8.5 (Over -130, Under -110)
Virginia Tech 7.5 (Over -150, Under +110)
Washington State 5.5 (Over -165, Under +125)
West Virginia 5.5 (Over -190, Under +150)
Wisconsin 9.5 (Over -135, Under -105)
Teaser:
College Football Win Total Projections Released for 2014
Post date: Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 13:09
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, NC State Wolfpack, News
Path: /college-football/nc-state-unveils-black-helmets-2014
Body:

NC State heads into 2014 looking for some positive momentum after a 3-9 record in Dave Doeren’s first season.

The Wolfpack have a promising quarterback in Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, so improvement from Doeren’s team is expected.

But as with any offseason, teams often unveil new uniforms to build buzz for the upcoming year.

NC State did just that on Sunday, as the Wolfpack unveiled a new black helmet for 2014.

Of course, it isn’t just the color that is intriguing. Along with a patch of red at the back, the helmet will feature eyes in the back. Yes, you read that correctly:

Teaser:
NC State Unveils Black Helmets for 2014
Post date: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/georgia-or-south-carolina-who-wins-sec-east-2014
Body:

The SEC East is one of the toughest divisions to sort out this preseason. Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Missouri each have a compelling case to be picked at No. 1 in the division.

Georgia finished 8-5 in 2013, largely due to injuries and bad luck. The Bulldogs lost quarterback Aaron Murray late in the year to a torn ACL, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell suffered a torn ACL in the season opener against Clemson. The injuries weren’t limited to just Murray and Mitchell, as Todd Gurley was slowed all season by an ankle injury, and Keith Marshall suffered a torn ACL against Tennessee.

South Carolina has won 11 games in each of the last three seasons and finished No. 4 nationally in the final Associated Press poll. The Gamecocks return 13 starters for 2014 but must replace defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, tackle Kelcy Quarles and quarterback Connor Shaw.

Although the upcoming season is still months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2014 and projections. Athlon Sports is counting down the top 25 teams for 2014, and the debate among the staff was Georgia and South Carolina for the No. 1 spot in the East.

Will Georgia reclaim the top spot in the East? Or Will South Carolina win 11 games once again? Or could Florida or Missouri end up as the No. 1 team in the East?

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

Georgia or South Carolina: Who Wins the SEC East in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Close call, but I like Georgia over South Carolina. The Bulldogs had a lot of bad luck go their way in 2013, which included an awful turnover margin (-7) and injuries to several key players. After a year of bad luck, perhaps the ball will bounce more in Georgia’s favor in 2014. New quarterback Hutson Mason should be a solid replacement for Aaron Murray, and the senior has plenty of talent to work with. Running back Todd Gurley is healthy, and backfield mate Keith Marshall should be able to contribute in 2014 after tearing an ACL last year. The receiving corps should be among the best in the nation with Malcolm Mitchell returning to full strength. After allowing 31.8 points a game in SEC action last year, Georgia’s defense should easily improve behind new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Bulldogs have the personnel to run Pruitt’s scheme, especially at linebacker with Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Ramik Wilson. The biggest concerns for Mark Richt’s team have to be in the secondary and on the offensive line. Georgia’s schedule is tough, but an early road trip to Columbia to take on South Carolina could work in the Bulldogs favor, especially with the Gamecocks reloading on the defensive line and in the secondary. Both teams should rank among the top 5-10 nationally at the end of the year. However, give me the Bulldogs to represent the East in Atlanta in early December.

Mark Ross
Steve Spurrier has South Carolina rolling, but Mark Richt is certainly no stranger to success in his own right. Georgia will have to begin the post-Aaron Murray era at quarterback, but the same can be said for South Carolina with defensive stud Jadeveon Clowney, not to mention underrated quarterback Connor Shaw and several other key players, off to the NFL. The Ol Ball Coach has the Gamecocks in pretty good shape for another strong showing, but Richt has new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt ready to apply his magic touch to a Bulldogs defense that welcomes back 10 starters. There's no substitute for experience, especially in a conference like the SEC. Georgia's offense may be more of a question mark with Hutson Mason taking over the reins, but this also is a unit that was wrecked by injuries last season and boasts one of the more talented and explosive backfields in the nation with Todd Gurley leading the way. South Carolina running back Mike Davis is certainly no slouch himself, but it remains to be seen if quarterback Dylan Thompson can provide the type of consistent, steady production that Shaw did, or even the leadership for that matter. South Carolina will host Georgia in the third week of the season and this game figures to loom large in determining who wins the SEC East in 2014, along with the crossover date each has with defending champion Auburn. Even though the Gamecocks are tough at home and Spurrier's team appears to have the momentum, I like Richt's squad to capitalize on its experience on defense and enjoy better health on offense on its way to picking up another "home" game — one that takes place on Dec. 6 in the Georgia Dome.

Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
I’m going with Georgia. That road game at South Carolina on Sept. 13 won’t be easy for Georgia. The Bulldogs could certainly lose, but I’ll take them to win on the road and start SEC play with a comfortable lead in the SEC East.

