American Athletic

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#100 UCF Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#100

American Athletic East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Scott Frost, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Troy Walters | DEF. COORDINATOR: Erik Chinander

A winless season, including a loss to FCS member Furman, signaled the end of the George O' Leary era at UCF. Oregon offensive whiz Scott Frost takes over the reigns of a program that is just three seasons removed from winning the Fiesta Bowl and was a conference champion in 2014. Frost may be just what the Knights need to get back to the top of the , but it may take some time.

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Previewing UCF’s Offense for 2016

Change is in the air at UCF with the arrival of head coach Scott Frost, the former Oregon offensive coordinator who is bringing the Ducks’ prolific offense down to Florida. The days of George O’Leary’s pro-style, ball-control offense are over. Now it’s a fast-paced, no-huddle spread. Frost inherits a team that was winless last season, but he’s not devoid of talent with experienced players at virtually every offensive position. Injuries were a key reason for the struggles of 2015, not the least of them quarterback Justin Holman’s broken finger that limited him for much of the year.

Holman, a senior who helped lead the Knights to the 2014 conference title, appears to be adapting well to the new scheme, and he does have skilled athletes around him. Sophomore wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith is a star in the making after a rookie season in which he led the team in both receptions (52) and receiving yards (724). There’s promising youth at running back, notably sophomore Taj McGowan, plus a pair of incoming recruits who possess elite speed.

Tight ends could be a bigger focal point in the passing game, and there’s no shortage of experience there with Jordan Akins and Jordan Franks both making the transition from wide receiver.

The biggest question is whether the offensive line — an underperforming unit last year — can adapt to the new style.
Related:

Previewing UCF’s Defense for 2016

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

The changes are nearly as dramatic on defense with UCF moving to a 3-4 scheme coordinated by Erik Chinander, who came with Frost from Oregon and also spent time with Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles. Chinander has experience to work with in the secondary, which should be the strength of the team as seniors could very well start at all four of the back-end positions. Safety Drico Johnson is a steady presence as the team’s leading returning tackler.

The front seven has more questions. Defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman is a solid player, having led the team in sacks last season, but he needs help, which is why defensive line was such a big focus in recruiting with three junior college additions. 

The 3-4 alignment may turn out to be a net positive for the existing talent base, since UCF does have a bit more depth at linebacker. Junior outside linebacker Chequan Burkett is the leader of the group and is an all-conference candidate.

Previewing UCF’s Specialists for 2016


Through all the woes of last season, the kicking game was reliable, and everybody is back. Caleb Houston posted the second-best punting mark in school history with a 44.2-yard average, while kicker Matthew Wright was dependable in his freshman debut, making 13-of-17 field goals and every one of his extra-point attempts. Tristan Payton was explosive as a kick returner, but don’t be surprised if true freshman speedsters Adrian Killins, Jaquarius Bargnare and Jawon Hamilton also get a look there this fall.

Final Analysis
 

UCF averaged 9.4 victories from 2010-14, won the Fiesta Bowl in 2013 and was coming off back-to-back conference championships, which is why last year’s 0–12 season came as such a shock. Despite the record, there was always a sense UCF wasn’t a typical winless team; youth, injuries and coaching turmoil — O’Leary resigned midway through the season — all contributed to the downfall. Frost has tools at his disposal — an experienced quarterback in Holman capable of running his offense, some young playmakers in Smith and Payton and veterans on defense — but the question is how quickly he can put the pieces together to build the Knights back into a winner. Three to four wins would be a solid starting point, though bowl eligibility isn’t out of the question if a few breaks go their way.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#37 South Florida Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#37

American Athletic East PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, 14-23 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Darren Hiller, T.J. Weist | DEF. COORDINATOR: Raymond Woodie

After being one of the hottest teams in November last season, coach Willie Taggart lost to his alma mater (WKU) in the Miami Beach Bowl. But that should just be a blimp in the momentum that is in Tampa right now. Expectations are the highest they’ve been in recent memory for the Bulls, and with running back Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers returning, it will be a must-watch fall for USF. 

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Previewing South Florida’s Offense
  

Junior running back Marlon Mack, who has 2,422 career rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons, is South Florida’s best player and a legitimate All-America candidate.

Mack was a huge reason why the Bulls went 8–5 in 2015, snapping a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. But junior quarterback Quinton Flowers was the biggest impetus for the turnaround. Flowers was dynamic in his first season as full-time starter, accumulating 3,287 total yards and 34 touchdowns, including 991 yards rushing. He was known for spectacular playmaking skill but defined by his ability to avoid mistakes. “Quinton gave us an identity,” coach Willie Taggart says. “We think he has some room to improve, but what he did was really impressive.”

