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#114 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors





HEAD COACH: Norm Chow, 8-29 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Don Bailey | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Mason

Norm Chow has seemingly been on the hot seat since arriving at Hawaii. However, this appears to be his most talented team in his four-year stint with the Warriors. With a challenging non-conference schedule and a crossover game in league play against Boise State, Chow will have to prove his 12 returning starters will be enough for him to keep his job on the Islands.

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Previewing Hawaii’s Offense for 2015  

The only constant in Hawaii’s offense, it seems, has been change. This year, change comes in the form of yet another offensive play caller and, potentially, a fifth different starting quarterback to open the season in the past five years.

This time, the keys have been handed to up-tempo coordinator Don Bailey, who comes over from Idaho State. His Bengals topped the FCS in passing yards per game (348.1) in 2014.

Ikaika Woolsey has started 14 games over two seasons at quarterback, but the battle for the job with senior USC transfer Max Wittek may go well into the summer. Former Colorado State signee Beau Reilly is also in the mix.

The quarterback will operate behind an experienced line that includes 59 starts among Ben Clarke, Dejon Allen, Brenden Urban, Elijah Tupai and John Wa’a. Clarke, the team’s best and most versatile lineman, has double-digit starts at both center and tackle.

Steven Lakalaka, who held down the running back position during Joey Iosefa’s absences the last two seasons, has the opportunity to take over full time with Iosefa’s departure. Pereese Joas and Diocemy Saint Juste provide speedy alternatives to the power running of Lakalaka and junior college transfer Melvin Davis.

If pass catchers Vasquez Haynes and Devan Stubblefield are able to return to health after missing 2014, the Warriors will be set at receiver. Quinton Pedroza and Marcus Kemp had 115 receptions and six touchdowns between them in 2014.

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 Hawaii’s Defense for 2015 

The Warriors lost the teeth of their defense — the front seven — from last season, and regaining some of that bite in a hurry is job one for new defensive coordinator Tom Mason. The mission is given additional urgency by a schedule that sends UH on the road against three very physical top-25 teams — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State — in an early four-week stretch.

Kennedy Tulimasealii is poised for a breakout year, and Luke Shawley should thrive in Mason’s scheme of relentless blitzes. But the Warriors need to find a space-eating plug in the middle from among Penitito Faalologo, Kory Rasmussen and incoming transfer Nikko Taylor, as well as depth across the line.

Simon Poti, the Warriors’ leading returner in tackles (63), joins Lance Williams and Benetton Fonua in anchoring the linebacking corps.

The Warriors’ deepest position appears to be safety, where Trayvon Henderson, Marrell Jackson and Daniel Lewis have 31 career starts among them, and redshirt freshman Dany Mulanga had an eye-opening spring. Returning starters at cornerback Ne’Quan Phillips and Nick Nelson make this a strong secondary

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

Previewing Hawaii’s Specialists for 2015  

Hawaii will find out just how valuable its two-time team MVP, do-it-all Scott Harding, really was. Harding handled punting, punt returns, was a receiver and also served as a holder for a time. Freshman Alexander Trifonovitch figures to wind up with the punting job, while Aaron Novoa gets first shot at plackekicker. Paul Harris, Keelan Ewaliko, Saint Juste and Joas will compete for the return duties.

Final Analysis

This shapes up as the most talented team in head coach Norm Chow’s four seasons in the islands, but the Warriors’ shaky depth will be sorely tested in a 13-game schedule that is bereft of an open date and includes Colorado, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State in the first five weeks. If they can survive that gauntlet in relative health, there is an outside shot at ending the Warriors’ streak of four consecutive losing seasons. If not, then Chow, who is 8–29 in his first head coaching job and has a $200,000 buy-out clause in his contract, likely won’t be around to finish his five-year assignment.