Georgia looks like a serious SEC championship contender with all its talent. Replacing Aaron Murray at quarterback will be difficult, but senior Hutson Mason will have plenty of guys who can help him, especially in the backfield. That will help ease the transition.

Georgia’s defense should be better this season thanks to so much experience returning and the arrival of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The Bulldogs ranked No. 10 in the SEC in scoring defense last season. That will surely improve. South Carolina, which ranked second in the league in the same category, will likely have a difficult time maintaining that level of play with the loss of several key defenders, including linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. I’ll give Georgia the advantage over South Carolina in what should be a very competitive battle in the SEC East.

Kevin Causey (@CFBZ), CrystalBallRun.com
After struggling for the better part of five years at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier finally broke through with the 2010 team that went to the SEC Championship Game. Since that time, the Gamecocks have been amazingly consistent as every year they have gone 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the conference. It will be interesting to see how the Gamecocks stabilize with losing their big name talent on defense (Clowney) and their heart and soul on offense (Connor Shaw). They still have a lot of talent but the loss of Shaw in particular could be bigger than some think.

Recently, Georgia has been more up and down than it's rival from Columbia. Since 2010, Georgia has posted conference records of 3-5, 7-1, 7-1 and 5-3. While Georgia has not been as consistent as South Carolina, they have also shown that they have the a bit of a higher ceiling (with the two 7-1 seasons versus South Carolina's peak of 6-2).

I like the direction both of these teams are headed and I would not be surprised if either is representing the East in the SEC Championship Game. If I had to choose one, I pick Georgia because despite being more inconsistent in the recent past they have also shown the capability of rising higher. That and Todd Gurley.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The nod goes to Georgia, though I expect this to be a heated four-team race. That means the race at some point will include Florida and Missouri in addition to South Carolina. And it probably means the East champions could win with two losses. I pick Georgia for a few reasons. First, no team in the East has better skill position talent on offense. True, Hutson Mason is unproven as a starting quarterback, save for a comeback against Georgia Tech. But Todd Gurley is the best back in the SEC, and the group of receivers, now healthy, could be the top receiving corps in the league. Mason needs only to be capable, and Mark Richt rarely has subpar quarterback play. The defense hasn’t finished higher than fourth in the SEC in yards per play since at least 2007, and while I doubt the Bulldogs will end that streak this season, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is a major addition to the staff. All these teams in the East have their flaws, but Georgia has enough going for it where the Bulldogs should be able to cover them up.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
They both have senior quarterbacks who have waited their turn to start. They both have an elite tailback ready to carry the load. They both play Clemson in the non-conference and Auburn from the West Division. Georgia has nine starters back on defense led by new star coordinator Jeremy Pruit and should be much healthier on offense. South Carolina has arguably the best one-game coach in the nation, five offensive lineman back and the benefit of an important home SEC schedule. I will split hairs and take the Gamecocks - despite a rebuilt defensive line - due in large part because of the schedule. Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas A&M are critical games should all be wins at home. So a road split between Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Auburn will likely give the 'Ol Ball Coach his second East Division title at South Carolina.

Teaser:
Georgia or South Carolina: Who Wins the SEC East in 2014?
Post date: Friday, May 16, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/stanford-or-oregon-who-wins-pac-12-north-2014
Body:

Oregon and Stanford have been two of college football’s top programs in recent years, as the Ducks and Cardinal have combined to win all three of the Pac-12’s championship games.

Different year, same story in 2014. Stanford and Oregon are the favorites to win the Pac-12 North this season, and both teams are expected to factor into the national title conversation.

Oregon returns Heisman contender Marcus Mariota at quarterback, a solid offensive line and a backfield that features Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall.

Stanford suffered a few losses in the offseason, including defensive coordinator Derek Mason leaving to take over as Vanderbilt’s head coach. However, the Cardinal should be able to easily replace four starters on the line, and the defense has enough returning pieces to prevent a major drop in production.

One factor that should play a key role in determining the North champion is the schedule. Stanford has a tougher crossover slate with the South Division and has to play at Eugene in 2014.

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

Oregon or Stanford: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Deciding between Stanford and Oregon for the No. 1 spot in the North has to be one of the toughest preseason debates in 2014. Both teams have areas of concern and transition on the coaching staffs, but the Cardinal and Ducks should still be among the top 10-15 teams in the nation. If I had to pick a favorite, I would pick Oregon slightly over Stanford – but not by much. The Ducks have the easier schedule and won’t have to play Arizona State or USC from the South in the regular season. Getting an improved Washington team at home is also huge for Oregon’s chances of winning the North. Another reason to like the Ducks at No. 1 in the North is quarterback Marcus Mariota returning to full strength from a knee injury. Mariota will be throwing to a revamped receiving corps, but there should be plenty of weapons to choose from, including a deep group of tight ends. If Stanford had an easier schedule, I would probably pick the Cardinal. However, with Mariota returning to 100 percent and a favorable schedule, I lean Oregon as the top team in the North in 2014.

