Pac 12

Unpublished

Unpublished

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#6 Oregon Ducks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#6

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich, 11-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Frost | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Pellum

A late-season knee injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota ended Oregon’s national title hopes last year, but the Ducks are poised for a run at a spot in college football new four-team playoff in 2014. Mariota turned down the NFL for another season in Eugene, and the junior is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including five starters back on the offensive line. The defense is under the direction of a new coordinator (Don Pellum), but five starters are back, including likely All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback. It's a close call for the favorite in the Pac-12 North, with Athlon Sports picking Oregon as a slight favorite over Stanford.

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Previewing Oregon’s Offense for 2014:

A leading Heisman candidate until his knee injury in 2013, Marcus Mariota was considered a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he decided another year of college seasoning was better for his long-term future. He’d do well to stay healthy, because there’s no obvious replacement on the depth chart.

It’s a different story at running back, where junior Byron Marshall is the Pac-12’s top returning rusher after a 1,038-yard season. Young backups Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman may be even more gifted, if less consistent or experienced.

All five starters are back on the offensive line, led by centers Hroniss Grasu and tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher. Guards Hamani Stevens and Cameron Hunt will look to be more physical in 2014, to help address Oregon’s red-zone woes last fall. All the depth and experience in the backfield and on the line could signal a more run-based attack this season, particularly considering the loss of the top four receivers from last season, including junior Bralon Addison after his knee injury in the spring. Keanon Lowe and Dwayne Stanford look like solid if unspectacular starters, and Devon Allen and Darren Carrington look like future playmakers out wide.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Oregon Ducks for 2014:


Previewing Oregon’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The Ducks will need to prove on the field in 2014 that their defense can stop powerful, pro-style rushing attacks, and will do so under a new coordinator, with Don Pellum having replaced longtime assistant Nick Aliotti. Pellum pledged to improve Oregon’s fundamentals, demand more discipline and streamline things schematically so that the Ducks can play faster.

Projected defensive line starters DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Arik Armstead average about 6'6" and 295 pounds, but after being pushed around by Stanford and Arizona they worked hard to get stronger in the weight room this winter. “It’s a big priority,” Buckner says. “You look at us and we don’t really pass the eyeball test. It’s a really big emphasis.”

Veterans Tony Washington and Tyson Coleman should hold down the two outside linebacker spots, and in the middle starters Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone return along with 2013 backups Rahim Cassell and Joe Walker. They’ll work on getting better penetration this season.

The surprising decision by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to return for his senior season saved the Ducks from needing to replace all four starters in the secondary. Seniors Dior Mathis and Erick Dargan seem poised to finally win starting spots at corner and safety, respectively, and the Ducks believe they have a future star in redshirt freshman safety Tyree Robinson.

Previewing Oregon’s Specialists for 2014: 

Matt Wogan capped an inconsistent true freshman season with three field goals in the Alamo Bowl, giving him confidence entering 2014. He’s also expected to handle punt duties as a sophomore. Addison’s injury cost the Ducks their punt returner. De’Anthony Thomas will be missed on kickoff returns, though Tyner’s speed makes him an intriguing option there.

Final Analysis

With 11 wins, a bowl victory and a No. 9 final ranking, Mark Helfrich experienced unprecedented success for a first-year Oregon coach. It’s a reflection of how high the bar is now set that there are still whispers around Eugene about whether Helfrich really was the right guy to replace Chip Kelly. An Alamo Bowl victory over Texas allowed Oregon to finish on a high note, but listless losses to Stanford and Arizona, in which the Cardinal and Wildcats pushed the Ducks around at the line of scrimmage, lingered in the minds of coaches, players and fans alike.

“Those two losses hit us last year,” Hardrick says. “We’re not satisfied with where we’re at.”

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Oregon No. 6:

1. Marcus Mariota is back
Florida State’s Jameis Winston is the No. 1 quarterback in college football, but Marcus Mariota isn’t far behind. Despite a knee injury late last year, Mariota threw for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns and rushed for 715 yards and nine scores. Mariota also tossed only four interceptions on 386 attempts and averaged 9.1 yards per play. After considering the NFL Draft, Mariota decided to return to Eugene for his junior year, ensuring the Ducks will be a factor in college football’s new playoff format.