#122 UNLV Rebels





HEAD COACH: Tony Sanchez, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Barney Cotton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer

UNLV made arguably one of the biggest coaching gambles of the offseason when it hired the wildly successful Tony Sanchez from Bishop Gorman. The high school ranks have been a good place to grab assistants (Chad Morris, Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze) but not necessarily head coaches (Todd Dodge). Former coach Bobby Hauck brought one bowl season and four 10-loss seasons in four years, so clearly UNLV is rolling the dice that the Sanchez move will inject some life into one of college football’s worst programs.

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Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2015 

First-year coach Tony Sanchez won a mythical national high school championship at nearby Bishop Gorman in 2014 with a run-first philosophy. He and veteran offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, who spent the past eight years as associate head coach and run game coordinator at Nebraska, share similar philosophies and will try to add some muscle to a Rebel offense that ranked 104th nationally in scoring (21.9 ppg).

Senior Blake Decker, who finished fourth in the Mountain West in total offense but threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15), returns at quarterback but was pushed strongly by junior college transfer Kurt Palandech in spring practice.

The strength of the offense will be wide receiver, where Devonte Boyd, who grabbed a team-best 65 passes for 980 yards and four touchdowns, returns after earning Freshman All-America honors. Kendal Keys also impressed while catching 24 passes as a freshman, and Sanchez also expects big things from highly touted incoming freshmen Brandon Presley and Darren Woods Jr.

The offensive line must be rebuilt after losing a pair of four-year starters in tackle Brett Boyko and center Robert Waterman. Will Kreitler, a second team NJCAA All-American, was impressive in spring drills and is expected to be the anchor along with Kyle Saxelid, who made five starts as a true freshman at left tackle.

Junior Keith Whitely, who ran for 504 yards and scored two touchdowns, is the team’s top returning rusher, but he is expected to be pushed by talented incoming freshmen Xzaviar Campbell and Lexington Thomas in the fall.

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 UNLV’s Defense for 2015  

Kent Baer, who has been a defensive coordinator at 10 FBS schools, including Notre Dame, Arizona State and Stanford, comes over from Colorado. He will have his hands full trying to turn around a defense that allowed 38.5 points and 293.8 yards rushing per game a year ago.

The Rebels do have a couple of talented pieces to build around in junior linebacker Tau Lotulelei and senior free safety Peni Vea, who combined for 188 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Lotulelei is one of three returning starters on an athletic unit that has good depth and is expected to be the strength of the defense. Vea, who tied for second in the Mountain West in tackles by defensive backs, is the lone returning starter in a secondary that yielded 25 touchdowns while coming up with just seven interceptions. That unit should get a boost from touted junior college corner Jay’Onn Myles, who turned down Arizona and Baylor to sign with the Rebels.

The key will be the development of a young defensive line that returns just one starter in senior end Sonny Sanitoa. Sanchez was impressed by tackles Tuli Fakauho and Mike Hughes during the spring and believes junior college transfer Mark Finau and true freshman Salanoa-Alo Wily will be key additions in the fall.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2015  

Senior Logan Yunker returns after placing 30 kicks inside the 20 and adding 14 punts of 50 yards or more last season. Nicolai Bornand  and Jonathan Leiva both return after sharing placekicking duties. Whitley will be among those battling for return duties in the fall.

Final Analysis

The energetic Sanchez, who won six straight state titles at Bishop Gorman and has strong backing from the Las Vegas community, now tries to make the big jump to Division-I football. He takes over a sputtering UNLV program that has lost 10 or more games in six of the last nine seasons and faces a daunting schedule that includes non-conference games against UCLA, Michigan and Northern Illinois. Avoiding double digits in losses again this season would be a major accomplishment.


#101 Fresno State Bulldogs



Mountain West PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Tim DeRuyter , 26-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Schramm | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Toth

The post-Derek Carr era did not get off to a good start for Fresno State last season. The Bulldogs went 6-8 in 2014, as Tim DeRuyter's team struggled to both score points and keep the opposition out of the end zone. Fresno State is still unsettled at quarterback, but a relatively weak Mountain West West Division should help the Bulldogs' chances of getting back to the postseason.