Kyle Kensing, (@Kensing45), CFBHuddle.com and BleacherReport.com
Marcus Mariota has accomplished much in his two seasons at Oregon, but one accomplishment eluding the dynamic quarterback is a Pac-12 championship. The roadblock standing between Mariota and this milestone twice has been Stanford and its stout defense.

The Cardinal will again set the conference benchmark for defensive intensity, despite losing Ed Reynolds, Trent Murphy and noted Duck-stopper Shayne Skov. But is Stanford equipped to once again slow the Oregon offense with Derek Mason no longer directing the defense?

This should be the year Mariota finally cuts down the Trees and wins the Pac-12 North. He leads what should be the most talented Oregon offense yet—a staggering reality given the teams that have come through Eugene in recent years. But perhaps more important to the Ducks' championship aspirations is that the defense should be tougher in 2014.

New defensive coordinator Don Pellum emphasized strength training in the offseason, and building depth during the spring. Last year against Stanford, the Ducks' inability to stop Tyler Gaffney up front was the difference. This year, a bulkier and deeper front seven is better prepared to counter a power-run game, such as Stanford's.

Mark Ross
Stanford has ruled the Pac-12 North the past two years, thanks in large part to two straight victories over Oregon. David Shaw has his Cardinal in good shape to make it three division titles in a row, but I am leaning towards Mark Helfrich's Ducks to reclaim the crown this season. Both teams are talented and should finish pretty high in the national polls, but I like Oregon's roster a little bit more than Stanford's. For the Ducks it starts with Heisman Trophy contender Marcus Mariota at quarterback, who should be the engine that drives one of the nation's most explosive offenses. The defense has some star power of its own, however, and as long as the offense does its job, it won't have to come up with too many stops. Stanford brings back seven starters on defense, but it also watched a total of five all-conference performers either get drafted or signed by an NFL team just a few days ago. The offense returns even less experience (four starters), as four pieces to one of the most dominant offensive lines in the nation and 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Gaffney have departed. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty of talent left on The Farm, but with this year's head-to-head matchup set for Eugene on Nov. 1, I like the Ducks to protect their home turf (this time), a victory that will help propel them to the Pac-12 North title in 2014.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’m taking Oregon, and that’s partially because of the personnel losses at Stanford. The Cardinal will maintain a level of excellence, but replacing offensive line starters and a horde of major contributors on defense will make it tough to win a division or conference title. Meanwhile, the Ducks still have at least a year with Marcus Mariota. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll keep Oregon in contention. Throw in depth at running back and all five starters on the line, and there’s no reason Oregon won’t continue to have an explosive offense. Defensive line is the biggest question on defense, but if the Ducks aren’t going to be great there, at least it’s in a year where Stanford might not be mauling teams up front (yet).

Teaser:
Stanford or Oregon: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2014?
Post date: Thursday, May 15, 2014 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/washington-reinstates-qb-cyler-miles
Body:

Washington’s quarterback situation was one of the key storylines in the Pac-12 this spring, but it appears the Huskies will have some clarity before the fall. After missing spring practice due to an off-the-field incident, Cyler Miles was reinstated to the team by coach Chris Petersen on Tuesday.

Miles threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns in 2013, serving as the top backup to Keith Price. Price missed the Oregon State game due to injury, and Miles led the Huskies to a 69-27 win, throwing for 162 yards and one score.

The addition of Miles is huge for Washington, as Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams have yet to throw a pass on the collegiate level.

Miles has some work to do in order to learn the new offense. However, he should provide Washington with its best chance to win in 2014. And with Stanford visiting Seattle this year, the Huskies have a chance to make some noise in the North Division – if Miles continues to develop after a promising stint in 2013.
 

Teaser:
Washington Reinstates QB Cyler Miles
Post date: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 20:13
Path: /college-football/wisconsins-defense-or-quarterback-play-which-bigger-concern-2014
Body:

Wisconsin is one of the top programs in the Big Ten, winning at least seven games in each season since 2002. Additionally, the Badgers have experienced only one losing season since 1996.

As Wisconsin turns the page from a successful 9-4 debut by coach Gary Andersen, there are several holes to address on the depth chart. The Badgers need more from their starting quarterback – Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy – and the defense returns only three starters.

Despite the heavy personnel departures, it’s unlikely Wisconsin takes a huge step back in the win column. The schedule is one of the easiest in the Big Ten, as the Badgers won’t play Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State or Ohio State in crossover play.

Although the quarterback spot is a concern, Wisconsin can still lean on a ground attack that will be among the best in the nation. Running back Melvin Gordon should be in Heisman contention, and Corey Clement is a capable replacement for James White.

