Articles By Steven Lassan

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TCU just missed out on playing in college football’s playoff in 2014, and the Horned Frogs will resume their quest for the national championship with a new uniform combination in 2015.

 

After Friday night’s spring game, TCU released its new jerseys and helmets for the upcoming year, which featured a few differences from last year’s variation.

 

TCU’s new uniforms feature a purple, gray and frog skin design. Here’s a look at the new uniforms for 2015: 

Teaser:
TCU Unveils New Uniforms for 2015
Post date: Friday, April 10, 2015 - 21:33
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-players-rise-2015
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Each season always brings a new cast of college football stars. Whether it’s touted true freshmen living up to the hype in their first season on campus, a sophomore ready to emerge in their second year, or an upper classmen taking on a bigger role, there’s no shortage of breakout player options in the preseason.

 

Which players might emerge with a breakout year in 2015? Here’s a list of 25 players on the rise for this season, headlined by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Auburn signal-caller Jeremy Johnson.

 

And if you want to go deeper, take a look at the individual position breakdowns – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and defensive players – for on the rise options this spring.


Related: CFB's Top 25 Defensive Players on the Rise
 

College Football's Top 25 Players on the Rise for 2015

 

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons and has a good shot at extending that streak to five in 2015. Watson is the biggest reason for optimism and potential at contending for the ACC Championship, as the sophomore is expected to be at full strength in his recovery from a torn ACL by the season opener. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 41 recruit in the 2014 signing class and completed 93 of 137 passes for 1,466 yards and 14 scores in his debut. Watson also rushed for 200 yards and five scores last season. The departure of coordinator Chad Morris was a big loss for Clemson, but with Watson’s return and a talented group of skill players, the Tigers will be among the ACC’s best on offense in 2015.

 

2. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Johnson varies slightly in style to former starter Nick Marshall, but Auburn’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. The Alabama native ranked as the No. 11 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 signing class and has played well in limited action over the last two years. Johnson completed 29 of 41 passes for 422 yards and six scores in 2013 and threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. He also has two starts under his belt, including one against Arkansas (2014). Johnson may not have the dynamic mobility of Marshall, but the junior is going to have a huge season directing the offense for coach Gus Malzahn. 

 

3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette was regarded as the No. 1 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite and certainly didn’t disappoint in his Baton Rouge debut. In 13 appearances, Fournette rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 scores. He also made an impact on special teams, averaging 26 yards per kickoff returns and one touchdown. With LSU struggling to find consistent production from its passing game, the ground attack will have to carry the offense in 2015. With Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard out of eligibility, Fournette should see an uptick in carries and production next year and should be considered a lock for All-SEC honors this offseason.

 

4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
With quarterback Jameis Winston off to the NFL, the focus for Florida State’s offense shifts to the ground attack and talented sophomore Dalvin Cook. As a true freshman last season, Cook rushed for 1,008 yards and eight scores and caught 22 passes for 203 yards. The Miami native averaged 141.3 rushing yards over his final three games, including 6.9 yards per carry in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Cook was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and is poised to push for All-American honors in 2015.

 

5. Adoree' Jackson, CB/WR, USC
Jackson is one of the Pac-12’s most explosive players and one of the nation’s top all-around playmakers. The Illinois native caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns last season and scored four times on special teams. Jackson also recorded 49 tackles (four for a loss) and broke up 10 passes in 2014.
 

6. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Clemson ranked first nationally by holding opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers return only two starters and lose several standouts from the front seven. Lawson is expected to be one of the defense’s top linemen after recording 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in a backup role last season.
 

7. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
Peppers was expected to play a meaningful role in Michigan’s secondary last season, but the New Jersey native was sidelined after three games due to a leg injury. With a full offseason to recover, Peppers is ready to become a key contributor for the Wolverines. New coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to use Peppers as a safety in 2015, which should allow the No. 3 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite to emerge as a impact defender for Michigan this year. 
 

8. JuJu Smith, WR, USC
The biggest void on USC’s offense heading into 2015 is at receiver with the departure of Nelson Agholor. Last season, Agholor led the Trojans with 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 scores. Coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t hurting for options at receiver with the emergence of Smith, along with the addition of a talented recruiting class for 2015. Smith ranked second on the team with 54 catches for 724 yards and five scores last season and is expected to emerge as quarterback Cody Kessler’s go-to target in 2015.


9. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
It’s no coincidence Oklahoma State’s improvement on offense late in the year came with Rudolph at the helm. The Cowboys scored at least 30 points in five games against Power 5 opponents. Rudolph was the quarterback for two of those efforts, including an impressive 38-35 win over Oklahoma and a 30-22 bowl win over Washington. The South Carolina native finished 2014 with 853 passing yards and six scores in three appearances. Rudolph needs more help from his supporting cast in 2015, but the potential is certainly there for the sophomore to earn All-Big 12 honors.
 

10. Rod Johnson, OT, Florida State
Florida State’s offensive line struggled to find consistency through the first half of 2014 but performed better late in the season. The line’s improvement was largely due to Johnson taking over at left tackle and shifting All-American Cameron Erving to center. Johnson started the final five games of 2014 and will be one of the ACC’s top offensive linemen in 2015.  
 

11. Malik Zaire, QB, Notre Dame
Zaire isn’t guaranteed the starting job for 2015, as Everett Golson remains in the mix after throwing for 3,445 yards last season and enters next season with 23 starts under his belt. However, all signs point to Zaire emerging as Notre Dame’s No. 1 option under center. In seven appearances last season, Zaire completed 21 of 35 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 187 yards and two scores. The Ohio native’s most-impressive outing took place against LSU in the Music City Bowl, throwing for 96 yards and a touchdown, while adding 96 yards and a score on the ground in the upset win over the Tigers. With a strong supporting cast in place, Zaire has all of the necessary pieces for a breakout year.
 

12. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Alexander is one of two Clemson players to make this list. The Florida native was forced to redshirt in 2013 due to injury but quickly emerged as the team’s top defensive back last season. Alexander started all 13 games, recorded 21 tackles and six pass breakups, while also playing the most snaps by a freshman in school history. Alexander should be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks in 2015.
 

13. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
Ohio State’s defense doesn’t have many question marks entering spring ball, but the linebacker corps is looking for a new starter after the departure of Curtis Grant. There should be a flawless transition from Grant to McMillan, as the Georgia native was regarded as the top recruit in the Big Ten for the 2014 signing class. McMillan played in 14 games last season and recorded 54 tackles, one interception and 2.5 sacks.
 

14. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon leaves big shoes to fill at running back for Wisconsin, but new coach Paul Chryst is inheriting a rising star in Clement. The New Jersey native was Gordon’s top backup in 2014 and rushed for 949 yards and nine scores on 147 attempts. Clement never recorded more than 17 rushing attempts in a game last year, so there’s plenty of room for his overall production to grow with more carries in 2015. He also rushed for 547 yards as Wisconsin’s No. 3 running back in 2013. Clement may not match Gordon’s 2,587 rushing yards from last season, but he should be one of the Big Ten’s top running backs in 2015.
 

15. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and big things are expected from the Texas native in 2015. With the Longhorns replacing Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, Jefferson has a clear path to major snaps or a starting role. Expect Jefferson to be one of college football’s top freshmen performers.
 

16. Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Aggies have averaged 41.3 points per game. Life after Johnny Manziel presented a few challenges in 2014, but the arrow on Texas A&M’s offense is pointing up headed into 2015. Allen started the final five games for coach Kevin Sumlin, including a four-touchdown performance against Auburn and a 294-yard effort against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. The Arizona native finished 2014 with 1,322 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Allen will be pushed by talented freshman Kyler Murray this offseason, but the edge in experience should help the sophomore hold onto the starting job. With a talented receiving corps returning, Texas A&M’s passing offense should be among the SEC’s best once again in 2015.
 

17. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
The insertion of Dobbs into the starting lineup in late October sparked Tennessee to a 4-2 finish over its last six games. The Georgia native threw for 192 yards against Alabama after replacing Nathan Peterman in the first half and guided the Volunteers to a 45-42 upset win over South Carolina by accumulating 467 total yards and five scores. Dobbs also played well in the bowl win over Iowa by accounting for 205 yards and three scores. The junior should have more help from his supporting cast in 2015, as Tennessee should be healthier at receiver, and a young offensive line has a full offseason to grow. Dobbs should push for All-SEC honors in 2015.
 

18. Seth Russell, QB, Baylor
Over the last five seasons, Baylor’s starting quarterback has averaged 4,031 yards and 30 touchdowns. With Bryce Petty off to the NFL, the keys to a high-powered offense are in Russell’s hands. Of course, he has to hold off a challenge this offseason from sophomore Chris Johnson and talented true freshman Jarrett Stidham. However, there’s a clear edge in experience for Russell, as he has one start under his belt and completed 48 of 85 passes in 2014. The Texas native torched Northwestern State for five scores and 438 yards last year and completed 8 of 17 passes for 82 yards in relief of Petty against Texas Tech. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps in place, Russell – if he wins the job – will be next standout quarterback for coach Art Briles.
 

19. Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska
Gerry surprisingly earned only honorable mention by the coaches All-Big Ten team last season. The South Dakota native started all 13 games in 2014 and recorded 88 tackles and five interceptions. New defensive backs coach Brian Stewart should help Gerry develop into one of the Big Ten’s top performers at safety in 2015.


20. Budda Baker, S, Washington
Washington’s secondary experienced its share of ups and downs last season. However, after playing freshmen and sophomores in major roles in 2014, the Huskies should see improvement from a secondary that gave up 55 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Baker was regarded as the No. 55 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played significant snaps as a true freshman. In 13 games, Baker recorded 80 tackles, one sack, one interception and six pass breakups.
 

21. Christian McCaffery, RB, Stanford
For the first time since the 2007 season, the Cardinal did not have a rusher reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2014. That one-year 1,000-yard rusher drought could be short-lived, as McCaffrey is primed for a breakout season in 2015. As a true freshman in 2014, he recorded 300 rushing yards (seven yards per carry) and caught 17 passes for 251 yards and two scores. McCaffrey recorded at least 57 rushing yards in three out of the final four games, including 77 against Utah on Nov. 15.
 

22. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State
The future of the Arizona State backfield appears to be in good hands with Richard leading the way in 2015. The Sun Devils also return D.J. Foster (1,081 rush yards in 2014), but the senior is expected to shift to more of a running back/receiver role in 2015. Richard was solid in limited action last year, rushing for 478 yards and four scores on 84 attempts. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark against a tough Utah defense on Nov. 1 and contributed 41 yards on seven attempts in the bowl win over Duke. Richard should have no trouble exceeding last year’s numbers in 2015.

 

23. Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri
Missouri has been a factory for All-SEC talent at defensive end over the last two seasons, but don’t overlook Brantley’s contributions to the defense in 2014. The Pennsylvania native made six starts as a freshman in 2013 and emerged as the team’s top interior player last year. In 14 games, Brantley recorded 30 tackles (five for a loss) and three pass breakups. With two seasons under his belt, Brantley should be poised for his best year in a Missouri uniform.


24. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
McDowell was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Mark Dantonio, and the Michigan native didn’t disappoint in his true freshman campaign. McDowell played in all 13 games and recorded 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. With Lawrence Thomas expected to move to defensive end this spring, McDowell is expected to take on a bigger role with the line for 2015. Expect to see McDowell wreaking havoc against opposing Big Ten offensive lines this year.
 

25. Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech
Teller redshirted in his first season at Virginia Tech and made the transition from defensive end to the offensive line. And despite not starting a full season, Teller emerged as the Hokies’ top lineman. Teller started 13 games, including the final six as a starter. The Virginia native should be an All-ACC performer in 2015.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 25 Players on the Rise for 2015
Post date: Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 10:30
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Quarterback is easily the position with the most pressure in any college football season. Whether it’s a quarterback fighting to keep a starting job, replacing a standout from the prior season or just looking to elevate their overall play, signal-callers will be securitized and watched closely all offseason.

 

With spring practice underway, quarterback play is under the spotlight and battles across the nation are up for grabs. Which 15 quarterbacks head into 2015 with big expectations as they replace a big name? And which quarterbacks are fighting to hold onto the job this offseason?

 

Here are 15 names to consider as names on the hot seat (for various reasons) in 2015: 

 

Six Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat…Fighting to Remain a Starter

 

Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech

Brewer experienced his share of ups and downs in 2014, and the pressure is on the Texas native to take a step forward. In 13 games last season, Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores and led the Hokies to an upset win over Ohio State. However, he also tossed seven picks in ACC play, passed for only 80 yards in a loss to Miami and threw for 126 yards and one interception in a 6-3 defeat against Wake Forest. Virginia Tech has one of the nation’s best defenses, and a talented group of skill players returning in 2015. If Brewer cuts the number of interceptions and plays with more consistency, the Hokies can challenge for the Coastal title. If Brewer stumbles, Brenden Motley appears to be next up on the depth chart.

 

Jake Coker, Alabama

Coker was expected to win the starting job after transferring from Florida State to Alabama last season. However, Blake Sims held off Coker for the No. 1 spot and threw for 3,487 yards and 28 scores. With Sims expiring his eligibility, the job is Coker’s to lose this spring. The senior will see competition from freshmen David Cornwell and Blake Barnett and junior Alec Morris. With an elite defense and rushing attack, Alabama doesn’t need Coker to be an All-SEC passer. But can he deliver with the game on the line and make enough timely throws to elevate the Crimson Tide into the national title?

 

Anthony Jennings, LSU

According to the recruiting rankings, LSU has one of the SEC’s best rosters. But even with a roster loaded with raw talent, the Tigers won’t contend for the West Division title unless the quarterback play improves in 2015. Jennings completed only 48.9 percent of his passes last season and finished 2014 by averaging only 110.4 yards in SEC contests. Jennings is locked into a tight battle for the starting job, as sophomore Brandon Harris ranked as the No. 75 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in eight games last year.

 

Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

Settling the quarterback job is the top priority for new coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Sooners have ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing offense in back-to-back seasons and averaged only 184.8 yards through the air in conference contests in 2014. Knight appeared to be a rising star after his performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but he finished with just 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last year. Knight will be pushed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas this spring. Can he find the form that propelled the Sooners to a bowl win over Alabama at the end of the 2013 season? Or will Knight lose the battle to start under center?

