#27 Virginia Tech Hokies





HEAD COACH: Frank Beamer , 224-109-2 (27 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scot Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bud Foster

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 27 Virginia Tech. 

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense for 2014:

With the departure of three-year starter Logan Thomas, the Hokies have as wide open of a quarterback battle as they’ve had in years. Sophomore Brenden Motley had a slight lead of the three quarterbacks in Blacksburg in the spring, but Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who in 2012 threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in nine games with the Red Raiders, might be the best bet to win the job after a summer arrival.

Tech’s ground game should be better, if only because it would be tough to be worse. The Hokies had one of the most inept rushing attacks in Frank Beamer’s 27 seasons in Blacksburg last year, averaging only 119.8 yards per game. But sophomore Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs) is back after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale, and 224-pound freshman Marshawn Williams might be the answer to the Hokies’ short-yardage woes. It’ll help if Tech’s underperforming offensive line, which returns five players who started games last year, can come together under Stacy Searels, the unit’s third coach in as many years.

The top three receivers, Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles, are back. All three caught at least 40 passes last year, but it’s the tight ends who have offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler most excited. Ryan Malleck returns from a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2013, Kalvin Cline is looking to build off a solid freshman year, and converted quarterback Bucky Hodges, a 6'6", 243-pounder with 4.5 speed, will be a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense for 2014:

With seven seniors who started during their careers gone from last year, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has some reloading to do with a group that ranked fourth nationally last season. The first team separated itself in the spring, especially up front. Luther Maddy turned down a chance at the NFL to be the anchor the Hokies need on the interior, and 257-pound tackle Corey Marshall has been a handful because of his quickness. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem have been bookend pass-rushers with good burst off the edge.

The linebackers had a complete overhaul, with fifth-year senior Chase Williams, a heady veteran who’s waited his turn, and Deon Clarke, an athletic junior who came on in the spring, standing out.

The secondary is solid, with beyond-their-years sophomores Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson locking down the cornerback spots. They combined for 11 interceptions as true freshmen. Seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner man the safety positions, rounding out the most experienced unit on the defense. It’s not the biggest defense Foster has had, but it might be among the quickest, one that has the potential to be plenty disruptive.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

A.J. Hughes is solid at punter, although that’s about the only sure thing on the Hokies’ once-proud special teams. Tech missed 11 field goals last year, second-most nationally, and doesn’t appear to have an obvious candidate at kicker this season. Incoming freshman Michael Santamaria, a rare scholarship kicker out of high school, might be the answer.

Final Analysis

The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that Foster will figure things out like he always does. Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.


#1 Florida State Seminoles





HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 45-10 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

Florida State ended the SEC’s run of dominance with a 34-31 victory over Auburn to win the final BCS Championship. As college football shifts to the playoff era, the Seminoles are the pick to repeat in 2014. Quarterback Jameis Winston is poised to make another run at the Heisman, and the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, including running back Karlos Williams and receiver Rashad Greene. Tackle Timmy Jernigan is a big loss, but the Seminoles are loaded with talent and feature the nation’s top defensive backfield. With a favorable schedule, Florida State is an overwhelming pick to finish 12-0 in the regular season and claim the No. 1 seed in college football’s new playoff format.

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Previewing Florida State’s Offense for 2014:

Sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston, who was a runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy and a slew of other awards, is back again to lead the offense, and he will operate behind an experienced and talented offensive line. All five starters will be seniors, including All-America candidates Cameron Erving and Tre’ Jackson, and the only “newcomer” is center Austin Barron, who has been a part-time starter in the past.

The Seminoles are replacing their first- and second-string tailbacks and their starting fullback from a year ago, but no one in their camp seems concerned. That’s largely because of the excitement surrounding converted defensive back Karlos Williams, who racked up 730 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 8.0 yards per carry as a third-teamer in 2013. Speedy backups Mario Pender, Ryan Green and true freshman Dalvin Cook give the Seminoles a group of potential home-run hitters off the bench.

When Winston drops back to pass, he will have back his two favorite targets — senior wide receiver Rashad Greene and senior tight end Nick O’Leary. Greene led FSU in receiving as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and has a chance to be the most productive receiver in school history. O’Leary led all tight ends nationally with 16.9 yards per reception, and he was one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award. 

The biggest loss on offense was 6'5" receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who led the team with 15 touchdown receptions, including the game-winner in the national championship game.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Florida State Seminoles for 2014:


Previewing Florida State’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The Seminoles will have a challenge replacing five of their top six tacklers from a year ago, including superb defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and emotional leaders Telvin Smith at linebacker and Lamarcus Joyner at defensive back. But few programs have recruited as well defensively over the past four years.