With an easy schedule, Wisconsin is Athlon’s pick to win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2014. But for this program to challenge Ohio State or Michigan State for the conference title, the quarterback play has to improve. But which is a bigger concern heading into 2014? Is it a rebuilt defense with three new starters? Or is the production at quarterback the bigger issue?

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Countdown for 2014 is underway. Wisconsin ranks as the No. 15 team in college football for 2014.

Wisconsin’s Defense or Quarterback Play: Which is a Bigger Concern in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite returning only three starters on defense, I think Wisconsin is going to be fine on that side of the ball. Sure, it might struggle to stop LSU’s ground game in the opener, but the Badgers have enough returning to prevent a major drop on the stat sheet. Nose guard Warren Herring is a good piece to build around up front, while the linebacking corps should be in good shape with Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert and Derek Landisch. The secondary ranked 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense, and sophomore corner Sojourn Shelton is a rising star. Assuming Wisconsin gets the same type of production from its quarterback spot as it did in 2013, the Badgers should be able to win the West Division. However, for this program to take the next step, coach Gary Andersen needs more from its quarterbacks. Joel Stave was steady last year but is being pushed by Tanner McEvoy for snaps. McEvoy is a dual-threat option and played safety after transferring from junior college last season. And if Stave and McEvoy struggle, Wisconsin may have to dig deeper in the depth chart and turn to true freshman D.J. Gillins or sophomore Bart Houston.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
It has to be quarterback. The Badgers will have a good offense, no matter who starts under center, thanks to the one-two backfield punch of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. But, if the incumbent (Joel Stave) can’t improve or the dual-threat challenger (Tanner McEvoy) can’t win the job – and keep it – this could be a one-dimensional offense that isn’t nearly as prolific as the ones we’re used to seeing in Madison. It’s no secret Stave and Wisconsin have struggled to pass the last two seasons, and things won’t get any easier with Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and James White, the team’s top pass-catchers, all out of eligibility. Making the quarterback’s job even tougher, the Badgers lack a proven vertical threat who can stretch the field and keep defenses honest. That said, a surprise year from Stave or McEvoy could be the difference between a good offense and a top (Big Ten) offense.

Mark Ross
With Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement carrying the load and four starting offensive linemen returning, Wisconsin will do what it always does — run opposing defenses into the ground. Because of this well-established and highly successful formula, I'm not that worried about the quarterback play. No, I'm looking more at having to replace eight starters from a defense that ranked seventh or better nationally in three of the four major categories (17th in pass defense). Three of those starters were taken in the recent NFL Draft and anytime you have to basically revamp your starting 11, that's no easy task. The only returning all-conference performers are in the secondary, which means the Badgers will be employing a largely untested and inexperienced front seven. What was a strength for last year's team can now only be characterized, at best, as a rather large question mark headed into this season. The conference realignment does provide the Badgers with a break, as Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State have been replaced by Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern when it comes to divisional foes. The Badgers' crossover schedule doesn't include the Buckeyes or Nittany Lions, or even the Spartans or Wolverines for that matter, but rather Maryland and Rutgers — the Big Ten's two newcomers. So while I am expecting Wisconsin to finish atop the West Division standings in 2014, I don't think the Badgers will be near as dominant on both sides of the ball as they were last season.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Wisconsin’s biggest concern isn’t so much the quarterback as much as it is the entire passing game. What here inspires a ton of confidence? Joel Stave missed most of spring with a shoulder injury sustained in the bowl game. Quarterbacks and bad shoulders can be bad news. And even before that Stave wasn’t the sharpest quarterback, throwing 13 interceptions. Five of those picks came in the final three games. His back up, Tanner McEvoy, may be athletic enough to scramble (or play safety), but he’s an unpolished passer. If that’s not enough, Wisconsin doesn’t have the security of Jared Abbrederis. It’s a good thing Melvin Gordon is back, otherwise, this offense would be in a heap of trouble. While Wisconsin’s pass defense was torched late in the season against Penn State and South Carolina, the Badgers should be fine on that side of the ball. Even with those two games, Wisconsin’s ranked third in the Big Ten in yards per attempt. Wisconsin’s secondary really was a mess to start the season in 2013 and returns three starters in 2014. Chris Borland is a big loss at linebacker, but Wisconsin has veterans there to replace him. 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

Early in the season the answer will be the defense when Wisconsin has to face a power running game from LSU and sneaky explosive offense from Bowling Green. The front seven needs to be rebuilt and a replacement for Chris Borland needs to be found. However, as the year goes along, Joel Stave's play will grow into the bigger issue - especially in November with big divisional games against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota looming. Over time the defense should develop and won't be nearly as tested against some average Big Ten offenses. But Stave will have to create balance on offense in those critical swing games late in the year if Wisconsin wants to cruise into its third Big Ten title game in four years. 