 

Joel Stave, Wisconsin

Defense and the stellar play of running back Melvin Gordon led the way for Wisconsin last season. The Badgers averaged only 150 passing yards in Big Ten games, with Stave throwing for 1,350 yards and nine scores. He also tossed 10 picks and completed 53.4 percent of his passes. Even though Gordon is off to the NFL, the rushing attack should be strong with Corey Clement in a full-time role. But how much of a difference will new coach Paul Chryst make with the passing attack? Tanner McEvoy moved to defensive back, leaving Bart Houston, D.J. Gillins and freshmen Alex Hornibrook and Austin Kafentzis as candidates to push Stave for the starting job. The sluggish passing game isn’t all Stave’s fault, as Wisconsin has to develop more weapons at receiver this offseason.

 

Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

A similar storyline is set to unfold at Texas in coach Charlie Strong’s second season. The Longhorns will be strong on defense and enter the year with question marks on offense. Swoopes finished 2014 with 2,409 passing yards and 13 scores and added 262 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Texas plans to make a few tweaks to its offense in 2015, which includes utilizing the quarterbacks more on the run. Swoopes will be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard this spring and needs to show marked improvement in order to stay at the top of the depth chart for 2015.

 

Five Players Under Pressure At National Title Contenders

 

Vernon Adams, Oregon

Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner is never easy. However, that’s the task ahead for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich this offseason. Adams is transferring from Eastern Washington but won’t arrive on campus until this summer. The California native was one of the top players on the FCS level over the last three seasons and should be a good fit in the Ducks’ high-powered offense. Adams is a dynamic playmaker and could be one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks in 2015. How quickly will he pickup the offense and adjust to play on the FBS level?

 

Jeremy Johnson, Auburn

All signs point to Johnson as the next breakout star at quarterback. The junior is at the controls of coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense and played well in limited action through the first two seasons of his career. Johnson is a different quarterback than his predecessor Nick Marshall. The Montgomery native is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. Johnson certainly isn’t a statue in the pocket, but the quarterback runs under Marshall likely won’t be as prominently featured in 2015. If Johnson lives up to the hype, Auburn could win the SEC title and rank among the four teams for a playoff bid.   

 

Sean Maguire, Florida State

Maguire has the monumental task of replacing Jameis Winston after one of the best two-year runs by a starting quarterback. While losing Winston to the NFL was a huge blow to Florida State, coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the top offensive minds in the nation and a noted quarterback guru. Maguire made his first career start against Clemson last season, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards and one score. The New Jersey native is expected to claim the starting job this spring and will have a strong supporting cast at his disposal in 2015.

 

Brice Ramsey, Georgia

Out of the quarterbacks in this section, Ramsey is the one with the least amount of job security. The sophomore entered spring as the frontrunner to replace Hutson Mason but will face competition from Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. In eight games last season, Ramsey completed 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards and three scores. Will Ramsey emerge as the favorite under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer? The Bulldogs have one of the nation’s top running backs in Nick Chubb, along with a defense that should be better in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. Contending for a national title could hinge on how quickly Georgia settles its quarterback situation.

 

Seth Russell, Baylor

Russell saw significant action last year, which included one start while Bryce Petty was dealing with a back injury. In eight appearances, Russell completed 48 of 85 throws for 804 yards and eight scores. Coach Art Briles is one of the best in the nation at finding and developing the next star at quarterback, and Baylor’s offense won’t miss much of a beat with Russell under center. However, if he stumbles, Jarrett Stidham – the No. 38 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite – will be ready to push for snaps.

 

Not in Danger of Losing the Starting Spot…But Has to Play Better

 

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

If Armstrong develops as a passer under coach Mike Riley and Nebraska’s new offense, the Cornhuskers can win the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015.

 

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan turned in two solid performances at the end of 2014, and it’s critical for Stanford’s offense to shoulder more of the load in 2015 with several key players departing on defense.

 

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota

Leidner is a good fit for Minnesota’s offense with his mobility (452 yards and 10 scores in 2014), but he has to improve his completion percentage (51.5).

 

Maty Mauk, Missouri

Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes in SEC games last season. Improving that number is critical to Missouri’s hopes of winning the East once again in 2015. However, the Tigers must replace their top three receivers from last year.

Teaser:
College Football's Top 15 Quarterbacks on the Hot Seat for 2015
Post date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Hot Seat, News
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Coaching changes are a big part of any college football offseason. The 2015 carousel was relatively quiet with just 15 changes. However, from 2009-13, there were at least 21 coaching moves each year. While it’s too early in the season to know how many changes could be coming at the end of 2015, it’s never too soon to take a look at which coaches are on the hot seat.

 

Virginia’s Mike London tops the list of coaches on the hot seat, with Illinois’ Tim Beckman a close No. 2. Hawaii’s Norm Chow is the first coach from outside of the Power 5 conferences on this list. Here’s a spring edition of the top coaches on the hot seat for 2015.

 

Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015

 

1. Mike London, Virginia

Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 seasons)

 

London was on the hot seat last season but returns to the Virginia sideline after a 5-7 record. The five wins in 2014 was the Cavaliers’ second-highest victory mark under London, but Virginia still finished at the bottom of the Coastal Division. London has recruited well, but the Cavaliers have ranked ninth or worse in the ACC in scoring offense in four consecutive years. Getting to a bowl this season likely would keep London in Charlottesville for 2016.

 

2. Tim Beckman, Illinois

Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 seasons)

 

Beckman’s teams have showed improvement over the last three years. Illinois finished 2-10 and winless in Big Ten play during Beckman’s first season (2012). However, the Fighting Illini won four games in 2013 and improved to 6-7 with an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. While Illinois won six games in 2014, it suffered a 38-27 loss to Purdue and posted narrow victories over Texas State (42-35) and Western Kentucky (42-34). Additionally, the Fighting Illini is just 4-20 under Beckman’s direction in Big Ten games.

 

3. Norm Chow
Record at Hawaii:
8-29 (3 seasons)

 

Hawaii isn’t an easy job, but Chow is just 8-29 in his three seasons. The Rainbow Warriors started Mountain West play 1-15 under Chow and have lost at least nine games in each of the last three years. San Diego State should be the clear favorite in the Mountain West’s West Division in 2015 and plenty of uncertainty surrounds usual contenders Nevada and Fresno State. With major question marks for the teams outside of the Aztecs in the West Division, there’s an opportunity for Hawaii to improve. With a new athletic director in place, the pressure is on Chow to win in 2015.

 

4. Al Golden, Miami

Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 seasons)

 

After taking a Temple program that was among the worst in the nation to respectability in the MAC, Golden seemed like a good fit to elevate Miami back into the ACC’s elite. However, it hasn’t worked out for Golden in four years, and there’s plenty of pressure on this coaching staff in 2015. The Hurricanes are just 16-16 in four years in ACC play under Golden and finished 3-5 in league action last season. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Miami. However, this program is still looking for its first appearance in the ACC Championship since joining the league in 2004.

 

5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State

Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 season)

 

San Jose State has regressed since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. Even with standout senior quarterback David Fales under center, the Spartans finished 6-6 and missed on a bowl appearance in 2013. The program took another step back last season with a 3-9 record, with just two victories coming in Mountain West play. Caragher made a few staff changes this offseason, including well-traveled assistant Al Borges as the team’s offensive coordinator. San Jose State outgained its conference opponents by an average of 81.1 yards per game in 2014, and if Borges can find an answer at quarterback, the Spartans could inch closer to .500 play in the Mountain West.

 

6. Willie Taggart, South Florida

Record at USF: 6-18 (2 seasons)

 

Taggart was regarded as one of the top coaching hires prior to the 2013 season, but the Bulls are just 6-18 under his watch. USF won only two games in Taggart’s debut and increased its win total by two last season (4-8). According to recruiting rankings, the Bulls have one of the top rosters in the American Athletic Conference. Will it show in the win column in 2015? Getting to six victories is a realistic goal if the scheme change to an up-tempo attack on offense works out, along with the development of the team’s young talent.  

 

7. Ron Turner, FIU

Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 seasons)

 

FIU’s hire of Turner was an unusual one, and the Panthers slumped to 1-11 in his debut in 2013. But there were a few signs of life from Turner’s second team last season. FIU finished 4-8 overall and went 3-5 in conference play. The Panthers also lost four games by three points or less last season, providing hope for a winning record in 2015 if the team’s young offense develops this spring. Turner’s staff was hit hard by departures this offseason, including rising star defensive coordinator Josh Conklin leaving for Pittsburgh.

 

8. Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 seasons)

 

Kent State has recorded only one winning record since 2002, and Haynes’ first two seasons have been a struggle with a 6-17 mark. Considering Haynes is a former Kent State defensive back and worked as an assistant with the Golden Flashes as an assistant in 1999-00, he certainly knows what it takes to win at this program. The hire of Don Treadwell as the team’s offensive play-caller should pay dividends for a unit that managed only 16.4 points per game in 2014. 

 

9. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 seasons)

 

Ferentz is the third-longest tenured coach in college football, and he’s had plenty of success at Iowa. During his 16 seasons in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have recorded 115 victories and played in 12 bowl games. But is a fresh start needed for Iowa? The Hawkeyes have not finished in the final Associated Press poll since 2009 and has only one winning record in Big Ten play since 2010. And a Ferentz mention in a hot seat article wouldn’t be complete without a reference to his hefty buyout. While it can be accomplished, it’s not easy for a coach to stay in one place and succeed for a long time. Has Iowa reached its breaking point if Ferentz goes 6-6 or 5-7 in 2015?

 

10. Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 seasons)

 

Indiana is a tough place to win consistently in the Big Ten, and the challenge for the Hoosiers only increased with the new divisional alignment featuring annual games against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Wilson improved Indiana’s win total in each of his first three seasons, but the program took a step back after an injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld in 2014. With Sudfeld back in the mix, along with the addition of UAB transfer Jordan Howard at running back, the Hoosiers should be in good shape to make a run at a bowl game in 2015.

 

Getting Warm?

 

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Beamer isn’t going to be fired, but it’s worth noting Virginia Tech is just 22-17 over the last three years. That’s a big downgrade after recording eight consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2004-11.

 

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

The ongoing NCAA mess around North Carolina (if it results in sanctions or any additional scandal) could make it difficult to find a new coach if Fedora is fired. The Tar Heels are 21-17 under Fedora but will have a revamped (and improved) defensive staff in 2015.

 

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Hazell’s 2014 team showed progress after a 1-11 record in his debut at Purdue in 2013. Barring a complete collapse in 2015, Hazell should be back on the Boilermakers’ sidelines in 2016.

 

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

A young roster provides optimism for Vanderbilt in 2015, but there’s still major concerns about the offense after averaging only 17.2 points per game last year. The Commodores can’t afford to fall too far behind in the SEC East.

 

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

Iowa State is one of the toughest Power 5 jobs, and Rhoads guided the program to three bowl appearances in his first four years. The Cyclones have slipped over the last two seasons, winning only two Big 12 games and finishing 5-19 overall.

 

Scott Shafer, Syracuse

Shafer will be working under a new athletic director in 2015, and the Orange finished 2014 by losing nine out of their last 10 games. It’s critical for Shafer to show this team is headed in the right direction.

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College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2015 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - 10:00
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UCLA is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1997-98 and 18 starters are back from a team that nearly won the Pac-12 South last year. Coach Jim Mora has reeled in four consecutive top 20 classes on the recruiting trail, so talent certainly isn’t an issue for 2015. However, there’s a big question mark surrounding the Bruins, as standout quarterback Brett Hundley must be replaced. Talented freshman Josh Rosen enrolled in time to compete in spring ball, but Jerry Neuheisel has the edge in experience. Outside of replacing Hundley, UCLA also has to replace linebacker Eric Kendricks.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in UCLA’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle

The quarterback battle between Jerry Neuheisel and freshman Josh Rosen is easily the top offseason storyline to watch at UCLA. Brett Hundley left for the NFL after passing for 3,155 yards and 22 scores and rushing for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Neuheisel has the edge in experience and guided the Bruins to a win over Texas in 2014 after Hundley left due to injury. Rosen ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and enrolled in time for spring ball. Can Rosen pass Neuheisel in time for the opener? Or will Neuheisel’s experience pay off for the top spot?

 

2. Solidify the Offensive Line

UCLA’s offensive line struggled early in 2014, allowing 25 sacks through the first six games. However, this unit showed improvement in the second half of the year, allowing 15 over the final seven contests. The emergence of Conr McDermott at left tackle helped to stabilize the starting unit, and all five starters from the Alamo Bowl win over Kansas State return in 2015. Center Jake Brendel earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, while guard Scott Quessenberry and tackle Caleb Benenoch earned honorable mention honors. There’s no shortage of talent here and the overall depth has improved. Line coach Adrian Klemm was suspended indefinitely this offseason due to an investigation into rules violations. How will his absence impact this group?

 

3. Tom Bradley’s Stamp on the Defense

Tom Bradley was a key addition to UCLA’s staff this offseason, and the veteran assistant inherits a group with eight returning starters and a talented cast of young players. What stamp will Bradley put on this defense? Mora has used a 3-4 approach over the last few years, but Bradley is experienced in the 4-3 from his time at Penn State and the 3-3-5 from spending 2014 at West Virginia.

 

4. Who Replaces Eric Kendricks?

UCLA’s defense returns eight starters but has a massive void to fill at linebacker. Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award in 2014 after recording 149 tackles and three interceptions. Kendricks has expired his eligibility and will be playing on Sundays in 2015, which opens the door for Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, Kenny Orjioke and Kenny Young to take on a bigger role in the defense. Jack is already one of the Pac-12’s top defenders and should elevate his performance even higher in 2015. But who replaces Kendricks? Could freshmen Keisean Lucier-South, Josh Woods, Cameron Griffin or Dwight Williams factor prominently into the rotation?

