Pac 12

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#76 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#76

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

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. 76 California.

Previewing California’s Offense for 2014:

Jared Goff’s freshman season began last fall with a 450-yard passing performance against Northwestern and ended with a shoulder separation against Stanford. In between, Goff set school records for most yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) in the fast-paced, no-huddle offense. The Bears expect him to be more efficient and have a better command of the offense this fall.

Fully healthy by spring, Goff will only thrive if the running game comes alive. After averaging just 122.2 yards per game, the Bears seek better balance. “When they’re rockin’ and rollin’ it’ll make everything happen easier,” Goff says of the Bears’ running backs.

Fast but undersized sophomore Khalfani Muhammad and injury-plagued junior Daniel Lasco will get first shot at the tailback spot, but freshman Tre Watson, who rushed for 3,434 yards and 48 touchdowns as a high school senior, will get a look. The Bears’ deepest group is receiver, where juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs combined for 147 receptions last season, but only six TDs. 

It will only click if the experience gained by a young O-line translates into a more productive unit this season. Eight returnees, led by center Jordan Rigsbee and left tackle Steven Moore, combined for 51 starts on the line last season.

Previewing California’s Defense for 2014: 

Stripped of five would-be starters, who missed most or all of the season because of injuries, the Bears were helpless on defense last season. They allowed 45.9 points per game — worst in school history — prompting three changes on the defensive coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman brings a simplified system that will include more blitzing and more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. “This year communication is a lot better,” linebacker Jalen Jefferson says. “Guys feel confident out there. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Defensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark on the team after the departure of players who accounted for 37 of 48 starts. Two key players are end Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil, former top-10 national recruits at their positions who were both sidelined last season by injuries. Scarlett, moved from outside linebacker to utilize his pass-rush abilities, “can be a dominant player,” coach Sonny Dykes says.

Also back after a year on the shelf are safeties Avery Sebastian (Achilles) and Stefan McClure (knee), anchoring a secondary that allowed 32 touchdown passes last season.

Previewing California’s Specialists for 2014:

The Bears’ special teams hit rock bottom in a 62–28 home loss to USC in which the Trojans returned two punts for touchdowns and a blocked punt for a third. Punter Cole Leininger actually had a solid sophomore season, averaging nearly 43 yards per kick. Sophomore Noah Beito will try to replace departed senior Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 17-of-20 field goals.

Final Analysis

The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.

“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.” 

Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.

Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#71 Colorado Buffaloes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#71

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer

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. 71 Colorado

Previewing Colorado’s Offense for 2014:

Sophomore Sefo Liufau will be the opening-day starter at quarterback barring a dramatic drop-off in performance in fall camp. There is no other QB on the roster who has even taken a snap in a college game at the FBS level. Sophomore Jordan Gehrke will likely be the backup. Gehrke played well at the junior college level during the 2012 season. True freshman Cade Apsay will compete for playing time when he arrives in the summer, but he’s likely ticketed for a redshirt season.

Christian Powell led the team in rushing the past two seasons and could do so again in his junior year, but he might have a hard time fighting off sophomore Michael Adkins II, who averaged more than five yards a carry and led the team with six rushing touchdowns last season. The Buffs averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and 120.8 yards per game on the ground last fall.

Junior wide receiver Nelson Spruce was second on the team in receiving last season after leading it in 2012. Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo had a big spring and is the likely starter opposite Spruce, with senior D.D. Goodson, sophomore Devin Ross and speedy freshman Shay Fields likely to get opportunities in the slot. CU also should be improved at tight end, with sophomore Sean Irwin poised to move into a starting role. 

The talent is there at the skill positions, but those players are only going to be as effective as the offensive line allows them to be. There could be as many as three new starters.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense for 2014:

The Buffs have struggled big time on defense since joining the Pac-12, but they have pieces in place for improvement.

Tackle Josh Tupou, an all-conference-caliber player, will anchor the defensive line. The Buffs are young at end, especially if Samson Kafovalu isn’t available (due to academics). If Kafovalu can’t go, Jimmie Gilbert would be the most experienced end on the roster after playing 261 snaps as a true freshman last season.