Teaser:
Wisconsin's Defense or Quarterback Play: Which is a Bigger Concern in 2014?
Post date: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-or-lsu-which-team-finishes-higher-sec-west-2014
Body:

The SEC West is the toughest division in college football. The tiers in the West seem to be clear, as Alabama and Auburn are the top-two teams, with LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State battling for the No. 3 spot. Arkansas is expected to be picked at the bottom by most in 2014. Of course, LSU has been the most reliable team out of that mix in recent years, and Les Miles has another elite recruiting haul on the way for 2014.

Even though the tiers seem to be clear, Alabama, Auburn and LSU each have some personnel losses to overcome in 2014. The Tigers are replacing a handful of players on both sides of the ball and finished spring with uncertainty at quarterback.

Considering the losses at the top of the division, the door is open for Ole Miss to challenge in the West. The Rebels return 13 starters in 2014, including standout sophomores in receiver Laquon Treadwell, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner.

Injuries played a key role in the Rebels’ 8-5 record last season, as quarterback Bo Wallace was never 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery. Additionally, defensive end C.J. Johnson missed nearly all of last year, and receiver Vince Sanders struggled to get on track after a collarbone injury in the preseason.

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

Athlon Sports' Top 25 countdown for 2014 is underway. LSU ranks as the No. 19 team, while Ole Miss checks in at No. 18.
 

Ole Miss or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s easy to pencil LSU among the top three in the West Division each preseason, but 2014 could be a different story. Yes, the Tigers have talent and are consistently in the mix for 10 wins. However, this LSU team seems to have more question marks than any in recent memory. The Tigers have uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback and receiver, while the defensive line and linebacking corps needs work. The Rebels aren’t without their own flaws, as Hugh Freeze’s team is thin on the offensive line, while quarterback Bo Wallace needs to take the next step. Despite Ole Miss’ question marks, I like the Rebels to finish ahead of LSU in the SEC West standings. In last year’s final tally, the Tigers were two games better in the division. Making predictions from year-to-year isn’t as simple as personnel losses, but LSU has to replace quarterback Zach Mettenberger, two 1,000-yard receivers, both starting defensive tackles and standout linebacker Lamin Barrow. The Tigers didn’t have a vintage defense last year, as they allowed 5.7 yards per play in SEC games, just a shade better than the Rebels (5.8). Ole Miss returns 13 starters, and the depth in this program has improved significantly over the last two years. Assuming quarterback Bo Wallace has recovered from his shoulder injury and can stay healthy, the Rebels should make the jump from 3-5 in conference play to 5-3, which will be enough to inch ahead of LSU in the West.

Josh Ward, MrSEC.com, (@Josh_Ward)
This is the season Ole Miss hopes to take a big step in the SEC West. Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M all have to replace their star quarterbacks from a year ago while Ole Miss returns third-year starter Bo Wallace. The Rebels also have a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball and a good amount of experience returning on defense.

LSU has to replace several key offensive players, including quarterback Zach Mettenberger, running back Jeremy Hill and wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Then there’s the defensive tackle duo of Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, both of whom left early for the NFL.

All of this points to Ole Miss finishing ahead of LSU in the SEC West for the first time since 2008. But I don’t think it will be that easy. Ole Miss will have to play at LSU on Oct. 25 along with road trips to Arkansas and Texas A&M. Those won’t be easy. Nor will home games against Alabama and Auburn. In the end, I think both LSU and Ole Miss will finish with a 5-3 record in the SEC with LSU beating Ole Miss. Tiebreaker goes to LSU.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Neither of these two teams would be my pick to win the SEC West, but the race between the Rebels and Tigers might be the most interesting battle to watch in the division this fall. One program is surging with energy and excitement with a returning senior quarterback and loads of future NFL stars in key positions. And the other is LSU - a team with quarterback questions and holes to plug up the heart of the defense. That said, Les Miles and his Bayou Bengals are the established program with four straight seasons of at least 10 wins, two high-level coordinators and a decade of championship competition. That level of operation counts for something when the fourth quarter rolls around against top-flight competition. Hugh Freeze is the hotter name running a hungrier program, but Ole Miss will have to win in Baton Rouge to leap LSU in the standings and I don't see that happening... Yet.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Recent history says it’s not wise to bet against LSU, especially in favor of Ole Miss. Still, the two programs are at a crossroads of sorts. Ole Miss is on the way up while LSU looks like it might take rare off year, as in a year when it wins eight or nine games instead of 10. Ole Miss has the most experienced quarterback in the SEC, even if that quarterback, Bo Wallace, can be a little wild. The Rebels proved that their top-10 signing class in 2013 was more than just an “on paper” victory; The class is going to play a major role in turning Ole Miss. LSU, though, has too many questions, both at quarterback and in the middle of the defense (tackle, linebacker and safety). Ole Miss is knocking on the door of relevance in the West, signaled in part by a 27-24 win over LSU in Oxford. With frontline talent like Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell, the Rebels are ready to leapfrog LSU at least for this year.

Kevin Causey (@CFBZ), CrystalBallRun.com
I'm a big believer in "past performance predicts future performance", especially when things remain constant. The constant for LSU has been Les Miles and over his nine years at LSU he has had seven double-digit win seasons, one nine win season and one eight win season. In other words, you can bank on LSU winning 10 games year in and year out and they have a basement of five conference wins.