 

5. Replacing Owa Odighizuwa

Few question marks exist for UCLA’s defense in 2015, but the losses of Kendricks, end Owa Odighizuwa and safety Anthony Jefferson are significant. Odighizuwa recorded six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss in 2014. Who steps up to replace his production? The Bruins are set with Eddie Vanderdoes at one end spot, while Kenny Clark is a rising star at defensive tackle. Is Takkarist McKinley or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner ready to claim the other end spot opposite of Vanderdoes this spring?

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on UCLA in the Pac-12:

 

USC is the early favorite in the South Division for 2015. However, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State aren’t far behind. The Bruins don’t lose much from last year’s team, but the personnel losses are significant. Quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Eric Kendricks will be tough to replace in 2015. Until a quarterback emerges, UCLA can lean on a solid defense and running back Paul Perkins. However, the schedule provides few breaks, as road trips to Arizona, Stanford, Utah and USC will be challenging, along with home dates against BYU and Arizona State. If the Bruins struggle to replace Hundley, finishing third or fourth in the South Division is a realistic possibility. However, if Rosen or Neuheisel steps up under center, UCLA will be in the thick of the South title picture.

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With the volume of high-powered offenses and talent at the skill positions every year, it’s not easy being a defensive coordinator or a player on that side of the ball. However, there’s no shortage of standouts that emerge each season out of spring practice and the regular season.

 

After taking a look at the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers on the rise for 2015, it’s time to shift focus and take a look at the top defensive players on the verge of a breakout year.  

 

RELATED: Top 20 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2015

 

Note: To be considered for the “on the rise” designation, a player could not have earned all-conference (first or second team honors last season). 

 

Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s defense should take a step forward with John Chavis as the coordinator in 2015. And in addition to Chavis’ arrival, the Aggies have a talented group of young players primed to take on a bigger role in the defense. Alaka is one of those players, as he played in 12 games last season and recorded 33 tackles and two forced fumbles. After starting the final five games as a true freshman in 2014, Chavis is counting on Alaka for an even bigger role in 2015.

 

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson

Alexander is one of two Clemson players to make this list. The Florida native was forced to redshirt in 2013 due to injury but quickly emerged as the team’s top defensive back last season. Alexander started all 13 games, recorded 21 tackles and six pass breakups, while also playing the most snaps by a freshman in school history. Alexander should be one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks in 2015.

 

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Washington’s secondary experienced its share of ups and downs last season. However, after playing freshmen and sophomores in major roles in 2014, the Huskies should see improvement from a secondary that gave up 55 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Baker was regarded as the No. 55 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played significant snaps as a true freshman. In 13 games, Baker recorded 80 tackles, one sack, one interception and six pass breakups. 

 

Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU

Beckwith ranked as one of the top 100 recruits in the 2013 signing class but had a relatively quiet debut (11 tackles). However, the Louisiana native became a bigger part of the defense in 2014, starting the final seven games and recording 77 tackles, two sacks and one interception on his final stat line. Over LSU’s final seven games, only one opponent (Notre Dame) managed more than 140 rushing yards. Beckwith’s emergence at middle linebacker is a key reason why the Tigers were tougher against the run in the second half of 2014, and the junior is primed for a big season with a full-time starting spot in Kevin Steele’s defense.

 

Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri

Missouri has been a factory for All-SEC talent at defensive end over the last two seasons, but don’t overlook Brantley’s contributions to the defense in 2014. The Pennsylvania native made six starts as a freshman in 2013 and emerged as the team’s top interior player last year. In 14 games, Brantley recorded 30 tackles (five for a loss) and three pass breakups. With two seasons under his belt, Brantley should be poised for his best year in a Missouri uniform.

 

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

With Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Carter returning, Georgia should boast one of the SEC’s top linebacker groups for 2015. Getting all three outside linebackers on the field at the same time will be an interesting offseason experiment for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but all three players have All-SEC talent. Carter played significant snaps as a true freshman last season, recording 41 tackles (seven for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. 

 

Hunter Dimick/Jason Fanaika, DE, Utah

The Utes led the nation with 55 sacks last season, and even with Nate Orchard expiring his eligibility, Utah’s pass rush will be among the best in the Pac-12. Dimick and Fanaika were solid complement options up front last season, as the duo recorded combined for 15 sacks. And the edge rushers will have plenty of help from the interior, as tackle Lowell Lotulelei will be in the mix for all-conference honors. Even without Orchard, expect to see the Utes frequently getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2015. 

 

Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska

We will cheat just a bit here and list Gerry in this ranking since he earned second-team honors from the Big Ten media last season but only earned honorable mention by the coaches. The South Dakota native started all 13 games in 2014 and recorded 88 tackles and five interceptions. New defensive backs coach Brian Stewart should help Gerry develop into one of the Big Ten’s top performers at safety in 2015.

 

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss

The Rebels led the SEC by limiting opponents to just 16 points per game in 2014. This unit returns largely intact, but cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt will be tough to replace. Hampton ranked as the No. 96 player in the 2014 247Sports Composite and played in all 13 games last season. He recorded 10 tackles in limited action. Coordinator Dave Wommack will be counting on Hampton to play a bigger role in the defense in 2015, especially with Prewitt leaving big shoes to fill at safety.

 

Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky

Kentucky is starting over at defensive end with the departures of Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree. After two years as a backup at the position, Hatcher – a four-star recruit in 2013 – is slated to take on a bigger role in 2015. Hatcher recorded 28 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks in 2014.

 

Dravon Henry, S, West Virginia

With the return of safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers have one of the Big 12’s top defensive backfields for 2015. And this unit will only get better as Henry continues to develop in his second season in Morgantown. The Pennsylvania posted a strong freshman campaign in 2014, starting all 13 games for coordinator Tony Gibson and recording 45 tackles and two interceptions.

 

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC

Jackson is one of the Pac-12’s most explosive players and one of the nation’s top all-around playmakers. The Illinois native caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns last season and scored four times on special teams. Jackson also recorded 49 tackles (four for a loss) and broke up 10 passes in 2014.

 

Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and big things are expected from the Texas native in 2015. With the Longhorns replacing Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, Jefferson has a clear path to major snaps or a starting role. Expect Jefferson to be one of college football’s top freshmen performers.

 

Derwin James, S/Derrick Nnadi/Lorenzo Featherston, DL, Florida State

Florida State’s roster is loaded with young talent and it won’t be long before the Seminoles are back in contention for the national title. James, Nnadi and Featherston are three future stars in Tallahassee, and each player could see significant snaps in 2015. Nnadi recorded 18 tackles in nine games in his true freshman campaign last season, while Featherston played in 11 games and made 19 stops and one sack. James ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is physically ready to start in Florida State’s secondary. Expect to hear plenty about these three players in 2015.

 

Hootie Jones, S/Tony Brown/Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

Improving the secondary is at the top of coach Nick Saban’s priority list this spring after the Crimson Tide allowed 19 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014. Adding to the uncertainty of this group is the departure of Landon Collins to the NFL. Cyrus Jones is settled into one cornerback spot, but a second cornerback needs to emerge. Brown and Humphrey were two of the nation’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 signing class and will be asked to take on a bigger role in 2015. Jones recorded two tackles last season and is expected to factor prominently in replacing Collins’ production.

 

Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

Stanford’s defense will have a different look to it in 2015, as only four starters return from a unit that ranked second nationally by limiting opponents to just 16.4 points per game in 2014. While A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters will be missed at linebacker, Kalambayi is ready for a bigger role in the defense to replace the production lost by the departing seniors. In 13 games, Kalambayi recorded 32 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. He should be in the mix for all-conference honors in 2015.

 

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Lawson missed all of 2014 due to a torn ACL. If he returns at full strength in 2015, Lawson should provide an instant boost to an Auburn pass rush that generated only 21 sacks in 2014. As a freshman in 2013, Lawson played in all 14 games and registered four sacks and seven quarterback hurries. The Georgia native should thrive under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

 

Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

Clemson ranked first nationally by holding opponents to just four yards per play in 2014. But coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers return only two starters and lose several standouts from the front seven. Lawson is expected to be one of the defense’s top linemen after recording 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in a backup role last season.

 

Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State

Even with five returning starters for 2015, the strength of Kansas State’s team should be its defense. The defensive front has a few changes with end Ryan Mueller and linebacker Jonathan Truman departing, but Lee’s freshman debut provides plenty of optimism for coordinator Tom Hayes. In 13 games, Lee recorded 19 tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s slated to take on a bigger role in the defense this year.

 

Jordan Lucas, S, Penn State

Lucas had a standout year for Penn State’s defense at cornerback last season, but the New York native is expected to slide to safety for the 2015 season. In 13 contests last year, Lucas recorded 58 tackles, two sacks and nine pass breakups. Lucas will also have extra help in learning the position, as coordinator Bob Shoop oversees the safeties on Penn State’s staff. Expect the Nittany Lions to have a flawless transition from Adrian Amos to Lucas at safety. 

 

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

McDowell was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Mark Dantonio, and the Michigan native didn’t disappoint in his true freshman campaign. McDowell played in all 13 games and recorded 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks. With Lawrence Thomas expected to move to defensive end this spring, McDowell is expected to take on a bigger role with the line for 2015. Expect to see McDowell wreaking havoc against opposing Big Ten offensive lines this year.

 

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

Ohio State’s defense doesn’t have many question marks entering spring ball, but the linebacker corps is looking for a new starter after the departure of Curtis Grant. There should be a flawless transition from Grant to McMillan, as the Georgia native was regarded as the top recruit in the Big Ten for the 2014 signing class. McMillan played in 14 games last season and recorded 54 tackles, one interception and 2.5 sacks.

 

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

Peppers was expected to play a meaningful role in Michigan’s secondary last season, but the New Jersey native was sidelined after three games due to a leg injury. With a full offseason to recover, Peppers is ready to become a key contributor for the Wolverines. New coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to use Peppers as a safety in 2015, which should allow the No. 3 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite to emerge as a impact defender for Michigan this year.  

 

Chris Seisay, CB, Oregon

Seisay was thrown into the spotlight after Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the Rose Bowl matchup against Florida State. In the Ducks win over the Seminoles, Seisay recorded six tackles and filled in admirably for Ekpre-Olomu in his second career start. The California native finished 2014 with 33 tackles, four passes defended and one forced fumble. He should claim a full-time starting position at cornerback this offseason.

 

Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

It’s possible Sutton is the SEC’s most underrated defender. The Georgia native was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school but has developed into one of the league’s top cornerbacks. Over the last 25 games, Sutton has recorded 76 tackles, five interceptions, one forced fumble and 20 pass breakups. Despite his solid 2014 season (16 passes defended), Sutton did not earn all-conference honors. Expect that to change in 2015.
 

 

Other Names to Watch

 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley was a bright spot on a Purdue defense that gave up 31.7 points per game in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Bentley recorded 76 tackles, one interception and recovered three fumbles.

 

Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia

Brown ranked as the No. 11 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite but was slowed by injuries last year. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound tackle should be one of the top performers for the Cavaliers’ defensive line in 2015.

 

Cam Denson, CB, Arizona

Denson was one of the top recruits in Arizona’s 2014 signing class and shifted from receiver to cornerback. The Arizona native recorded 21 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups as a true freshman.

 

Brooks Ellis, LB, Arkansas

Ellis is slated to fill the void left behind by Martrell Spaight in 2015. Ellis recorded 72 stops in 2014.

 

KeShun Freeman, DE, Georgia Tech

Freeman was one of the ACC’s top freshmen performers last year, as the Georgia native played in all 14 games and earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from Athlon Sports. Freeman should push for All-ACC honors after recording 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2014.

 

Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Louisville

Louisville must replace all four starters from one of the nation’s top defensive backfields in 2014. Harvey-Clemons transferred from Georgia after making 11 starts in 2013 and should claim a starting spot at safety.

 

Deon Hollins, LB, UCLA

Hollins finished the 2014 season on a tear, recording six sacks over his final four games. His late-season improvement should help a UCLA pass rush that managed only 29 sacks in 13 contests in 2014.

 

Seth Jacobs, LB, Oklahoma State

Jacobs was a breakout performer for coordinator Glenn Spencer last season. In 13 games, Jacobs recorded 92 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and intercepted two passes.

 

Nazair Jones, DT, North Carolina

New coordinator Gene Chizik inherits six returning starters but plenty of question marks from a defense that allowed 39 points per game in 2014. Jones (a sophomore) is a promising piece of the defensive line after recording 35 tackles (7.5 tackles for a loss) and 2.5 sacks in 2014. 

 

Mike Mitchell, LB, Texas Tech

Mitchell was a top 100 recruit in the 2013 signing class and transferred to Texas Tech after one season at Ohio State. He should be an impact newcomer for the Red Raiders.

 

Yannick Ngakoue, LB, Maryland

The Terrapins are switching to a 4-3 alignment, and Ngakoue is slated to move from linebacker to end. Ngakoue recorded 37 tackles (11.5 for a loss) and six sacks last year.

 

Steven Parker, S, Oklahoma

The Sooners need better play from their secondary after giving up 50 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Parker played in 13 contests (four starts) and recorded 31 tackles as a true freshman last year. Parker’s development is critical for Oklahoma’s pass defense.

 

Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana

Indiana’s defense needs to take a major step forward this year if the Hoosiers want to go bowling in 2015. Scales is one of the players expected to make a jump in production after recording 46 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman last season.

 

Tashon Smallwood, DT, Arizona State

Smallwood started seven games and recorded 23 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman in 2014. The sophomore should see an increased role in the Sun Devils’ aggressive defense in 2015.

 

Chad Thomas, DE, Miami

Thomas was a big-time catch on the Florida recruiting trail for coach Al Golden, and the Miami native saw limited work in 2014 (seven tackles). Thomas should be slated for a bigger role in the ‘Canes defense in 2015, as starter Anthony Chickillo has expired his eligibility.

 

Jack Tocho, CB, NC State

Tocho has started 20 games in his two-year career at NC State, and the junior should push for All-ACC honors in 2015. Tocho recorded 41 tackles and led the team with 11 pass breakups in 2014.

 

Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

Turay shined as a pass-rush specialist for Rutgers’ defense last year, accumulating 7.5 sacks in 13 games. The sophomore is slated for a bigger role in 2015, as the Scarlet Knights must replace David Milewski at end.

