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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#121 Miami-Ohio RedHawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#121

MAC East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Barnett, Eric Koehler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Pawlowski

Progress has been slow for Miami (Ohio), but Chuck Martin hopes to see more of it in his  second season. The RedHawks lost 10 games last season, but lost five games by one possession (Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Central Michigan and Ohio). The offense must be rebuilt with three starters, but eight returning starters on defense at least gives Miami an experienced starting point.
 

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Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2015 
 

When your most experienced quarterback now lines up at defensive end, that’s a concern. Junior Austin Gearing threw 54 passes and added 145 rushes as Miami’s starter in 2013, but he switched sides of the ball last season after being supplanted by Notre Dame transfer Andrew Hendrix, who has exhausted his eligibility. Redshirt freshman Gus Ragland possesses the same combination of running and throwing talent displayed by Hendrix on his way to being named third-team All-MAC. But senior Drew Kummer has the experience edge on Ragland; Kummer has thrown 58 passes and rushed 31 times with the RedHawks. Ragland has yet to step on the field.

The situation at running back isn’t much better. Junior Spencer McInnis and sophomore Damon Washington are the only returning players with experience, and they combined for 261 yards last season. That might not be enough to hold off redshirt freshmen Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith.

Junior wide receiver Jared Murphy is Miami’s top returning pass catcher, but he was being pushed by sophomore Sam Martin and junior Fred McRae IV, who also earned third-team all-conference honors as a punt returner. The offensive line also needs refurbishing after losing three starters.

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 Miami’s Defense for 2015 
 

Even with the loss to graduation of cornerback Quinten Rollins, who was named the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in his only season on the gridiron after finishing up his basketball career, the RedHawks’ defense looks strong once again. 

All four starters return on the line, led by senior Bryson Albright, who led Miami with 6.0 sacks, just ahead of junior J’Terius Jones’ five quarterback collars. Senior Joe Donlan, one of two returning starters at linebacker, ranked second on the team in tackles with 77. The other returning starter, senior Kent Kern, was a second-team All-MAC pick in 2013 and is itching to get back after missing the final three games of the 2014 season.

Junior Heath Harding, who led the RedHawks with 98 tackles as a safety in 2014, has moved to cornerback, joining returning starter Marshall Taylor. You could say the defensive backfield has three returning starters, as senior safety Brison Burris is back after missing all of last season with an injury. Burris started 11 of 12 games in 2012 and all 12 in 2013, but he’ll have to hold off junior Buchi Okafor for the job.

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

Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Senior Kaleb Patterson is back for his fourth season as Miami’s placekicker. Patterson has attempted 42 field goals in his RedHawks career and made 31, including a career-long 52-yarder last season. Senior Christian Koch waited for his turn and is back for his second season as Miami’s punter. Koch averaged 40.1 yards per punt last season.

Final Analysis
 

Coach Chuck Martin, a former Notre Dame assistant, sees progress in his quest to drag Miami football away from the dregs of a school-record 21-game losing streak, including an 0–12 2013, and closer to the tradition that includes 15 MAC championships. 

Miami has opened an indoor practice facility, placing it on the same level as MAC teams such as Northern Illinois, which has played in the last five league championship games.

Martin and his coaching staff spent less time in his second spring camp teaching the RedHawks how to practice and more time on what to practice. That made it easier to make decisions on position battles, allowing more time to focus on preparing for the upcoming season. This program is still a year away from being a factor in the MAC East, but there is finally some positive momentum in Oxford.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#111 Central Michigan Chippewas

NATIONAL FORECAST

#111

MAC West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: John Bonamego, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Morris Watts | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Colby

John Bonamego steps onto Central Michigan's campus with a clean slate to work with after Dan Enos' departure. This team won seven games last year but only returns 10 starters and faces a much improved MAC schedule. Reaching a bowl game will be a tall ask.

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Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2015  


Junior Cooper Rush, last seen throwing an FBS bowl-record seven touchdown passes in the Bahamas Bowl, is back at the helm for his third season as Central Michigan’s starting quarterback. He is poised for a stellar season as long as he gets enough help from the talent around him.

Lost to graduation is four-year star wide receiver Titus Davis, so figuring out who can replace his production on the outside is a must. Candidates include senior Jesse Kroll (36 catches, 582 yards, four TDs) and junior Anthony Rice (30 catches, 321 yards), as they are the returnees with the most on-field experience and have familiarity with Rush. But watch out for a trio of sophomores in Mark Chapman, Corey Willis and Eric Cooper; all three are athletic wide receivers with big-play potential.