Hugh Freeze and his Ole Miss Rebels are on the rise but in his first two seasons, the Rebels have been unable to rise above three conference wins.

It's certainly possible that LSU has a down year this year with all of it's changeover and Ole Miss breaks through but until that happens I'm putting my money on Les and LSU to finish higher in the SEC West than Ole Miss and Mr Freeze.

Mark Ross
Since the turn of the millennium, Ole Miss has finished ahead of LSU in the SEC West standings just once (2008). The two teams tied at 7-1 in 2003, but the TIgers beat the Rebels to earn the right to play in the SEC Championship Game that year. So it's not an understatement to say LSU has had Ole Miss' number these past 14 seasons, including a 10-4 mark head-to-head, but I am predicting this to change this fall. Perhaps I am putting too much stock into the buzz that's coming from Oxford, but it's clear that Hugh Freeze has the Rebels headed in the right direction, especially when it comes to recruiting. I believe this will be the first season when the fruits of the coaching staff's labor on the trail starts to pay off, especially since LSU looks ripe for the picking. Les Miles has seen 17 players leave early for the NFL over the past two seasons, and even though he continues to churn out top-10 recruiting classes, at some point this will catch up to his roster, especially in the SEC. The Tigers will be introducing five new starters on each side of the ball, none bigger than whomever ends up taking over for quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Meanwhile, the Rebels welcome back all-conference candidate Bo Wallace under center along with several explosive playmakers and a defense that returns nine starters. Ole Miss does have a tough schedule to navigate, including a trip to Baton Rouge and a home date with Auburn back-to-back, but LSU has to go to Gainesville to face a Florida team that can't wait for a chance to redeem itself following last season's disastrous showing. Both host Alabama and open the season with tough non-conference matchups (LSU vs. Wisconsin at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas; Ole Miss vs. Boise State at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), but what truly matters is what happens once October and November roll around. Even though LSU will have home-field advantage on Oct. 25, I like Wallace to lead a Rebel uprising over the Tigers in the SEC West this season.

Teaser:
Ole Miss or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2014?
Post date: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-qb-daniel-sams-decides-transfer
Body:

After finishing 2013 with wins in six out of its last seven games, Kansas State is expected to be a top-25 program in 2014. However, the Wildcats suffered a setback on offense this week, as GoPowercat.com has reported receiver Daniel Sams has decided to transfer.

Sams competed with Jake Waters for the starting quarterback spot last season and finished 2013 with 452 passing yards and four touchdowns last season, while rushing for 807 yards and 11 scores.

With Jake Waters entrenched as the starting quarterback, Sams was expected to move to receiver in 2014.

It’s uncertain if Sams will transfer to a FCS school and play immediately or sit out 2014 and return at a BCS program in 2015.

Losing Sams is a setback for the Wildcats, but the receiving corps still has options. Receiver Tyler Lockett is one of the best in the nation, and junior college recruit Andre Davis is expected to contribute immediately.

Sams’ departure could play a bigger role on Kansas State’s 2015 quarterback plans, as Waters is in the final year of his eligibility, and the backup situation heading into 2014 is uncertain.
 

Teaser:
Kansas State QB Daniel Sams Decides to Transfer
Post date: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/acc-decides-stick-eight-game-conference-schedule-format
Body:

Conference scheduling is a hot topic in college football, and the ACC is the latest league to settle on a future format.

After the first day of its league meetings, the ACC announced it would stick with an eight-game conference format in the future. The league was considering shifting to a nine-game slate, which would have allowed the teams in the league to have another crossover game each season.

However, the ACC decided to stick with eight games, but there is a caveat to the future schedules. All 14 ACC teams must play an opponent from one of the other four power conferences or Notre Dame each season.

The scheduling announcement is similar to the SEC, which announced an eight-game format with one non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent.
 

Teaser:
ACC Decides to Stick With Eight-Game Conference Schedule Format
Post date: Monday, May 12, 2014 - 17:39
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-how-many-games-will-nittany-lions-win-2014
Body:

Penn State is one of the Big Ten’s most intriguing teams to watch in 2014. The Nittany Lions are under the direction of new coach James Franklin, who comes to Happy Valley after three seasons at Vanderbilt.

Franklin guided the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games and won nine contests in back-to-back seasons. Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC, but Franklin elevated the program and should be a great fit at Penn State.

Franklin and his staff inherit plenty of All-Big Ten talent, but there are question marks about this team’s depth and offensive line.

Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the best signal-callers in the Big Ten, and he will have plenty of support from a solid stable of running backs and a deep group of tight ends. Only one starter is back on the offensive line, and depth is a huge concern with freshmen expected to make a major contribution in 2014.

Penn State should be solid on defense with the return of six starters, including linebacker Mike Hull, defensive end Deion Barnes, cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos.