 

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Walker stepped up after an injury sidelined Colin Ellis and finished the year with 51 stops (nine for a loss) and two interceptions. He should only get better with more experience as a sophomore in 2015.

 

Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois

Ward was an impact recruit from the junior college ranks by the Illinois coaching staff. The Pennsylvania native recorded 51 tackles (8.5 for a loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles in 2014.

 

Stephen Weatherly/Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt

The strength of Vanderbilt’s defense should be its linebackers in 2015. Weatherly (4.5 sacks) and Bowden (78 tackles) are two promising players for coach Derek Mason to build around.

 

Taylor Young, LB, Baylor

Young emerged as one of the top performers in Baylor’s linebacker corps last season, as he finished 2014 with 92 tackles and four sacks. He should be an All-Big 12 performer in 2015.

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Washington opens its second spring under coach Chris Petersen with just 10 returning starters and major concerns on both sides of the ball. The quarterback position is up for grabs, and the battle includes true freshman Jake Browning after he enrolled in time to compete this spring. Defensive standouts Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton must be replaced, and the secondary needs to take a step forward after ranking near the bottom of the Pac-12 last season.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Washington’s Spring Practice

 

1. The Quarterback Battle

Petersen planned to open the quarterback battle to all candidates after the Huskies ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in passing offense in 2014. However, this battle became even more of a question mark after it was announced Cyler Miles was taking a leave of absence from the team. Miles is not expected to play in 2015, which leaves three candidates vying for the starting job: Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and freshman Jake Browning. Will a leader emerge this spring?

 

2. Improvement at Receiver

While improved play from the quarterback position is needed, Washington has to develop more playmakers at receiver. This unit loses DiAndre Campbell (24 catches in 2014) and Kasen Williams (20 receptions) but returns Jaydon Mickens (60), Kendyl Taylor, Dante Pettis and two-way talent John Ross. This is a big spring for players like Ross, Pettis and Brayden Lenius to take the next step in their development.

 

3. Restocking the Offensive Line

The Huskies must replace three starters from a line that allowed 28 sacks in 2014. There’s a foundation to build around with the return of guard Dexter Charles, center/guard Siosifa Tufunga and tackle Coleman Shelton. How quickly can Washington find a consistent starting five this spring? Will freshmen like Matt James, Henry Roberts (arrives in the summer) or Kaleb McGary make a push for playing time?

 

4. Rebuild the Front Seven

Washington finished third in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 24.8 points per game last season. The Huskies have some major issues to address if they want to match that number in 2015. The front seven must be revamped with Shaq Thompson (LB) leaving for the NFL, along with Danny Shelton (NT), rush end Hau’oli Kikaha (rush end), John Timu (LB) and Andrew Hudson (DE) expiring their eligibility. Elijah Qualls is a potential breakout candidate up front, but can coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski find a few answers at end? Joe Mathis is a name to watch after recording two sacks in a backup role last year.

 

5. Improvement in the Secondary

The Huskies struggled to prevent big plays in the secondary last season, giving up 55 plays of 20 yards or more. Youth was largely to blame, as the depth chart from the Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State showed mostly freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. With another spring to work under Kwiatkowski, it’s safe to assume the secondary will show improvement in 2015. But how will the starting spots look by the opener? Sidney Jones (cornerback) and Budda Baker (safety) are two rising stars in the Pac-12, while fellow sophomore Naijiel Hale could claim the other spot at cornerback. How healthy is Jermaine Kelly after playing in only two games last season? Petersen also recruited a junior college safety (Ezekiel Turner) to add to the mix this spring. Could Ross slide back to cornerback after playing here last season? Or will Petersen keep Ross on the offensive side?

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Washington in the Pac-12:

 

Petersen was considered one of the top coaching hires in the 2014 cycle, but Washington didn’t show major improvement in the win column and capped the year with a bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Surpassing last year’s win total would be a surprise with the new faces and question marks on both sides of the ball, but the future looks bright with several talented freshmen and sophomores receiving significant snaps. If the Huskies find a quarterback, finishing third in the North is a realistic goal. 

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Ohio State claimed college football’s first playoff trophy with a 42-20 win over Oregon on Jan. 12. And thanks to a few tweets from the staff and players, we are getting our first glimpse of the championship rings.

 

Check out Ohio State’s championship rings from the 2014 championship season:

 

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Derek Mason’s first season at Vanderbilt wasn’t easy. The Commodores did not win a game in SEC play and two of their three non-conference wins came by three points or less. However, as the 2015 season approaches, there’s reason to expect improvement out of Vanderbilt in Mason’s second year. The losses in the senior class were minimal, and the Commodores return 17 starters. Mason is taking over the play-calling duties on defense, while Andy Ludwig takes over the offensive controls.

 

Vanderbilt concluded spring drills with its annual scrimmage on Saturday. What transpired this offseason so far with the Commodores? I asked Adam Sparks (@AdamSparks) of The Tennessean to help us preview Vanderbilt’s offseason and answer some of the key questions and storylines to watch:

 

1. Derek Mason made a lot of changes after the 2014 season. Which of the coaching hires or other offseason moves do you think will have the biggest impact on this team next season?

 

That’s close to a tie between Derek Mason naming himself defensive play-caller or the hiring of Andy Ludwig as the new offensive coordinator. I’ll give Ludwig the tiebreaker because the offense struggled so mightily last season. Ludwig has not tipped his hand too much, but it’s apparent that he sees Vanderbilt’s potential strength in the ground game like the one he directed at Wisconsin. The personnel sets up that way, as well. Ralph Webb, who broke Vanderbilt’s freshman rushing record last season, is back. The offensive line could be improved. And the Commodores have more proven talent at tight end than wide receiver.

 

Ludwig’s chief job is creating an offensive identity. Last season under Karl Dorrell, the offense never developed a clear-cut strength – run or pass. If the quarterback position stabilizes, it should be a little easier for Ludwig to turn the wheel in some direction.

 

2. Four different quarterbacks started games for Vanderbilt in 2014 and there’s plenty of uncertainty here this spring. Is there a skill-set new coordinator Andy Ludwig wants out of his quarterbacks? And has there been any separation among the options this spring?

 

Ludwig wants an accurate passer and some mobility in his QB. Neither Mason nor Ludwig confirmed that Patton Robinette would be the starter, but it was apparent by spring’s end that he was the No. 1 guy. Ludwig likes Robinette’s football IQ, his quick understanding of the offense, his accuracy on short to intermediate passes and his running ability. Robinette has struggled throwing the deep ball, which Ludwig highlighted as a flaw that needs to be fixed before the regular season.

 

Robinette could be overtaken in fall camp by Johnny McCrary, but Ludwig would rather settle on the starter sooner than later and secure the depth chart. That stability would certainly be a welcomed sight for the Commodores, who traded out signal callers routinely last season.

 

3. In addition to the quarterback concerns, the receiving corps is also under the spotlight this offseason. Are there any players ready to take a step forward in their development to help C.J. Duncan and Latevius Rayford in the passing game?

 

Duncan and Rayford are both solid receivers, but they need help. Rayford is a tough kid who doesn’t mind catching the ball in traffic. Duncan can catch and run or occasionally go deep. But for the most part, Vanderbilt’s receivers struggled to get separation off the line of scrimmage and stretch the field last season. Duncan may develop into that guy, but he also saw some time at running back in spring. Coaches, including Ludwig, are intrigued by the potential of Trent Sherfield. The 6-foot-1 speedster had only one catch last season, but he put together a strong spring and appears to have a bigger role in the revamped offense.


4. With nine starters back and few personnel departures, the defense has a chance to improve with Mason calling the plays in 2015. Who are a few players to watch this season that could have a breakout year?

 

The linebackers are legit high-caliber SEC players. Sophomores Nigel Bowden and Zach Cunningham and junior Stephen Weatherly are among Vanderbilt’s best performers are any position. Defensive end Caleb Azubike needs to settle in as a pass rusher after a year of uncertainty playing at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The secondary should be improved, as well.

 

Mason’s defense will be more aggressive than the 2014 version. Expect more sacks, more tackles-for-loss and more turnovers. All those were lacking last season, but Mason will take more chances as the play-caller. The aforementioned three linebackers give Vanderbilt a lot of speed and length, which should suit Mason’s brand of defense well.

 

5. If Vanderbilt wants to be a running team, will Ralph Webb be a one-man show?

 

Webb will get the bulk of the carries, but Ludwig wants depth at running back. Webb rushed for 912 yards as a freshman despite getting no help from the passing game. Dallas Rivers also showed promise as a freshman, and he will be used as a 227-pound power back. CJ Duncan could see a little time at running back, but the better bet is that he’ll mostly stay at wide receiver.

 

The wild card will be Darrius Sims. He broke two kick returns for TDs against South Carolina last season, and he also scored on an interception as a defensive back. Sims can play in all three phases, but he is supposed to focus on running back and kick returner in 2015. The hope is that Sims can add a dynamic quality that last year’s offense lacked. Ludwig said some incoming freshmen could also jump into the mix at running back.

 

- Follow Adam Sparks (@AdamSparks) on Twitter and check out Tennessean.com for the latest news and analysis on Vanderbilt for 2015.

 

Athlon Sports' Spring Outlook on Vanderbilt:


Vanderbilt should show improvement in Derek Mason’s second season. With 17 starters back, along with promising players on both sides of the ball, the Commodores will be more competitive in SEC play. If a quarterback emerges this offseason, and Mason finds the right mix on defense, this team should exceed last year’s win total. Of course, winning a game in the rugged SEC won’t be easy, and Vanderbilt plays tricky non-conference games against Houston and Western Kentucky. Improvement should be noticeable for Mason in 2015. But bowl eligibility is probably a year away. 

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Ohio State opened spring practice with a target on its back. The Buckeyes are the defending national champions and the favorite to win college football’s national title in 2015. Of course, a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. However, Ohio State is positioned for another run at the championship, especially with the returning talent on both sides of the ball.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Ohio State’s Spring Practice

 

1. The Quarterbacks

Don’t expect to see a clear winner emerge from the quarterback battle in Columbus this spring. The Buckeyes have three players – J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller – that are capable of winning a Heisman if they are the starter for the full season. But it’s hard to gauge the quarterbacks this offseason with Barrett still recovering from a leg injury and Miller not at full strength from shoulder surgery. With Barrett and Miller sidelined, Jones will have the opportunity work as the No. 1 option this spring.

 

2. New Targets at Receiver

There are few holes for coach Urban Meyer to fill this offseason, with the biggest concern on offense revolving around a receiving corps that loses Devin Smith (28.2 ypc), Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman. Using the word “concern” might be a bit much here, as Ohio State returns plenty of talent in the receiving corps. Michael Thomas returns after catching 54 passes last year, and Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall are back after sharing the H-back role last year. What other receivers will take a claim for snaps this spring? Could it be redshirt freshmen Terry McLaurin or Johnnie Dixon? Or will incoming freshman K.J. Hill make an impact in the fall?

 

3. New Starter at Right Tackle

Darryl Baldwin (15 starts at right tackle in 2014) is the only departing member of Ohio State’s offensive line. With left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein leading the way, the Buckeyes should have one of the nation’s top lines in 2015. But who steps up to fill Baldwin’s shoes this spring? Senior Chase Farris and sophomore Jamarco Jones are considered the favorites to replace Baldwin on the right side. Will a clear frontrunner emerge?

 

4. Restocking the Defensive Line

The Buckeyes have the makings of one of the nation’s top defensive lines with the return of end Joey Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington. But question marks remain about the rest of this unit, especially as end Steve Miller and tackle Michael Bennett expired their eligibility after the national title. Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis have the edge in experience over Darius Slade and Sam Hubbard at end, while Michael Hill and Tommy Schutt are the top returning options at tackle. How quickly will this unit reload?

 

5. Replacing Doran Grant

Grant earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014 after recording 63 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups and leaves big shoes to fill at the cornerback position. Eli Apple – a rising star entering his sophomore year – and Gareon Conley will take on a bigger role in the secondary in 2015. Outside of Conley and Apple, the Buckeyes will look to Marshon Lattimore and sophomore Damon Webb to help fill the production and snaps lost by Grant.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Ohio State in the Big Ten:

 

National Championship. That’s the expectation for Ohio State in 2015. The Buckeyes return 14 starters from last year’s national title team and have the top quarterback depth chart in college football. The defense needs to reload at end, tackle and cornerback, but this unit should be among the best in the nation. The schedule is manageable with Michigan State and Penn State visiting Columbus. Road trips to Virginia Tech and Michigan will be a challenge. However, Ohio State should be favored to win its all of its regular season games in 2015. 

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Louisville’s first season in the ACC was a successful one. The Cardinals finished 9-4, with two of their losses coming by six points or less. 2014 also brought the return of Bobby Petrino to the Louisville sidelines, and despite a revolving door at quarterback and a struggling offensive line, the Cardinals still averaged 31.2 points per game. Petrino and his staff will be busy this spring, as Louisville returns only seven starters and five All-ACC performers are gone from last year’s 9-4 squad.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Louisville’s Spring Practice

 

1. The Quarterback Battle

Three quarterbacks started a game for Louisville last season, and there’s no shortage of uncertainty here as spring practice begins. Kyle Bolin, Reggie Bonnafon and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson will get the first opportunity to claim the job this offseason, as Will Gardner is recovering from a knee injury suffered in early October. Will a clear leader emerge this spring? Or will the battle continue into fall when Gardner is healthy?

 

2. Reloading at Receiver

There’s no doubt Louisville is going to miss DeVante Parker’s production at receiver in 2014. Parker played in only six games last season but ranked among the best in the ACC after catching 43 passes for 855 yards and five scores. Not only must the Cardinals find a replacement for Parker, the receiving corps also loses Eli Rogers (45 catches in 2014), Kai De La Cruz (26) and tight end Gerald Christian (32). James Quick (36 catches) should see a bigger role in 2015, but transfers Ja’Quay Williams (Texas A&M) and Jamari Staples (UAB) are two names to watch. Junior college recruit Paul Harris is also expected to push for time this offseason.

