Independents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#49 BYU Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#49

Independent PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 90-39 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Anae | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Howell

Bronco Mendenhall enters his 11th season in Provo with some renewed excitement. That’s because BYU welcomes back Heisman candidate and superstar athlete Taysom Hill. The Cougars' schedule is much more difficult this fall as compared to last season, but getting Hill back could more than compensate for the increased difficulty.

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Previewing BYU’s Offense for 2015


BYU was 4–0 and ranked No. 18 before quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in the second quarter against Utah State, and the Cougars lost four straight games before recovering to finish 8–5 in 2014. Always a strong runner, Hill had shown signs of becoming an outstanding passer prior to his injury. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes in five games, a major improvement over his sophomore season. Hill also ran for 460 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. Running is a big part of his game, but he may be more conscious of protecting himself as a senior. He did not fully participate in spring drills but continued his passing development in limited work. “His arm is really good,” says offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Jamaal Williams needs 930 yards to become BYU’s all-time leading rusher. He might have challenged the record as a junior, but his season ended in early November because of a knee injury. If he’s at full strength in 2015, he will complement Hill’s ability, and BYU should have a dynamic offense.

Receiver Mitch Mathews was the offense’s star of the spring, positioning himself for a big senior season. The coaches worry about depth on the line, but they’re very confident about the ability of the starters, led by Freshman All-America center Tejan Koroma.


Previewing BYU’s Defense for 2015
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at BYU and the Pac-12, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

BYU’s 55–48 double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl persuaded coach Bronco Mendenhall to take over the defense again, after having coordinator Nick Howell make the in-game calls in 2014. Mendenhall is asking a lot of the defensive players, in effort and accountability. “They’re learning and adjusting to that,” he says. “They’re slowly making steps, rising to the expectations and demands I’m placing. Eventually, they’ll play well.”

Bronson Kaufusi is BYU’s best athlete among defensive players. Finding the best position for him is the issue. He played outside linebacker in 2014 and was productive, with a team-high 11.5 tackles for a loss, but he may be better suited at end.

Some of the Cougars’ top linebackers missed spring drills, but all of them are expected to be available in August and should help BYU improve after ranking 56th in total defense, allowing 391.5 yards per game. Harvey Langi is an intriguing player, having played running back at Utah prior to transferring and moving to defense.

Mendenhall is comfortable with his front seven but has concerns in the secondary, where junior college transfer Eric Takenaka was a discovery at safety in the spring. 


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

Previewing BYU’s Specialists for 2015


Trevor Samson attempted only 14 field goals in 2014, but he made 12, including a season-long 45-yarder in overtime against Memphis. Punting is a big issue, as BYU replaces Scott Arellano. Two freshmen, Taylor Parker and Chasen Brown, are among the contenders. Adam Hine’s 24.5-yard average on kickoff returns included a 99-yard touchdown against Virginia. Takenaka was an outstanding returner at Snow College and will join Hine. 


Final Analysis

BYU’s 2014 season did not end well. The loss to Memphis, followed by a postgame brawl, left the Cougars with regrets. The Cougars’ September schedule offers an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves and improve the outside perception of the program. Games with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan will go a long way toward defining BYU’s 2015 season. In an era when BYU is an Independent, Mendenhall is eager to make an impact. “We’re playing our way into contention and national recognition through the best opponents on the biggest stages, mostly away from home,” he says.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

NATIONAL FORECAST

#12

Independents PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Brian Kelly, 45-20 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian VanGorder

Notre Dame has won at least eight games in each of Brian Kelly’s five seasons, but the Fighting Irish are looking to rebound after an 8-5 campaign in 2014. After a 7-1 start, Notre Dame lost four out of its last five games. Injuries and youth hindered the Fighting Irish last season, but the experience and additional depth should pay dividends for Kelly’s team in 2015.

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Previewing Notre Dame’s Offense for 2015 


Notre Dame showed marked improvement in scoring (from 27.2 ppg in 2013 to 32.8 in 2014) and total offense (405.8 ypg to 444.9), and all but four starters return in ’15. The challenge is maximizing the assets. And there’s clarity at the quarterback after uncertainty surrounded this position at the end of spring ball. Everett Golson transferred in early May, which leaves the starting job to promising sophomore Malik Zaire.

The offensive line, led by veterans Ronnie Stanley (left tackle), Nick Martin (center) and Steve Elmer (right guard), is the foundation upon which the Irish attack is built.

There appear to be plenty of skill-position buttons to push, starting with wideout Will Fuller, who exploded as a sophomore with 76 receptions for 1,094 yards and a school-record-tying 15 touchdowns. Running back Tarean Folston also had a quality sophomore season (889 yards rushing). Now the challenge is to get former five-star recruit Greg Bryant in the mix with Folston.

Weapons abound in the receiving corps, but reliability is the challenge. Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle have yet to put together consistent seasons. C.J. Prosise offers versatility in the backfield and receiving prowess from the slot. Durham Smythe is the heir apparent to a dynamic tight end tradition.

Previewing Notre Dame’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at Notre Dame, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It was a tale of two defenses in 2014, but most of the unit is back. The hope is the group that held its first five opponents to 60 points (12.0 ppg) will show itself more than the defense that surrendered 319 points (39.8 ppg) against the last eight opponents.

Ringleaders include two-time captain/defensive tackle Sheldon Day (7.5 tackles for a loss, nine QB hurries), linebacker Jaylon Smith (team-leading 112 tackles, 9.0 tackles for a loss) and linebacker Joe Schmidt, who garnered defensive MVP honors despite missing the last five games with a broken ankle.

To get to the next level, the Irish will need a more stout performance up front than the 26 sacks of 2014. Defensive end Isaac Rochell (7.5 tackles for a loss, 10 QB hurries) emerged as a building block as a sophomore. Nose tackle Jarron Jones, also coming off a significant foot injury, forms a dynamic one-two punch with Day up the middle. The pass rush should come from ends Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti, among several candidates. Look for freshman nose tackle Jerry Tillery to make an impact.

The return of cornerback KeiVarae Russell after his academic suspension is huge. He’ll pair with Cole Luke, who tied for the team lead with four interceptions to go with 15 passes defensed and 11 broken up. Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield struggled a good portion of the time in 2014, but they’re back and their troubles were not for a lack of talent.

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

Previewing Notre Dame’s Specialists for 2015


Do-everything Kyle Brindza is gone after a quality but often-erratic career with the Irish. There could be a drop-off punting with Tyler Newsome moving into the lineup, but highly touted true freshman kicker Justin Yoon has the skills to hit the ground running. Fuller, Carlisle and Bryant are the likely return men.

Final Analysis 


It’s the sixth year of the Brian Kelly regime, and in only one of the previous five — 2012 when the Irish played for the national title vs. Alabama — has Notre Dame finished with fewer than four losses.

This is the deepest, most well-equipped team Kelly has fielded. If the Irish can maximize Zaire’s talents at quarterback, establish a consistent ground game and play more stout up front defensively, this season should resemble 2012 more than any of the others under Kelly. That would mean playing in a New Year’s Day bowl if not contending for a playoff spot.




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