And now he has a capable backup in sophomore Asiantii Woulard, a UCLA transfer who was a four-star recruit in high school.

Flowers has a proliferation of targets at wide receiver, including senior Rodney Adams, who set the school’s single-season receiving yards record, and junior Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a 6'3" transfer from NC State who caught everyone’s attention with startling plays during spring drills.

The offensive line was a major strength in 2015 and had the same lineup for all 13 games. But now it must be retooled with the replacement of three starters.

Previewing South Florida’s Defense

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

The Bulls received bad news in the offseason when defensive coordinator Tom Allen, architect of the 4-2-5 alignment that transformed the unit into an aggressive, ball-hawking strength, left for the same position at Indiana.

But Raymond Woodie, the linebackers coach who was promoted, says the Bulls will keep the 4-2-5 and hopefully build upon its success, which included lofty national rankings in tackles for a loss (13th), interceptions (14th) and turnovers gained (24th).

The defensive leaders are junior middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez, who had 117 tackles, and senior weak-side linebacker Nigel Harris, a constant threat to make a splash play.

The secondary matured and features mix-and-match options such as junior cornerback Deatrick Nichols (a first-team all-conference performer), junior free safety Devin Abraham and sophomore cornerback Ronnie Hoggins.

Woodie says the defensive line will utilize its depth while keeping players fresh. Run-stuffing should be a strength with junior Deadrin Senat and sophomore Kevin Bronson leading the way at defensive tackle.

Previewing South Florida’s Specialists

Taggart wants even more consistency from placekicker Emilio Nadelman, who made nine straight attempts to finish the regular season. After three seasons with Mattias Ciabatti, an expert at placing punts inside the 20-yard line, the Bulls will turn to sophomore Brent Gordon. Adams, despite limited opportunities on kickoffs, and junior Tajee Fullwood, ultra-dependable on punts, are among the nation’s top return men.

Final Analysis
 

The Bulls made a huge leap last season, making their first bowl appearance since 2010. Now they return 14 starters, including exciting options at the skill positions, and that has prompted caution from Taggart. “We are a target,” the coach says. “People are going to circle us on their schedule, and we will get everyone’s best shot. But that’s what we want. We want to be a team that people look to and expect big things from. I have to keep reminding our guys, ‘We really haven’t done anything yet.’ ”

USF could very well become one of the nation’s most dangerous teams. But here’s the key: The Bulls were well-versed in handling adversity. Can they handle prosperity? If so, they have conference title potential.




Ranking the American Athletic Conference's College Football Coaches for 2016

Houston's Tom Herman ranks No. 1.
Ranking the American Athletic Conference's College Football Coaches for 2016

Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#15 Houston Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#15

American Athletic West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tom Herman, 13-1 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Major Applewhite | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando, Craig Naivar

After a 13-1 record and a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Florida State last season, Houston is aiming even higher in coach Tom Herman’s second year. The Cougars are projected to be college football’s top Group of 5 program once again in 2016, and a schedule that features games against Louisville and Oklahoma provide opportunities for marquee wins. Dynamic quarterback Greg Ward leads the way on offense, and two transfers – running back Duke Catalon and receiver Ra’Shaad Samples – bolster the skill positions. Five starters return on defense, but the secondary is a concern after the departure of three key performers. 

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Previewing Houston’s Offense 
 

Greg Ward Jr. had a breakout season, and Houston will need more of the same to repeat the success of coach Tom Herman’s rookie season. Ward joined Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as the nation’s only quarterbacks to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards last season. He could emerge as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, but Herman says his quarterback needs to improve his leadership in the huddle and overall command of the offense.

The unknown is in the backfield, where Houston must replace Kenneth Farrow, one of the most productive backs in school history. Duke Catalon, a transfer from the University of Texas who sat out last season, enters the fall atop the depth chart. He’s already received high praise from Herman, who puts Catalon behind only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott among backs he’s coached for his combination of speed, power and physicality in the open field. Incoming freshman Mulbah Car is expected to see immediate playing time.

At wide receiver, the unexpected early departure of Demarcus Ayers to the NFL Draft leaves a sizable hole. Chance Allen (56 receptions for 752 yards) is the top returner, and Oklahoma State transfer Ra’Shaad Samples is the leading candidate to replace Ayers in the slot. A ballyhooed group of incoming receivers — led by Courtney Lark and Marquez Stevenson — will be counted on to make big contributions.