 

3. Finding Answers on the Offensive Line

Even though Louisville has a quarterback battle and loses some of its top skill players, the biggest concern for the offense has to be in the trenches. This unit loses three starters, including left tackle Jamon Brown (second-team All-ACC) and both starting guards (John Miller and Jake Smith). Center Tobijah Hughley (11 starts) and right tackle Aaron Epps (six starts) are the only returning starters from 2014. How quickly will the Cardinals restock the trenches?

 

4. Revamped Secondary

The Cardinals were one of the nation’s stingiest defensive backfields in 2014. In 13 contests, Louisville’s secondary limited opposing quarterbacks to just 14 passing scores and a 53.9 completion percentage. That’s the good news. The bad news? All four starters are gone. Georgia transfers Shaq Wiggins (CB) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (S) are expected to claim two of the starting spots, while safety Chucky Williams (six tackles in 2014) and redshirt freshman cornerback Cornelius Sturghill enter spring with an early edge. Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons have instant-impact talent, and the Cardinals should have a good pass rush to help alleviate some of the concerns about coverage. How quickly can coordinator Todd Grantham get this group performing at a high level?

 

5. Restocking the Defensive Front

The strength of the defense should be the line and the linebacking corps, but Grantham has a few holes to fill this spring. End B.J. Dubose and linebackers Lorenzo Mauldin and Deiontrez Mount have expired their eligibility after all three players turned in productive 2014 campaigns. Sheldon Rankins, DeAngelo Brown and Pio Vatuvei are penciled in as the starters on the line, while James Burgess, Keith Kelsey and Keith Brown are listed at linebacker. Will Grantham find a few players behind the starters to build depth in the front seven?

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Louisville in the ACC:

 

Florida State and Clemson are considered the favorites in the Atlantic Division, while Louisville and NC State are the two teams fighting for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in 2015. Although it’s possible the Seminoles or Tigers regress more than anticipated, the Cardinals also have their share of personnel concerns to address before moving up in the Atlantic. Will a quarterback claim the starting job? And how quickly will the offensive line jell? The secondary is the biggest concern on defense, but this unit could quickly settle if Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins emerge as key contributors. The September slate features games against Auburn and Clemson, and a road trip to Florida State awaits in October. Considering the heavy personnel losses, a realistic goal for Petrino’s second year should be 8-4 or 9-3. 

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Michigan State has emerged as a national power under coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons and have claimed back-to-back finishes inside of the top five in the last Associated Press poll. Michigan State has a few personnel concerns heading into spring ball, and Dantonio has to replace coordinator Pat Narduzzi on the defensive side. While there’s a few new faces coming to East Lansing in 2015, the Spartans will contend once again for a top-10 finish.  

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Michigan State’s Spring Practice

 

1. New Faces at Running Back

The Spartans enter spring with uncertainty at running back. Jeremy Langford expired his eligibility after rushing for 1,522 yards and 22 scores last season, while second-leading rusher Nick Hill also departs after finishing 2014 with 622 yards. Delton Williams was the team’s third-leading rusher in 2014, but his status with the team is in question after an off-field incident. Talented freshman L.J. Scott won’t arrive until this summer, which leaves Madre London and Gerald Holmes as the team’s top options this spring. Can London or Holmes stake a clear edge in the battle for carries?

 

2. Connor Cook’s Passing Targets

The uncertainty of Michigan State’s skill players continues at receiver. Tony Lippett was the team’s clear No. 1 target last season, catching 65 passes for 1,198 yards and 11 scores. Lippett has expired his eligibility, and Keith Mumphery also departs East Lansing after ranking second on the team with 495 yards. Macgarrett Kings Jr. caught 29 passes for 404 yards last year and was expected to be a bigger piece of the receiving corps in 2015. However, his status with the team is also uncertain after an off-field incident. Who steps up here this spring? It’s up to Aaron Burbridge, Monty Madaris and R.J. Shelton to develop a better rapport with Cook this offseason.

 

3. Post-Pat Narduzzi Era

This spring marks Michigan State’s first offseason under Mark Dantonio without Pat Narduzzi coordinating the defense. Continuity was important for the program, and Dantonio promoted assistants Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel into the co-coordinator role. What tweaks or changes will Barnett and Tressel install this spring?

 

4. Rebuilding the No Fly Zone

The Spartans have ranked inside of the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency defense in four consecutive seasons. Continuing the recent success will depend on how quick Barnett and Tressel can restock the secondary after the departures of cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond. Waynes and Drummond both earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season and leave big shoes to fill. The spring depth chart lists Darian Hicks or Vayante Copeland at one corner spot, with junior Demetrious Cox at the other. The safety positions appear to be more defined, as Montae Nicholson is a player to watch after recording 31 tackles in 2014, and RJ Williamson returns for his senior year.

 

5. New Faces in the Defensive Line, Linebacker Corps

Even with the departures of Marcus Rush (7.5 sacks) and linebacker Taiwan Jones, Michigan State is in good shape in its front seven. But the Spartans will spend this spring focusing on settling a few starting jobs, as well as developing depth up front. There’s no question Shilique Calhoun is one of the Big Ten’s top defensive players, and Barnett and Tressel will spend the spring sorting out whether Lawrence Thomas fits better opposite of Calhoun at end or on the inside at tackle. Sophomore tackle Malik McDowell is also expected to have a breakout year.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Michigan State in the Big Ten:

 

Ohio State is the clear favorite in the Big Ten East Division, and the Spartans are just a step behind entering 2015. Michigan State will miss Narduzzi’s defensive acumen, as well as Lippett at receiver and defensive standouts like Waynes (CB), Drummond (S) and Jones (LB). However, there’s little reason to expect a big drop in wins this year. Michigan State returns one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks in Connor Cook, as well as four starters from an offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks in 2014. Another 10-win season is within reach for the Spartans.

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College Football’s spring practice session is underway, and all 128 teams and coaches are getting their first glimpse at how their depth chart is shaping up for the 2015 season. And with teams hitting the practice fields, it’s the first chance to take a look at which players are ready to take the next step in their development and emerge as a key contributor.

 

After taking a look at the quarterbacks and running backs on the rise for 2015, let’s finish the offensive side of the ball with the wide receiver position. There’s no shortage of receivers or breakout candidates at this position, but the list is headlined by USC’s JuJu Smith, Florida State’s Travis Rudolph, Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford and Ohio State’s Jalin Marshall.

 

Note: Players considered for the on the rise designation had less than 1,000 receiving yards in 2014.

 

College Football’s Top 20 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2015

 

Malachi Dupre, LSU

If LSU gets any consistency from its quarterbacks in 2015, then it’s safe to assume Dupre will have a breakout campaign. The Louisiana native was the No. 17 overall recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite and showed his big-play ability as a freshman by averaging 22.7 yards per catch on 14 receptions. Additionally, five of Dupre’s catches went for touchdowns.

 

Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

In his true freshman campaign, Ford emerged as Virginia Tech’s top receiver. In 13 contests, Ford grabbed 56 receptions for 709 yards and six scores. He recorded only one performance of 100 yards (Georgia Tech) but averaged 4.3 receptions per game, which ranked ninth among receivers in the ACC. With more consistency from quarterback Michael Brewer and another year to work in the offensive scheme, Ford should only improve on his totals in 2015.

 

DaeSean Hamilton/Geno Lewis, Penn State

The Nittany Lions are loaded with promising young talent at receiver, with Hamilton and Lewis the group’s leading statistical options last season. Hamilton led the team with 82 catches for 899 yards, while Lewis ranked second with 55 receptions for 751 yards. Assuming Penn State can protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2015, the passing attack should take a step forward, allowing Hamilton and Lewis to increase their production and opportunities.

 

Kenny Lawler/Stephen Anderson/Bryce Treggs, California

Let’s group all three of California’s top returning receivers here, as the Golden Bears should have one of the nation’s top passing attacks in 2015. Quarterback Jared Goff returns after throwing for 3,973 yards last season, and the talented trio of Lawler, Anderson and Treggs is due for an increase in opportunities after Chris Harper left for the NFL. With a defense that is still rebuilding, California will have to win with its offense in 2015. Keep an eye on this receiving trio, as it’s a safe bet at least one player will earn All-Pac-12 honors this year.

 

Jalin Marshall, Ohio State

Marshall and Dontre Wilson manned Ohio State’s H-Back position last season, and with the departure of Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman, both players should see an increased role in the offense in 2015. Marshall finished 2014 with 38 receptions for 499 yards and six scores and added 145 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Three of Marshall’s touchdowns came in one game, but he grabbed 24 of his 38 receptions over the final six contests.

 

Deon-Tay McManus, Marshall

The Thundering Herd enters spring with a few holes to fill on offense, as quarterback Rakeem Cato and top receiver Tommy Shuler expired their eligibility after the Boca Raton Bowl. While the quarterback battle could extend into the fall, the receiving corps could find its next go-to receiver in McManus this spring. As a redshirt freshman last year, the Maryland native caught 26 passes for 422 yards and six scores.

 

Speedy Noil, Texas A&M

The Aggies have one of the nation’s top receiving corps in 2015, and this group could get even deeper if Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones take the next step in their development. Noil caught 46 passes for 583 yards and five scores in his first season in College Station. In addition to his receiving totals, Noil averaged nearly 24 yards per kickoff return and 12 yards on punt returns. The sophomore should be one of the SEC’s top all-around playmakers in 2015.

 

Robbie Rhodes, Bowling Green

Bowling Green coach Dino Babers is a former Baylor assistant, and his “Falcon Fast” offense is similar to the one he learned under coach Art Briles in Waco. Rhodes is eligible in 2015 after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA transfer rules, and the sophomore should be an instant-impact performer for the Falcons. As a freshman at Baylor in 2013, Rhodes caught 10 passes for 157 yards (15.7 ypc). The Texas native ranked as the No. 28 recruit in the 2013 247Sports Composite.

 

Demarcus Robinson, Florida

Florida’s offense isn’t going to take a huge step forward in 2015, but new coach Jim McElwain will make a difference with this group. Robinson was the go-to target in the Gators’ passing offense last year, grabbing 53 receptions for 810 yards and seven scores. McElwain’s offense at Colorado State was instrumental in receiver Rashard Higgins (96 catches for 1,750 yards and 17 scores) pushing for All-America honors last season. Robinson won’t make that big of a jump in receiving totals, but he should benefit from the head coaching change this year.

 

Travis Rudolph, Florida State

With the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston, four starters on the offensive line and receiving targets Rashad Greene (WR) and Nick O’Leary (TE), there are a handful of new faces in key roles for Florida State’s offense this spring. Regardless of who takes the snaps under center for the Seminoles, Rudolph should be one of the team’s top playmakers in 2015. He caught 38 passes for 555 yards and four scores as a true freshman last season. Rudolph, Ermon Lane and incoming freshmen George Campbell and Da’Vante Phillips give Florida State one of the nation’s most talented groups of receivers for the next couple of seasons.

 

Artavis Scott, Clemson

As a true freshman last season, Scott led the team with 76 catches (including eight for scores) and recorded 965 receiving yards in 13 games. Scott capped the season on a high note by torching rival South Carolina for 185 yards and two scores, while also posting eight catches for 114 yards against Oklahoma. Scott should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2015, especially if rising star quarterback Deshaun Watson stays healthy.

 

Hunter Sharp, Utah State

Despite injuries to Utah State’s top three quarterbacks, the Aggies still finished 10-4 and claimed victories in six out of their last seven games. Sharp was a key junior college find on the recruiting trail for coach Matt Wells, as the California native led the team with 66 catches for 939 yards and seven scores. Assuming Utah State has better luck in the injury department this year, Sharp should easily eclipse 1,000 yards and rank among the Mountain West’s best at receiver.

 

Brandon Sheperd, Oklahoma State

Sheperd entered 2014 with just 15 career receptions, but the Missouri native emerged as one of the top big-play threats in the Big 12. In 13 games, he grabbed 39 receptions for 737 yards and five scores. Sheperd developed a good rapport with quarterback Mason Rudolph late in the season, catching 12 passes for 254 yards and three scores in the final two games of 2014. With Rudolph under center for a full season, Sheperd is expected to be an even bigger piece of the offense in 2015.

 

Cam Sims/Robert Foster, Alabama

With the departure of Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, Alabama is essentially starting over at receiver in 2015. Go ahead and pencil in a name from the Crimson Tide roster in this space, the only question is which player will emerge as a go-to target for the quarterback in 2015? Sims and Foster are the two most likely breakout players on the roster, as the duo combined for 13 catches for 106 yards and one score last season. True freshman Calvin Ridley is another name to watch in Tuscaloosa.

 

JuJu Smith, USC

The biggest void on USC’s offense heading into 2015 is at receiver with the departure of Nelson Agholor. Last season, Agholor led the Trojans with 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 scores. Coach Steve Sarkisian isn’t hurting for options at receiver with the emergence of Smith, along with the addition of a talented recruiting class for 2015. Smith ranked second on the team with 54 catches for 724 yards and five scores last season and is expected to emerge as quarterback Cody Kessler’s go-to target in 2015.

 

Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State

The Broncos lost top receiver Matt Miller early in 2014 due to injury, but the receiving corps didn’t miss a beat with the emergence of Sperbeck. The California native caught 51 passes and led the team with 877 yards (17.2 ypc). He also delivered in the Fiesta Bowl with his best performance of 2014 (12 receptions for 199 yards) and caught six passes for 148 yards in a 55-30 win over BYU. Even with a new quarterback taking over at Boise State, Sperbeck should be a lock for All-Mountain West honors in 2015.

 

Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

The Hilltoppers averaged 374.3 passing yards per game last season and should rank near the top of the nation once again with quarterback Brandon Doughty back under center. Taylor ranked second on the team with 797 yards (17 yards per catch) and third on the stat sheet with seven touchdown catches. Taylor is the team’s top big-play threat and should be an even bigger piece of Western Kentucky’s offense in 2015.