Junior defensive end Mario Edwards blossomed in 2013, displaying the talent that made him the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in high school, and he will be joined by a slew of powerful and athletic defensive linemen. The lone returning starter at linebacker is junior Terrance Smith, but he is a good one. It was his ascension to the starting lineup that helped spur FSU’s defensive turnaround after a bumpy start in 2013.

And the Seminoles couldn’t be more confident about their secondary, despite losing two starters, including a unanimous All-American in Joyner. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey, who started as a true freshman at both cornerback and safety last season, is expected to take over where Joyner left off.

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists for 2014:

Though overshadowed at times by his classmate at quarterback, placekicker Roberto Aguayo received his just due during the postseason when he snared the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. The Seminoles are not quite as loaded at punter, where junior Cason Beatty returns after averaging 41.1 yards per attempt. For all of FSU’s successes in 2013, the Noles ranked next to last among ACC teams in net punting. Beatty was shaky again in the spring game, leading to speculation that he would have to win the job again in preseason camp. FSU’s return game likely will be led by Kermit Whitfield, whose 100-yard touchdown return against Auburn in the national championship game was essential to the Seminoles’ comeback.

Final Analysis 

Despite losing several key pieces from the 2013 national championship team, Florida State has more than enough talent to make another run this fall. The keys will be staying healthy on the offensive line, where the Seminoles have almost no experienced depth, and rekindling the competitive fire that drove them to that undefeated season.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Florida State No. 1:

1. The No. 1 roster in college football?
Whether or not you believe recruiting rankings are 100 percent accurate, there is truth in what the experts at Rivals, 247Sports, Scout or ESPN compile each season. Over the last five years, Florida State has averaged a 5.6 finish in recruiting rankings, placing the Seminoles No. 2 nationally behind Alabama. Acquiring talent is just one part of the equation for any program, as development is even more crucial to its success. Florida State has been arguably the best program in the nation at developing talent over the last few years, and coach Jimbo Fisher does an outstanding job of identifying players who could be successful at a different position (Karlos Williams, Cameron Erving). It’s tough to beat Alabama on the recruiting trail, but the Seminoles can match the Crimson Tide’s roster thanks for Fisher’s recruiting and development. 

2. The schedule
Repeating as a national champion is no easy task. After all, only one team (Alabama) was able to go back-to-back in the BCS era. Take one look at Florida State’s schedule for 2014. Where is the loss going to come from in the regular season? Maybe at Louisville on Thursday night? What about a home date against Florida in the regular season finale? Notre Dame? Even though those three games represent possible losses, it’s hard to see Florida State dropping one of those games. Barring a major upset or any significant injuries, the Seminoles have a favorable path to 13-0 (counting the ACC title) and a spot in college football’s playoff.

3. No. 1 offensive line in the nation
We could pick several of Florida State’s positions to highlight here, but the offensive line is the best in the nation and a key reason why this team is poised to repeat. Four starters are back from last year’s line, including tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre Jackson. Erving, Jackson and Josue Matias are expected to be All-America selections for 2014. The only new starter up front is at center with Austin Barron, but he has five starts under his belt. Overall depth on the line was a concern last season, and the coaching staff took steps to alleviate that concern with seven incoming recruits in the 2014 class. 

4. Jameis Winston…better as a sophomore?
Considering Winston’s stat totals and Heisman Trophy victory, it’s hard to believe he could be even better as a sophomore. But after an offseason to learn under Jimbo Fisher, Winston might be a more complete quarterback in 2014. Of course, finding a flaw in Winston’s game is tough, especially since he’s poised to be one of the first picks off the board in the 2015 draft. One concern for Winston will be the development of a receiving corps that must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. However, as we mentioned above, this roster isn’t hurting for talent, so incoming freshmen like Travis Rudolph or Ermon Lane could help to ease the transition from Shaw and Benjamin. With one of the top coaches and quarterbacks in the nation, it’s hard to find a flaw in Florida State’s overall roster in 2014.

5. Biggest concern for Florida State is…punting?
It’s pretty easy to tell how stacked a team is when punting is one of the top concerns heading into the season. Cason Beatty didn’t have many opportunities last season, but he averaged 41.1 yards per punt and failed to answer concerns about the position in the spring. Beatty hit several low kicks in 2013, and even though Florida State has speed and talent on its special teams to prevent big returns, he needs to work on his hang time and overall yardage this offseason. The Seminoles should easily handle most of their opponents, but in a tight game, a bad punt could result in a short field or seven points for the opposing team.

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#21 Clemson Tigers





HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 51-23 (5+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chad Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marion Hobby, Brent Venables

Clemson is coming off its best three-year stretch in school history, recording 32 wins and an Orange Bowl victory during that span. The Tigers have to rebuild on offense with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there is enough returning on both sides of the ball to expect another top-25 team. New quarterback Cole Stoudt has experience, and the defense is loaded with talent. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson has a favorable schedule, which could allow it to win 10 games once again in 2014.