Na’Ty Rodgers, a top-10 junior college recruit, takes over at left tackle while Josh Jones and Alex Fontana, a late signee from New Mexico Military Institute, will battle for the right tackle job in fall camp. Houston received some bad news in April when Colton Freeman, who started 11 games at center and guard, was forced to retire due to a neck injury.

Previewing Houston’s Defense
 

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

Losses were heavy in the offseason with the graduation of four defensive backs, including standout William Jackson III and leading tackler Elandon Roberts, who was considered the heart of the defense. Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart combined for 26 interceptions the past three seasons, and their leadership and production will be difficult to replace. Herman does believe this year’s group may be slightly more athletic. Brandon Wilson was the only player in the nation to score multiple TDs on offense, defense and special teams.

Outside linebacker Steven Taylor, who had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss, returns for one more year. Tyus Bowser has shown flashes from his hybrid pass-rush position but needs to put together a full season.

The defensive line returns Cameron Malveaux, B.J. Singleton and Nick Thurman, but all eyes will be on Ed Oliver, a top-10 national recruit who picked Houston over LSU and Texas.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was reportedly courted by Wisconsin in the offseason but received a pay raise to remain with the Cougars.

Previewing Houston’s Specialists
 

Wilson is a home run threat on kickoff returns after averaging 26.6 yards and scoring two TDs last season. Unless another option emerges in the fall, Herman plans to experiment with backup quarterback Kyle Postma at punter. Houston does not attempt many field goals, and that doesn’t figure to change. Ty Cummings takes over after connecting on 8-of-8 in a shared role last season.

Final Analysis 
 

What can Houston do for an encore after going 13–1 in Herman’s first season? We’ll know how good the Cougars are after their top-20 matchup against Oklahoma in the opener. A win would propel Houston into the early discussion for the College Football Playoff. Any chance hinges on the secondary coming together quickly and the offense not skipping a beat. 

 

(Credit to /Stephen Pinchback for the top photo of Tom Herman)

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15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2016

Which teams are the toughest to rank in 2016?
15 Biggest Wild Card College Football Teams in 2016

Kickoff for the 2016 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about rankings, predictions and previews for the upcoming year. For most college football fans, one of the annual traditions each summer is the trip to the newsstand to pick up a preview magazine. The good news? The wait is almost over.

Five American Athletic Conference Football Players to Know for 2016

Here are five stars to know from the AAC in 2016.
Five American Athletic Conference Football Players to Know for 2016

The popularity and obsession of the big boys in college football - the Power 5 - has continued to rise. But there still are some very elite football players at the second tier of the FBS rankings - the Group of 5. The Group of 5 term refers to players from teams in the Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt and American Athletic Conference. While the coverage and exposure for teams in these leagues has improved in recent years, plenty of the stars from the Group of 5 conferences fly under the radar each preseason.

Five Group of 5 Players to Know for 2016

Here are five Group of 5 players to know for the 2016 season.
Five Group of 5 Players to Know for 2016

The popularity and obsession of the big boys in college football - the Power 5 - has continued to rise. But there still are some very elite football players at the second tier of the FBS rankings - the Group of 5. The Group of 5 term refers to players from teams in the Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt and American Athletic Conference.

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2016

College Football Playoff contenders face some of the most daunting schedules in the nation in 2016
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Toughest Schedules for 2016

The true measure of a team's strength of schedule cannot be determined until the regular season approaches its end. That said, some schedules stand out as obviously better than others before a game is ever played.

 

College Football's Top 20 Offensive Linemen on the Rise for 2016

Who are the rising stars in the trenches?
College Football's Top 20 Offensive Linemen on the Rise for 2016

Offensive linemen are the most underrated players in college football. The players in the trenches never get enough credit for their performance, but the five blockers up front set the stage for the skill players to have success. Recruiting and developing offensive linemen is never easy. However, there’s always a new wave of stars ready to emerge in the trenches.

Animosity Toward Connecticut Women's Basketball Reflects American Feelings About Success

It's as though we want everyone to succeed, but we also want a glass ceiling on their achievements
Animosity Toward Connecticut Women's Basketball Reflects American Feelings About Success

The University of Connecticut women's basketball team is under fire again. No, the Huskies have not been accused of cheating. They are not accused of dirty play nor are there any allegations of academic fraud or misconduct.

 

They are simply winning at a high level, and apparently a lot of Americans are not ok with it.

 

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