 

Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

New coach Mike Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf produced their share of prolific passing attacks at Oregon State and a few tweaks are coming to Nebraska’s offense in 2015. The Cornhuskers need quarterback Tommy Armstrong to take the next step in his development this season, but the passing game has all of the necessary pieces in place at receiver. Westerkamp was second on the team in 2014 in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. With Kenny Bell out of eligibility, Westerkamp should slide into the No. 1 receiving role for Armstrong.

 

D’haquille Williams, Auburn

Williams ranked as one of the top junior college prospects in the nation going into the 2014 season. The Louisiana native didn’t disappoint in his Auburn debut, catching 45 passes for 730 yards and five scores. With Sammie Coates off to the NFL, and Jeremy Johnson – a better passer than Nick Marshall – taking over at quarterback, Williams will see more opportunities in his direction this year.

 

De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State

The Bulldogs have several new faces stepping into the lineup with just seven returning starters in 2015. However, there’s little doubt about the strength of this team next season with the return of quarterback Dak Prescott. The senior should be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and has a talented group of receivers at his disposal. Wilson is a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. The Birmingham native finished 2014 on a tear, catching at least eight passes in each of his final three games.

 

Other Receivers to Watch in 2015

 

Power 5 Conferences

 

Devon Allen, Oregon

Allen showed plenty of promise as a redshirt freshman in 2014 before a knee injury in the Rose Bowl ended his season. If healthy, Allen should build off his 2014 totals: 41 receptions, 16.7 yards per catch, seven scores.

 

Victor Bolden/Jordan Villamin, Oregon State

The Beavers enter spring with uncertainty at quarterback, but there’s a promising group of receivers returning in 2015. Bolden and Villamin combined for 107 of Oregon State’s 290 catches in 2014.

 

Bra’Lon Cherry, NC State

Cherry is the Wolfpack’s top returning receiver after Bo Hines transferred to Yale. He caught 27 passes for 354 yards and three scores in 2014.

 

Stacy Coley, Miami

Can Coley regain his 2013 form (33 catches, 591 yards) after only grabbing 23 receptions in 2014?

 

Armanti Foreman, Texas

Upgrading the passing attack is coach Charlie Strong’s top priority this spring. The quarterback battle between Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes could extend into the fall, but the receiving corps is also under the spotlight with the departure of John Harris and Jaxon Shipley. Foreman – the No. 110 recruit in the 247Sports Composite last year – is ready for a bigger role in the offense.

 

J-Shun Harris II, Indiana

The Hoosiers must replace Shane Wynn (56 catches) this offseason. Will Harris emerge in 2015?

 

Levern Jacobs, Maryland

Jacobs missed 2014 due to suspension but he led the team with 47 catches for 640 yards in 2013. He should move into the No. 1 role with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long exiting College Park.

 

Devin Lauderdale, Texas Tech

Lauderdale averaged a healthy 19 yards per catch in 2014 and should see more passes his way in 2015 with the departure of Bradley Marquez.

 

Eric Lauderdale, Arizona State

Lauderdale ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2014 signing class and used a redshirt season in his first year in Tempe. The junior college prospect will be counted on to help replace the production lost by Jaelen Strong (NFL Draft) and Cameron Smith (knee injury).

 

Allen Lazard, Iowa State

Lazard did not disappoint in his true freshman campaign, catching 45 passes for 593 yards and three scores.

 

Gabe Marks, Washington State

Marks led Washington State with 74 receptions and 807 yards in 2013 but sat out 2014 as a redshirt. With the Cougars replacing leading receivers Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, the door is open for Marks and River Cracraft to become the top receivers in coach Mike Leach’s offense in 2015.

 

Marquez North, Tennessee

North missed three games and battled injuries late in the season but still finished with 30 catches and four scores. He should benefit from a full season of Joshua Dobbs at quarterback.

 

Dante Pettis, Washington

Washington is looking for more playmakers in its receiving corps this offseason. Pettis is a name to watch after catching 17 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown in 2014.

 

Daikiel Shorts/Jordan Thompson, West Virginia

The Mountaineers lose top receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford. Can Shorts (24 catches in 2014) or Thompson (49) emerge as the No. 1 target this year?

 

Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss

Stringfellow transferred to Ole Miss after catching 20 passes for 259 yards at Washington in 2013. The California native was regarded as a top 100 recruit in the 2013 signing class.

 

Ja’Quay Williams, Louisville

Williams – a Texas A&M transfer – will be counted on for a major role in Louisville’s receiving corps in 2015, as the Cardinals lose standout DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers and tight end Gerald Christian expired their eligibility after the Belk Bowl. James Quick also deserves a mention in this article after catching 36 passes as a sophomore in 2014.

 

Group of 5

 

Devonte Boyd, UNLV

Boyd was one of the nation’s top freshman receivers last season, catching 64 passes for 973 yards and four touchdowns. He should see even more passes in his direction in 2015.

 

Trevon Brown, East Carolina

Brown is a talented playmaker that averaged 18.9 yards per catch (as a true freshman) before a knee injury limited him over the second half of 2014.

 

Steven Dunbar, Houston

Dunbar impressed as a true freshman last season by catching 20 passes for 286 yards. He will be one of the top targets in coach Tom Herman’s offense.

 

Donovan Harden, Georgia State

Illinois State transfer led Georgia State with 60 catches in 2014. With quarterback Nick Arbuckle returning, the Panthers should be one of the Sun Belt’s top passing offenses.

 

Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech

Henderson was a big-play threat for the Bulldogs as a redshirt freshman last season. In 12 games, he grabbed 29 receptions for 569 yards and four scores. Henderson’s 19.6 yards per catch ranked second among receivers in Conference USA in 2014.

 

Eric Judge, San Diego State

San Diego State has a new play-caller (Jeff Horton), and a likely transfer under center (Maxwell Smith), but Judge is a name to watch this spring. He caught 24 passes for 471 yards (and two scores) in 12 games last year.

 

Jesse Kroll, Central Michigan

Kroll ranked second on the team last season with 36 receptions for 582 yards and four scores. With Titus Davis expiring his eligibility, Kroll should emerge as the No. 1 target for quarterback Cooper Rush.

 

Mekale McKay, Cincinnati

The Bearcats return a loaded group of weapons for quarterback Gunner Kiel. McKay tied for the team lead with eight touchdown catches last season and ranked second on the team with 44 receptions. He could be primed for an even bigger role in 2015.

 

Dijon Paschal, Arkansas State

Paschal had a breakout year in 2014, catching 37 passes for 642 yards as a redshirt freshman. Arkansas State’s offense is only going to get better in 2015 with quarterback Fredi Knighten returning.

 

Zach Pascal/Blair Roberts, Old Dominion

The Monarchs lose quarterback Taylor Heinicke and top receiver Antonio Vaughan. But the offense should remain potent with coach Bobby Wilder and coordinator Brian Scott at the controls. Roberts missed 2014 due to injury, while Pascal caught 59 passes for 743 yards.

 

Alonzo Russell, Toledo

Russell ranked fourth in the MAC with eight touchdown catches in 2014. A healthy Phillip Ely at quarterback for the Rockets will only help Russell’s numbers in 2015.

 

Rokeem Williams, Miami (Ohio)

The RedHawks must replace quarterback Andrew Hendrix, but there’s a promising trio of young receivers returning in 2015. Williams caught 35 passes and averaged 19.5 yards per reception last year.

 

Ron Willoughby, Buffalo

Willoughby entered 2014 with just three career receptions. He caught 50 passes for 771 yards and nine scores last season. Look for Willoughby and Buffalo’s offense to improve under new coach Lance Leipold.

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West Virginia rebounded from a 4-8 mark in 2013 to finish 7-6 and earn its first winning record (5-4) in Big 12 action since joining the league. The Mountaineers return 16 starters for 2015, including talented running back Rushel Shell and defensive backs Daryl Worley (CB) and Karl Joseph (S). Coach Dana Holgorsen has this program trending in the right direction, but his 2015 team has a few holes to address this spring, including a quarterback battle and question marks on both lines of scrimmage.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in West Virginia’s Spring Practice

 

1. The Quarterbacks

West Virginia already has a good idea of what it has in its two quarterbacks vying for the starting role. Skyler Howard started the final two games of 2014 and finished the year with 829 passing yards and eight passing scores. Howard’s accuracy (50.9 percent) is one area to watch in 2015. William Crest was slated to work in the backup role last year. However, a shoulder injury sidelined the talented freshman in September after he rushed for 27 yards and completed three of four passes against Towson. The upside is clearly with Crest. Can he exit spring with a clear hold on the No. 1 job?

 

2. New Targets at WR

While the quarterback battle is expected to draw most of the offseason attention in Morgantown, West Virginia also has to find replacements for its top two receivers. Kevin White was one of the nation’s top receiving threats last year, catching 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 scores. Mario Alford also departs after recording 65 receptions for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns. This is a big spring for Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts to emerge as the go-to targets for the quarterback. Shelton Gibson, freshman Jovon Durante and junior college recruit Ka’Raun White are also names to watch this offseason.

 

3. Stabilizing the Offensive Line

The Mountaineers must replace arguably their best offensive linemen from last year’s group in guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. Some shuffling is already underway for line coach Ron Crook, as Adam Pankey (13 starts in 2014) is moving to guard after playing at left tackle last year. Marquis Lucas and Tyler Orlosky also return as starters, but which positions will they play? Could Lucas flip to left tackle? This spring is the first opportunity to sort out this unit.

 

4. Restock the Defensive Line

Under Tony Gibson’s direction last season, West Virginia limited conference opponents to 27.1 points per game. And with nine starters back, the Mountaineers could improve on that total in 2015. The biggest concern for Gibson has to be the depth in the trenches with the departure of Shaquille Riddick and Dontrill Hyman. Riddick earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording seven sacks in 2014. Kyle Rose and Noble Nwachukwu are back after productive 2014 campaigns, but Gibson still needs to find a third starter, as well as develop the depth needed to stop opposing offenses in the Big 12.

 

5. Replacements at Linebacker

Gibson’s busy spring continues with a few new faces stepping into starting roles at linebacker. Brandon Golson and Wes Tonkery have expired their eligibility, which leaves Shaq Petteway, Nick Kwiatkoski and Edward Muldrow as the unit’s top returners. Jared Barber also returns from a torn ACL, while Isaiah Bruce hopes to find the form that helped him rank second on the team in tackles in 2012.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on West Virginia in the Big 12:

 

West Virginia has a few key voids to fill this offseason, but the middle of the Big 12 is open. The Mountaineers defeated Baylor in Morgantown and lost to TCU by just a point. This team has made progress since joining the Big 12 under coach Dana Holgorsen and should easily make a bowl in 2015. How high this team climbs in the standings revolves around solving quarterback battle and the new faces on the offensive and defensive lines. Surpassing last year’s win total wouldn’t be a surprise. 

Teaser:
West Virginia Mountaineers 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Syracuse Orange, News
Path: /college-football/syracuse-unveils-new-orange-jerseys-2015
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Syracuse unveiled three uniforms last season, but the reveal didn’t include an orange design. One year later, it appears Syracuse will be adding a fourth color to its jersey wardrobe.

 

On Monday, Syracuse unveiled a new orange jersey for 2015.

 

Check out the new look for the Orange:

 

 

Teaser:
Syracuse Brings Back Orange Jerseys for 2015
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 14:43
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2015-spring-football-preview
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Virginia Tech won at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons from 2004-11. But the Hokies took a step back over the last three years, recording a 22-17 mark in that span. Coach Frank Beamer is also coming off his first losing record in conference play since 2002. While Virginia Tech’s win total has dipped recently, this program isn’t far from contending in the Coastal. The defense is one of the best in the nation, but the offense is once again under the spotlight in spring practice.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Virginia Tech’s Spring Practice

 

1. Michael Brewer’s Development

Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores in his debut at Virginia Tech last season. The Texas Tech transfer helped to guide the Hokies to a win at Ohio State early in the year but also tossed 10 picks through his first five games. With a full offseason to learn the offense and develop a rapport with coordinator Scot Loeffler, will Brewer take a step forward in 2015?

 

2. Finding Answers on the Offensive Line

The offensive line is easily the biggest concern for Virginia Tech in 2015. Three players started all 13 games last year – Laurence Gibson, David Wang and Caleb Farris – and have expired their eligibility, while this unit returns promising younger players in guard Wyatt Teller and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin. Can line coach Stacy Searels find the right answers for a unit that gave up 34 sacks in 2014?

 

3. Establishing a Pecking Order at Running Back

Make no mistake: Virginia Tech has options at running back. Will the coaching staff develop a clear pecking order for carries this spring? Clouding the outlook is a knee injury to Marshawn Williams, as well as a suspension for Shai McKenzie. J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb will have first shot at claiming the top spots on the depth chart this spring, while D.J. Reid and Travon McMillian are ready to push for snaps off a redshirt season.

 

4. New Faces at Safety

With eight starters back, Virginia Tech’s defense will be among the best in the nation. Few question marks surround this group, but coordinator Bud Foster needs to restock at safety after the departure of Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner. Chuck Clark (73 tackles in 2014) is expected to move to safety after playing corner in 2014. The rover position is unsettled and could fall to C.J. Reavis or Der’Woun Greene.

 

5. Eliminate Turnovers and Mistakes

It’s difficult to predict or coach, but Virginia Tech has to find a way to limit the turnovers in 2015. The Hokies ranked near the bottom of the ACC with 26 turnovers lost in 2014 and also averaged seven committed penalties a game. If Beamer’s team can eliminate the mistakes, it should have a little better luck in close games after finishing 2-5 in one-score contests in 2014.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Virginia Tech in the ACC:

 

Similar to last season, the Coastal Division is filled with uncertainty entering spring practice. Georgia Tech is considered the favorite, but Virginia Tech isn't far behind. The Hokies are loaded with talent on defense and had some bad luck last season with 26 lost turnovers and a 2-5 mark in one-score games. If offensive line improves, and quarterback Michael Brewer develops in his second year as a starter, Virginia Tech has a chance to win the division and return to the top 25 in 2015.