Sophomore middle linebacker Addison Gillam, who led the team in tackles as a true freshman last season, will be joined by Woodson Greer and Kenneth Olugbode in the starting lineup, giving the team much more speed at linebacker than it has had in the recent past.

Second-year coach Mike MacIntyre returned to his roots by working with the cornerbacks during spring drills and may continue to do so during the season. His secondary is loaded with depth. Greg Henderson is the best corner on the team entering his senior season. That leaves potential starters Chidobe Awuzie, Kenneth Crawley and Ahkello Witherspoon fighting for two jobs — the other cornerback spot and the nickel back. The starting safeties should be senior Jered Bell and sophomore Tedric Thompson, but they have plenty of competition, too.

Previewing Colorado’s Specialists for 2014:

This can accurately be described as an area of strength. Punter Darragh O’Neill and placekicker Will Oliver are entering their senior seasons and will be four-year starters. O’Neill, who can punt with either foot, set a school record with 22 punts inside the 20-yard line last season. Oliver has been dependable throughout his career, though he hit a rough patch for a stretch last season.

Final Analysis

The depth and talent are improving in Boulder under MacIntyre. But the program is still in rebuilding mode. The Buffaloes have won a combined four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league, including one win in each of the past two years. Last season, the Buffs’ average margin of defeat in their eight conference losses was 29 points. More wins would be nice, but simply being competitive on a consistent basis would show progress in the short term.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Arizona Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Rich Rodriguez, 16-10 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Casteel

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. 45 Arizona.

Previewing Arizona’s Offense for 2014:

In a sense, it is Groundhog Day at Arizona. After getting remarkable production from one-year quarterback starters Matt Scott in 2012 and B.J. Denker in 2013, coach Rich Rodriguez will open with his third QB in three years. Next in line is USC washout Jesse Scroggins, who is in his fifth year of college football. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, a four-time state champion from Las Vegas, challenged strongly for the No. 1 job in spring camp.

Two-time consensus All-America tailback Ka’Deem Carey — who became Arizona’s first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year — left for the NFL after his junior season. A mix of four young players, including Zach Green, Nick Wilson and Jonathan Haden — none with a college carry — could share the tailback job.

Six players are in the receiving rotation, all of them starter-quality. Senior Austin Hill, who missed 2013 after undergoing knee surgery, caught 81 passes a year earlier and is the dean of the group. DaVonte’ Neal, a transfer from Notre Dame and two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, has game-changing explosiveness and will be difficult to keep off the field. Cayleb Jones, a transfer from Texas, who has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver.

Four offensive line starters return, including three-year starting tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. Both have been durable and effective in Rodriguez’s fast-paced scheme.

Previewing Arizona’s Defense for 2014: 

The defensive line is troublesome and thin. Sophomore Dwight Melvin, with no career starts and little playing time, is the leading candidate to open at nose guard. The defensive ends are capable, if not standouts. Seniors Dan Pettinato and Reggie Gilbert aren’t skilled pass-rushers, which is what Arizona’s defense lacks. The Wildcats added LSU transfer Jordan Allen after spring practice. The former four-star recruit is an end but might be able to slide inside and play nose guard as well.

Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman and made 83 tackles, fourth-best on the club. He will now be a leader on the defense. The rest of the linebacking crew will need introductions. Sophomores DeAndre’ Miller, Derrick Turituri and Jake Matthews are challenging for full-time jobs. Incoming freshman linebacker Jamardre Cobb is one of the school’s top recruits.

Arizona cut its points allowed from 35 per game in Rodriguez’s first year to 24 last year, and most of the secondary players partially responsible for that performance return. Safety Jared Tevis isn’t blessed with NFL size and speed, but he’s an effective college player. Three-year starting cornerback Jonathan McKnight is a possible all-conference back, and hybrid linebacker/safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant will be starting for the fourth season. Arizona won’t be shy to use its bench.

