Mountain West

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#101 UNLV Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#101

MW West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bobby Hauck, 13-38 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Timm Rosenbach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Hauck

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. 101 UNLV.

Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2014

Replacing a player who began last season as a backup wide receiver will arguably be the biggest key for the Rebels offensively. Caleb Herring took over at quarterback midway through the fourth game of the season and rallied UNLV to its first bowl game and winning season since 2000, breaking a number of school records in the process, including the single-season passing percentage mark (62.9) held for three decades by the legendary Randall Cunningham.

Junior Nick Sherry, who beat out Herring for the starting job as a freshman and also began last season as the starter, is battling junior college transfer Blake Decker for the starting job entering fall camp. Both had their moments during spring practice, but neither was impressive enough for coach Bobby Hauck to hand him the job.

The Rebels also must replace tailback Tim Cornett, a four-year starter who departed as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,733 yards, second-best in Mountain West history. Projected starter Adonis Smith left the team in early May, leaving senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence as the likely starter. Murray-Lawrence rushed for 418 yards in a reserve role last fall in his first season after transferring from junior college.

Senior Devante Davis, an NFL prospect who caught 87 passes for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, returns to anchor a veteran wide receiver corps.

The strength of the offense, if not the entire team, is a big, strong and physical offensive line that returns most of its key contributors, including left tackle Brett Boyko.

Previewing UNLV’s Defense for 2014

It’s taken a while, but the Rebels finally have developed some size and decent depth on this side of the ball. Now the question is whether that will translate into improvement statistically after UNLV allowed averages of 31.8 points and 215.5 yards rushing per game.

The Rebels use a 4-3 base defense led by three defensive ends — Sonny Sanitoa, Jordan Sparkman and Siuea Vaesau — who could line up for any team in the conference. But the Rebels must replace both starting tackles.

The linebacking corps, led by Tau Lotulelei, is young but athletic and will likely feature three sophomore starters.

The secondary, which made significant progress under the tutelage of Hauck’s brother, former NFL defensive backs coach Tim Hauck, returns three starters, including junior strong safety Peni Vea, who had a team-high 108 tackles and two interceptions, and senior corner Tajh Hasson, who forced a team-high four fumbles.

Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2014

The Rebels must replace placekicker Nolan Kohorst, a four-year starter who kicked 39 career field goals, and they thought they had his replacement when they landed local star Conor Perkins. But shortly after signing his letter of intent, Perkins informed UNLV that he had decided to take a two-year LDS Church mission before enrolling. Jonathan Leiva, a late junior college signee out of Palomar (Calif.) College, will be handed the job in the fall. Junior Logan Yunker returns to handle the punting.

Final Analysis

UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. However, in late June, the program won an appeal and is eligible to play in a bowl in 2014. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hope to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stand a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#118 Hawaii Warriors

NATIONAL FORECAST

#118

MW West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Norm Chow, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Norm Chow | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Clune

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. 118 Hawaii.

Previewing Hawaii’s Offense for 2014: 

Sophomore Ikaika Woolsey is positioned to be Hawaii’s fourth opening-day starting quarterback in as many seasons. Woolsey, who started two games in 2013 and played mostly cameo roles before taking the lead in the spring, gives the Rainbow Warriors their best combination of passing and running, which is why it is his job to lose.

But he won’t lack for competition. Taylor Graham, who started the 2013 season-opener before suffering a shoulder injury in the third game, should be healthy in the fall. Jeremy Higgins, who also has a start on his résumé, and one-time Colorado State signee Beau Reilly will be in the mix.

But there is no doubt who makes the running game go — senior tailback Joey Iosefa, who came back from a foot injury that caused him to miss all or most of eight games to rush for 586 yards and five touchdowns in the final four games. His return coincided with Hawaii’s late-season offensive surge. Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste will spell Iosefa.

The arrival of Quinton Pedroza, a transfer from Utah, adds some much-needed depth to the receiver corps, where Scott Harding, Vasquez Haynes and Keith Kirkwood should be the main targets. If Jordan Pu’u-Robinson can stay healthy — a big if — the tight end position will be a big part of the offense.

In an effort to shore up an offensive line that allowed 43 sacks, the team’s best lineman, two-year starting center Ben Clarke, could find himself at tackle this year. Steady Kody Afusia would move from left guard to center.

Previewing Hawaii's Defense for 2014:

When defensive coordinator Kevin Clune arrived from Utah State, he took on one of the biggest challenges in the country. Clune inherits a defense that ranked among the worst in the nation in several key categories.

The undertaking begins with the switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 to take advantage of one of Hawaii’s few strengths on defense, its linebackers. The unit, which has both size and speed, received an additional boost when UCLA transfer Jeremy Castro was granted immediate eligibility. Jerrol Garcia-Williams is a leading returnee, and Julian Gener was off to a big start in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury.