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Previewing Fresno State’s Offense for 2015  

Finding Derek Carr’s successor at quarterback was supposed to be last year’s storyline. Twelve months later, the Bulldogs are still searching. It won’t be Brian Burrell. Fresno State’s primary starter in 2014 opted not to return, leaving the passing game in the hands of a sophomore (Zack Greenlee), a redshirt freshman (Kilton Anderson) and a true freshman who enrolled early (Chason Virgil). That trio shared snaps in the spring with all three getting a chance to direct the first-team offense. Greenlee, who in his lone career start got benched at halftime, looked the sharpest during scrimmages. The battle will resume in August.

Shaky quarterback play was just one reason the Bulldogs ranked ninth in the Mountain West Conference in passing efficiency and last in yards per attempt — and that was with top receiver Josh Harper. With Harper gone and Delvon Hardaway expected to miss the first part of the season after partially tearing his ACL, senior Aaron Peck needs to finally fulfill his potential. A talented group of redshirt freshmen led by KeeSean Johnson and Keyan Williams catching on quickly would also help.

The new quarterback will have the luxury of handing off to senior tailback Marteze Waller, who broke out in a big way a year ago with 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the 5'11", 210-pounder had better stay healthy, because the only experienced legs behind Waller’s belong to the oft-injured Malique Micenheimer. The coaches didn’t feel like taking chances in spring and held Waller out of all contact.

Tackles Alex Fifita and Justin Northern and center Bo Bonnheim enter their senior seasons as third-year starters. Fifita is the best of the group, a brawler with nimble feet who projects as an NFL 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 Fresno State’s Defense for 2015 

When a defense that got torched for 32.4 points and 456 yards per game graduates its two best players (Tyeler Davison and Derron Smith), it’s time to reevaluate things. So that’s what coordinator Nick Toth did. He took 10 of the 11 starting spots and threw them open to competition.

Senior inside linebacker Kyrie Wilson was the one guy spared an audition, but he’ll switch to the “Mike” position on the strong side. Look for the athletic 6'2", 238-pounder to make bushels of tackles. Two other presumed starters, outside linebacker Ejiro Ederaine and cornerback Charles Washington, are expected back this fall following offseason surgeries. The health of both is critical.

The coaches are high on Nate Madsen, Davison’s successor at nose guard, but other than 292-pound end Claudell Louis there isn’t much size up front. Secondary play has been spotty, especially at cornerback, but there’s more depth and experience than in recent seasons. The Bulldogs did more tackling this spring, Toth’s attempt to fix what has been a glaring weakness.

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

Previewing Fresno State’s Specialists for 2015  

With a walk-on freshman placekicker, Fresno State didn’t have a ton of confidence in its kicking game a year ago. So even though Kody Kroening has improved, junior college signee Jimmy Camacho is expected to win the job in fall camp. Senior Garrett Swanson returns at punter and should cede kickoff duties to Camacho. The return game also gets revamped behind redshirt freshmen Jamire Jordan and Williams.

Final Analysis
Unlike last season, no one’s talking about defending (or even winning) a Mountain West championship. Instead, the total focus has been on fundamentals and competition. Normally, that wouldn’t bode well for a team’s success, but the West Division isn’t exactly a juggernaut. If the Bulldogs can avoid an 0–2 start in conference play, they’ll remain in contention for the division crown until late November.


#110 San Jose State Spartans





HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, 9-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Al Borges | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Robinson

The Spartans are looking to take a big step forward in Ron Caragher's third season. He has a lot of young talent to build upon but it may take time for this roster to come into its own. San Jose State has a tough schedule in the Mountain West and big holes to plug on defense and under center.

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Previewing San Jose’s Offense for 2015  

To say that the Spartans offense sputtered late last season is to give them a pass. San Jose State lost its last six games of 2014, scoring only 14 points in their last three games. Quarterback play was a major contributor to the problem. Senior Blake Jurich won the job but then lost it to Joe Gray, who then lost it to Mitch Ravizza, who then lost it to Gray.