The running back spot will feature a battle among senior Saylor Lavallii, junior Martez Walker and sophomore Devon Spalding. If a clear-cut starter emerges, it might be Spalding as he had a couple impressive efforts toward the end of 2014 and finished the campaign with 371 rushing yards on 73 attempts plus four TDs.

Central Michigan must replace starters at left guard and right tackle, but the Chippewas have the benefit of senior left tackle Ramadan Ahmeti and senior center Nick Beamish entering their third seasons as starters.

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 Central Michigan’s Defense for 2015 


Central Michigan used a 4-2-5 defensive scheme the past three years but will return to a 4-3-4 base under new coordinator Greg Colby. After the Chippewas finished first in the MAC in total defense a year ago (355.5 yards per game), there will be some turnover in personnel, but there’s also a core of returning starters who should allow for a fairly seamless transition with Colby in charge.

The Chippewas should be strong on the defensive line, which will be anchored on the outside by senior end Blake Serpa (four sacks last year) and junior Joe Ostman. That duo combined for 22.5 tackles for a loss.

A big question mark for CMU will be at the linebacker spots as senior Tim Hamilton (37 tackles) takes over as the leader of that group. There is inexperience aplenty when figuring out who is going to fill the other two starting spots.

Two seniors return in the secondary, with Central Michigan being particularly steady at safety. Senior Kavon Frazier and junior Tony Annese both have a nose for the football and a lot of games under their belts.


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

Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2015  
 

Brian Eavey (8-of-9 field goals) resumes his duties after taking over for the injured Ron Coluzzi in Week 2 of the 2014 campaign. Although Coluzzi returned two weeks later, he stuck with only punting (37.6-yard average) after handling both prior to his injury. But if Eavey falters in the kicking game, the Chippewas can feel confident in having the strong-legged Coluzzi as a backup plan. Redshirt freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko, the son of a former NFL punter, could also challenge for punting duties. Amari Coleman, Willis and Chapman are candidates to be used in the return game.

Final Analysis
 

Following five seasons of mostly mediocre results under previous coach Dan Enos, the slate is clean for John Bonamego to put his stamp on the job for years to come. The biggest key will be finding enough production at wide receiver to give the very talented Rush a chance to put up the big numbers of which he is capable. With some proven and promising talent on board, Central Michigan has a chance to surprise people. But a middle-of-the-pack finish in the MAC West Division is most likely.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#127 Eastern Michigan Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#127

MAC West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chris Creighton, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kalen DeBoer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brad McCaslin

If history is any indication, Year Two is a good time for a Chris Creighton team. His team at Wabash improved from 8-2 to 12-1, and his team at Drake improved from 6-5 to 8-3. Eastern Michigan, though, is one of college football’s worst programs. Reaching four wins — and thus doubling the win total — would mark an achievement EMU has reached just once since 2007.

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Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Offense for 2015 
 

Reginald Bell breathed some life into EMU’s offense when he settled into the starting role at quarterback midway through the 2014 season. The dual-threat signal caller put up more than 300 total yards of offense in a 37–27 win over Buffalo — highlighted by a pair of 70-yard touchdown runs — and threw for 409 yards in a 45–30 loss to Ball State late in the season. Bell, a former state champion in track out of California, has the chance to be a dynamic playmaker as a sophomore if the offense can develop around him. 

Eastern Michigan needs more production out of its undersized receiving corps. The Eagles’ 2015 recruiting class includes five talented wide receivers, but they might not be ready to jump straight into the lineup. Senior Dustin Creel has the potential to turn into a go-to target. He had 46 catches and 593 yards as a sophomore in 2013 but was slowed by a knee injury last fall. 

The other challenge for the Eagles offense will be replacing three starters — Campbell Allison, Lincoln Hansen and Robert McFadden — on the offensive line. They are building around returning starter Andrew Wylie, who will step in for Hansen at right tackle. 

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 Eastern Michigan’s Defense for 2015 
 

There is no way to sugarcoat just how poorly the  Eastern Michigan defense performed last season. The Eagles allowed 40.9 points and 498.8 yards per game and forced only 12 turnovers. All three figures ranked among the 10 worst in the nation. 