2. Favorable schedule
Deciding between Stanford or Oregon as the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 North is no easy task. However, one key factor in the preseason debate was the schedule. The Ducks have an easier path to a division title, as the Cardinal must play five of Athlon’s top 25 teams for 2014 on the road. Oregon misses USC and Arizona State in crossover play and hosts Washington and Stanford.

3. Who steps up at receiver?
With Bralon Addison out with a knee injury, the Ducks are missing their top three receivers from last year. Talent certainly isn’t an issue here, but Oregon will have some transition in the passing attack. Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and Chance Allen must become a bigger part of the offense, along with one of the nation’s top trios at tight end in Johnny Mundt, Evan Baylis and Pharaoh Brown. With a matchup against Michigan State in Week 2, this unit needs to develop in a hurry.

4. Transition on defense
Veteran defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired after Oregon’s win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. Long-time assistant Don Pellum was promoted to defensive play-caller, and he will have only five returning starters to work with in 2014. While the Ducks have transition on defense, this unit has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The line returns potential breakout players in DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, and the linebacking corps will be among the best in the Pac-12. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu should be a first-team All-American in 2014. Stopping the run has to be a priority for Pellum, and his tweaks for the defensive scheme will be important with Michigan State coming up in Week 2 and then Stanford on Nov. 1.

5. Improving offensive line
With five returning starters, Oregon’s offensive line could develop into one of the best in the nation. Of course, that assumes tackle Tyler Johnstone is able to return at full strength from a knee injury suffered in the Alamo Bowl. Improving the play from the guard position is a priority, especially as Oregon needs to keep quarterback Marcus Mariota upright and healthy for a full season.

The Debate

Oregon or Stanford: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#7 UCLA Bruins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#7

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jim Mora, 19-8 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Noel Mazzone | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Ulbrich

UCLA has won 19 games in two years under Jim Mora, but the Bruins have their sights set on even bigger goals in 2014. With 15 starters back, UCLA is Athlon Sports’ favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2014. And if all of the pieces fall into place, the Bruins have the schedule and personnel to make a run at a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff. Quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the best in the nation, and even with the departure of linebacker Anthony Barr, the defense should be one of the best in the Pac-12. 

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Previewing UCLA’s Offense for 2014:

At a press conference in January announcing his intention to stay at UCLA for his redshirt junior season, quarterback Brett Hundley glowed about what could be in 2014, when the Bruins return plenty of talent from an offense that showed flashes of dominance during last year’s 10-win campaign. “

“With what’s coming in and what we have already,” Hundley said, “I think all the stars are really aligned.”

That starts on offense, where Hundley will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal. Last year’s leading receiver Shaq Evans is off to the NFL, but a slew of young talent, led by junior Devin Lucien and sophomore Thomas Duarte, looks more than capable of shouldering the load. The run game will be a question mark, after Hundley led the team in rushing yards (748) and touchdowns (11). Jordon James and Paul Perkins are expected to reprise their roles at the top of UCLA’s committee.

Inconsistency and injuries on the offensive line have hampered the Bruins before, but even without guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA’s offensive front looks stronger than it has in the past.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the UCLA Bruins for 2014:

Previewing UCLA’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Losing a freakishly athletic pass-rusher like Anthony Barr, who had 23 sacks in the last two seasons, will certainly hurt a defense that surpassed expectations in 2013. But after spending last season developing a lot of its young talent, UCLA’s defense should actually be better as a whole.

Sophomore linebacker Myles Jack — who became the first player in history to be named both Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year — is already one of the best young defenders in the nation, after finishing with 75 tackles and two interceptions as a freshman. He’ll have to take a step forward, especially in his pass rush, but all signs point toward a breakout season.

Sophomore nose tackle Kenny Clark could be this year’s star-in-the-making on defense, as he’s set to anchor a defensive line chock- full of talent. The real surprise, though, is likely to come in the secondary, where the Bruins were much better than expected last season. After finishing third in pass defense in the Pac-12, UCLA’s defensive backs look even stronger this season, led by cornerback Fabian Moreau, who UCLA coach Jim Mora says looks like a future first-round pick.

