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#111 Army Black Knights



Independents PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Jeff Monken, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Bateman

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. 111 Army.

Previewing Army’s Offense for 2014: 

First-year coach Jeff Monken brings his version of the triple-option to West Point. There is a basic understanding of the scheme among returning players, but different terminology made for quite a learning curve during the spring.

Angel Santiago started 11 games last season and is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks. A.J. Schurr, whose only career start was last year against Navy, is the better passer and frequently worked with the first team during the spring.

A groin injury cost two-time 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples most of last season, and an ankle surgery cost him the spring. Granted a fifth year of eligibility, the Academy’s sixth all-time leading rusher is expected to rejoin a ground attack that churned out 309.8 yards rushing per game in 2013. Senior Terry Baggett, the leading returning rusher (1,113 yards), should be good to go after injuries slowed him during the spring.

Xavier Moss emerged last season and was easily Army’s top receiver with 35 receptions. Chevaughn Lawrence and Kelvin White, who switched from QB in late spring, are in the mix. There are no experienced tight ends on the roster. An incoming freshman may ultimately be the answer when the formation requires one.

Ryan Powis, a three-year starter at center, moved to tackle late in the spring to accommodate Matt Hugenberg. However, Powis left the team in July. Monken felt Hugenberg, who has yet to start a game, was his best lineman in the spring and decided to put him at center. Guard Steve Shumaker and tackle Justin Gilbert are returning starters.

Previewing Army’s Defense for 2014:

Monken will stick with a 3-4 alignment for a defense that ranked 103rd against the run and tied for 107th in turnovers forced. Seven linemen with starting experience return, led by Mike Ugenyi and Robert Kough, who had a team-high eight tackles for a loss in 2013.

The linebacking corps lacks experience. Julian Holloway is the unit’s leading returning tackler with only 42. James Kelly saw action in every game last season, including three starts. Senior Derek Sanchez had a strong spring.

The secondary took a hit late during spring when Shaquille Tolbert left the team. Tolbert had been moved to corner after starting at safety. Still, there are some proven playmakers in the defensive backfield. Senior safety Geoff Bacon made the move from linebacker prior to last season and recorded 63 tackles to place second on the team despite missing four games. The top returning corner is junior Chris Carnegie, who started 20 games his first two seasons.

Previewing Army's Specialists for 2014:

Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Monken was the special teams coordinator at Navy. It is an area where the Black Knights are in desperate need of improvement after the unit placed 115th in punt returns and 121st in kick returns. Moss and Josh Jenkins could help in those areas. Kicker Daniel Grochowski drilled 8-of-11 field-goal attempts last season, while Alex Tardieu averaged a paltry 37.3 yards per punt. 

Final Analysis 

Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.

Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule. 


#57 Navy Midshipmen



Independents PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Ken Niumatalolo, 49-30 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ivin Jasper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Buddy Green

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. 57 Navy.

Previewing Navy’s Offense for 2014:

Keenan Reynolds was nothing short of sensational as a sophomore, setting numerous school records and several NCAA marks as well. In less than two full seasons on the job, the Tennessee native — who is 15–6 as a starter — is already being mentioned in the same breath as Navy greats Roger Staubach and Chris McCoy.

After averaging 33.5 points and 411.3 total yards in 2013, Navy’s patented triple-option offense figures to fire on all cylinders again this season as Reynolds will operate behind an experienced offensive line and has plenty of proven weapons at the skill positions.

Right guard Jake Zuzek, who has started 26 straight games, anchors an offensive line that played with great cohesion and chemistry toward the end of last season. Center Tanner Fleming, left guard E.K. Binns and left tackle Bradyn Heap are also returning starters.

Navy started three different fullbacks in 2013, and all return. Noah Copeland will start, but Chris Swain and Quinton Singleton will see plenty of action as part of a potent rotation. The Midshipmen bring back a pair of dynamic slotbacks in DeBrandon Sanders and Geoffrey Whiteside, who ranked second and third on the team, respectively, with 563 and 539 yards from scrimmage. The only question mark on offense comes at wide receiver, where Navy must replace both starters.

Previewing Navy’s Defense for 2014:

Navy must rebuild the heart of its defense after graduating two nose guards, both starting inside linebackers and the top two safeties.

Bernard Sarra, a powerfully built 303-pounder, returns as the starting nose after doing a superb job of taking on double-teams and plugging the middle a year ago. However, the Midshipmen have a pair of untested sophomores as backups at a position that has always required a rotation.

