American Athletic


#102 Tulsa Golden Hurricane



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bill Blankenship, 22-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Denver Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Guy

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. 102 Tulsa.

Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2014

Tulsa’s football program took a huge step backward in 2013, with offense the main culprit. The Golden Hurricane scored more than 30 points only twice en route to a 3–9 season. In 2012, when Tulsa captured the Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl victory, the offense surpassed that mark eight times.

“We have to be more physical and simply get more production on offense,” fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship says.

Part-time starting quarterback Dane Evans gets the first opportunity to guide the unit. Evans started five games last season and completed only 84-of-195 passes for 898 yards. He had four touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions. He is expected to get pressed by Joseph Calcagni and true freshman Jabe Burgess.

Tulsa has had stability at running back since 2005, but that changes as the Hurricane must replace Trey Watts, who finished with 3,515 career yards, and backup Ja’Terian Douglas. A pair of sophomores will get close looks. James Flanders only had two carries last season but enters fall camp atop the depth chart. He is expected to be challenged by highly touted junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson.

Keyarris Garrett, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second game last year, is expected to anchor the wide receiver position. Garrett had 67 catches for 845 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Talented sophomore Keevan Lucas (32 catches, 442 yards, one TD) returns. Look for Derek Patterson and Zach Epps to contribute as well.

The offensive line, so inexperienced last season, is looking for improvement. Garrett Stafford (left tackle), Dylan Foxworth (center) and Davis Walton (right tackle) will form the unit’s nucleus.

Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2014

Nine starters return for the Hurricane, but the one who doesn’t is C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson. “He is one of the greatest players we’ve had here, but we have 10 other spots where we are returning depth and not just individual starters,” Blankenship says. “The secondary has a chance to be special.”

Tulsa traditionally has fought a numbers game on the defensive line, but Blankenship should be able to rotate more players at the position this season. Defensive ends Derrick Alexander (team-high 6.5 sacks) and Chris Hummingbird (three sacks) should provide a steady pass rush, while Derrick Luetjen (49 tackles) has proven himself a run-stopper on the line.

Many different faces could get looks at linebacker. Trent Martin, who played in only five games last year, will be expected to provide leadership. Mitchell Osborne had 83 tackles last year, and Donnell Hawkins added 50 stops.

The secondary will be highlighted by the return of free safety Demarco Nelson, who sat out 2013 to focus on academics. Nelson, a preseason first-team All-C-USA pick last year, has 239 career tackles and eight interceptions. Strong safety Michael Mudoh had a team-high 133 tackles. 

Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2014

Carl Salazar solved Tulsa’s two-year search for a placekicker by connecting on 16-of-19 field-goal attempts last season, including an early season game-winner at Colorado State. Dalton Parks will return for punting duties.

Final Analysis

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


#88 UConn Huskies



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bob Diaco, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Cummings | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vincent Brown, Anthony Poindexter

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. 88 UConn.

Previewing UConn’s Offense for 2014:

Three quarterbacks split the starting duties at UConn in 2013, each making four starts. Spring camp ended with the same three in the running for the starting job again. Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle will enter preseason practice battling it out for the No. 1 spot, but first-year coach Bob Diaco wants the situation settled no later than two weeks before the Aug. 29 opener against BYU. Cochran directed the Huskies to victories in the last three games of 2013, including a record-breaking 461-yard, four-touchdown performance against Memphis.

The starting quarterback will be blessed with a talented group of wide receivers who should form the strength of this offense. The most prolific of the bunch is senior Geremy Davis, who last season became the first 1,000-yard receiver at UConn in the FBS era. Davis will be joined by Deshon Foxx, who could be an impact player in his final season. Diaco hopes to have his tight ends heavily involved in the offense. Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers headline another deep position.

Tailback Lyle McCombs, who ranked fourth all-time at UConn with 2,681 rushing yards, won't return to the team in 2014. UConn ranked No. 119 in the nation in rushing offense last season and needs production from backup Max DeLorenzo and incoming freshman Arkeel Newsome, as well as fullbacks Jazzmar Clax and Matt Walsh, to help replace McCombs.

The Huskies essentially are starting from scratch on the line, where senior center Alex Mateas is the only returning starter. One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring was sophomore Andreas Knappe, who made the switch from defense and could earn the starting nod at right tackle.

Previewing UConn’s Defense for 2014: 

Any success the Huskies had after upgrading their program and joining the Big East was built on defense. That reputation took a bit of a hit in 2013 when UConn slipped to No. 51 in the nation in total defense after a No. 9 ranking in 2012. The Huskies still shut down the rush but ranked 70th in turnover margin and 107th in team sacks.

Diaco, who built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, will have a nucleus of five returning starters and four talented defensive backs. The problem is depth behind the starters — corners Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams. True freshman Jamar Summers could develop into a contributor.

Starters Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni return to anchor the defensive line. Senior tackle B.J. McBryde had a good spring, highlighted by an impressive spring game. Yawin Smallwood, UConn’s leading tackler, departed for the NFL, leaving questions at the linebacker spot. Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann bring the most experience, but Graham Stewart could emerge as an impact player.

Previewing UConn’s Specialists for 2014:

Redshirt sophomore Bobby Puyol has waited patiently in the wings and finally gets his chance to handle the kicking duties, replacing consistent and reliable Chad Christen. There’s a new punter as well. Justin Wain will take over for Cole Wagner. Diaco may go against tradition at the holder spot, opting for a skilled ball-handler to bring the threat of fakes into play.

Final Analysis 

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