Previewing UCLA’s Specialists for 2014:

Expectations upon his arrival in Westwood were that placekicker Ka’imi Fairbairn would join a long line of elite UCLA kickers. That goal was derailed for a bit by his inconsistency from 40-plus yards the last two seasons. He had just four field goals in the Bruins’ final seven games in 2013. But early returns this season are good on Fairbairn, after he looked very consistent during the spring. Punter Sean Covington and his big leg are also back, after averaging 41.9 yards per punt as a freshman.

Final Analysis

When Mora spurned coaching offers from his alma mater, Washington, and Texas to return to UCLA, he did so with an understanding that the cupboard would be full of talent for years to come in Westwood. This season, the Bruins should start to see those returns in full force, with a Heisman Trophy candidate returning under center and a nice collection of talent on both sides of the ball.

In 2013, UCLA reached double digits in wins for the first time in eight years, but the expectations will undoubtedly be higher this time around. For the first time in a long time, UCLA’s focus has turned toward potentially competing for a national championship. First, of course, it’ll have to navigate the increasingly strong Pac-12  — a league the Bruins haven’t won since 1998. With 14 starters back, though, things are certainly trending upward in Los Angeles.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking UCLA No. 7:

1. UCLA is trending up
Jim Mora has UCLA trending in the right direction. The Bruins have won 19 games over the last two years, the most since claiming 20 victories from 1997-98. In addition to the results on the field, UCLA’s recruiting has improved. The Bruins inked the No. 45 class in 2011 but have signed three consecutive top-20 classes. With a financial commitment to Mora, improved facilities and 19 wins over the last two years, UCLA is a program on the rise.

2. Brett Hundley’s return
In 13 games last season, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns and completed 66.8 percent of his passes. Hundley’s passing yards and touchdowns dropped from his freshman season, but UCLA’s supporting cast was also going through some turnover. With experience returning at receiver and on the offensive line, Hundley should take another step forward in his development in 2014.

3. Home schedule
There’s no denying UCLA has one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The Bruins play Texas in a neutral site affair, visit Tempe for a matchup against Arizona State and have home dates against Arizona, USC, Stanford and Oregon. Also, an early November road trip to Washington won’t be easy. But look at the overall slate – three of the toughest games are at home. With USC, Stanford and Oregon visiting the Rose Bowl in the regular season, that’s enough for UCLA to gain an edge in a tight South Division race.

4. Improvement on defense?
UCLA ranked fourth in the Pac-12 last season, giving up 5.4 yards per play in nine conference games. The Bruins return eight starters but must replace standout linebacker Anthony Barr and end Cassius Marsh. Although Barr and Marsh will be missed, this unit could take another step forward in 2014. The secondary could be the best in the Pac-12, and the front seven is loaded with talent, including linebacker Myles Jack, end Eddie Vanderdoes and tackle Kenneth Clark. USC, Stanford and Oregon should have solid defenses, but if UCLA’s young talent develops, this could be the Pac-12’s best unit by the end of 2014.

5. Offensive line concerns
The biggest concern for UCLA in 2014 could be the offensive line. The Bruins must replace standout guard Xavier Su’a-Filo and return four starters for 2014, including guard Alex Redmond and center Jake Brendel. Helping this unit’s rebuilding effort is the arrival of Miami transfer Malcolm Bunche. UCLA allowed 29 sacks in Pac-12 games last year (most in the conference) and rushers averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Those two numbers have to improve if the Bruins want to be a playoff contender.

The Debate

UCLA, USC or Arizona State: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#12 Stanford Cardinal

NATIONAL FORECAST

#12

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: David Shaw, 34-7 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bloomgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lance Anderson

David Shaw has guided Stanford to back-to-back Pac-12 titles and three seasons of at least 11 wins. The Cardinal has a few holes to fill for the 2014 season, but Shaw has this program poised to challenge for the Pac-12 championship once again. Quarterback Kevin Hogan will be throwing to one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps, and the offensive line is loaded once again. Stanford’s schedule is tough, but there’s also a lot to like about the Cardinal in 2014.

