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#78 Kansas Jayhawks





HEAD COACH: Charlie Weis, 4-20 (2years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Reagan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clint Bowen

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. 78 Kansas.

Previewing Kansas’ Offense for 2014: 

One of KU’s biggest issues during Charlie Weis’ tenure has been its quarterback play, and the coach will be going with his third different starting QB in three years after naming sophomore Montell Cozart the starter at the end of spring practice. Cozart is a dual threat, as he was named offensive MVP in the spring game after rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 6-of-10 passes. His question mark is accuracy; he connected on just 23-of-63 passes in 2013.

Though KU loses James Sims at running back, it should be just fine at the position. Senior Brandon Bourbon, a big back with surprising speed for his size, should get the first crack at carries. Darrian Miller, blessed with good balance, was expected to serve as the No. 2 back, but he transferred in June. Senior Taylor Cox and junior college transfer De’Andre Mann will provide depth.

The biggest reason for optimism at receiver is senior Nick Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) who posted three straight 800-yard receiving seasons with the RedHawks. Also starting will be Rodriguez Coleman, who shined in the spring, and speedy senior Tony Pierson, who has been KU’s best playmaker during the past two seasons. Senior Jimmay Mundine, who battled drops in 2013, returns as KU’s best offensive threat at tight end.

The offensive line figures to be one of the team’s biggest unknowns heading into 2014, as the Jayhawks lost a lot of experience from a group that already was an area of weakness. The strength of the unit most likely will be the guard spots, as seniors Ngalu Fusimalohi and Mike Smithburg combined for 20 starts in 2013.

Previewing Kansas’ Defense for 2014:

Senior Keon Stowers is the star of the defensive line at the nose tackle spot, while Ben Goodman made the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end after adding some weight in the offseason. The Jayhawks also will rely on the athletic-but-raw Andrew Bolton at the other end spot while hoping that fall newcomers provide additional depth.

Senior middle linebacker Ben Heeney is KU’s best bet to earn All-Big 12 honors, as the high-motor player was a second-team all-league pick a year ago. Junior Jake Love is a solid-but-not-flashy player at the other inside linebacker spot. Michael Reynolds is KU’s best pass-rusher at Buck outside linebacker.

The secondary figures to be KU’s greatest strength. Two players stood out most in 2013 — senior Dexter McDonald, a tall corner who often had opponents throwing the other direction, and junior safety Isaiah Johnson, who was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after ranking second in the league with five interceptions. Cornerback Kevin Short, a former junior college transfer who redshirted in 2013, also emerged in the spring and appears to have locked up a starting spot.

Previewing Kansas’ Specialists for 2014:

The strength of the special teams is senior punter Trevor Pardula, who averaged 43.7 yards per kick a season ago while booting a school-record 84 punts. KU’s biggest concern is at kicker, as student-tryout-hopeful-turned-starter Matthew Wyman remains the team’s top option after making 5-of-10 field goals in 2013.

Final Analysis

During his first two years at KU, Weis was careful to not set specific win total goals for his rebuilding football team. That’s changed this season, as he enters Year 3 with the most talent he’s had and a solid base of upperclassmen.

“Before you can be a perennial winning program, the first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500,” Weis says.

Though this probably isn’t a “bowl or bust” season for the Jayhawks, Weis likely will need to improve his win total to avoid the hot seat in the third year of a five-year contract.


#67 West Virginia Mountaineers





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.


#66 Iowa State Cyclones





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.