Also working in the Nittany Lions’ favor is the schedule. Penn State could be favored to win at least nine games in 2014.

Athlon Sports' Top 25 Countdown for 2014 is underway. Penn State ranks as the No. 22 team for 2014.
 

How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2014? Over/Under: 9.5

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
At first glance, winning 10 games in James Franklin’s first year seems a bit optimistic. However, take a closer look at Penn State’s schedule and it’s not out of the question to reach double-digit wins in 2014. And as evidenced by Franklin’s ability to get the most out of a roster during his three years at Vanderbilt, 10 wins suddenly looks more manageable. The Nittany Lions should be favored to win at least nine contests, with games against Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State the toughest on the 2014 slate. Of course, games at Indiana or Illinois won’t be easy, but those two matchups are late in the year, allowing Penn State time to develop on the line. With the Spartans and Buckeyes coming to Happy Valley, I think the Nittany Lions find a way to win one of those games and finish with a 10-2 record in Franklin’s first season. With a lack of depth, an injury or two on the offensive line could be a huge setback in the win column. However, if Franklin keeps Hackenberg upright in the pocket, Penn State should be a top-25 team in 2014.

Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
Under. I think Penn State will be competitive in James Franklin’s first season, but I can’t see any scenario in which it reaches 10 wins. Ineligible for the Big Ten title game and a bowl game, the Nittany Lions need to go 10-2 in the regular season to hit the over. Bill O’Brien was lauded for his work in two years in State College – he won 2012 Big Ten Coach of the Year – and he won eight and seven games. If Franklin won 10 in Year 1, with both the talent the Nittany Lions lost from last season and the NCAA sanctions still affecting depth, they’d start designing a statue. Simply put, there are too many question marks facing this team, from the aforementioned depth issues, unproven wide receivers and the competitive East Division, to name a few. I see another season of seven or eight wins.

Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), CrystalBallRun.com and CollegeFootballTalk.com
Penn State picking up ten wins is going to be a tall order in 2014, despite the momentum being created with James Franklin taking over as head coach of the program. Penn State has a tough division with both of last season’s Big Ten championship game participants (Ohio State and Michigan State) as well as  alight game at Michigan in Big Ten play. Things start off with a game in Ireland against defending American and Fiesta Bowl champions UCF, although the Knights figure to take a step back this season. The Nittany Lions should get off to a good start and see some great growth in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but at some point the lingering concerns about depth as a result of the sanction phase in the program could come in to play along the way. Penn State won seven games last year, which would mean needing to improve by three wins to cover. If I had to bank on a result right now, I think nine might be the ceiling for Penn State in 2014.

Mark Ross
Don't get me wrong, I love the James Franklin hire for Penn State and fully expect him to enjoy quite a bit of success leading the Nittany Lions. However, this is Franklin's first go-round in the Big Ten, and while the SEC may be the nation's toughest conference, that doesn't mean the B1G won't come with its own learning curve for Franklin and his staff. Franklin does have the luxury of an elite quarterback at his disposal in Christian Hackenberg, but the talented sophomore signal-caller will be without his top target this season, as All-Big Ten wide receiver Allen Robinson will be in an NFL training camp this summer, not in Happy Valley. In fact, the offense returns just three other starters besides Hackenberg, while the defense brings back just six. Bill O'Brien didn't leave the cupboard bare for Franklin, but this program is still dealing with the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions handed down as a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, so depth is still an issue. The schedule is certainly manageable, but with Ohio State and Michigan State in the same division, there's very little margin for error when it comes reaching double-digit wins. The future of the program is in very good hands with Franklin, but I'll take the under on 10 victories in Year 1.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
That’s the under for me, easy. Picking the over means Penn State has to go 10-2 during the regular season. Penn State has won 10 regular season games three times since 1997. That’s three times without NCAA sanctions. James Franklin was a miracle worker at Vanderbilt, that’s downright impossible at Penn State. I know other people on this panel are going to point to Penn State’s easily navigated schedule, but we’re essentially counting on Penn State to beat Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State while being perfect the rest of the way. The Nittany Lions entered spring practice with two scholarship offensive tackles and lost a starting guard to injury. Christian Hackenberg may be a first-round talent, but that line is going to catch up with him at some point during the season. Even if Penn State expects the defense to rebound, the Nittany Lions don’t have the depth to put together a 10-win season, no matter the schedule.

Teaser:
Penn State Football: How Many Games Will the Nittany Lions Win in 2014?
Post date: Monday, May 12, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/baylor-or-oklahoma-who-wins-big-12-2014
Body:

Baylor’s climb to the top of the Big 12 continued last season with an 11-2 final record and a conference championship. The Bears lost in the Fiesta Bowl against UCF, but there’s clearly staying power with Art Briles at the controls in Waco. Baylor has a few holes to fill in 2014, but quarterback Bryce Petty is back after throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns last year.