Gray has claim to the job in 2015, but with two junior college transfers (Kenny Potter and Malik Watson) behind him, his leash will likely be short. Last year, he threw for 2,305 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Gray will have a young but experienced offensive line in front of him and a bevy of playmakers around him to help find cohesion under new offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Tyler Ervin is the Spartans’ most interesting weapon. On a team with a nice stable of running backs and a load of possession receivers, Ervin carries the most big-play potential. He averaged 5.6 yards on his 158 rushing attempts (888 yards) and also caught 29 passes.

The Spartans also signed one of the best recruiting classes — if not the single best — among mid-major schools, punching way above their weight, especially with players on the outside of the field. If the Spartans offense isn’t clicking heading into conference play, there could be a flood of young, talented players injected into the depth chart.

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 San Jose’s Defense for 2015 

Last season, the Spartans had one of the nation’s best pass defenses and worst run defenses. That makes losses on an already bad defensive line especially concerning. But it’s also possible that the turnover is good for the Spartans on the line — the guys up front weren’t getting it done last season, allowing 239 rushing yards per game while amassing only 46 tackles for a loss (123rd nationally).

The linebacking corps looks to be a strength, especially with the return of Christian Tago and Hawaii transfer Jared Leaf, who sat out last year. Freshman Frank Ginda has the potential to make an immediate impact.

But the linebackers pale in comparison to the real strength of the Spartans defense — the secondary — as if the run/pass disparity from last year didn’t make that already known. Supremely talented, the secondary is also young. It’s led by sophomore safety Maurice McKnight, who had five pass breakups, accounted for nearly 10 percent of the team’s tackles and had two sacks in his rookie campaign. With corners Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace (combined 21 pass breakups last year) and senior free safety Simon Connette, there’s not much ground that won’t be covered. If anyone passes on the Spartans, that is.

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

Previewing San Jose’s Specialists for 2015  

Recruiting prowess should shore up the Spartans coverage units, which is a major point of concern last season. If they can make space, Ervin’s presence in the return game can bear more fruit. Last season the open-field playmaker was able to return only one punt for a touchdown. 

Final Analysis

This year is setting up to be a bridge between the old and new for San Jose State. The Spartans’ tremendous recruiting class will filter its way onto the field throughout the year; but while those players find their footing, there are questions at quarterback and on the defensive line that will likely hold the Spartans back. Add in a tough schedule, and bowl eligibility looks like it will be a major accomplishment in 2015. But with youth at strength positions, and the best infusion of youth the program has ever known ready to fill the gaps, the future looks bright in 2016 and beyond. 


#96 New Mexico Lobos





HEAD COACH: Bob Davie, 11-26 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob DeBesse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Cosgrove

A favorable schedule could help New Mexico get to six wins and a possible bowl invite. The key for the Lobos is whether the offense can continue to pile up the rushing yards and if the defense can get a little stinger when it comes to points allowed. If everything comes together, Bob Davie's team could go bowling for the first time since 2007.

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Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2015  

When there are questions at quarterback, it seldom bodes well. For New Mexico, however, the consequences of not having a locked-in starter might not be as damaging as for most teams, thanks to a rushing attack that averaged over 300 yards per game last season. Four offensive linemen with starting experience return, as does 1,000-yard rusher Jhurell Pressley.

The challenge for coach Bob Davie is to complement the option-oriented attack from the Pistol formation with a passing game that can be counted on. Lamar Jordan started the final four games of 2014 and played in seven others, and his ability to run (612 yards, 5.1 yards per carry) is superior to his ability to throw (53 percent completions, six TDs, five INTs). Still, Davie likes Jordan’s competitiveness, which showed itself in the two fourth-quarter road comebacks he engineered.

Jordan’s competition is Austin Apodaca, a junior college transfer who originally signed with Washington State. Apodaca is a pure passer who has never run much. At Mesa Community College in 2014, he threw for more yards (2,534) and touchdowns (27) than New Mexico has in the past two seasons combined. The hope is that one of the two quarterbacks gives an untested receiving corps more opportunity to shine and gives the offense a chance to stretch the field and convert more on third down.

