Big 12

Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#67 West Virginia Mountaineers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#67

Big 12 PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Dana Holgorsen, 21-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Shannon Dawson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tony Gibson

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. 67 West Virginia.

Previewing West Virginia’s Offense:

Last season’s WVU offense was the antithesis of a normal Dana Holgorsen unit. The recurring theme was “three-and-out,” as the Mountaineers ranked 113th in third-down conversions. Holgorsen, a noted offensive guru, saw his Mountaineers average 411.0 yards, but they were seemingly helpless to punch it in, averaging 26.3 points in the score-happy Big 12. WVU scored a TD on only 52.5 percent of its trips inside the 20 to rank 103rd nationally.

Mountaineer offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson says WVU is “more suited” for the Big 12 now. “We’re deeper,” he says. “I think we have 20-something guys who have played Big 12 games. We couldn’t say that in the last couple years. The one key factor is the quarterback has to perform well.”

Indeed, West Virginia has a stable of fine running backs, including Wendell Smallwood and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell, but finding a quarterback is vital. Last season, Holgorsen found a spark in quarterback Clint Trickett. But in a victory over Oklahoma State, the transfer from Florida State hurt his shoulder and struggled the rest of the season. He was held out of spring drills. Junior college transfer Skyler Howard hit Morgantown in the spring, and four-star dual-threat William Crest does so in the fall.

Look for WVU to emphasize a ground game behind guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski until the passing game can be developed.

Previewing West Virginia’s Defense:

Defense ruled WVU’s spring drills, which might be surprising to those who saw the Mountaineers the last couple of seasons. In 2013, West Virginia ranked 99th nationally in scoring defense. It was also 96th in pass efficiency defense and 106th in passing yards allowed.

But guess what has Holgorsen crowing? “The athleticism in the secondary between last year and this isn’t even close,” says the coach.

The reason is the emergence of cornerback Daryl Worley, now a sophomore, the experience of three-year starting safety Karl Joseph and a top-flight class of newcomers.

New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will attempt to use that to his advantage in the 3-4 scheme. His pet pupil is athletic linebacker Brandon Golson, whom he will use all over the field, including at defensive end.

Meanwhile, the defensive line might be devoid of stars, but it does have a nice six-man rotation, including fine sophomore Christian Brown, who can play at both end and nose guard.

Previewing West Virginia’s Specialists:

When Mario Alford ran a kickoff return for a score in the spring game, some WVU fans were thrilled. Others wondered if it was the same old kickoff coverage team. Last season, the Mountaineers were 95th nationally in kickoff coverage and 112th in kickoff returns, averaging just 18.6 yards per attempt. On the bright side, punter Nick O’Toole is back after averaging 44.1 yards per kick. Placekicker Josh Lambert connected on 17-of-23 last year and exhibited an NFL-type leg in spring drills. Pairing Smallwood and Alford could help on kickoff returns. Alford could also handle punt returns.

Final Analysis

It may be summer in Morgantown, but the heat has been on Holgorsen for a couple of seasons. In 2012, the Mountaineers went 2–6 after a 5–0 start that included a win at Texas. Last year, WVU finished 4–8 and out of the bowl picture. Athletic director Oliver Luck felt compelled to issue a statement after the latter “difficult and trying” season and backed the coach, if seemingly only for this season, adding he has “high expectations” for 2014. The problem for Holgorsen is that the Mountaineers might be better, but that might not translate into a sterling record. WVU opens with Alabama, visits Maryland and plays a full Big 12 schedule.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#66 Iowa State Cyclones

NATIONAL FORECAST

#66

Big 12 PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Paul Rhoads, 27-36 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Mangino | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wally Burnham

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. 66 Iowa State.

Previewing Iowa State’s Offense:

The good news here is that Iowa State has 10 starters returning on offense. The bad news is that last year’s offense ranked 96th in the nation with only 363.0 yards per game. Still, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has plenty of quality pieces to work with, including two experienced quarterbacks in Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. Rohach ended last season by throwing for 300-plus yards in wins over Kansas and West Virginia and is the favorite to win the starting job.

Iowa State should be in good shape at running back with Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy as the featured backs. Wimberly is the more proven of the two, but durability is an issue for his 5'9", 174-pound frame. Nealy has simply been the victim of a crowded backfield over the course of the last two seasons and could be due for a breakout year.

Wide receiver is a position of strength for Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones. Junior Quenton Bundrage, an All-Big 12 candidate, caught nine touchdown passes last year. The addition of true freshman Allen Lazard and South Florida transfer D’Vario Montgomery provides two new talented targets. Tight end E.J. Bibbs was second on the team in receptions a season ago. With Mangino calling the shots, expect Bibbs, a second-team All-Big 12 performer last year, to see an even larger role this season.