The players, who were learning their third defensive system in three years, looked lost at times. A second year with the same defense — plus the return of seven starters — should provide EMU with the building blocks for turning the unit around. 

The Eagles have strong depth at linebacker, where leading tackler Great Ibe is part of a group of returning starters that also includes Hunter Matt and Anthony Zappone. Ike Spearman, who missed all last season with a leg injury, was given a medical redshirt and will be back in the mix as well. 

Eastern Michigan’s most talented player on either side of the ball is defensive lineman Pat O’Connor, who had 64 tackles, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season. He can line up on the inside or outside and is someone for whom offenses need to account. But he needs some help. 

The secondary has a lot of moving pieces and is still an area of concern. Safety Jason Beck and cornerback DaQuan Pace are the returning starters in the group. Beck started as a true freshman last season and continues to make strides. Junior college transfer Ikie Calderon brought a lot of energy in the spring at safety.  

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

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Tyler Allen rewrote EMU’s record books as the team’s primary kickoff returner the past two seasons. Replacing him will not be easy. Placekicker Dylan Mulder returns after a solid season in which he hit 8-of-12 attempts, including three from beyond 40 yards. The Eagles were poor covering both kickoffs and punts last season, areas that need to improve going forward. 

Final Analysis 
 

Eastern Michigan lacks the top-level talent and depth to make a big move in the MAC West this season, but second-year coach Chris Creighton is moving the team in the right direction. The Eagles have finished 2–10 in each of the past three seasons, but a more favorable schedule — with three home games in September and six overall — could help them exceed that win total. For a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1995, three or four wins would certainly be something to build on.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#119 Kent State Golden Flashes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#119

MAC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Paul Haynes, 6-17 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Don Treadwell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian George

Kent State’s 11-3 season and MAC East title in 2012 is a distant memory. The Golden Flashes are 6-17 in two seasons under Paul Haynes and regressed from three MAC wins in 2013 to one in 2014 (over Akron by a field goal in the last game of the season). Improvement will be expected for the Flashes in the third season under Haynes, but they will need the offensive line to grow up fast and a veteran defense to improve to make a major move.

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Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2015 
 

The Kent State offense needs bruising 250-pound tailback Trayion Durham to return to his sophomore year form. In 2012, Durham teamed with Dri Archer (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers) to lead the Golden Flashes to the MAC East title and the school’s first bowl berth since 1972. But Durham was slowed by injuries in 2013 and held to 766 yards rushing. In 2014, a foot injury kept him out of all 11 games as KSU went 2–9. A healthy Durham and Nick Holley (team-high 516 yards rushing in 2014) could form a productive duo in the Golden Flashes backfield.

A potent running attack would take the pressure off junior quarterback Colin Reardon, who has had two inconsistent seasons as the starter. In 2014, Reardon threw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (14) and was the leader of an offense that ranked 12th in the MAC and 116th nationally in total yardage.

Reardon lost his two favorite targets in tight end Casey Pierce and receiver Chris Humphrey, but there is strength in numbers because coach Paul Haynes and his staff have recruited well at those positions. Look for strong seasons from Kris White, James Brooks, Ernest Calhoun and prized recruit Johnny Woods.

The line is bound to be improved since it was one of the youngest in the MAC last season. Seven of the 10 linemen on the two-deep from 2014 are back, and that doesn’t include senior right guard Anthony Pruitt, a former regular in the rotation who missed 2014 with an injury.

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 Kent State’s Defense for 2015 
 

There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the top 11 tacklers from 2014 are back, along with two starters who missed 2014. The bad news is the players on that defense were part of a group that allowed 430.3 yards per game. Still, coordinator Brian George expects major improvement throughout his defense because those players are one year older and have one year more experience.

The defense is led by what could be the best pair of safeties in the MAC. Junior free safety Nate Holley earned first-team all-conference honors in 2014 after recording 137 tackles, the most at KSU since 1996. Senior strong safety Jordan Italiano ranked second in tackles (96) and added three interceptions.

The front four will be led by tackles Nate Terhune and Chris Fairchild, who missed the 2014 season. Highly touted junior college transfer Anthony Johnson, a defensive end, will be expected to make a big contribution.

At linebacker, Matt Dellinger (third in tackles with 89) returns in the middle, and Elcee Refuge (fourth with 58) is back on the outside. Outside backer DeVante’ Strickland, who had 53 tackles as a starter in 2013, missed 2014 with an injury.

