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#123 UTSA Roadrunners





HEAD COACH: Larry Coker, 23-23 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Brown | DEF. COORDINATOR: Neal Neathery

UTSA was a pleasant surprise last season — for about two weeks. The Roadrunners upset Houston and came close to doing the same to Arizona in the first two games of the season. Larry Coker’s veteran team couldn’t keep it up and finished 4-8. Now, all those veterans are gone — no, really. UTSA returns three starters, all on defense.

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Previewing UTSA’s Offense for 2015

The biggest reason UTSA saw its scoring output drop by 8.5 points per game in 2014 was the play at quarterback, where four players labored through injuries and inexperience to compile a combined passer rating that ranked No. 119 in the nation. 

The position was open during the spring, but the smart money is on Blake Bogenschutz to win the job in the fall. Bogenschutz was the No. 2 quarterback last season and filled in for injured starter Tucker Carter early before breaking his hand and seeing his season end in September. Bogenschutz appeared in three games (starting one) and completed 56 percent of his passes with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Michigan transfer Russell Bellomy is eligible immediately after seeing little playing time in four years in Ann Arbor and is a wild card candidate who will compete for the job. 

Whoever plays quarterback will at least have some help at running back, where the explosive Jarveon Williams should own the job after sharing it in his first two seasons. The offensive line, however, is undergoing a complete makeover and is expected to take its lumps.  

Tight end David Morgan II might be the Roadrunners’ most talented offensive player and will be a focal point of the passing game if he can stay healthy, which has been an issue. Wide receiver Kenny Bias appears to have his off-field issues resolved and could have a big season as a senior alongside dependable slot receiver Aaron Grubb.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing UTSA’s Defense for 2015  

The inexperience on the defensive side isn’t quite as bad as on offense, but only three starters return to a unit that ranked 54th nationally in points allowed. The front four will have to be replaced, though three players who were in the two-deep rotation will step into starting roles. Senior Jason Neill will be a leader at defensive end and should be stronger another year removed from ACL surgery. Defensive tackle Brian Price sat out the spring as a precaution but will be counted on as he assumes a larger role. 

Linebacker Drew Douglas is the defense’s best player and will be an All-C-USA candidate. He was third on the team in tackles a year ago and plays a vital role in the Roadrunners’ 4-2-5 scheme. 

The secondary struggled at times, but the hope is that improvement will be made in this area. Former Oklahoma transfer Bennett Okotcha is the No. 1 corner and looks primed for a breakout senior season. At safety, Michael Egwuagu beat out Chase Dahlquist, although both should play. At the other two safety slots, athletic Nate Gaines, Baylor transfer Austin Jupe and returning starter Mauricio Sanchez will battle for time and solidify the back line.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing UTSA’s Specialists for 2015  

The question marks that run rampant throughout the Roadrunners’ two-deep don’t stop when it comes to the specialists. Kicker Daniel Portillo and punter Yannis Routsas, a freshman, are both untested. Aaron Grubb is slated to handle both kickoff and punt return duties.

Final Analysis 

UTSA fell far short of expectations in 2014 when it welcomed back 19 starters from a 7–5 team. This year, the Roadrunners will not have to worry about the bar being set too high. With inexperience up and down the depth chart, serious questions at quarterback and a brutal non-conference slate that includes four bowl teams, coach Larry Coker is facing a steep challenge. UTSA is in only its fifth season as a Division-I program, but this could feel like Year 1 all over again unless several players step up and make big strides.


#116 Southern Miss Golden Eagles





HEAD COACH: Todd Monken, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chip Lindsey | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Duggan

Todd Monken saw improvement at Southern Miss in his second season. However, the talent level for the Eagles simply wasn't good enough for Monken to compete in Conference USA. However, seven starters are back on offense and he is slowly beginning to restock the roster with depth. But is it enough for Southern Miss to reach a bowl game or compete in the C-USA West Division?

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Previewing Southern Miss’ Offense for 2015  

Todd Monken begins his third season at Southern Miss hoping to keep the Golden Eagles trending back toward their successful past. USM enters the fall having improved from a disastrous 0–12 in 2012 to 1–11 in 2013 and 3–9 in 2014. The last time Southern Miss endured three straight losing seasons was 1929-31. Monken may get the Golden Eagles winning again by creating healthy competition at the quarterback position. He returns Nick Mullens, who has started 16 games, and adds TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who was recruited by Monken to Oklahoma State when he was the Big 12 school’s offensive coordinator. Matthews, a better runner than Mullens, will be familiar with the USM offense. Mullens passed for 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns last year despite missing several games with a foot injury.