A plethora of injuries last season should help Iowa State’s offensive line develop in 2014. The Cyclones started nine different combinations in 12 games last season. Senior Tom Farniok is one of the top centers in the Big 12. 

Previewing Iowa State’s Defense:

Veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has his work cut out for him with this group. Only five starters return from a unit that ranked 105th nationally in total defense in 2013.

Defensive end Cory Morrissey will be forced to carry a large load of responsibility up front after fellow seniors Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed from the program in the spring.

The Cyclones have numbers at linebacker but not much experience, as the majority of players competing for time are underclassmen. Luke Knott will return after undergoing groin/hip surgery in the offseason. Despite missing half of the season, Knott still recorded 45 tackles during his rookie campaign. Jared Brackens is an undersized but athletic strong-side linebacker who fits nicely against Big 12 offenses.

Rhoads is high on sophomore Nigel Tribune, who will lead the secondary at cornerback. Two veterans, Sam Richardson and Kenneth Lynn, will combine to man the opposite side. Newcomers will occupy both safety spots. 

Previewing Iowa State’s Specialists:

After relying on Kirby Van Der Kamp for the last four seasons, Iowa State will hand the punting duties over to a true freshman in Colin Downing. Ranked as the top kicker/punter in the state of Wisconsin, Downing chose the Cyclones over Penn State. After going 13-of-18 — including 10-of-11 inside 40 yards — on field-goal attempts last season, Cole Netten will kick once again for the Cyclones.

Final Analysis

Iowa State must improve significantly on both sides of the ball if it hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing three-win season. With Mangino on the staff, there is legitimate hope for better production on offense. There are some nice pieces at the skill positions for the former Kansas head coach to work with. Defensively, however, there are major issues. The staff will be relying on several junior college transfers — always a dangerous proposition. If the Cyclones want to reach a bowl game in 2014, they will have to do it by simply outscoring the opposition.  




Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#41 Texas Tech Red Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#41

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Smith, Matt Wallerstedt

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. 41 Texas Tech.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense:

With both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, it’s quarterback Davis Webb’s time to shine at Texas Tech. He had a huge performance in the Holiday Bowl against a stout Arizona State defense, and he’s established himself as the program’s quarterback of the future. The sophomore from Prosper, Texas, looked poised and confident in the spring, cementing his place as the alpha male on offense. Webb has also gained about 20 pounds since the end of last season, and it’s helped add noticeable zip to his throws.

Things look to be improved on the offensive line in 2014 as well, as the Red Raiders will return essentially four of their five starters in the trenches, including All-Big 12 tackle Le’Raven Clark. On top of that, the Raiders will add two junior college transfers — Dominique Robertson and Shaquille Davis — who could play their way into the starting lineup.

Kenny Williams, who rushed for a team-high 497 yards in 2013, was moved to defense in the spring, making junior DeAndre Washington the favorite to start at tailback. True freshman Justin Stockton will contribute right away.

Outside receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro leave big holes in the receiving corps from last fall, and a few young stars are looking to fill their shoes. Bradley Marquez has been moved inside to Y — where Amaro caught over 100 passes last year — and sophomore Reginald Davis looks to be a burgeoning star on the outside at the Z spot.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
A number of starting defenders have graduated, and an influx of junior college talent is looking to play immediately on the line and in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Keland McElrath has already arrived on campus, and three more junior college transfers will arrive in June. These newcomers will add size to the line as well — their average weight is just over 300 pounds. That’s a marked improvement from last year, and defensive co-coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is hoping it will help shore up a run defense that allowed 228.4 rushing yards per game in conference play.

Senior inside linebacker V.J. Fehoko, a transfer from Utah, impressed in the spring, and he established himself as an emotional leader on defense in quick fashion. Williams’ move from running back to outside linebacker has been smooth, and it appears that the senior has filled an important need for 2014.

Cornerback Justis Nelson and safety J.J. Gaines are proven players, but questions remain at the other two spots in the secondary. Jalen Barnes, Keenon Ward and junior college transfer Josh Keys will fight to start at the other safety spot, while Thierry Nguema, Tyler Middleton, and La’Darius Newbold battle it out at corner.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists for 2014: 

Kicker Ryan Bustin will return for his final year on the South Plains, and he’s looking to improve on a fantastic junior season in which he broke Tech’s single-season kicking record with 23 field goals (in 27 attempts). Taylor Symmank will take over punting duties this fall, and the junior impressed with his distance during the spring.

Final Analysis 

Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.




Unpublished

Unpublished

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#39 TCU Horned Frogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#39

Big 12 PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson, 120-44 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sonny Cumbie, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dick Bumpas

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. 39 TCU. 

