Mountain West

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#49 Utah State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#49

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Matt Wells, 9-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin McGiven, Luke Wells | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando

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. 49 Utah State.

Previewing Utah State’s Offense for 2014:

Two of Utah State’s top players on offense happen to play the same position — quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Darell Garretson. Keeton, a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate a year ago, went down with a knee injury in the sixth game last fall. Garretson, a true freshman in 2013, went 6–1 as a starter. Those two combined to lead the offense to five single-season school records. Keeton missed spring drills but is on track to return to full speed in time for camp.

Protecting the signal-caller will be the biggest challenge, as five seniors graduated from the offensive line, including four starters. Left tackle Kevin Whimpey has started 26 straight games and will provide leadership. “I’ve been pleasantly pleased with the offensive line,” Utah State coach Matt Wells says. “Our guys are talented. They are just youthful and inexperienced.”

Like the quarterback, the starting running back is coming back from a knee injury. Joe Hill missed the last nine games and spring. He will be pushed by Rashad Hall and Kennedy Williams, the little brother of Kerwynn Williams, a former Aggie who is now with the San Diego Chargers.

Two key receivers return in Bruce “JoJo” Natson and Brandon Swindall. Several new players shined in the spring, and the coach is excited about the guys who will be catching passes.

“Potentially, this could be one of our more talented groups at wideout here in a long time,” Wells says.

Previewing Utah State’s Defense for 2014:

Wells has preached that defense wins championships, and this side of the ball certainly had a big part in the Aggies winning the Mountain Division title in 2013. Utah State’s defense ranked seventh nationally in scoring (17.1 ppg), eighth in rushing (106.7 ypg), 12th in total defense (330.9 ypg) and 15th in passing efficiency defense (113.2).
The linebacker corps will lead the way again as two all-league players return in Kyler Fackrell and Zach Vigil, whose younger brother Nick became a starter toward the end of last year.

“We’ve been really good on defense the last two years, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be again this year,” Wells says. “I think we have one of the best, if not the best linebacking corps in the Mountain West.”

Up front, only one starter is back in B.J. Larsen, but a number of players saw action. The coach likes the depth and believes the line will be solid. The secondary took a hit from graduation as four key players are gone. Safety Brian Suite will be counted on to provide leadership. Wells says that the key to the defense being an “elite” group will be the progress of the secondary.

Previewing Utah State’s Specialists for 2014:

Nick Diaz, who made 17-of-23 field-goal attempts, returns. Punter Jaron Bentrude is back as well. He averaged 39.8 yards per kick. The Aggies ranked in the top half of the league in both kickoff and punt returns.

Final Analysis 

Expectations just keep growing for the Aggies. In their first year in the Mountain West, they made it to the inaugural league championship game after capturing the Mountain Division. The largest crowd to attend a spring game turned out in April, and the second-year coach received a contract extension through 2018. USU has been to three straight bowls — something never before accomplished at the school — winning the last two.

Wells lost two assistants on the defensive side, but the transition with the new coaches went smoothly in the spring. There are some challenges with the schedule: The Aggies travel to Tennessee, Arkansas State and BYU in non-conference action and end the season with a trip to Boise State. Another bowl berth and 10 wins are reasonable goals in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Boise State Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

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. 46 Boise State.

Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2014:

New coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 2006-10, and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, a former Boise State quarterback and Stanford assistant, hope to revive an offense that was one of college football’s signature units for a decade. The Broncos tumbled to 54th in the nation in scoring (30.2 ppg) in 2012, when they failed to score an offensive touchdown twice, and improved to 19th (37.5 ppg) in 2013, when they still struggled mightily against quality defenses.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick is the starter after taking the vast majority of snaps in the last seven games last season. He produced 22 total touchdowns but also nine turnovers.

He is surrounded by three dynamic playmakers who need some help to emerge in fall camp. Junior tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last season; senior wide receiver Matt Miller is on pace to break the school record for career receptions and finished last season on a crazy roll (636 yards, 10 TDs in five games); and junior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes is a slippery 5'6" dynamo. Harsin and Sanford expect to bring the tight end back to its former glory in the Broncos’ offense, and their leading candidate is redshirt freshman Jake Roh, a spring standout.

The offensive line is a major question mark. Two starters return but have changed positions — junior Marcus Henry from guard to center and junior Rees Odhiambo from right tackle to left tackle. The other three starters likely will come from the freshman and sophomore classes.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2014:

The Broncos’ usually dominant defense also fell on hard times last year, particularly on the road. They allowed at least 30 points in five of six road games.

The pass defense, which ranked in the top five nationally in efficiency in three of the previous five seasons, plummeted to 88th. Marcel Yates, the defensive backs coach from 2006-11, arrives as the coordinator after two years as the co-coordinator at Texas A&M.
Six starters on the back end return. Linebackers Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo combined for 140 tackles last season as freshmen despite not playing full seasons. Junior cornerback Donte Deayon, who intercepted six passes, and senior safety Jeremy Ioane, who made 59 tackles, were All-Mountain West second-teamers. Corey Bell could be the X-factor — he was the second-leading tackler as a linebacker last year but moves to a safety-like nickel role this year.

The defensive line has quality front-line talent — sophomore ends Gabe Perez and Kamalei Correa and junior tackle Armand Nance are up-and-comers — but lacks depth. Junior college transfers Antoine Turner and Rondell McNair and true freshman Dereck Boles need to contribute.

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Dan Goodale missed only two field-goal attempts last season, but one was a potential game-winner at the end of regulation before the Broncos lost in overtime at San Diego State. That loss cost them a spot in the Mountain West title game. Punter Sean Wale needs to level his play. Kickoff returner Bryan Douglas and punt returner Williams-Rhodes are weapons.

Final Analysis 

Coming off an 8–5 season — the Broncos’ worst since 1998 — there is hope for a quick turnaround with an experienced roster and a new energy created by the coaching change. The schedule sets up well with Fresno State, San Diego State and = Utah State set to visit Boise, but the Broncos will count largely on the same players who failed to win the Mountain West Mountain Division last year. They need Hedrick and the veteran defenders to make noticeable leaps and that young offensive line to jell quickly — particularly if they hope to impress a national audience in the made-for-TV opener against Ole Miss in Atlanta.




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