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Previewing Stanford’s Offense for 2014:

After back-to-back seasons in which Stanford’s primary running back had more than 300 carries, coach David Shaw is looking to return to a committee approach. Remound Wright, Kelsey Young, Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders are all in the mix for carries. Each one does one or two things well, but none, per one offensive coach, does everything well enough, at this point, to seize control of the job.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan returns after a steady 2013 in which he tossed 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He didn’t make the developmental leap the coaches had hoped for, but it’s tough to argue with his winning percentage. Since taking over as the starter midway through 2012, he has a 16–3 record, including a 10–1 mark against ranked teams.

The receiving corps is loaded with playmakers. Ty Montgomery, who caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns, is the top returning target, but Devon Cajuste (22.9 ypc) and Michael Rector (30.8 ypc) are both big-time downfield threats.

The Cardinal have to replace four starters on the offensive line, most notably All-America guard David Yankey. But all five projected starters are from the heralded 2012 recruiting class. Left tackle Andrus Peat should get All-America consideration.
With a talented young crop of tight ends, look for Stanford to return to the multi-tight end formations that made them so potent in the days of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Stanford Cardinal for 2014:

 

Previewing Stanford’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Lance Anderson moves into the defensive coordinator spot to replace Derek Mason, who left to be the head coach at Vanderbilt. The Cardinal have produced one of the top pressure defenses in the country the last few years with their 3-4 scheme. And despite personnel losses like Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, this group should be no exception.

Defensive end Henry Anderson should be in the running for all-conference honors playing alongside returning tackle David Parry. The defensive front has some youth, but it also has a lot of depth.

Inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley has quietly been one of the best run-stoppers in the conference the last couple of seasons. Replacing Murphy’s production at outside linebacker will be tough, but Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters have experience.
Free safety Jordan Richards should receive All-America consideration, but the Cardinal lose Reynolds at strong safety and will look to the duo of Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir to fill the void. Alex Carter, who battled a hip injury in the spring, and Wayne Lyons are both back at their starting corner spots.

Previewing Stanford’s Specialists for 2014:

The Cardinal return both of their specialists, kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Ben Rhyne. Only one other team in the conference attempted more field goals than Stanford last season, and Williamson converted 81.1 percent of his kicks (18-of-22). Rhyne was solid with an average of 42.9 yards per punt, ranking second in the league. Montgomery is just as dangerous as a kick returner as he is as a receiver. He took two kicks back for touchdowns last season and averaged a league-best 30.3 yards per return. The punt return spot is up in the air, but it could fall to Sanders, who split time with Kodi Whitfield last season and averaged 10.1 yards per return.

Final Analysis 

Despite the losses of key players on both sides of the ball, Stanford is once again stocked with top talent at almost every position, and the Cardinal should contend for a third straight Pac-12 title. Oregon still figures to be Stanford’s biggest hurdle in the North Division, making the Nov. 1 date in Eugene the game of the year in the conference.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Stanford No. 12:

1. Tough schedule
Stanford’s schedule features road games against five teams Athlon Sports has predicted will finish in the top 25 at the end of 2014. Additionally, the Cardinal plays USC in a crossover game in the second week of the season. Needless to say, if Stanford manages to finish 11-2 or 12-1, it will have earned a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff.

2. Four starters gone on the offensive line? No problem
Considering Stanford loses four starters on its offensive line, it seems strange to say the front five will be a strength for this team. However, take a look at the returning talent. Left tackle Andrus Peat should be an All-American in 2014, and he will be joined by experienced and talented players like Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy, Graham Shuler and Johnny Caspers. It may take a game or two for this unit to mesh, but expect Stanford to have one of the top offensive lines in the nation.

3. Replacing Derek Mason
Promoting from within has worked well for Stanford in recent years, and Shaw hopes to continue that trend in 2014. Lance Anderson will call the defensive signals with Derek Mason taking over as Vanderbilt’s head coach. Anderson has worked on Stanford’s staff since 2007, so he’s familiar with the program and the returning talent. Mason was one of the best assistant coaches in college football. Is Anderson ready to fill that role and keep Stanford’s defense among the best in the nation?

