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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#54 Cincinnati Bearcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#54

American Athletic PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville, 25-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Zac Taylor | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robert Prunty, Jeff Koonz

Cincinnati was projected to be among the American Athletic Conference's top teams last fall but slipped to 7-6 overall. While last year was a disappointment, the Bearcats could be poised for a turnaround in 2016. The offense remains explosive with quarterback Gunner Kiel at the helm, and Cincinnati had its share of bad luck with turnovers last season. If the Bearcats eliminate some of the mistakes, contending for the AAC East Division title is within reach.

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Previewing Cincinnati’s Offense
 

Cincinnati set 18 school records on offense last season but will have a new offensive coordinator and several new starters this year.

Former coordinator Eddie Gran left for the same job at Kentucky. Under Gran, UC had the three most productive seasons of total offense in school history, including 6,992 yards last season. UC last year ranked No. 6 nationally in total offense (537.8 ypg) and No. 38 in scoring offense (33.8 ppg).

New offensive coordinator Zac Taylor finished the 2015 season as Miami Dolphins interim offensive coordinator. UC will still play fast on offense, but expect more pro-style looks that include throwing to the backs and tight ends more than in recent years.

The big question is at quarterback. Gunner Kiel has been the starter for most of the past two years, but he missed the 2015 Hawaii Bowl for undisclosed personal reasons. Kiel rejoined the team in January, but coach Tommy Tuberville said Kiel had to earn his job back. Kiel threw for 2,777 yards and 19 touchdowns but was intercepted 11 times. Hayden Moore, who spelled Kiel at several junctures last season as a redshirt freshman, is in the running to start. Moore was inconsistent overall with nine TD passes and 11 interceptions.

UC must replace its top five receivers, including career receptions leader Shaq Washington. Top returning receiver Nate Cole caught 19 passes last year.

At running back, UC has solid producers in Mike Boone (749 yards rushing) and Tion Green (729). Veteran center Deyshawn Bond will lead what should be a strong line.

Previewing Cincinnati’s Defense
 

Tuberville had three different defensive coordinators in his first three UC seasons, and there will be change yet again at the top. Last year’s coordinator, Steve Clinkscale, left to become secondary coach at Kentucky. Robert Prunty is Clinkscale’s nominal replacement, but indications are that Tuberville himself will run the defense on game days, with input from his assistants.

UC jumped 20 spots to No. 78 nationally in total defense last year, with Tuberville turning to speedier youngsters instead of slower veterans.

UC returns its top two tacklers in outside linebacker Eric Wilson (106) and safety Zach Edwards (93). Middle linebacker Bryce Jenkinson also returns after tying for third on the team with 59 tackles. Defensive tackles Alex Pace and Cortez Broughton return to anchor the line.

Tuberville likes to talk about technique, but no amount of fundamentals can mask a lack of speed and experience. With several underclassmen having learned under fire, he believes the defense is ready to regain some swagger.

Previewing Cincinnati’s Specialists
 

Placekicker Andrew Gantz enters his third year as starter, having made 37-of-47 field goal attempts for his career. Punter Sam Geraci had a 46.3-yard average last year, the best at UC since Kevin Huber (now with the Bengals) averaged 46.9 in 2007. UC has not returned a punt or kickoff for a TD since 2011, and coverage teams have been spotty.

Final Analysis
 

The Bearcats slumped to 7–6 after two consecutive 9–4 seasons. It is a critical year for Tuberville, who turns 62 in September and enters the fourth season of a five-year contract.

How did UC set 18 school offensive marks and go only 7–6? UC ranked 125th nationally in turnover margin at minus-1.46 per game. The Bearcats also were No. 123 in penalty yardage at 72.9 yards per game. UC improved slightly on defense last year but lacked playmakers and forced only 14 turnovers.

Cincinnati flopped after being a heavy favorite to win the AAC in 2015. UC is no longer the national player it became under Brian Kelly, and the fans are getting restless.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#84 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

NATIONAL FORECAST

#84

American Athletic West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Philip Montgomery, 6-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Philip Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bill Young, Brian Norwood

The American Athletic Conference was one of the nation’s major success stories last season as team’s like Memphis, Houston, Temple and Navy all spent time in the top 25 at one time or another. Look a little deeper, and you’ll see Tulsa’s rebound year. The Golden Hurricane won more games in the first season under Philip Montgomery (six) than they did in the last two under Bill Blakenship (five). This is a program that used to regularly win 10 games. If the defense can rebound, Tulsa should be able to take the next step from 6-7.

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Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2016 

First-year head coach Mike Norvell, who replaces Justin Fuente, assumes the reins of a team that must replace its record-setting quarterback. NFL Draft pick Paxton Lynch passed for a school-record 3,776 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior, then announced his departure about a month after Fuente announced his for Virginia Tech.

Norvell quickly targeted ex-Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson, a 6'4" transfer from Coffeyville Community College, during recruiting. Ferguson is smaller than Lynch, but he possesses impressive credentials. Ferguson, redshirt freshman Brady Davis and senior Jason Stewart shared snaps with the No. 1 offense in the spring.

