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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#107 Central Michigan Chippewas

NATIONAL FORECAST

#107

MAC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Dan Enos, 19-30 (4 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Morris Watts | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Tumpkin

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. 107 Central Michigan.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2014

Injuries caused the Central Michigan offense to be slowed considerably in 2013. It was a storyline that helped turn what looked like one of the top offenses in the MAC into a middle-of-the-road attack that had some big games but also some very disappointing outings.

While senior quarterback Cody Kater is healthy again after being out almost all of last year with a broken collarbone suffered in the opener at Michigan, he might not be able reclaim his starting job. Cooper Rush took the reins in Kater’s absence and had some impressive moments as a redshirt freshman. He came off the bench in Week 2 against New Hampshire to throw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, leading the way to a 24–21 comeback victory. Rush also struggled at times with reads; too often he threw interceptions into the hands of sitting linebackers.

What will help Rush is the return of senior wide receiver Titus Davis, who toyed with the idea of entering the NFL Draft before opting to return. Arguably the best big-play threat in the conference and a first-team All-MAC selection as a junior, Davis caught 61 passes for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He ranks first among active FBS players in yards per catch (18.9).

Central Michigan returns an experienced offensive line led by senior left guard Andy Phillips, a second-team All-MAC selection as a junior.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Defense for 2014

This will be the third full year that the Chippewas will employ a 4-2-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin, and it has produced mixed results thus far. Central Michigan tied for seventh in the MAC in scoring defense (28.6 ppg) in 2013, but the Chips ranked fourth in the league in total defense (405.2 ypg).

Leading the charge defensively will be senior linebacker Justin Cherocci, who notched 121 tackles a year ago and is entering his third year as a starter. A third-team All-MAC selection in 2013, Cherocci shifts over to the strong side linebacker spot to replace the graduated Shamari Benton. Senior Cody Lopez and junior Tim Hamilton will battle for the other starting linebacker spot.

Expect a better frontline for CMU, with sophomore defensive tackle Jabari Dean back in the fold after missing last year with a groin injury. He was impressive as a freshman in 2012 and played well during spring practice. Senior defensive tackle Leterrius Walton has dropped down from 323 pounds to 297 and could make a huge difference inside.

Sophomore safety Tony Annese made some noise last season as he stepped into the starting lineup late and had 34-yard interception returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Western Michigan and Massachusetts.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2014

Ron Coluzzi converted 12-of-17 field goals as a freshman and will once again handle the placekicking. Punting duties will likely fall to true freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko, the son of former NFL punter Ralf Mojsiejenko.

Final Analysis

Central Michigan was bowl-eligible in 2013 with a 6–6 record but did not receive a postseason invite. There is considerable pressure on Dan Enos and his staff to get the Chips back among the elite in the MAC West. Enos inherited a program that went 32–7 in the MAC from 2005-09, but is 13–19 in league play in four seasons.

There are reasons for optimism: The Chips return 16 starters from a team that went 5–3 in the league. But there are also reasons for concern: Four of the five victories came against teams that either went 1–7 or 0–8 in the MAC.

Bottom line: This team is competitive but still not ready to contend in the West.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#124 Eastern Michigan Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#124

MAC West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chris Creighton, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kalen DeBoer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brad McCaslin

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. 124 Eastern Michigan.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Offense for 2014: 

As bad as the 2–10 Eagles were in 2013, running back Bronson Hill proved to be a difference-maker, rushing for 1,101 yards with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. It was the first 1,000-plus yard rushing season for an Eastern Michigan running back in a decade. Hill, a third-team All-MAC selection, will be a critical piece of first-year coach Chris Creighton’s offense.

Hill and the other Eastern running backs aren’t likely to carry the load as much under Creighton as they did under former coach Ron English. In 2013, the Eagles ran the ball on 57 percent of their offensive snaps. That was down from 59 percent in 2012. Creighton wants to be closer to a 50-50 team and is particularly excited about the prospect of sophomore quarterback Brogan Roback getting the ball into the hands of his wide receivers out of multiple offensive formations.