4. Kevin Hogan’s development
In his first full season as Stanford’s starting quarterback, Hogan threw for 2,635 yards and 20 scores. Considering the departure of Tyler Gaffney and the new faces on defense, the Cardinal needs Hogan to take the next step. Considering Hogan returns one of the top receiving corps in the Pac-12, he should develop into one of the top quarterbacks in the conference.

5. New faces on defense
Along with a new coordinator, one of the biggest concerns for Stanford’s defense is how this unit will replace the production from Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Those two players combined for 20.5 sacks last year, which is nearly half of the Cardinal’s season total (44). The defense needs a big year from the new starters at linebacker, which could include Kevin Anderson and James Vaughters. Senior A.J. Tarpley will be asked to pickup some of that production, while getting end Henry Anderson back from injury is also critical for the defense.

The Debate

Stanford or Oregon: Who Wins the Pac-12 North in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#14 USC Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#14

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Steve Sarkisian, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Helton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Justin Wilcox

USC opens the Steve Sarkisian era with plenty of optimism. The Trojans return 14 starters from a team that went 10-4 last year, and the coaching staff has stability after a season of uncertainty. Sarkisian hired a good staff and inherits a team capable of winning the Pac-12 South. Quarterback Cody Kessler improved as 2013 progressed, and receiver Nelson Agholor should be an All-American in 2014. Eight starters return from a defense that limited Pac-12 opponents to 25.4 points a game last year.

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Previewing USC’s Offense for 2014:

New Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian brings the up-tempo, no-huddle offense to USC, where the old, pro-style, I-formation set wasn’t just merely a staple — it was almost a religion. It will take Trojans boosters a while to adjust to the change, but the weapons are there to make it interesting. Quarterback Cody Kessler is coming off a solid first year as a starter, capped off by an MVP performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Javorius “Buck” Allen was the big surprise of 2014 at tailback, and wide receiver Nelson Agholor has the talent to follow in the cleat marks of All-Americans Robert Woods and the sure-to-be-missed Marqise Lee. Randall Telfer, a gifted tight end, is likely to be utilized much more in Sarkisian’s new scheme.

The key will be an offensive line that remains a work in progress. Three important contributors have departed, and several potential starters were held out of spring practice with injuries, leaving the situation slightly muddled heading into fall camp. Max Tuerk, the team’s most versatile linemen, will be asked to replace All-Pac-12 center Marcus Martin.

Clay Helton is the offensive coordinator, but Sarkisian, like his controversial predecessor Lane Kiffin, plans to call the plays.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the USC Trojans for 2014:

 

Previewing USC’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Justin Wilcox, the new defensive coordinator, will run out of a 3-4 base defense, as opposed to last year’s 5-2. But because there will be multiple fronts, it will occasionally look the same. The trick will be to play as effectively as last year’s defense, which was often the strength of the team. It helps that All-American Leonard Williams returns to lead a defensive line that could be among the finest in the country. Aggressive Antwaun Woods was the team’s most active defensive player in spring practice at nose tackle. He will be flanked by Williams and either Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons or junior college transfer Claude Pelon.

Hayes Pullard, the leading tackler in 2013, will be a stabilizer at one inside linebacker, and the secondary is deeper and more experienced than the one that began the season a year ago. Look for sophomore safeties Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay III to be future stars.

Previewing USC’s Specialists for 2014:

Punter Kris Albarado, who had a good year, and placekicker Andre Heidari, who was somewhat erratic, both return. Agholor is one of the country’s more exciting return specialists. He averaged 19.1 yards per return and scored two touchdowns on punts last season.

Final Analysis

Sarkisian is ecstatic to be back at talent-rich USC, where he served as an assistant in the Pete Carroll glory years. But his hiring drew a mixed reaction among Trojans boosters. Many felt Ed Orgeron, who turned the season around as interim coach after Kiffin was fired, should have been offered the job. Others thought Boise State’s highly successful Chris Petersen, who succeeded Sarkisian at Washington, would have been a stronger choice. It is up to Sarkisian to silence the doubters.

He has more than enough good players to do it, but much will depend on an uncertain offensive line and his ability to overcome the final season of NCAA sanctions that limit him to a 75-man roster. The schedule is generally favorable, although that shaky offensive front will receive a severe early test in the season’s second week at Stanford, and after two consecutive losses to Jim Mora-coached UCLA, the Trojans must travel to play the cross-town rival Bruins in the Rose Bowl.