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists for 2014:

Junior punter Drew Riggleman averaged 40.1 yards in his first year as a starter, but incoming kicker Josh Pollack is expected to challenge for the job immediately. The placekicking job is a mystery. Junior Casey Skowron ended spring drills on top of the depth chart, but he hasn’t kicked in a Pac-12 game. The return game, which has been a problem for Arizona in the Rodriguez years, should improve significantly.

Final Analysis

Rodriguez has twin 8–5 seasons in two years at Arizona, and he has more Pac-12-ready players on the roster for Year 3. The uncertainty at quarterback hovers over the entire operation, but the strengths at receiver and on the offensive line create an optimistic feeling about another winning season. The Wildcats are faster and deeper on defense. The schedule — four winnable games to open the season — sets up favorably.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#56 Washington State Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#56

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 9-16 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske

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. 56 Washington State.

Previewing Washington State’s Offense for 2014: 

Washington State returns many of the components of a passing offense that ranked second in the Pac-12 with 368.0 yards per game. Connor Halliday had 410 passing yards and six touchdown passes in the New Mexico Bowl, but the most impressive part of his day? He threw only one interception in 58 attempts. Halliday enters his senior season with a chance to break all of the school passing records. That’s impressive when you think of the QBs who have played at Washington State — Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Ryan Leaf, Jack Thompson and Jason Gesser, among others.

But Halliday has a tendency to throw too many interceptions. Along with 34 touchdown passes and 4,597 passing yards last year, he threw it to the opposing team 22 times.

As you’d expect with an offense that stresses the passing game, the Cougars are loaded with guys who can stretch the field. It’s their strongest position, led by Gabe Marks, who had 74 receptions for 807 yards and seven TDs last year. Four other wideouts had at least 40 receptions.

Offensive line could be a source of concern with the loss of two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 center Elliott Bosch, right guard Matt Goetz and right tackle John Fullington.

Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2014:  

Washington State will need to improve on this side of the ball after ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense (458.0 ypg) and scoring defense (32.5 ppg). The defense did, however, force 30 turnovers, second in the Pac-12 in that category.

WSU had one of the more solid defensive lines in the conference last year and returns the three standouts from that unit — Xavier Cooper, Kalafitoni Pole and Destiny Vaeao. Cooper registered five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last year. Pole’s numbers don’t match those, but he will be the 290-pound key to WSU’s run defense this year.

At linebacker, the Cougars have a hard-hitting group featuring Kache Palacio, Cyrus Coen, Darryl Monroe and Tana Pritchard. Palacio led the linebackers with four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Monroe, a junior, finished third on the team with 94 tackles.

The Cougars will need to shore up a secondary that lost three of its four starters to graduation, including All-Pac-12 strong safety Deone Bucannon. Daquawn Brown might be the best defensive back, but his status was unclear coming out of spring practice. He was arrested in the offseason on felony second-degree assault and misdemeanor assault charges.

Previewing Washington State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Michael Bowlin held the punting job for most of the 2013 season but was replaced late in the year by Wes Concepcion, who will hold the job on a full-time basis this year. Reliable Andrew Furney made 16-of-20 field goals last year, but he graduated. Now it’s freshman Erik Powell’s job. The left-footed Powell had an outstanding spring, showing accuracy and range. The Cougars have a variety of candidates for kickoff and punt returns. Dom Williams or Rickey Galvin should handle kickoffs, while Robert Lewis is the likely frontrunner for punt returns. 

Final Analysis

Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#54 Utah Utes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#54

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 76-39 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Christensen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake

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. 54 Utah.

Previewing Utah’s Offense for 2014: 

Utah’s best moment of the 2013 season also became the start of a downward spiral that created a complicated quarterbacking situation in 2014. While leading the Utes past Stanford, quarterback Travis Wilson injured his hand. He struggled in the next three games, then was diagnosed with a concussion. Further tests revealed a pre-existing condition that sidelined him for Utah’s final three games. Wilson was cleared to participate in spring drills, without being tackled, and reclaimed his No. 1 position. He’ll be re-evaluated in July.