Whoever emerges may be able to ease into the role. The Tigers will rely heavily on a running game that returns its top four backs: Doroland Dorceus, Jarvis Cooper, Sam Craft and Jamarius Henderson. Expect new offensive coordinator Chip Long to utilize two-back sets to accentuate that depth. 

Craft, a multi-purpose talent, once again could line up in the backfield or at receiver. He will be joined in that role by sophomore Tony Pollard, who had an impressive spring and is Craft’s likely successor. The receiving corps lost top wideout Mose Frazier, but Anthony Miller, Roderick Proctor and Phil Mayhue are reliable playmakers. Miller is the top big-play threat.

New offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield has multiple returnees, but they may end up at different spots. Former right tackle Trevon Tate, perhaps the group’s best lineman, is a strong candidate to move to left tackle.

Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Coordinator Chris Ball, yet another assistant joining Norvell from Arizona State, has several returnees to anchor the defense. Veterans Latarius Brady and Ernest Suttles return to anchor the ends with Donald Pennington at tackle, backed by emerging playmaker Jared Gentry, a deceptively quick inside presence at 325 pounds.

At linebacker Jackson Dillon, a punishing tackler, is another familiar face. He had six tackles for a loss and a team-best two fumble recoveries last year. Also returning at linebacker is Genard Avery, a junior who briefly considered transferring to his home-state school, Ole Miss, before spring practice. High school teammate Shareef White will line up alongside Avery and may be the most athletic at the position.

  The Tigers lost their most productive member of the secondary, safety Reggis Ball, but newcomer Jonathan Cook may fill the void. Cook began his career at Alabama, where he played two seasons before transferring to junior college. He was a playmaker in spring scrimmages. Cornerbacks Arthur Maulet and Dontrell Nelson each had two picks last season. 

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Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2016 

There may not be a better kicking game in the conference. Placekicker Jake Elliott is back for his senior season after twice being named the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year. Elliott led the nation’s kickers in scoring last season with 132 points and made 23-of-28 field goals. Punter Spencer Smith returns after averaging 47.2 yards. The Tigers have gone 20 years without returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

Final Analysis 


Fuente went 19–7 his final two seasons — the school’s best two-year mark in a decade — before handing off to Norvell, who will be making his debut as a head coach. He won’t be the only newcomer — neither Ferguson nor Davis, the top two candidates in the QB derby, has taken a snap at the FBS level. That creates a challenge trying to match last year’s win total. Fuente had the Tigers in the New Year’s Six Bowls discussion at midseason as they made a rare appearance in the top 20. There isn’t likely to be the same buzz around Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium this fall, but another winning season is likely.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#83 Memphis Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#83

American Athletic West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Mike Norvell, First season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chip Long | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ball

Justin Fuente pulled off one of the best rebuilds in recent college football history, taking over a program that went 5-31 in a three-year span before he arrived. By his third season, Memphis won 10 games and then nine games in his fourth. With Fuente gone to Virginia Tech, Memphis faces a task perhaps as tough as the one Fuente inherited back in 2012 — sustaining the program without him. To do this, the Tigers turned to another young offensive coordinator in Mike Norvell. 

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Previewing Memphis’ Offense for 2016
 

First-year head coach Mike Norvell, who replaces Justin Fuente, assumes the reins of a team that must replace its record-setting quarterback. NFL Draft pick Paxton Lynch passed for a school-record 3,776 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior, then announced his departure about a month after Fuente announced his for Virginia Tech.

Norvell quickly targeted ex-Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson, a 6'4" transfer from Coffeyville Community College, during recruiting. Ferguson is smaller than Lynch, but he possesses impressive credentials. Ferguson, redshirt freshman Brady Davis and senior Jason Stewart shared snaps with the No. 1 offense in the spring.

Whoever emerges may be able to ease into the role. The Tigers will rely heavily on a running game that returns its top three backs: Doroland Dorceus, Sam Craft and Jamarius Henderson. Expect new offensive coordinator Chip Long to utilize two-back sets to accentuate that depth. 

Craft, a multi-purpose talent, once again could line up in the backfield or at receiver. He will be joined in that role by sophomore Tony Pollard, who had an impressive spring and is Craft’s likely successor. The receiving corps lost top wideout Mose Frazier, but Anthony Miller, Roderick Proctor and Phil Mayhue are reliable playmakers. Miller is the top big-play threat.

New offensive line coach Ryan Silverfield has multiple returnees, but they may end up at different spots. Former right tackle Trevon Tate, perhaps the group’s best lineman, is a strong candidate to move to left tackle.

Related:
 

Previewing Memphis’ Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Coordinator Chris Ball, yet another assistant joining Norvell from Arizona State, has several returnees to anchor the defense. Veterans Latarius Brady and Ernest Suttles return to anchor the ends with Donald Pennington at tackle, backed by emerging playmaker Jared Gentry, a deceptively quick inside presence at 325 pounds.