Roback, a Maumee, Ohio, native, is one of the highest-recruited players to sign with Eastern in decades. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman when EMU’s season began to spin out of control, replacing Tyler Benz and starting the final three games of the season. Benz has since left the team, leaving Roback as the only quarterback with any experience on the roster. Roback threw for 640 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions and a completion percentage of 42.2 in 2013.
What the Eagles lack in experience under center, they make up for at receiver and on the offensive line. Eastern brings back its top four pass-catchers, most notably second-team All-MAC tight end Tyreese Russell, and three of its five starting lineman. Right tackle Lincoln Hansen, a third-team all-conference pick in 2013, is the headliner.

Of course bringing back a bunch of players that contributed to one of the worst teams in college football in 2013 isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Defense for 2014: 

Eastern gave up an average of 510.8 yards and 45.2 points per game in 2013, which both ranked in the bottom 10 in the country. It was enough to drive English, who was defensive coordinator as well as head coach, mad. A tape of an expletive-filled rant from English — recorded during a defensive meeting — expedited his inevitable firing by three games.

Eastern shouldn’t have to worry about any more rants — Creighton doesn’t allow players or coaches in his program to swear. He may want to give the policy a second thought after seeing his defense. The Eagles are thin at nearly every position, particularly in the defensive backfield. Ike Spearman, who led the team in tackles with 82 and tied for the lead in interceptions with two, should provide stability at the linebacker position. Creighton believes the defensive line will be where his team is deepest.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Specialists for 2014:

Tyler Allen accumulated 1,014 yards in kickoff returns in 2013. Allen, combined with punt returners Jay Jones and true freshman Cameron Bouldin, could make Eastern dangerous in the return game. Dylan Mulder made only 6-of-11 field goals as a sophomore. Austin Barnes returns as the punter.

Final Analysis

Eastern is not the type of program that can be fixed overnight by any coach, let alone one with zero experience — as a player, assistant or head coach — at the FBS level, although no experience should be required to improve upon the four wins Eastern has accumulated the past two seasons. Creighton has a solid résumé, with an overall record of 139–46 as a head coach with stops at Ottawa (NAIA), Wabash (Division III) and Drake (FCS). His task at Eastern Michigan is immense. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995 and have been one of the worst FBS programs in the nation in recent years.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#121 UMass Minutemen

NATIONAL FORECAST

#121

MAC East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Mark Whipple, 49-26 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Whipple | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Masella

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. 121 UMass.

Previewing UMass’ Offense for 2014:

The University of Massachusetts’ potential to take a step forward after two 1–11 seasons might hinge on how quickly some key newcomers pick up new coach Mark Whipple’s offense. At least eight players who weren’t with the team in the spring are being asked to be key contributors right away. That list includes quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, a graduate transfer from Marshall who has two years of eligibility left. He played well for the Herd backing up Rakeem Cato but wasn’t likely to see the field much behind the All-Conference USA quarterback and elected to transfer. If Frohnapfel can catch on fast, the whole offense figures to benefit, as quarterback play has held the Minutemen back the past two seasons.

Jalen Williams, a 6'3" junior college transfer, and Alex Kenney, a speedy fifth-year transfer from Penn State, figure to bolster an already deep receiving corps. Marken Michel, who quit the team under Charley Molnar, is not only back, but also a likely starter in the slot. Whipple has relied a lot on tight ends at previous stops, so junior college transfers Jean Sifrin and Jon Denton should have a chance to make an impact.
Last year, several running backs had strong single games, but nobody stayed healthy long enough to build any consistency. Junior Jamal Wilson will get the first crack at being the No. 1 ball-carrier, but sophomores Lorenzo Woodley and Shadrach Abrokwah both could see plenty of carries.

They’ll run behind an offensive line that will need to grow together. The unit has only one player — center Matt Sparks — who has been in the program longer than two seasons.

Previewing UMass’ Defense for 2014:

Because it was forced to spend too much time on the field covering for an offense that ­couldn’t move the ball, the defense’s numbers looked worse than its actual play in 2013. The coaching staff is excited about its young veterans at both linebacker and in the secondary.

UMass will switch to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Tom Masella, a move that should highlight the team’s depth at linebacker. Junior Kassan Messiah was a standout in the spring on the outside and could have a chance to evolve into an all-conference-caliber player, while senior Stanley Andre is expected lead the unit from his inside backer spot.

Juniors Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles will be starting at corner for a third straight season and have improved each year.