Teaser:
Virginia Tech Hokies 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-tigers-2015-spring-football-preview
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Auburn wasn’t quite able to recapture the magic from its 2013 run to the national championship, but coach Gus Malzahn’s second season still resulted in an 8-5 record with two losses coming by three points. As Malzahn’s team works through spring practice, it’s clear this team will be in the mix for the SEC West Division title. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of talent at the skill positions. The defense should benefit significantly from the addition of Will Muschamp as coordinator.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Auburn’s Spring Practice

 

1. Jeremy Johnson’s Time to Shine

Nick Marshall had a successful two-year stint as Auburn’s quarterback, but the offense shouldn’t miss a beat with Jeremy Johnson under center. The junior has two career starts under his belt and passed for 436 yards and three scores in seven appearances in 2014. Johnson isn’t as mobile as Marshall, but coach Gus Malzahn will tweak the offense to fit his strengths. This spring is Johnson’s first to work as the starter.  

 

2. New Faces on the Offensive Line

The Tigers must replace two starters on the line, including standout center Reese Dismukes. While Dismukes won’t be easy to replace, this unit does return left tackle Shon Coleman and promising sophomore Braden Smith, while guard Alex Kozan is expected to return from a back injury that sidelined him all of 2014. Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson could factor into the mix to replace Dismukes at center. This spring is all about finding the right players at the right positions.

 

3. Restocking the Skill Players

Talent is plentiful at the running back and receiver positions, but new faces must emerge to keep the offense performing at a high level in 2015. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are gone at running back, which leaves junior college recruit Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber as the team’s top three options. At receiver, Sammie Coates and Quan Bray depart, but Duke Williams turned down the NFL for one more year at Auburn. In addition to Williams, the Tigers will ask more of Marcus Davis, Ricardo Louis and redshirt freshman Stanton Truitt.

 

4. Getting Comfortable With the New Defense

After giving up over six yards per play in SEC contests in each of the last two years, Malzahn decided it was time for a change at coordinator. And Malzahn made one of the offseason’s top hires by landing former Florida coach Will Muschamp to call the defensive signals in 2015. Muschamp should bring immediate improvement to this unit and will have help with the return of end Carl Lawson from an ACL injury. How quickly will the players pickup and adapt to the new scheme?

 

5. Solidify the Secondary

The pass defense had its share of issues over the last two seasons, and this unit enters spring practice with holes to fill. Cornerback Jonathon Mincy and safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie must be replaced. Talent certainly isn’t an issue here, as Jonathan Jones is back at cornerback after a breakout season, and Georgia transfer Tray Matthews should help at safety. Joshua Holsey may claim the other starting cornerback spot, and Muschamp has options to fill the void left behind at safety. This unit isn’t necessarily a major concern for 2015, but it’s critical to establish a pecking order or begin to sift through the options.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Auburn in the SEC:

 

After a run to the national championship in 2013, the Tigers took a step back and finished just 4-4 in SEC play last season. However, this team will be one to watch in 2015. Auburn has all of the necessary pieces to make a run at the SEC title, especially if quarterback Jeremy Johnson performs as expected. The defense has been an issue over the last two years, but the addition of Muschamp will pay dividends. With Alabama visiting Auburn, it’s not out of the question to think the Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West champion in 2015. 

Teaser:
Auburn Tigers 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/penn-state-nittany-lions-2015-spring-football-preview
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James Franklin’s debut at Penn State had its share of ups and downs, as the Nittany Lions started 4-0 but dropped six out of their last eight regular season games. A bowl win over Boston College propelled Franklin to a winning mark in his first season, and the program was able to ink a full class of players after NCAA sanctions limited scholarships in previous years. Penn State enters spring practice with question marks, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the Big Ten’s top players, and there’s plenty of returning talent on a defense that ranked among the nation’s best in 2014.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Penn State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Improving the Offensive Line

Line coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the nation, and there’s no doubt Penn State’s offensive line should take a step forward in 2015. The Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks last season, which was a big reason why the offense managed only 14 points per game in Big Ten play. How quickly can Penn State find the right mix up front? Keep an eye on junior college recruit Paris Palmer, along with redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell and incoming freshman Sterling Jenkins (enrolled in time to compete in spring ball) this offseason.

 

2. Depth at Running Back

Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak are out of eligibility, which leaves Akeel Lynch as the team’s only proven running back headed into spring practice. Lynch is capable of being an All-Big Ten back, but the Nittany Lions need depth here. Freshman Saquon Barkley will arrive this summer to add competition, but redshirt freshmen Nick Scott and Johnathan Thomas have a chance to push for the backup job this spring.

 

3. Reload at Defensive End

Penn State’s defense was one of the best in the nation last season, limiting opponents to just 4.3 yards per play. Coordinator Bob Shoop is an underrated coach, and with six starters back, the Nittany Lions should be able to keep the momentum on defense. Shoop has a few personnel questions to address this spring, including the end spot with the departures of C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes. Garrett Sickels is a promising player for the defense, and redshirt freshman Torrence Brown is expected to push for snaps. Olaniyan and Barnes combined for nine of the defense’s 31 recorded sacks from 2014. Can that production be replaced?

 

4. Replacing Mike Hull at Linebacker

While the end spot is thin on proven options, the bigger concern for Shoop has to be the departure of linebacker Mike Hull. In his final season with the Nittany Lions, Hull registered 140 tackles and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. Franklin mentioned Nyeem Wartman, Gary Wooten and Ben Kline as the likely replacements for Hull prior to spring practice. Can one player leave spring with a clear edge at middle linebacker?

 

5. Finding a New Kicker

It may seem like a small part of spring practice, but Penn State needs to find a replacement for Sam Ficken. As a senior last season, Ficken connected on 24 of 29 field goals and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. The Nittany Lions won three games by three or less points last year. It’s critical to find a solid option this offseason.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Penn State in the Big Ten:

 

Penn State’s position in the East Division will largely be determined by how much its offensive line improves this offseason. Hackenberg is one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks, and there’s no shortage of skill talent. The defense has a few holes to address in the front seven, but this group should be near the top of the Big Ten. Ohio State is the clear favorite in the East, with Michigan State at No. 2. If the Nittany Lions get on track on offense, finishing third in the East with an improvement in the win column is very realistic.

Teaser:
Penn State Nittany Lions 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2015-spring-football-preview
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Mike Riley was a surprise hire at Nebraska, and the former Oregon State coach enters his first spring practice in Lincoln with key personnel question marks to address. The Cornhuskers return 12 starters, including quarterback Tommy Armstrong and standout defensive tackle Maliek Collins, but receiver Kenny Bell and running back Ameer Abdullah must be replaced. On defense, Nebraska has room to improve after allowing 5.5 yards per play in Big Ten games last season.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Nebraska’s Spring Practice

 

1. Tommy Armstrong’s Development

In his first full season as Nebraska’s starter, Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards and 22 scores. He also rushed for 705 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games. Armstrong showed progress throughout 2014, which included his first 300-yard performance (USC). Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf will adapt to their personnel, but it’s notable Oregon State ranked first or second in the Pac-12 in passing in 2012 and 2013. Armstrong should still have opportunities to run in 2015. However, the offense needs him to develop more as a passer.

 

2. Replacing Ameer Abdullah

Ameer Abdullah finished a standout career at Nebraska with his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Nebraska isn’t hurting for options at running back to replace Abdullah’s production, but which player will emerge as the go-to back? Senior Imani Cross has the most experience, while Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby are two other capable backs for Langsdorf to use in 2015.

 

3. Rebuilt Offensive Line

Three starters – Jake Cotton, Mark Pelini and Mike Moudy – expired their eligibility after the Holiday Bowl. Despite the personnel losses, the Cornhuskers are in relatively good shape up front. Alex Lewis earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season and returns to anchor the left side at tackle. Zach Sterup started 10 games in 2014 and should start at right tackle. The interior spots are up for grabs and should be the focus of spring ball. There’s experience returning in the way of Paul Thurston, Zach Hannon, Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, Dylan Utter and Givens Price, while redshirt freshmen Nick Gates, Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster are also expected to push for time and add quality depth to the trenches.

 

4. Replacing Randy Gregory at DE

The biggest question mark for new defensive coordinator Mark Banker is the defensive end position. Randy Gregory was the unit’s top player over the last two years and accounted for seven of the Cornhuskers’ 29 sacks in 2014. The line isn’t overflowing with proven depth, but Greg McMullen and Jack Gangwish are experienced and should anchor the starting spots. However, Banker needs to develop depth here this spring. Will Joe Keels emerge as a key contributor in his second year in Lincoln? Players like redshirt freshman Freedom Akinmoladun, A.J. Natter and Peyton Newell need to provide quality snaps in 2015.

 

5. Find the Right Mix in the Back Seven

Banker inherits a defense that ranked fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense last season but allowed 206.8 rushing yards in Big Ten contests. Gone from last season’s unit are linebackers Zaire Anderson and Trevor Roach, along with cornerback Josh Mitchell and safety Corey Cooper. How will Banker solidify the linebacking corps and secondary this spring? Michael Rose-Ivey is back after missing 2014 due to a knee injury and could step into a starting role. Banker has options, but he just needs to find the right mix.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Nebraska in the Big Ten:

 

Wisconsin is the early favorite in the Big Ten West Division in 2015. Can Nebraska close the gap this spring? The scheme transitions on both sides of the ball present a challenge for contention in the West, along with a schedule that features a crossover game against Michigan State and a road trip to Minnesota. Riley is a good coach that won a tough place (Oregon State). If the personnel blends with the new schemes, Nebraska has a chance to win nine games in 2015.

Teaser:
Nebraska Cornhuskers 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/baylors-410-pound-ol-laquan-mcgowan-catches-pass-spring-game
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Baylor’s LaQuan McGowan is a very large man. According to the school’s official roster, the Texas native is 6-foot-7 and 410 pounds.

 

In the Cotton Bowl loss to Michigan State, McGowan showed off his athleticism by catching an 18-yard pass for a score.

 

And here’s the best part of this story: The coaching staff plans to give him more snaps at tight end this year.

 

McGowan added to his highlight reel with a catch in Baylor’s spring showcase:  

 

 

Teaser:
Baylor's 410-Pound OL LaQuan McGowan Catches a Pass in Spring Game
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 08:00
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-2015-spring-football-preview
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Alabama enters 2015 with high expectations, as coach Nick Saban’s team has the best roster in college football and has won 10 games in seven consecutive seasons. Last year ended on a down note with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but the Crimson Tide figure to be back in the playoff mix once again. With plenty of victories on the recruiting trail over the last few years, the roster has a wealth of talent at every position. This spring is all about settling on a quarterback, reloading at receiver and addressing a few holes in the secondary.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Alabama’s Spring Practice

 

1. Jake Coker’s Job to Lose?

After transferring from Florida State last offseason, Jake Coker was expected to win the starting quarterback job over Blake Sims. However, Sims started all 14 games, and Coker threw only 59 passes in relief duty. Sims expired his eligibility, which means it’s Coker’s job to lose this spring. He will be pushed by talented freshmen Blake Barnett and David Cornwell, along with Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris. Will Coker claim the job this spring? Or will the battle extend into the fall?

 

2. New Options at Receiver

Amari Cooper was the best receiver in college football last season, and he caught 124 of Alabama’s 290 pass attempts in 2014. Not only does coordinator Lane Kiffin have to replace Cooper, but Christion Jones (19 catches) and DeAndrew White (40) also depart. This spring is all about finding the next wave of standouts at the receiver spot. Talent isn’t an issue here, starting with tight end O.J. Howard and receivers Chris Black, Robert Foster and Cam Sims. Keep an eye on true freshman Calvin Ridley once he arrives on campus this summer. How quickly can Alabama reload at receiver?

 

3. New Starters on the Offensive Line

Three starters are gone from an offensive line that allowed only 16 sacks in 2014. Much as the case at receiver, Alabama has talent and options to restock. The rebuilding effort starts with rising star Cam Robinson at left tackle, while center Ryan Kelly is one of the best in the SEC. Finding three starters shouldn’t be a problem for line coach Mario Cristobal, especially with experienced options like Alphonse Taylor, Dominick Jackson and Bradley Bozeman available. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher is also expected to factor into the mix. Finding a starting five and allowing this unit time to jell will be critical for Alabama’s chances at a national title in 2015.

 

4. Finding the Right Mix in the Secondary

For the second offseason in a row, Alabama’s secondary will take the spotlight on the defensive side in spring ball. The Crimson Tide allowed 19 passes of 30 or more yards last season, and there’s question marks at cornerback and safety that must be addressed. Landon Collins and Nick Perry depart at safety, while the cornerback spot opposite of Cyrus Jones is up for grabs. Will sophomore Hootie Jones claim a starting spot to help alleviate the loss of Collins? Will Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey emerge at corner? Or will incoming freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield push for snaps in the fall?

 

5. Replacing Trey DePriest at Linebacker

Alabama’s front seven has a chance to be the best in the nation in 2015. There are a few holes to address, but once again, talent is there to fill the gaps. Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson depart at linebacker, and this should be an opportunity for Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton or Rashaan Evans to stake their case for more snaps.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Alabama in the SEC:

 

It seems like a broken record, but it’s worth mentioning again: Alabama’s roster is overflowing with talent. The Crimson Tide has won the “recruiting championship” five years in a row. Winning the national title is within reach, but Nick Saban’s team needs a quarterback to emerge, along with options at receiver to replace Amari Cooper. The defense will rank among the best in the nation once again. But the secondary – especially without Landon Collins – remains a concern. Road trips to Georgia and Auburn are the toughest games on the schedule and could determine just how high this team climbs in the playoff picture.

Teaser:
Alabama Crimson Tide 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2015-spring-football-preview
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Florida State’s three-year run from 2012-14 was one of the best in college football. The Seminoles won 39 games during that stretch, claimed the national championship after the 2013 season and made the playoffs last year. It’s hard to stay at the top of the nation with personnel losses and early entries to the NFL Draft, and coach Jimbo Fisher will have a busy spring ahead if Florida State is going to win at least 12 games for the fourth season in a row.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Florida State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle

There’s no doubt all eyes in Tallahassee will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Jameis Winston leaves big shoes to fill, and junior Sean Maguire enters spring ball as the favorite to win the job. Maguire made one start in 2014, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards against arguably the nation’s No. 1 defense (Clemson). He will be pushed by redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, sophomore John Franklin III and incoming freshmen De’Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois.