A confident Sarkisian is talking titles already, but it might behoove him to simply match last year’s 10-victory season. Anything less and the pressure will be turned up considerably at USC.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking USC No. 14:

1. Scholarship limitations…but also plenty of talent
USC is still dealing with scholarship limitations due to NCAA sanctions, so overall depth is a concern. However, according to the recruiting rankings, the Trojans have the No. 1 roster in the conference. While USC may not have a solid second unit on offense or defense, its starting 22 is as good as any team in the conference.

2. QB Cody Kessler’s development
Under the guidance of coordinator Clay Helton, Kessler gained confidence over the final half of the season. Kessler threw for 288 yards in a 20-17 win over Stanford and torched Fresno State for 344 yards and four touchdowns. Combine Sarkisian’s background on offense, along with the return of Helton, and it’s easy to see Kessler taking another step forward in 2014.

3. Loaded skill positions
There’s little doubt USC will miss receiver Marqise Lee. However, Nelson Agholor is poised for a big year, and George Farmer and Steven Mitchell are back after missing 2013 due to injuries. The running back stable is deep, headlined by Buck Allen and Tre Madden.

4. Concerns on the offensive line
This is where scholarship sanctions come into play. USC must replace center Marcus Martin and tackle Kevin Graf, leaving Chad Wheeler, Max Tuerk and Aundrey Walker as returning starters. Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers could start at right guard, while true freshmen Jordan Austin and Toa Lobendahn are expected to factor into the two-deep. An injury could be a huge blow to the offensive line.

5. The Pac-12’s top defense?
With eight starters back, USC’s defense has a chance to be the best in the Pac-12. New coordinator Justin Wilcox is one of the top assistants in the conference and inherits four potential All-Americans in end Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard, cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Su’a Cravens.

The Debate

UCLA, USC or Arizona State: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#16 Arizona State Sun Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#16

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 18-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Graham, Keith Patterson

The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 South last year, finishing with a 10-4 overall record and a 8-1 mark in conference play. Todd Graham’s team is poised to make another run at the conference championship, but Arizona State’s defense has to be rebuilt after losing several key contributors. Tackle Will Sutton, linebacker Carl Bradford, cornerbacks Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby are huge losses for new coordinator Keith Patterson. With only two returning starters on defense, expect the Sun Devils to lean heavily on an explosive offense.

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Previewing Arizona State’s Offense for 2014: 

The Sun Devils should have one of the best offenses in the Pac-12. Start with senior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who had 37 total touchdowns and a combined 4,243 yards from scrimmage (3,635 passing, 608 rushing) last season. Kelly doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s adept at throwing on the run and escaping the rush. His challenge this year is to play as well against the Pac-12’s top teams as he does some of the conference’s lesser foes.

ASU’s running game will survive the loss of leading rusher Marion Grice because junior D.J. Foster is ready to assume a full-time role carrying the ball. Foster isn’t as strong as Grice between the tackles, but he’s more explosive. He’s also a terrific receiver and will be a big weapon for Kelly out of the backfield.

Foster and Kelly will be aided by an offensive line that should be able to weather the loss of two starters, including all-conference left tackle Evan Finkenberg. The addition of guard Christian Westerman, a transfer from Auburn, will allow Jamil Douglas to move from guard to left tackle.

If there’s a question mark it’s the wide receiving corps. Jaelen Strong is one of the best receivers in the country, a 6'3", 212-pound Larry Fitzgerald clone who caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But there’s little returning depth behind Strong, which makes it imperative that junior college transfer Eric Lauderdale can produce immediately.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Arizona State Sun Devils for 2014:

Previewing Arizona State’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It’s highly unlikely that any team in the country has more holes to fill on defense than ASU, which lost nine starters on that side of the ball, including both of its starting cornerbacks, sack leader Carl Bradford and two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year defensive tackle Will Sutton.

The Sun Devils will have no choice but to rely on a mix of junior college recruits — particularly along the defensive line — freshmen and untested sophomores. The inexperience could be a factor early in the season; ASU plays UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington in a one-month span starting Sept. 25.