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

Previewing Kent State’s Specialists for 2015 
 

First-team All-MAC punter Anthony Melchiori had a 44.3-yard average, which was first in the conference and 12th nationally. He was not as productive as a placekicker, making 10-of-18 field goals, so he may be pushed by Brad Miller.

Final Analysis
 

The Golden Flashes have nowhere to go but up after beating only Army and Akron in their abbreviated 11-game 2014 schedule (they had a game snowed out). Haynes had big shoes to fill after replacing Darrell Hazell in 2013, and his two-year record of 6–17 places him on the hot seat.

Improvement does seem to be a given because so many starters return, along with a large group of reserves who saw extensive playing time. The keys on offense are improvement by Reardon at quarterback and a productive Durham-Holley running combination. The defense has plenty of experience but must get tougher, especially against the run. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#105 Buffalo Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#105

MAC East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Lance Leipold, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Andy Kotelnicki | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Borland

Lance Leipold joins the top rank of college football after winning at an elite level at Wisconsin-Water in Division III. He has some nice pieces at Buffalo to compete in the MAC, but he needs to prove his winning system can succeed at the FBS level.

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Previewing Buffalo’s Offense for 2015  
 

First-year head coach Lance Leipold’s transition from Division III to the FBS will be eased by the presence of two productive seniors in quarterback Joe Licata and tailback Anthone Taylor.

Licata, a fourth-year starter who is cool in the pocket and fundamentally sound, already holds the school record for touchdown passes (60), ranks third in career completions (543) and fourth in career passing yardage (6,516).

Taylor had huge shoes to fill in replacing Branden Oliver, the school’s career rushing leader. But when he received his shot as the primary back, he flourished by finishing with 1,403 yards, the second-highest mark in Buffalo history. Local product Jordan Johnson and versatile senior Devin Campbell, who will see time at slot receiver, will also be part of the running game.

There are enough experienced receivers at Licata’s disposal in Ron Willoughby, Jacob Martinez and Marcus McGill, not to mention tight end Matt Weiser and newcomer Collin Lisa, who transferred in from UAB. The Bulls tied for No. 3 in the MAC in total offense and should be extremely balanced once again.

The offensive line was hit hard by graduation with the loss of veterans Trevor Sales, Andre Davis and Jake Silas, and the returning players have done plenty of shuffling. Right tackle John Kling returns, while right guard Robert Blodgett has moved to left tackle. Brandon Manosalvas has moved from center to left guard and will be replaced in the middle by redshirt freshman James O’Hagan. Senior Dillon Guy gets the nod at right guard.

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 Buffalo’s Defense for 2015 
 

The Bulls, who shift from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3, return only three starters on defense. The defensive line has to be mostly rebuilt, although it returns Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse, who are moving inside from end. Sophomores Demone Harris and Solomon Jackson look to fill the vacant end spots.

There are also questions at linebacker, where Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner must be replaced. Jarrett Franklin is back, while Okezie Alozie moves from safety to linebacker. The two are the team’s top returning tacklers with 49 apiece.

Marqus Baker and Boise Ross are locks at cornerback. Baker missed seven games 2014 with an illness, which forced Ross to convert from wide receiver to fill in at corner. Although Baker has experience, he’s starting for the first time in his career. Buffalo needs to find a pair of safeties and will miss All-MAC selection Adam Redden. Andrews Dadeboe has played extended minutes, while Ryan Williamson played in all 11 games as a true freshman. Jordan Collier, another UAB transfer, figures to be in the mix at safety.

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

Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists for 2015  
 

The Bulls have to replace Patrick Clarke, who ranks second in program history in field goals. Adam Mitcheson, who redshirted as a freshman, assumes Clarke’s role, while Tyler Grassman is back for his fourth season at punter. Campbell is just 80 yards shy of the school record in career kick return yardage and could see time at punt returner as well.

Final Analysis
 

It was a surprise to see the abrupt ending to the Jeff Quinn era, especially one season removed from the second bowl appearance in school history. Replacing Quinn with Leipold was equally unforeseen, but the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach was without peer on the Division III level (109–6 in eight seasons). There will be an adjustment period for the defense, which has to learn a new scheme and must replace several key contributors. But the offense, led by the serene Licata, is as good as any in the MAC. The schedule is not easy, but the Bulls are certainly capable of being a factor in the MAC East Division.




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