Previewing TCU’s Offense for 2014:

TCU hopes its beleaguered offense will get a boost from the up-tempo, no-huddle attack installed by new offensive co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The Horned Frogs also hope new quarterback Matt Joeckel, who transferred from Texas A&M in April, can step in and help run the show in 2014, his final year of eligibility.

Joeckel allows TCU the option to move Trevone Boykin back to receiver, where he was often an effective playmaker in 2013 when he wasn’t starting at quarterback.

TCU has speedy running backs B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green returning, and both should thrive in the new system.

Reinforcements were an offseason priority for the line, which struggled a year ago, and the receiving unit is looking to rebound from an inconsistent and unreliable 2013.

Previewing TCU’s Defense for 2014:

Eight starters return to a unit that finished a close second in the Big 12 in total defense a year ago. And that doesn’t include end Devonte Fields, who missed the last nine games with an injury. If Fields returns to his freshman glory — when he was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year — the Frogs’ defensive line, which includes standout tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter, should be one of the strongest in the league.

All-America cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode must be replaced, but TCU returns experienced corner Kevin White and safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett to a secondary that was among the best in the Big 12 in 2014. TCU intercepted 19 passes in 2013, tied for second-most in the league. Since 2012, the Frogs have 40 interceptions, second most in the nation behind Oregon’s 43.

The linebackers, a source of consternation before the season a year ago, turned out to be a reliable unit. Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson return, as does TCU’s leading 2013 tackler Paul Dawson. Dawson started the last seven games, including the last five alongside Anderson, who was moved from safety to linebacker before the ’13 season.

Previewing TCU’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry return as reliable third-year starters. Oberkrom made 14-of-18 field-goal attempts last season and has made 79 consecutive extra points, tying a TCU record. Perry averaged 40.3 yards per punt and placed 29 of 80 inside the 20-yard line. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper provide an experienced kickoff return duo. Catalon averaged 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, second-most in the Big 12. Echols-Luper’s 13.4-yard average on punt returns ranked third in the league and 16th nationally. 

Final Analysis

It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#37 Oklahoma State Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#37

Big 12 PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 77-38 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

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. 37 Oklahoma State.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense:

Uncertainty at quarterback has become a recent trend at Oklahoma State. J.W. Walsh, who has spent time on and off as the starter, used a strong spring to reestablish himself in the eyes of coaches. Always touted as a leader and a “winner,” he showed improved judgment and accuracy throwing the ball, offering hope that he’s growing into the role. Walsh’s mobility is also a plus behind an offensive line that is rebuilding and counting on the healthy return of its projected starting tackles, Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett.

So Walsh, who entered spring in competition with former Arizona transfer Daxx Garman and true freshman Mason Rudolph, makes sense on many levels. “He’s going to be our guy,” says senior Daniel Koenig, the Cowboys’ most veteran lineman. “He has to be.”

If Walsh and the guys up front develop, there are plenty of playmakers to keep OSU’s productive offense rolling.

Power back Desmond Roland emerged as a force a year ago, taking over the starting job midseason and finishing with 811 rushing yards, a 4.6 per-carry average and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Receiver may be the team’s greatest strength; it’s a position stacked with talented breakout candidates, including three — Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman — who started hinting at their upside as youngsters in critical roles a year ago. The Cowboys added a fascinating wild card in junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, who literally has world-class speed as a track standout and is being pegged as a combo running back and receiver.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Defense:

The Cowboys made great strides on defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer, who successfully implemented an aggressive and attacking style that was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

Well, that was fun. Spencer now faces a massive overhaul, after losing seven senior starters and several other key backups. “The fun part about it is, I think this young group is really hungry,” Spencer says. “They’re hungry to show what they can do. They’re hungry to learn. And as a coaching staff, we can hammer in the core principles and values of what we believe in.”

There are valuable cornerstones, beginning up front with tackle James Castleman and end Jimmy Bean, two returning starters on a deep and promising line. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, two juniors, have already played a lot in their careers and project as all-conference candidates. So in the pass-happy Big 12, the Cowboys bring rushers and cover men — must-haves.

Still, inexperience at linebacker and safety is a major concern. Ryan Simmons fit in as this group’s pup a year ago, starting 13 games as a sophomore and finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles. Suddenly, he’s cast as the veteran and a leader. Kris Catlin and Seth Jacobs, who have worked up through the program, and junior college addition Devante Averette are in play for the other two starting jobs.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists:

The Cowboys uncharacteristically struggled in the kicking game a year ago, mostly because of the inconsistencies of kicker Ben Grogan and punter Kip Smith. Both are back, so the hope — and need — is that they’ve improved. New return men must be identified, although Hill and his dazzling speed have coaches excited his potential on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis

Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.




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