In addition to Petty’s return, the Bears are loaded at the skill positions with talent, including running back Shock Linwood and receiver Antwan Goodley. The offensive line has question marks but getting left tackle Spencer Drango back to full strength after a back injury will be huge for the play in the trenches.

There’s no doubt Baylor’s recruiting and overall roster have improved in recent years. But with only eight returning starters, can the Bears hold off Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas for the top spot in the conference?

Oklahoma finished in a three-way tie for second last season and closed the year on a high note by beating Oklahoma State in Stillwater and defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

After finishing 11-2 in 2013, Oklahoma is loaded for a run at the Big 12 title. The Sooners return 16 starters, including a rising star at quarterback. Bob Stoops’ team also has an edge in the schedule, as Baylor visits Norman in 2014.

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

Baylor or Oklahoma: Who Wins the Big 12 in 2014?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although Baylor returns the Big 12’s top quarterback and is the defending conference champion, I like Oklahoma to win the league title in 2014. In what was essentially a rebuilding year in 2013, the Sooners went 11-2 and capped the season with a huge win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, we can’t read too much into bowl results, but Oklahoma is loaded for a run at a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff. The defense returns nine starters, with the defensive line and linebacking corps poised to be among the best in the nation. Linebacker Eric Striker is a difference maker in the front seven, and cornerback Zack Sanchez is also poised for a big season after starting 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013. Although Trevor Knight still has plenty to prove, and the receiving corps loses standout receiver Jalen Saunders, there’s reason to believe the offense will be improved in 2014. Knight’s performance against Alabama was impressive, but his output against Kansas State (253 total yards, two scores) shouldn’t be overlooked. Knight may have to carry the offense early in the season, especially as Oklahoma looks for a No. 1 running back. Bob Stoops isn’t hurting for options, including potential breakout stars in Keith Ford, Joe Mixon and Alex Ross. In addition to having few weaknesses on the depth chart, the Sooners’ schedule is very favorable. Oklahoma hosts Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State and doesn’t have a tough non-conference game. I still think Baylor is among the top 10-15 teams in the nation, but I would take the Sooners to win the Big 12 and finish among the top-five teams in college football at the end of 2014.

Allen Kenney, (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Baylor's rise to the top of the Big 12 may have caught most observers around the country off guard, but it didn't happen overnight. Art Briles has steadily built up his program by turning over rocks in Texas and finding speedy offensive playmakers to suit his version of basketball on grass. What set the 2013 team apart was its veteran defense, which was better than just "good for Baylor." Statistically, it was easily the best Briles has had, and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's aggressive philosophy complemented the uptempo O.

While the Bears have talented skill players in place to replace departed standouts such as Lache Seastrunk and Tevin Reese, they don't have the same depth on D. Four of their top six tacklers for a year ago have departed, including tackling machine Eddie Lackey linebacker and stars of the secondary Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl. Despite having some studs up front, those losses are going to hurt.

On the other hand, the Sooners have the most complete team in the conference. The D is stout in the front seven, and Bob Stoops' staff has recruited well enough in the secondary to plug in promising youngsters at safety and cornerback make up for the departures of Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin. Offensively, the team's true Achilles' heel from '13, quarterback, now looks settled. OU did take some hits at receiver through graduation, although sensation junior Sterling Shepard should be able to carry that unit.

Most importantly, the schedule breaks decidedly in OU's favor. The Sooners catch Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home to go along with the annual trip to Dallas to face Texas. Meanwhile, in addition to going to Norman, Baylor also has a trip to Austin on deck. Even if the margin between the two squads proves to be thin, that gives OU the edge.

Mark Ross
Baylor is the defending Big 12 champion, has loads of offensive firepower returning and is enjoying the best stretch of sustained success in program history. However, I'm going to take Oklahoma to unseat the Bears this season, as the Sooners return 16 starters from a team that won 11 games in 2013, the last one a convincing victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Whether Big Game Bob is truly back remains to be seen, but Stoops should be in position to win a bunch of games this fall thanks to the emergence of dual-threat quarterback Trevor Knight and a loaded defense that finished top 20 nationally last season and welcomes back all but two starters. Baylor will score plenty of points once again with reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty back at quarterback and a bevy of athletic, dynamic and explosive pass-catchers, but the offensive line must replace three starters and, more importantly, the defense returns just four starters. Although recruiting has certainly picked up since Art Briles came to Waco, Baylor still falls behind Oklahoma in this department, which makes replacing five all-conference defenders a tougher task for the Bears. What's more, Baylor has to face both Texas and Oklahoma on the road, while the Sooners' toughest conference road game looks to be at TCU, not including the Red River Showdown date with the Longhorns in Dallas. Baylor demolished Oklahoma 41-12 last season in Waco on it way to its first outright conference crown since 1980, but I am picking the Sooners to reign supreme in the Big 12 in 2014.

Teaser:
Baylor or Oklahoma: Who Wins the Big 12 in 2014?
Post date: Friday, May 9, 2014 - 07:15

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