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 New Mexico’s Defense for 2015 

In an effort to aid a pass defense that was ranked 92nd in the nation last season, New Mexico is switching to a 3-3-5 base formation. The fifth defensive back, or “Lobo,” will be manned by either Ricky Bennett (who saw action in all 11 games as a backup in 2014) or Lee Crosby (who redshirted after a two-year stint in junior college). Both are physical defensive backs who should be able to provide ample run support.

Corners Cranston Jones and Jadon Boatwright both have starting experience, and Isaiah Brown has shown flashes. Safety Markel Byrd is a returning starter but is behind Ryan Santos on the depth chart. The defense’s best player, linebacker Dakota Cox, is hoping to be ready for the season-opener after tearing his ACL in November. Cox led the nation in tackles per game (12.9) as a sophomore before his injury. Returning starters Kimmie Carson and Donnie White will fill out the other two linebacker spots as New Mexico goes from starting four to three.

The defensive line welcomes back some experience. End Nik D’Avanzo is the top player on the line, while William Udeh and Cole Juarez form a strong nose tackle combo.

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

Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2015  

Kickoff returns have been a specialty for New Mexico since Davie took over. The Lobos have returned seven for scores in the last three years, including two last season. Speedy Ridge Jones and Carlos Wiggins figure to man those duties. Zack Rogers handled punting (42.6-yard average) and field goal duties (5-for-8) last season. Kickoff specialist Jason Sanders appears ready to take over field-goal duties, which would allow Rogers to focus on punting.

Final Analysis
New Mexico faces five teams that won four or fewer games last season, plus FCS member Mississippi Valley State, so getting to six wins is not an impossible task. Should Apodaca adjust to the running portion of the offense and create a legitimate passing attack, New Mexico is going to score enough to win some games.

Defensively, the team gave up more than 28 points per game against unranked opponents, a number that simply has to come down. A bowl game is the ceiling for this year’s team, but it is a ceiling that at least appears to be reachable for the first time in the Davie era.


#95 Wyoming Cowboys





HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

For the first time in five seasons, a Craig Bohl-coached team did not finish with a winning record. Now with a year under his belt at Wyoming and in FBS, Bohl will try to improve upon the four wins the Cowboys picked up in 2014. Familiarity with the coaching staff and playbook should help, but Wyoming returns just nine starters and is probably at least one more season away from earning bowl eligibility, let alone being a legitimate threat in the Mountain West.

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Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2015  

There should be more familiarity on offense as coach Craig Bohl enters his second season, but there will be a new quarterback. Senior Cameron Coffman was named the starter after the Cowboys’ first scrimmage of spring drills. The Indiana transfer completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore with the Hoosiers in 2012 but played in only three games as a junior.

Wyoming may have the top running back duo in the Mountain West in senior Shaun Wick and sophomore Brian Hill. Wick missed most of four games, but the pair combined for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The Cowboys also use fullbacks, and the top two are sophomore Drew Van Maanen and junior Jordan Ellis.

Juniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt are the Cowboys’ leading returning receivers. The duo combined for 53 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Wyoming needs more depth, and that will have to come from players who are new to the college game. Junior Jacob Hollister, a former quarterback, led all tight ends last season with 17 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

Three starting offensive linemen return, led by junior guard Chase Roullier, an honorable mention All-Mountain West pick last season.

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 Wyoming’s Defense for 2015 

The front four looks to be the strength of a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 430.8 yards per game last season. Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-MW selection after leading the way with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Senior Siaosi Hala’api’api mans the other defensive end spot, and juniors Uso Olive and Chase Appleby figure to be the top two guys inside.

Bohl says Wyoming is “almost starting at ground zero” at linebacker. Junior Lucas Wacha is the only experienced player on the roster. The younger brother of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha has 140 tackles in the last two years. Wacha could play in the middle or outside but is undersized at about 220 pounds. Senior Malkaam Muhammad dislocated his elbow last season and missed most of spring with an injured shoulder. Others in the mix are playing the position for the first time. Former safeties Will Tutein and Tim Kamana both figure to play outside. Junior Eric Nzeocha was moved from tight end and could play in the middle, as could senior walk-on Devin McKenna.