The key will be the development of the defensive line, which is neither deep nor experienced. Senior nose tackle Daniel Maynes will anchor the unit, while sophomores Enock Asante and Peter Angeh try to build off the glimpses of potential they each showed in 2013.

If the line can hold its own, the entire defense should be good enough to keep UMass competitive in MAC contests.

Previewing UMass’ Specialists for 2014: 

Junior Blake Lucas, who lost his starting kicker job late last season, has a big leg but hasn’t found consistent accuracy in two seasons. He’ll start the season with a short leash. Logan Laurent is the punter, and Dudley-Giles is back for his third season returning kicks and punts.

Final Analysis 

After two tough years under Molnar, who was fired in the offseason, UMass is hoping Whipple can turn the program around for the second time. In his first stint in Amherst (1998-2003), Whipple turned a team that was 2–9 the year before he arrived into the 1998 Division I-AA champions, which made his return popular in Amherst. He coached UMass for six years before working as an assistant in the NFL and at the University of Miami.

The task could be tougher this time as he inherits a team that won only one game in each of the last two seasons.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#120 Miami, Ohio RedHawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#120

MAC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Barnett, Eric Koehler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Pawlowski

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. 120 Miami, Ohio.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Offense for 2014: 

Chuck Martin’s job before being named Miami’s coach in December was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, creating hope that he will help revive a RedHawk offense that defined anemic in 2013. Miami finished last in the MAC in rushing, passing, total and — of course — scoring (9.8 ppg).

Martin’s biggest challenge is turning around Miami’s rushing “attack.” Sophomore quarterback Austin Gearing led the team in rushing last season, while junior Spencer Treadwell — the son of former coach Don Treadwell, who was fired last October after Miami got off to an 0–5 start — is the top returning ground-gainer among running backs, with 171 yards.

Gearing is likely to be supplanted at quarterback by senior Andrew Hendrix, who transferred from Notre Dame and is immediately eligible. Hendrix threw for 360 yards and a touchdown during his four years in South Bend. Joining him among the Fighting Irish transfers is tight end Alex Welch, who will help fortify a position depleted by graduation.

Whoever plays quarterback will have a deep corps of wide receivers at his disposal. Two starters and nine letterwinners return from last season’s team, including senior Dawan Scott. The O-line also returns four of its five 2013 starters.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Defense for 2014: 

Seven starters return from a defense that was almost as ineffective as the offense in 2013. Miami’s most experienced unit is the linebacker group, where second-team all-conference pick Kent Kern returns in the middle after leading the RedHawks in tackles as a sophomore last season. Classmate Josh Dooley also started all 12 games and was third on the team with 87 tackles.

Three out of four starters and eight of nine letterwinners return in the secondary, including cornerback Heath Harding and safeties Brison Burris and Jay Mastin. Harding started 10 games as a true freshman last season and logged 56 tackles and a team-leading three interceptions. Senior Lo Wood, the last of three former Fighting Irish players to follow Martin to Oxford, also is eligible to play this season and is the likely starter at the other cornerback slot. He has big shoes to fill. Dayonne Nunley was a three-time first-team all-conference pick.

The area most in need of rebuilding is the defensive line, but junior end Bryson Albright provides a strong foundation after leading the RedHawks with five sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss last season. On the interior, junior Mitchell Winters and sophomore Jimmy Rousher will start full-time at the tackle slots after sharing a position last season.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Specialists for 2014: 

Junior Kaleb Patterson returns for his third season as Miami’s placekicker. He focused on field goals and extra points last season, but he will add kickoffs and, perhaps, punting to his job description this season. Whether it’s Patterson or junior Christian Koch handling the punting chores, they’ll be hard-pressed to match the performance of Zac Murphy, who finished fourth in the nation in average yards per punt in 2013. Sophomore wide receiver Fred McRae is the RedHawks’ most experienced punt and kickoff returner.

Final Analysis 

Martin won two Division II national championships as the head coach at Grand Valley State and helped Notre Dame reach the BCS National Championship Game two years ago. He is used to winning. But this is a major rebuild. The RedHawks went 0–12 in 2013 and were perhaps the worst team in the nation. Quick turnarounds are possible in the MAC — see Ball State under Pete Lembo — but it’s hard to envision the RedHawks climbing too far up the league’s food chain in 2014.




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