At running back, 5'9" Ito Smith is back after leading the Golden Eagles with 536 rushing yards. George Payne, solid in short-yardage situations, has scored most of the team’s rushing touchdowns the past two seasons, while sophomore Tez Parks is USM’s most powerful back and averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year. Southern Miss needs much more production from its backs after the rushing offense ranked last in Conference USA.

Monken beefed up the Golden Eagles’ offensive line in his latest recruiting class, including four mid-year transfers who participated in spring workouts. USM finds itself with its best depth up front since Monken arrived, as four starters return.

Sure-handed Casey Martin is a possession receiver who led the Golden Eagles with 55 catches a year ago. Outside receiver Michael Thomas also was one of Mullens’ top targets with 592 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Southern Miss’ Defense for 2015 

Known for their stout defensive reputation, the Golden Eagles have fallen in recent seasons. They ranked ninth in the league in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense. USM also ranked last in the league in turnover margin, losing 26 and gaining only 16.

It doesn’t help the Golden Eagles that defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches left after his junior season to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft or that the top three tacklers — safeties Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson and linebacker Alan Howze — completed their eligibility.

Senior linebacker Brian Anderson, the top returning tackler, is back to provide leadership along with Elijah Parker. D’Nerius Antoine, a midyear signee, quickly established himself at a hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot in the spring.

In the secondary, there’s not a better name in the league than Picasso Nelson Jr., who may move from cornerback to safety this fall. Junior college transfers Deshadrick Truly and Devonta Foster could step in and be factors, too.  

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Southern Miss’ Specialists for 2015  

The Golden Eagles must find a replacement for kicker Corey Acosta, who made 19-of-25 attempts last year, including a 52-yarder. Among those competing for the spot is UAB transfer Nick Vogel, who redshirted last fall, and Parker Shaunfield. Punter Tyler Sarrazin is back after averaging 39.5 yards on 66 kicks. 

Final Analysis

With September games against Mississippi State and Nebraska, the early season schedule will be daunting for a rebuilding program that has only four wins the past three years. But Monken is moving toward opening up his offense as he adds depth. Matthews, the TCU transfer at quarterback, could be an interesting addition on offense if he beats out Mullens. Regardless, the offense must improve. The Golden Eagles scored only 23 touchdowns, which ranked 12th among the league’s 13 schools, and averaged only 19.0 points per game. 


#117 North Texas Mean Green





HEAD COACH: Dan McCarney, 22-27 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Canales | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Cosh

Dan McCarney has a bit of a roller coaster ride at North Texas, posting nine wins two years ago but just four last fall. He's got a new coordinator and will increase the tempo on offense in an effort to rebuild his squad in the C-USA West Division. With only nine starters back, McCarney has his work is cut out for him in 2015.

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Previewing North Texas’ Offense for 2015  

North Texas ranked 114th nationally in total offense last season. There are still quarterback questions, and the previous strength, a veteran offensive line, has mostly graduated. Four new starters will be up front. “It’s a major void,” coach Dan McCarney says. “Those new guys have come together and developed, but four new starters is still four new starters.”

UNT has settled on Andrew McNulty as its quarterback after other contenders did not impress. McNulty started six games last season, passing for 1,295 yards, six TDs and seven interceptions. McCarney says McNulty’s offseason progress reminds him of the same growth former standout Derek Thompson made heading into his senior season. UNT should be so fortunate.

Wideout Carlos Harris, already with 136 career catches, enters his senior season on pace to finish as one of the program’s most productive receivers. Tight end Marcus Smith led the team with six TD catches last season. But Harris and Smith are possession receivers in need of a big-play partner. Redshirt freshman Tee Goree, one of the team’s top recruits a year ago, could fill that role.

UNT should remain a run-first team with the return of leading rusher Antoinne Jimmerson (589 yards), but look for Jeffrey Wilson (224 yards) to get more carries.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing North Texas’ Defense for 2015 

The defensive line was completely rebuilt a year ago, and now it must be a strength as other units break in new starters. Defensive ends Chad Polk and Tillman Johnson accounted for 10.5 of the team’s 33 sacks last season and are part of a rotation at end. Also, Jareid Combs, who had 17 sacks in junior college last season, joins the mix. But the line needs more than a pass rush. “I think we can get into a nine to 10-man rotation of quality players on the line,” McCarney says. “So I feel a lot better about that than I did a year ago.”

In the back seven, two all-league players must be replaced, including linebacker Derek Akunne, Conference USA’s leader in tackles per game last season. To shake up the group, returning starter Fred Scott moves from middle to outside linebacker, and Buffalo transfer Blake Bean steps into the middle.