 

2. Reloading the Receiving Corps

Talent certainly isn’t an issue here. Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane ranked among the top six receivers in last year’s signing class by 247Sports Composite. The Seminoles also inked George Campbell (No. 19 overall prospect), Da’Vante Phillips (No. 99) and Auden Tate (No. 265) in 2015. Which players will emerge to help replace the production lost by Rashad Greene? Also, who steps up at tight end to replace Nick O’Leary? Redshirt freshmen Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders are two names to watch.

 

3. Offensive Line Replacements

Four new starters are slated for Florida State’s offensive line in 2015. This unit struggled at times in 2014 but was bolstered late by the addition of tackle Roderick Johnson into the lineup at left tackle. Johnson is expected to anchor that side of the line once again, but the other four spots are up for grabs this spring. Junior college recruits Chad Mavety and Kareem Are redshirted last season and are expected to prominently factor into the mix.

 

4. Focus in the Front Seven on Defense

After leading the ACC in fewest yards per play allowed in 2013 (4.1), Florida State’s total jumped to 5.5 in 2014. And even though seven starters are back for 2015, there will be growing pains on this side of the ball. Linemen Mario Edwards (DE) and Eddie Goldman (DT) earned first-team All-ACC honors last season and will be playing on Sundays next year. Who emerges as a key contributor in the trenches? Will tackle Demarcus Christmas or end Lorenzo Featherston have a breakout season?

 

5. Reloading the Cornerback Position

Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams departed Florida State for the NFL, leaving a big void at cornerback this spring. Much like the other positions mentioned here, the Seminoles aren’t hurting for talent, just need a few names to emerge. Jalen Ramsey is expected to slide to cornerback, which should solidify one spot. Converted running back Ryan Green and Marquez White are two players to watch, but freshmen Tarvarus McFadden, Marcus Lewis, Calvin Brewton and A.J. Westbrook also factor into the battle throughout the offseason.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Florida State in the ACC:

 

With the talent in place, combined with one of the top coaches in the nation, it’s tough to count out Florida State from contending for a playoff spot in 2015. However, the Seminoles are likely to take a small step back in the win column. Even if Sean Maguire performs at a high level this season, this team still has concerns on the offensive line and on defense. Running back Dalvin Cook will be an All-American candidate and figures to shoulder more of the offensive workload next year. Road trips to Clemson and Georgia Tech could determine whether Florida State wins the Atlantic or falls in second behind the Tigers. A finish among the top-10 teams in the nation wouldn’t be a surprise. But the Seminoles seem like a team poised to rebuild in 2015 – and contend for the national title again in 2016.

Teaser:
Florida State Seminoles 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2015-spring-football-preview
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Arkansas opens its third set of spring practices under coach Bret Bielema hoping to improve off last year’s 7-6 record. This team showed considerable progress in 2014 and is poised to take another step forward with 14 starters back in the mix. Bielema will have a new offensive play-caller with former Central Michigan coach Dan Enos hired to replace Jim Chaney. However, the formula for success in Fayetteville isn’t going to change, as the Razorbacks remain a run-first and defense team in 2015.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Arkansas’ Spring Practice

 

1. Development of the Passing Game

Arkansas showed marked improvement with its passing game in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. After averaging just 148.5 yards per game in 2013, the Razorbacks improved that total to 188 in 2014. Quarterback Brandon Allen was hindered by a shoulder injury in 2013 but stayed healthy until late in the year and finished with just six interceptions on 339 attempts. Allen should take another step forward in his development this spring, especially with the return of tight end Hunter Henry and receiver Keon Hatcher. How much of an impact will new play-caller Dan Enos have on the offense in 2015? It’s up to Enos and Allen to continue to build off a solid 2014 season by the offense.

 

2. Shuffled Offensive Line

With four starters returning, the Razorbacks should have one of the SEC’s best offensive lines in 2015. But there’s a couple of tweaks coming to the front five this spring, as guard Denver Kirkland has shifted to left tackle, and Dan Skipper is shifting from left tackle to the right side. This move should only strengthen the offensive line, but this spring will be about meshing all of the pieces together and building a cohesive group once again.

 

3. Development of Wide Receivers

In addition to Brandon Allen’s development, Arkansas needs its receiving corps to take a step forward to help the passing game grow in 2015. Keon Hatcher (43 catches in 2014) is the leading target, and tight end Hunter Henry is one of the best in the nation. But who steps up to replace A.J. Derby as the No. 2 tight end and who emerges as a solid No. 2 or No. 3 option for Allen at receiver?

 

4. Restocking the Trenches

Robb Smith was one of the SEC’s top coordinator hires last season, and the Arkansas defense allowed only 28 points in its last four contests. In order for Smith to build off that total in 2015, he needs to find a few replacements for standouts in the trenches. Trey Flowers (six sacks) and tackle Darius Philon (11.5 tackles for a loss) have departed, leaving a void up front. It’s up to players like JaMichael Winston (DE) and Taiwan Johnson (DT) to pickup the slack in the trenches. Perhaps this unit won’t have an All-SEC player, but the overall depth and ability to rotate will be a strength.

 

5. Replacing LB Martrell Spaight

Spaight was one of the SEC’s most underrated defenders in 2014. In 13 contests, Spaight recorded 128 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Brooks Ellis (72 tackles) should be the leader of the linebacking corps in 2015, but sophomore Khalia Hackett is a name that will be watched closely in spring ball.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Arkansas:

 

The SEC West is not only the toughest division in college football, but it’s also one of the most intriguing races to watch in 2015. Arkansas made considerable progress in Bielema’s second year and showed improve once again in 2015. But the schedule isn’t easy, featuring crossover games against likely top 25 teams in Missouri and Tennessee, along with road trips to Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama. How high the Razorbacks can climb in the West likely depends on the development of the passing game and how quickly the defense can reload in the front seven. 

Teaser:
Arkansas Razorbacks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2015-spring-football-preview
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Georgia opens spring practice as the early favorite in the SEC East. The Bulldogs just missed on a division title last season and return 12 starters for 2015. Coach Mark Richt’s team will be busy this spring, as this team has question marks on both sides of the ball and three new coaches are spending their first spring in Athens. Offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was the biggest coaching move from the offseason, but Rob Sale (offensive line) and Thomas Brown (running backs) are also under the spotlight.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Georgia’s Spring Practice:

 

1. The Quarterback Battle

Hutson Mason has expired his eligibility after starting all 13 games for Georgia last season. Mason threw for 2,168 yards and 21 scores in 2013. Replacing Mason is a three-way battle, headlined by Brice Ramsey (24 of 39, 333 yards, 3 TDs). The sophomore has the edge in experience, but Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park will push for time.

 

2. Replacing David Andrews at Center

The lone departure on Georgia’s offensive line was a big one. Center David Andrews expired his eligibility after earning All-SEC honors last season. Who steps up to replace Andrews? It’s expected Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long will have the first opportunity to fill the void at center.

 

3. Options at Receiver

Chris Conley and Michael Bennett depart after catching 73 of Georgia’s 217 passes last season. Malcolm Mitchell missed nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury and returned in 2014 to catch 31 passes for 248 yards and three scores. Can Mitchell regain the form from his first two seasons (85 catches)? And what other receivers will emerge as key targets in 2015? Will Justin Scott-Wesley return to full strength after only playing in six games last year?   

 

4. Secondary Shuffling

The Bulldogs ranked near the top of the SEC in pass defense, limiting conference opponents to just 10 passing scores in eight games. But this unit loses top cornerback Damian Swann, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt isn’t afraid to mix and match personnel. Will Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman start at corner? Or can Malkom Parrish claim a starting job in his second year on campus? The safety spots are also up for grabs, with Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders as the favorites.

 

5. New Faces on the Defensive Line/Linebacking Corps

Three seniors depart from a defensive line that allowed 172.9 rushing yards in SEC contests in 2014. And it’s a safe bet coach Mark Richt and line coach Tracy Rocker are only writing their spring depth chart in pencil here. Freshman Jonathan Ledbetter will participate in spring ball, but No. 1 recruit Trenton Thompson won’t arrive until this summer. At linebacker, standouts Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera must be replaced. Junior college recruit Chuks Amaechi is a name to watch, along with the development of sophomore Lorenzo Carter.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Georgia:

 

As we mentioned above, Georgia is the very early No. 1 pick in the East. But is that almost by default? Florida has a new coach (Jim McElwain), Missouri has significant personnel losses, and Tennessee might be a year away. Georgia’s schedule certainly doesn’t provide many breaks, as this team has road trips to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech, along with a home date against Alabama. The Bulldogs have one of the league’s best players (running back Nick Chubb) and four starters back on the offensive line. The defense returns six starters, but there are question marks in each unit as spring practice opens. The quarterback battle is the biggest storyline to watch this offseason, along with the development of the offense under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even with question marks on both sides of the ball, Georgia has enough returning talent and potential to be a top 10 team in 2015.

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Clemson has won at least 10 games in a row in four consecutive seasons and enters the spring as one of the favorites to win the ACC in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a rising star and is expected to return at full strength from ACL surgery by the fall. In addition to Watson, the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, including Artavis Scott and Mike Williams at receiver, along with Wayne Gallman at running back. Play-caller Chad Morris left to go to SMU, but coach Dabo Swinney promoted from within (Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott) to ensure continuity.

 

The defensive side of the ball is undergoing renovations with the loss of several key players. Only two starters return from a group that was arguably the best defense in the nation in 2014. While the losses are heavy, there’s young talent in place to prevent a major drop in production.

 

What’s ahead for the Tigers this spring? I asked David Hood (@MDavidHood) of TigerNet.com to help us preview Clemson and answer some of the key questions and storylines to watch:

 

1. With Chad Morris leaving to be the head coach at SMU, the focus shifts to co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to keep Clemson’s offense among the best in the ACC. Should this be an easy transition for the Tigers? Or will Clemson’s offense take a step back without Morris calling the plays?

 

Clemson scored 40 points in the Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma, and with Tony Elliott calling the plays the offense moved the ball pretty well. Both Elliott and Scott have spent the last few years calling the plays in the scrimmages and the spring games and learning the art of calling plays under Morris, and head coach Dabo Swinney made the transition easier by saying that the offense is a "Clemson offense" and not changing the scheme or plays. As long as quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy, the offense shouldn't miss a step without Morris.

 

2. The offensive line loses three starters from a unit that allowed 27 sacks last season. How big of a concern is this for Clemson with quarterback Deshaun Watson recovering from a knee injury? Also, can true freshman Mitch Hyatt factor prominently into the offensive line rotation this year?

 

I think this is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball. The good news is that two of the new starters - left guard Eric Mac Lain and right tackle Joe Gore - have each started games over the last few seasons and have played significant snaps. Add in center Ryan Norton and left tackle Isaiah Battle and the Tigers have plenty of experience at four of the spots. That leaves right guard Tyrone Crowder to prove he belongs. If the Tigers get back center Jay Guillermo - who is out this spring - Norton can move to the right guard spot and Clemson would then have five starters who have started games in the past. Mitch Hyatt has all the tools and came to camp at 282 pounds, and he will see action this season. His best position is left tackle, but with Battle (who has NFL talent) in front of him those snaps will be limited. If he sees action, it could be at the right tackle spot. Gore didn't impress against Georgia and South Carolina State last season, and another rough start might mean Hyatt gets thrown into action early.

 

3. In terms of skill talent, Clemson should have one of the best groups in the ACC next year. Is this Wayne Gallman’s job to lose at running back? Or will the Tigers use a committee approach? And at receiver, how much more involved will Artavis Scott be in 2015?

 

The job is Gallman's to lose. For now. Tyshon Dye missed the first part of the season in 2014 recovering from an Achilles tear and didn't make an appearance until late October. Swinney has said that Dye - who is a bigger back - fits more into Clemson's style of attack and that Dye just needed a spring practice to get fully invested in the offense and completely healthy. He is getting that chance this spring, and will push Gallman for that starting spot. However, Elliott told us last week that because Clemson wants to run 80-plus plays per game there will be plenty of playing time for everybody. Artavis Scott came on strong at the end of last season, and you have to figure he will be even more involved in the offense this season. He is playing in Sammy Watkins' old spot, and Elliott can get him the ball on the run, in the Wildcat, orbit motion and down the field.

 

4. The defensive line was hit hard by departures, including standouts in end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett. But this unit returns a rising star in Shaq Lawson at end and some promising talent from the recruiting class. How big of a drop-off will there be in 2015 for this group?

 

There isn't too much of a drop-off in terms of talent - the Tigers have recruited well the past few years - but will sorely lack in experience. There will be new starters across the board in the front seven, and despite the talent I am sure there will be growing pains. But don't expect too much of a drop-off. While earning the title of the nation's number one ranked defense probably isn't feasible, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that this group can still be Top 20 nationally.

 

5. Outside of Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who are a few players that might step up on defense this year to help replace some of the departed standouts from 2014?

 

Defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader have both started games, as have linebackers Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson. Boulware started for Stephone Anthony in the bowl game and returned an interception for a touchdown, and he is a tackling machine whenever he's on the field. He's also a fan favorite with his reckless style of play. Safety Jayron Kearse came to camp at 6-4, 217 pounds and appears ready to take that next step into elite playmaker after a solid season last year. There are also some freshmen in Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins - both highly-recruited defensive linemen - who could see major playing time. 

 

- Visit TigerNet.com for the latest Clemson news and analysis for the 2015 season.

 

Clemson’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the ACC Atlantic:

 

Despite the personnel losses and movement on the coaching staff, Clemson is still one of the favorites to win the ACC and should push for 10 wins in 2015. The Tigers and Florida State are considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams (in some order) in the Atlantic next season. The transition from Chad Morris to Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will be a key storyline to watch in the fall. However, there’s no question the offense is loaded with talent with quarterback Deshaun Watson and talented skill players. The offensive line is the biggest concern for Scott and Elliott this spring. The defense must be revamped, but coordinator Brent Venables should be able to quickly reload to prevent a major drop in production. With Florida State visiting Death Valley in 2015, the road to the Atlantic Division title is favorable for the Tigers.

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