Along the front, the Sun Devils have to hope that transfers Edmond Boateng and Dalvon Stuckey can step in and play right away. There’s simply not a lot of depth at the position. There are similar concerns at linebacker. True freshman D.J. Calhoun looked great in spring ball, but is he ready for Pac-12 competition? And the Sun Devils haven’t been able to find a ready-made replacement at Devil linebacker for Bradford. Unless that player steps up in the fall, ASU’s pass rush will be compromised.

The secondary? Well, the only sure thing is safety Damarious Randall. ASU is replacing both of its corners for the first time in four years. The Sun Devils had 21 interceptions last season; the returning players have a total of four.

Previewing Arizona State’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Sun Devils’ kicking game should be solid with punter Matt Haack and placekicker Zane Gonzalez — 25-of-30 last year — but the return and coverage teams were problems and are points of emphasis this season for coach Todd Graham. ASU needs to find a home-run returner and make better use of its athleticism in kickoff and punt coverage. 

Final Analysis 

Graham talks big — and so far has backed up his words. But given the massive remake of the defense, it’s hard to imagine the Sun Devils winning a second straight Pac-12 South title. ASU will attack offensively and score a lot of points, but it might also be on the wrong end of 45–42 games. ASU has to play at USC, Washington, Oregon State and arch-rival Arizona and also has a difficult non-conference game against Notre Dame in early November. A nine-win season would deserve applause.

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Five Reasons why Athlon Sports is Picking Arizona State No. 16:

1. One of the Pac-12’s top offenses
Seven starters return from an offense that averaged 41.2 points per game in Pac-12 action last year. Quarterback Taylor Kelly should be a lock for all-conference honors, and receiver Jaelen Strong should be better in his second year in Tempe. With the concerns on defense, Arizona State will have to score at least 40 points per game in Pac-12 contests to win the South in 2014.

2. Rebuilding effort on defense
New co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is essentially starting from scratch on defense. The Sun Devils return only two starters and will be relying on several new faces for immediate contributions. Linebacker Salamo Fiso and safety Damarious Randall are tasked with becoming the new leaders for Arizona State’s defense this year.

3. UCLA and USC return more talent
Returning starters aren’t necessarily the best way to judge how teams will perform the next year, but UCLA and USC have more talent back on campus for 2014. With Arizona State’s personnel losses, it’s going to take some time for this team to rebuild in order to compete with the Bruins and Trojans.

4. The schedule
With a rebuilding roster, a schedule that features a September game against UCLA, combined with matchups against USC, Stanford and Washington in October isn’t the ideal situation for Graham. However, the second half of the season could allow Arizona State time to build momentum in the rankings. The Sun Devils have to travel to Oregon State and Arizona and host Notre Dame in that span, but the final five games are favorable for Arizona State to pad its win total.

5. Todd Graham’s track record
In eight years as a head coach on the FBS level, Todd Graham only has one losing season and won at least 10 games in three out of his four years at Tulsa. With Arizona State recruiting well, combined with an excellent staff in Tempe, the Sun Devils shouldn’t take too much of a step back in the win column. 

The Debate

Arizona State, UCLA or USC: Who Wins the Pac-12 South in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#24 Washington Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#24

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Chris Petersen, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jonathan Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Kwiatkowski

Washington made steady progress under former coach Steve Sarkisian, increasing the win total from five in 2009 to nine in 2013. However, the Huskies never challenged Oregon or Stanford for the top spot in the North or finished better than 5-4 in Pac-12 play. New coach Chris Petersen comes to Seattle after a successful stint at Boise State. Petersen is regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation, but he inherits a roster with question marks at quarterback and running back. Are the Huskies ready to take the next step in 2014?

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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2014:

The first order of business for new coach Chris Petersen will be to settle on a quarterback. Mobile sophomore Cyler Miles, last season’s backup, was the logical choice until the Denver-area product was arrested in connection with a couple of Super Bowl-related altercations involving Seahawks fans. Miles was cleared of any criminal charges but still missed spring practice. He was reinstated to the team in mid-May. Sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams shared spring duties and were inconsistent. The job is far from settled, but Miles is the leading candidate going into fall practice.