By far the biggest concern comes at inside linebacker, where the Mids must replace their top tacklers in Cody Peterson (142) and DJ Sargenti (110). Defensive coordinator Buddy Green’s 3-4 alignment requires the inside linebackers to make the majority of tackles, and none of the returning players at that position has seen much action beyond special teams. Late in spring camp, Green addressed the lack of experience by moving returning starting outside linebacker Jordan Drake (43 tackles) inside.

Rover Wave Ryder has graduated, and backup Chris Ferguson retired due to concussions. Lonnie Richardson, who also played primarily on special teams in 2013, will get first crack at the job.
Outside linebacker Chris Johnson (84) and free safety Parrish Gaines (65), the defensive captain, are the top returning tacklers. Defensive end Paul Quessenberry and cornerback Brendon Clements (three interceptions) are other key figures on defense.

Previewing Navy's Specialists for 2014:

A pair of veterans will handle the kicking chores. Pablo Beltran is only the second four-year starting punter in program history and ranks third all-time at Navy with a 41.1-yard career average. Nick Sloan begins his third season as the starting placekicker and has been fairly reliable, converting 21-of-29 field goals. Demond Brown averaged 22.2 yards on five kickoff returns in 2013 and has the speed to be a dangerous threat in that role.

Final Analysis

Navy has been one of the most consistent programs in the FBS with a winning record in 10 of the last 11 years. The Midshipmen also have been the dominant service academy during that time, capturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy nine times since 2003. In its final season as an Independent before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Navy should sustain its success on both fronts. The Midshipmen have a contract to appear in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and should have no problem securing the six wins necessary to be eligible.


#35 BYU Cougars



Independent PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 82-34 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Anae | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Howell

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. 35 BYU.

Previewing BYU’s Offense for 2014:

BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae would love to replay the 2013 season, with his players being more accustomed to his fast-paced scheme. “I wish we would have had this as our starting point last season,” he says.

As it is, the Cougars can only hope to improve on their 8–5 record, facing a less demanding schedule. Quarterback Taysom Hill knows he can get better. Hill is a remarkable athlete who rushed for 1,344 yards as a sophomore, including a 259-yard performance against Texas. He also showed signs of passing ability, but his accuracy rate dropped off considerably against quality opponents.

Running back Jamaal Williams almost matched Hill’s per-game rushing average last season, finishing with 1,233 yards while missing one game due to injury. He’s a shifty, explosive runner who helped the Cougars rank 10th in the country in rushing.

The Cougars must replace Cody Hoffman, the school’s all-time leading receiver. Mitch Mathews, who caught three touchdown passes against Utah State, and senior Ross Apo are the top returnees. Junior college transfer Nick Kurtz improved during the spring.

Because of injuries and inconsistency, BYU used 11 different starters at the five offensive line positions in 2013. Ten of those players return, but former defensive lineman Tuni Kanuch has emerged as the starting right guard after missing last season due to injury.

Previewing BYU’s Defense for 2014:

Defensive coordinator Nick Howell expects the linemen to be “more physical and more stout against the run” than in 2013, when BYU ranked 56th in rushing defense, allowing 159.9 yards per game. BYU will have a more traditional look up front, with Bronson Kaufusi having moved to outside linebacker.

No defensive player in BYU history made as many impact plays as Kyle Van Noy. BYU’s coaches believe they’ve found a creative solution to replacing Van Noy by moving Kaufusi from the defensive line. As a linebacker, Kaufusi “just looks so much more natural,” Howell says. “He’s leaner and faster, and he’ll shock some people.”

On the other side, Alani Fua is a versatile athlete who was used as a nickel back at times, when BYU’s secondary was depleted, while also excelling as a linebacker.

BYU scrambled to fill the cornerback positions last year after Trent Trammell was injured on the first day of spring drills and Jordan Johnson also was lost for the season with a knee injury in August. In their absence, Robertson Daniel became a highly valuable player on one side, but BYU struggled to find a consistent player at the other corner.

Previewing BYU’s Specialists for 2014:

Scott Arellano proved to be a fairly consistent punter as a junior college transfer, averaging 41 yards with 13 of his punts covering 50-plus yards. BYU will have to shore up the protection after having three punts blocked. The Cougars needs a new kicker, with sophomore Moose Bingham having moved ahead of Trevor Samson in the spring competition.

Final Analysis

A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”

Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”

In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and Hill becomes a more consistent passer.