Second-team All-MW defensive end Beau Yap sets the standard on the defensive line, where sophomore Kennedy Tulimasealii is ready to come into his own and Moses Samia and Marcus Malepeai will also play key roles. The secondary will be built around cornerbacks Ne’Quan Phillips and Dee Maggitt and safeties Marrell Jackson, Trayvon Henderson and Kawika Borden. But depth remains an issue in the pass-happy Mountain West, and redshirt freshman Keelan Ewaliko could make a big contribution.

Previewing Hawaii’s Specialists for 2014:

In his addition to his duties as a wide receiver, Harding is a valuable special teams contributor. The former Australian Rules rugby pro punted and returned punts last season, and for a time he was also a holder on placements. As an ambidextrous rugby-style kicker, his roll-outs kept foes off balance, resulting in three fumbles and helping UH rank 25th nationally in net punting. Placekicker Tyler Hadden converted only 7-of-13 attempts last season, including 2-of-3 from beyond 40 yards. 

Final Analysis

After the worst two-season start (4–20) ever for a Hawaii head coach, the pressure is on for Norm Chow to show major improvement in 2014. That, however, will not be easy. The schedule is difficult — especially early with three Pac-12 opponents in the season’s first month — and there are significant personnel issues on both sides of the ball. The Rainbow Warriors appear headed toward another last-place finish.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#106 New Mexico Lobos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#106

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Bob Davie, 7-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob DeBesse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Cosgrove

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. 106 New Mexico.

Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2014

For a team that ran the ball 77 percent of the time in 2013, losing your No. 1 running back is probably not a good thing. But New Mexico remains confident that its triple-option attack out of the Pistol formation will remain potent even without Kasey Carrier, who averaged 1,296 rushing yards the last two seasons. The Lobos’ top returning rusher, Crusoe Gongbay, is facing some legal issues that could jeopardize his senior season. If he’s not available, Jhurell Pressley, one of the team’s fastest players, and Teriyon Gipson will battle in preseason camp for the starting assignment. Pressley averaged 9.4 yards per carry in limited action in 2013.

At quarterback, option specialist Cole Gautsche is back with hopes of improving his 44.9 percent completion percentage. Gautsche is a powerful runner who racked up 86.3 yards per game and ran for eight touchdowns, but he has had some concussion issues. Senior Clayton Mitchem subbed for Gautsche when Gautsche was hurt or the option was being stifled last year and had a much better completion percentage (59.3 percent). Mitchem, however, is not as much of a threat to run.

Three starters return on the offensive line, and center Garrett Adcock, who started eight games in 2012, is back from injury. Optimism is high that the Lobos’ strong option attack, which was fourth nationally and first in the Mountain West at 308.8 rushing yards per game, will remain potent.

Six of New Mexico’s top seven pass-catchers return, with Marquis Bundy the top candidate to have a breakout season.

Previewing New Mexico’s Defense for 2014

It was no secret that the focus of the spring was improving a defense that was shredded for 42.8 points per game and gave up 56 or more three times. Coach Bob Davie promoted Kevin Cosgrove as his new coordinator and brought in two new assistants on the defensive side of the ball. Six starters return in the 3-4 scheme, including virtually the entire secondary.

Along the defensive line, senior end Brett Bowers is an all-league candidate after making six sacks. The Lobos are bringing in three run-stuffing junior college defensive tackles to help a defense that surrendered 257.2 yards per game on the ground.

Dakota Cox is back at inside linebacker after leading the team in tackles as a true freshman, and on the outside Javarie Johnson, Donnie White and Tevin Newman showed flashes in 2013.

The secondary hopes to cut down the number of long scoring passes (New Mexico gave up 10 TD receptions of 30-plus yards in 2013). Senior David Guthrie, the team’s third-leading tackler, is trying to play a more aggressive style from his strong safety spot. SaQwan Edwards, a returning starter at cornerback, was suspended from the team in April. His loss would be a big blow for the defense.

Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2014

With both kickers gone, Davie signed Jason Sanders to possibly take over both jobs in the fall. Sanders averaged 45 yards per punt and made 7-of-12 field goals as a high school senior. Zack Rogers (kicker) and Sam Gentry (punter) also got looks in spring practice. Wide receiver Carlos Wiggins led the nation with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and was sixth nationally with a 29.6-yard average.

Final Analysis

Davie has seen mild progress with seven wins in his first two years after taking over a program that went 3–33 in the previous three years. But he and his coaching staff know that there is a long way to go for the Lobos to compete in the upper half of the Mountain West. The offense should again be above average. The relative success of 2014 will be determined by what type of progress the defense can make.




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