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Previewing Clemson’s Offense for 2014:

This fall, change is the biggest constant for Clemson’s offense. Sure, offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the man behind the hurry-up, no-huddle, high-tempo system that averaged 40.2 points and 5

07.7 yards per game in 2013, is back for his fourth season running the Tigers’ offense. But most of the key weapons that fueled that run are gone. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s second-leading all-time passer, graduat

ed. Gamebreaking wideout Sammy Watkins left early for the NFL, and standout deep threat Martavis Bryant followed. Rod McDowell, a 1,000-yard rusher, also graduated, leaving the Tigers in the unenviable position of replacing their top passer, rusher and top two receivers.

However, Clemson has recruited well and believes in reloading, not rebuilding. Steady senior quarterback Cole Stoudt (79.7 percent completion rate in 2013) ended spring leading true freshman DeShaun Watson in the race to replace Boyd. That followed Chad Kelly’s post-spring dismissal after a spring-game sideline blowup, the last straw in what coach Dabo Swinney called “a pattern of behavior that was not consistent with the values of our program.”

Sophomore wideout Mike Williams has drawn comparisons to former NFL first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, and senior Adam Humphries is a steady presence. Coaches are high on a trio of freshman early enrollees: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.
If a lead back can emerge from the pack of junior Zac Brooks, senior D.J. Howard and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman, and the new receivers are capable, the Tigers will be dangerous.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Clemson Tigers for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Previewing Clemson’s Defense for 2014:

Entering his third season, defensive co-coordinator Brent Venables has turned Clemson’s defense from a liability into a strength. Venables’ defense is smart and aggressive and knows its assignments.

The core of that defense returns, highlighted by most of the defensive line two-deep. Senior end Vic Beasley (13 sacks as a junior) is one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, a consensus All-American who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft. Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a run-stuffer and underrated talent.

The Tigers’ linebackers are also deeper than when Venables arrived three years ago. Senior Stephone Anthony is the leading returning tackler, with 131 tackles (13.5 for loss) and four sacks. He rebounded from a disappointing sophomore year to become a defensive leader, fierce tackler and impressive presence in the middle of the field. Former five-star recruit Tony Steward appears primed to step in for graduated senior Spencer Shuey (119 tackles in 2013).

In the secondary, Clemson will miss junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a gritty player who left early for the NFL Draft. But senior Martin Jenkins showed toughness in playing through wrist and shoulder injuries and is an excellent cover man, and touted redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander appears primed for a breakthrough.

Previewing Clemson’s Specialists for 2014:

With the departure of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson must replace the ACC’s No. 2 all-time scorer. Junior Ammon Lakip, who left the program briefly last summer, has a strong leg and is the favorite to replace Catanzaro. Junior Bradley Pinion is consistent and has a booming leg.

Final Analysis 

Clemson has established itself as one of the nation’s most consistent programs with three consecutive 10-win seasons and back-to-back 11-win seasons. But the Tigers have yet to solve rivals Florida State and South Carolina, going 0–4 against them in the past two years. Swinney and Co. have a stingy, improving defense and the talent to replace major offensive losses, but it’s hard to see how this group could take the leap from consistent program to national title contender this fall.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Clemson No. 21

1. Chad Morris back as the team’s offensive coordinator
Despite receiving interest from programs to be a head coach, Morris is back in Death Valley for 2014. Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football, and his return should ensure Clemson’s offense doesn’t suffer too much despite the loss of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

2. Best defensive line in the ACC
It’s hard to pick against Florida State at any position, but Clemson’s defensive line could be among the nation’s best in 2014. End Vic Beasley is back after recording 23 tackles for a loss, while tackle Grady Jarrett should be one of the top interior linemen in the ACC. There’s also quality depth, and this unit registered nearly three sacks a game in 2013 (2.9).

3. Favorable schedule
Yes, the opener at Georgia, the finale against South Carolina and ACC games against Florida State and North Carolina in September are a challenge, but Clemson has enough winnable games on the 2014 slate to push for 10 wins. Louisville is a key swing game for the Tigers, but the Cardinals have to come to Death Valley.

4. Offensive line concerns
Clemson’s roster doesn’t have many holes, but the line is a concern with the departure of tackle Brandon Thomas and guard Tyler Shatley. Center Ryan Norton is the anchor, and there’s talent returning with Isaiah Battle, David Beasley, Shaq Anthony and Kalon Davis. But how quickly will this unit mesh with Beasley and Anthony suspended for the opener?

5. Cole Stoudt should be solid at quarterback
Tajh Boyd leaves big shoes to fill at Clemson, but Stoudt appears to be a capable replacement. In relief work last year, Stoudt completed 47 of 59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Asking Stoudt to replicate Boyd’s numbers is a tough assignment. However, with experience, mobility and a good grasp of the offense, Stoudt should have a solid senior year.