   At linebacker Jackson Dillon, a punishing tackler, is another familiar face. He had six tackles for a loss and a team-best two fumble recoveries last year. Also returning at linebacker is Genard Avery, a junior who briefly considered transferring to his home-state school, Ole Miss, before spring practice. High school teammate Shareef White will line up alongside Avery and may be the most athletic at the position.

  The Tigers lost their most productive member of the secondary, safety Reggis Ball, but newcomer Jonathan Cook may fill the void. Cook began his career at Alabama, where he played two seasons before transferring to junior college. He was a playmaker in spring scrimmages. Cornerbacks Arthur Maulet and Dontrell Nelson each had two picks last season. 

Previewing Memphis’ Specialists for 2016
 

There may not be a better kicking game in the conference. Placekicker Jake Elliott is back for his senior season after twice being named the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year. Elliott led the nation’s kickers in scoring last season with 132 points and made 23-of-28 field goals. Punter Spencer Smith returns after averaging 47.2 yards. The Tigers have gone 20 years without returning a kickoff for a touchdown.

Final Analysis 
 

Fuente went 19–7 his final two seasons — the school’s best two-year mark in a decade — before handing off to Norvell, who will be making his debut as a head coach. He won’t be the only newcomer — neither Ferguson nor Davis, the top two candidates in the QB derby, has taken a snap at the FBS level. That creates a challenge trying to match last year’s win total. Fuente had the Tigers in the New Year’s Six Bowls discussion at midseason as they made a rare appearance in the top 20. There isn’t likely to be the same buzz around Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium this fall, but another winning season is likely.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#77 UConn Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#77

American Athletic East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bob Diaco, 8-17 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Frank Verducci | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vincent Brown, Anthony Poindexter

UConn exceeded even modest expectations in Bob Diaco’s second season. Coming off a 2-10 season in 2014, UConn cobbled together a 4-4 record in the American Athletic Conference, including an upset of league champion Houston in November. The expectations have changed for the Huskies, who will look to take a standout defense to a second consecutive bowl game.

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Previewing UConn’s Offense for 2016

To put it quite simply, there’s nowhere to go but up for a unit that finished 124th in the nation in total yards per game. But with nine starters back and a few key playmakers, that can be accomplished.

The one player who may generate the most excitement is junior running back Arkeel Newsome, a local product out of Ansonia, Conn., who was a Parade All-American in high school. At just 5'7", 180 pounds, Newsome packs an explosive element in his frame as both a runner and receiver, putting up 1,686 all-purpose yards in his breakout sophomore campaign.

The quarterback position will likely be in the hands of dual-threat junior Bryant Shirreffs. When he’s on the field — Shirreffs battled through some injuries late in the season — he’s clearly the team’s best option, as he completed 60 percent of his passes in 2015 for 2,078 yards and nine touchdowns while also adding 503 yards rushing.

His top option will again be senior Noel Thomas, who caught 54 passes for 719 yards and three scores, and although the offense makes good use of its tight ends, it needs better production from its other wideouts.

The offensive line returns four starters, but it was clearly a weak spot last season and needs to improve for the offense to take a step forward.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing UConn’s Defense for 2016 

Coach Bob Diaco came to UConn from Notre Dame as a defensive wizard, and he lived up to that reputation last year. Outside of a couple games where they were gashed in the middle of the season, the Huskies were solid, giving up just 19.5 points per game, good for 15th in the country. That number looks even better when the offense’s poor showing is taken into account.

Like the offense, there is plenty of production in the junior class. On the defensive line, junior tackle Foli Fatukasi was a disruptive force with a team-high eight sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Classmate Luke Carrezola at end/outside linebacker broke out with six sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss.

The clear strength of the team, despite the loss of Graham Stewart, should be the linebacking corps. Junior Joseph and Matt Walsh return, and the unit will be bolstered by Florida State transfer E.J. Levenberry, a former top recruit.

Although opponents had relatively good success throwing the ball on the Huskies at times last year, UConn has a good group returning in the secondary. Cornerback Jamar Summers — another junior — finished with eight interceptions, the second-highest total in the nation. Fellow corner Jhavon Williams returns, as does safety Obi Melifonwu, who was third on the team in tackles with 88.

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Previewing UConn’s Specialists for 2016

Like the defense, this should be another strong point. The Huskies return nearly everyone here, including kicker Bobby Puyol, whose 88.9 percentage on field goals was good for fifth in the nation. 
Final Analysis 

In Diaco’s second season at UConn last year, he did a masterful job of saving the team from a midseason slump to become bowl-eligible by knocking off Houston for a true signature win. Although the team didn’t win its bowl against Marshall, the program has clearly taken a step forward from its 2–10 mark in 2014.

The Huskies are more experienced with 15 returning starters. Another step forward is critical. Much hangs on the improvement of an offensive unit that consistently hung its defense out to dry last season. But if the offensive line can improve enough to create holes for Newsome and make time for Shirreffs, progress is possible. The schedule isn’t a picnic with three ACC teams in non-conference play and road trips to Houston and South Florida. But the Huskies should be in line for at least another bowl trip.




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