Sophomore Dwayne Washington, a 6'2", 221-pounder with breakaway speed, has been groomed to replace Bishop Sankey at running back and has plenty of potential. He snapped off scoring runs of 71 and 32 yards against Oregon State and 52 against Colorado. A wild card is junior linebacker Shaq Thompson, who was given several carries during the spring and was impressive.

The receivers look promising, yet there are nagging issues. Senior Kasen Williams, with career totals of 142 catches for 1,726 yards and 13 scores, is attempting to bounce back from a serious leg injury. Sophomore Damore’ea Stringfellow, a three-game starter, was charged in the Super Bowl incidents and remains suspended indefinitely. Until everyone’s status is clear, the Huskies will throw to junior Jaydon Mickens (team-leading 65 catches) and sophomore John Ross, the fastest player on the team. Junior Joshua Perkins, who had three TD catches among five receptions at tight end, is an able replacement for NFL-bound Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

A seasoned offensive line should give the new quarterback and tailback plenty of time to acclimate to their jobs. The Huskies return all five starters, four of whom are seniors.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Washington Huskies for 2014:

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Previewing Washington’s Defense for 2014:

The front wall remains solidly intact with starters back at each spot, notably disruptive players in senior end Hau’oli Kikaha and senior tackle Danny Shelton. After missing consecutive seasons with knee injuries, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. The 6'2", 332-pound Shelton is highly effective at stuffing the run.

Proven players are in abundance at linebacker in senior John Timu and Thompson, both returning starters, and junior Travis Feeney, a former starter. Timu will enter his fourth season as a first-team player and brings a steadying influence. The multi-talented Thompson plays like another safety, only closer to the line of scrimmage.

In the secondary, Petersen has major issues. He will build around junior corner Marcus Peters, one of the league’s better cover guys. Otherwise, the Huskies will turn to young, untested players to fill in the gaps. Speedy top recruit Budda Baker could find his way into the lineup immediately, either at safety or cornerback. Redshirt freshman corner Jermaine Kelly, one of the UW’s top 2013 recruits, is ready to step in.

Previewing Washington’s Specialists for 2014:

Travis Coons, who handled every field goal, extra point and punt in 2013, has moved on, leaving the kicking game unproven. Replacements are sophomore Cameron Van Winkle, who handled kickoff chores in his first year, and junior Korey Durkee, the UW’s starting punter briefly in 2012 who was limited to holder duties last season. The Huskies aren’t hurting in the return game. The versatile Ross ran back a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Final Analysis

Petersen inherits the bulk of a 9–4 bowl team left behind by Steve Sarkisian, who bolted after five seasons for USC. Both lines are intact. If he can find some offensive playmakers, namely a quarterback, and rebuild the depleted secondary, Petersen could move the Huskies up a notch right away and make the rest of the Pac-12 understandably uncomfortable.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Washington No. 24:

1. Upgrade at head coach?
Steve Sarkisian brought stability to Washington after the Huskies went 0-12 in 2008. Chris Petersen is unproven at the BCS level, but after a 92-12 mark at Boise State, he could be the right pick to move Washington up the Pac-12 pecking order.

2. Who replaces Keith Price at quarterback?
Petersen opened spring without the leading candidate to replace Keith Price, as Cyler Miles was suspended due to an off-the-field incident. Miles was reinstated in mid-May and will return in time for fall practice, but he is behind Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist in learning the new offense.

3. Does Washington have a replacement for running back Bishop Sankey?
Sankey was one of the nation’s top running backs in 2013, recording 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns on 327 attempts. The Huskies have options in Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, but the wildcard to watch is linebacker Shaq Thompson.

4. Favorable schedule
Due to a road trip at Hawaii to start the year, Washington will play 13 games in 2014. The Huskies should be 4-0 before a home date against Stanford on Sept. 27. Road games at Washington State, Arizona and Oregon won’t be easy, but Washington has enough winnable matchups to push for 10 victories.

5. Strength in the trenches
Washington’s offensive line play has been inconsistent in recent years, but the Huskies return all five starters for 2014. On the defensive side, end Hau’oli Kikaha and tackle Danny Shelton are among the best in the Pac-12.

The Debate

Chris Petersen or Steve Sarkisian: Who Has a Better Debut in 2014?

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