The secondary also has plenty of uncertainty. Senior cornerback Tyran Finley led the team with only two interceptions, both in the same game. Sophomore Robert Priester likely will be the other starting corner despite undergoing offseason knee surgery. The two safety spots will be manned by new faces. Redshirt freshmen Chavez Pownell Jr. and Adam Pilapil (a walk-on) had good springs. Senior Chad Reese, who returned after a year away, and former running back D.J. May are also in the mix.

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

Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2015  

Junior punter Ethan Wood enters his third season on the job and averaged 41.4 yards last season. Who will handle the kicking duties is uncertain. Junior Justin Martin is in the mix, and true freshman walk-on Tristan Bailey should compete for the job in fall camp. Wick, Hill, May and Priester all will compete to be Wyoming’s kickoff and punt returners.

Final Analysis

Wyoming is still a work in progress after switching offensive and defensive philosophies when Bohl was hired. More development should occur this season with a more manageable schedule, but the Cowboys are still a couple of years away from being serious contenders in the Mountain West. 


#91 Nevada Wolf Pack





HEAD COACH: Brian Polian , 11-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Boone

Nevada returned to the postseason in Brian Polian's second season at the helm. Now the challenge for the Wolf Pack will be to maintain that same level of success with uncertainty at quarterback, along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Can the defense, which returns five starters in the front seven, carry Nevada back to a bowl game?

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Previewing Nevada’s Offense for 2015  

With three primary starters in 11 years, Nevada has had uncommon stability at quarterback. Who’s next? Well, that remains an open question.

Junior Tyler Stewart is the modest favorite in a three-way competition to start the season. Stewart is the only quarterback with college game experience on the Nevada roster, completing 21-of-37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns in his career. But Stewart lacks the mobility that has become the calling card of Nevada quarterbacks in the Pistol offense.

He could cede the position to either sophomore Danté Mayes, who has plenty of mobility and impressed during spring workouts, or redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick. Fralick was a prized local recruit last year, and the dual-threat might have the highest upside of the three.

Even with Cody Fajardo, the passing game struggled at times last year, averaging 99 yards per game during a 1–2 finish. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of Hasaan Henderson, a big-bodied receiver whose season ended with a scary head and spinal concussion. But the all-conference candidate is healthy and appears ready to lead a receiving unit that has just three upperclassmen.

Don Jackson, who amassed 957 yards and seven scores on 216 carries, and sophomore James Butler, who ran for 635 yards and five scores on 140 carries, should take pressure off the passing game. But they’ll need holes from a front that is a work in progress. Two starters return from an offensive line that was inconsistent last year, and questions remain at center and 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 Nevada’s Defense for 2015 

The front seven is a clear strength with five starters returning. The Pack essentially have four starting linebackers at three spots with Jordan Dobrich, Matthew Lyons and Bryan Lane all returning. Faigofie Faaituala steps in as the fourth backer, but Nevada will need to fill the leadership void from the departed starter Jon McNeal.

On the line, senior end Ian Seau (nephew of late NFL Hall of Famer Junior Seau) had a breakout season in 2014, leading the team in sacks (8.5) and tackles for a loss (10.5). Lenny Jones will anchor the other end of the line, and fellow senior Rykeem Yates is among the best tackles in the league. The team is high on redshirt freshmen Malik Reed and Korey Rush, who will get some time along with emerging sophomore Patrick Choudja.

Nevada will need that front seven to produce a steady pass rush because the secondary is very young and inexperienced. All four starting spots will be up for grabs in fall camp. Kendall Johnson played at corner as a true freshman last year and has moved inside to safety this season, with redshirt freshman Asauni Rufus and sophomore Teré Calloway battling for time. Junior Randy Uzoma had a strong spring and appears ready to ascend to a starting spot at corner, and redshirt freshman Elijah Moody could lock down the other spot.

