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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.