Kenny Buyers is a team captain and dependable cornerback, but the other cornerback spot may be fluid. Free safety Kishawn McClain returns after earning C-USA All-Freshman honors, but he must move into a leading role amid an inexperienced secondary. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing North Texas’ Specialists for 2015  

Placekicker Trevor Moore is back after a Freshman All-America season in which he made 15-of-17 field goals. Eric Keena ranked second in C-USA in punting average (44.8), and UNT returns key parts of a unit that ranked fifth nationally in kick return coverage.

Final Analysis

In 2013, McCarney finished a three-year plan with a senior-laden squad that went 9–4. After going 4–8 last season and still carrying several concerns, this team looks to be in the middle of that three-year cycle, at best. The offense will try to go more up-tempo to mask inexperience on the line. The defense will attempt to reload under new coordinator Chris Cosh. And McCarney will throw some young talent on the field in hopes of finding the next wave of standout players.

UNT’s quirky schedule offers no favors. After a Week 1 off date, it plays 12 straight weeks with no bye and only five home games. Trips to Tennessee and Iowa highlight the non-conference slate. And C-USA cross-division opponents include Marshall (13–1 in 2014), Western Kentucky (8–5) and Middle Tennessee (6–6).

“That schedule is why everyone has so much urgency around here,” McCarney says. “We want to win and not just show up, but we are a team in development right now.” 


#128 Charlotte 49ers





HEAD COACH: Brad Lambert, 10-12 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Mullen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Wallerstedt

Charlotte is the newest member of the FBS ranks, and the 49ers join Conference USA after winning 10 games over the last two seasons under coach Brad Lambert. Charlotte has a ways to go before competing for a bowl game or a conference title, but the 49ers should score plenty of points in 2015 behind running back Kalif Phillips and receiver Austin Duke.

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Previewing Charlotte’s Offense for 2015 

The master plan for Charlotte’s young football program was to have its first generation of players come of age at the same time. As the 49ers enter their third season of existence and first in Conference USA, that plan should start paying off as most key offensive players return to a quick-strike offense that had 22 touchdown drives of 90 seconds or less last season.

Junior running back Kalif Phillips is coming off a 1,436-yard season and should again have a prominent role. He’ll have the luxury of an offensive line that brings back plenty of experience. Charlotte’s top two receivers, Austin Duke and Trent Bostick, also return, headlining a talented group that also includes Georgia transfer and former four-star recruit Uriah LeMay.

While much of the offense is settled, things should be interesting at quarterback. Matt Johnson started eight games last season before tearing his MCL. After he went out, Lee McNeill stepped in and helped lead the 49ers to two victories. Both players will be juniors this season and should be pushed by redshirt freshman Brooks Barden.

“I just feel like we’ve got a lot of pieces,” says Charlotte coach Brad Lambert, who served on Jim Grobe’s staff at Wake Forest for 10 years.

Previewing Charlotte’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

After giving up 31.6 points per game last season, Lambert turned to former Texas Tech defensive coordinator — and his old college roommate — Matt Wallerstedt to fix a shaky defense. Wallerstedt, who says he’ll keep the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, inherits a defense that has some talent but little depth.

Lambert says he’s happy with the options along the defensive front. After missing last season, Devon Johnson will join last season’s sack leader Larry Ogunjobi on the line. Syracuse transfer Josh Manley should also be a factor.

Elsewhere on defense, there are questions. Nick Cook and Caleb Clayton-Molby will anchor the linebacking corps after both missed chunks of last season due to injury. Branden Dozier, last season’s leading tackler, and Devin Pearson will be proven options in the defensive backfield. But Lambert says that developing talent to put around these standouts will be the top priority heading into the preseason.

Related: Athlon’s 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Charlotte’s Specialists for 2015 

Kicker Blake Brewer and punter Arthur Hart are back and should keep their spots. Chris Montgomery, Corey Nesmith, Damarrell Alexander and Ardy Holmes all had roles in the return game last season and should be in the mix again.

Final Analysis

Charlotte football has gone from an idea to a fully operational FBS program at warp speed. After two seasons as an FCS competitor, the enormity of the challenge it faces this season could show. This will be the 49ers’ first season with the full complement of 85 scholarship players. So while they’ll have talent, much of it will be young and untested against the level of competition it’s getting ready to face.

Also, up until now, Charlotte has eased into things with regard to scheduling. Previous slates were made up of FCS and Division II schools. This season, 11 of the team’s 12 games will be against FBS competition. In addition to Conference USA foes, the 49ers will face Temple and Kentucky.

Coming off of back-to-back 5–6 seasons, Charlotte has shown that, while it has room to improve, it’s not that far behind the learning curve. With the competition ratcheted up significantly this season, the 49ers hope to continue to show gradual improvement. Being competitive with Conference USA’s middle tier would be a sign that, despite the accelerated pace of progress, the program is right on schedule.