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

Previewing Nevada’s Specialists for 2015  

The kicking game should be stable with junior placekicker Brent Zuzo (14-of-18 field goals) and junior punter Alex Boy (44.3 yards per punt) returning. Junior Elijah Mitchell should be the primary kick returner after averaging 24.8 yards per return. The speedy Mitchell is one of the favorites to handle punt returns along with junior wideout Jerico Richardson.

Final Analysis

With questions at quarterback, offensive line and receiver, Nevada will rely on its improving defense. Still, there will be bumps.

San Diego State is the favorite in the West Division, but Nevada isn’t far behind. A favorable home conference slate should help Nevada land a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years.


#83 Air Force Falcons





HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 59-44 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ

Air Force soared to a somewhat surprising 10 wins last season, including a victory over Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl. Winning is nothing new for the Falcons under Troy Calhoun, and the offense should once again be productive thanks to one of the nation's top rushing attacks. The key to this season, however, is the other side of the ball, where just four starters return from a defense that was among the best in the Mountain West in 2014.

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Previewing Air Force’s Offense for 2015

For the first time since 2012, there’s no drama at quarterback. Nate Romine spent almost all of 2014 as a spectator after starting in 2013, but he delivered a huge splash in his one meaningful appearance, leading the Falcons to victory over nationally ranked Colorado State. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who’s a better passer than runner, but he understands how to operate the complex triple-option, run-first attack.

The Falcons are deep at fullback with D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern, both big, brutish and surprisingly elusive. Runs up the middle will be common, and coaches are trying to find ways to place both fullbacks on the field.

Jacobi Owens broke the 1,000-yard mark before suffering a season-ending injury to his right foot, but he often showed an unfortunate knack for turning an 8-yard gain into a 5-yard gain. He needs to show more imagination and daring this season. Owens will lead a deep, if underwhelming, set of tailbacks.

Romine’s set of receivers is so athletic it creates confusion. Why did wide receivers Jalen Robinette, Garrett Brown and tight end Garrett Griffin choose to play at Run University? Robinette, a high school quarterback, averaged 19 yards per catch last season while still learning his position. He’s a dominating blocker and could become the Mountain West’s most dangerous receiver.

The line was depleted by graduation, but expect superb and consistent blocking. Line coach Clay Hendrix is one of the nation’s top assistants, and he’s an expert at replacing lost parts. Tackle Matt Rochell and guard Andrew Ruechel will anchor the line.

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

Previewing Air Force’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.

The Falcons vaulted from two wins in 2013 to 10 wins in 2014 largely because of hustling, surprisingly violent defenders. Air Force allowed 40 points per game in 2013 but cut the number to 24.2 in 2014. Seven starters are gone, including linebacker Jordan Pierce, a clutch, big-hit specialist.

Alex Hansen is an undersized yet ferocious defensive end who plays with the same wisdom and fire as Ben Garland, the former cadet who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Hansen will need all his experience to escape constant double teams.

The Healy brothers, Patrick and Connor, lead a depleted group of linebackers. Dexter Walker, a converted defensive back, will play outside linebacker at just over 200 pounds. He personifies the team’s profile. The Falcons are always undersized.

Strong safety Weston Steelhammer is fast, a ballhawk and capable of knockout hits, but he’s surrounded by question marks. The suspension of cornerback Gavin McHenry is a severe blow. He is expected to miss at least half the season.

Previewing Air Force’s Specialists for 2015

Placekicking was a catastrophe in spring practice. Drew Oehrle is the leading candidate to replace Will Conant, one of the nation’s most accurate kickers, but a freshman could emerge as the starter. Brett Dunn leads the field of punters.

Final Analysis

The Falcons averaged 31.5 points per game in 2014. That number could jump to near 40 this season. The fullbacks and receivers are at historical strength, and if opposing defensive coordinators stack against the run, Romine owns the arm power and accuracy to torch defensive backs.

But can the defense keep opposing offenses in check? The Falcons win, and win big, when their undersized defenders consistently keep opponents under 25 points per game.

Expect the Falcons to rush to a winning record, which would be the seventh in nine seasons under coach Troy Calhoun, but the youthful defense must quickly jell for the Falcons to again flirt with 10 wins.