Regardless of Wilson’s status, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will compete for the starting job. He’s listed No. 2, prior to arriving on campus as a graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining. “Finding out about Kendal will be job one,” coach Kyle Whittingham says.

The Utes also are adjusting to new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s fast-paced scheme. The spread offense is similar to what the Utes have used, but the tempo is “drastically different,” Christensen says.

Leading rusher Bubba Poole returns, but the Utes need help at receiver to complement the dynamic Dres Anderson. Much is expected from Kenneth Scott, who caught 32 passes in 2012 before being injured in last season’s opener, and Kaelin Clay, who will have one season to play as a junior college transfer.

Utah’s offensive linemen were asked to lose weight to thrive in the up-tempo offense, and left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi has responded well.

Previewing Utah’s Defense for 2014: 

Utah will miss Trevor Reilly, a versatile athlete who played end and linebacker in various alignments and led the team with 8.5 sacks as a senior. Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake hopes senior Nate Orchard can fill Reilly’s void as a disruptive lineman who also can move around in the scheme.

Utah appeared loaded at linebacker in their 4-3 scheme until Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul sustained significant injuries during spring drills. Hale recorded 6.5 sacks last season, helping the Utes lead the Pac-12 with 3.25 sacks per game, and Paul was making a great impression as a transfer from Miami. Each is expected to become available at some point this season, but for now, Uaea Masina is listed as the starter at one position and as the backup at another spot. Orchard may be asked to spend more time at linebacker.

The Utes were tied for last in the country with only three interceptions in 2013, and they hope Brian Blechen’s return at strong safety will make an impact. Blechen, who has eight interceptions in 35 career games, missed last season with tendinitis in his knee. Eric Rowe is a returning starter at free safety, but Sitake hopes Tevin Carter establishes himself at that position, enabling Rowe to move to cornerback.

Previewing Utah’s Specialists for 2014:

Andy Phillips became a big story as a former international ski racer who tried out for the team and earned the placekicking job as a freshman at age 24. Phillips made three field goals in his first football game at any level and finished 17-of-20 for the season, including a 51-yarder against Arizona State. Tom Hackett excelled as a short-punting specialist in 2012 and earned the full-time job in 2013, when he averaged 43.4 yards and the Utes led the Pac-12 in net punting.

Final Analysis 

Whittingham believes the Utes are improving their talent level and depth in their fourth season of Pac-12 membership. They were competitive in every conference game in 2013, including an upset of eventual champion Stanford, but the Utes need to double last season’s total of two conference wins for 2014 to be judged as any kind of success.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#53 Oregon State Beavers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#53

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 88-73 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Garrett | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker

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. 53 Oregon State.

Previewing Oregon State’s Offense for 2014:

The Beavers breathed a sigh of relief when quarterback Sean Mannion elected to return for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft. Mannion was inconsistent his first two years with the Beavers and was benched at the end of his junior season, but he re-established himself as the starter heading into 2013 and had a record-setting year. Mannion broke the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 passing yards, and he threw 37 touchdowns.

He lost his top target when Brandin Cooks opted to leave early for the NFL after leading the nation with 1,730 receiving yards and winning the Biletnikoff Award. Junior Richard Mullaney started across from Cooks and is the top returning receiver with 52 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns. No other returning wide receiver had more than seven catches. Oregon State has a strong group of tight ends, led by Connor Hamlett, who was fourth on the team with 40 catches for 364 yards and five touchdowns. Caleb Smith also started several games and finished with 25 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns.

The Beavers have to give Mannion more help in the running game after ranking 11th in the conference with only 94.4 rushing yards per game. OSU does return its top two rushers from last season, Terron Ward (521 yards) and Storm Woods (477).
Oregon State returns only two starters on the offensive line, guard Sean Harlow and center Isaac Seumalo. This could be a problem area.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense for 2014:

The Beavers return a wealth of experience at linebacker, where Jabral Johnson, D.J. Alexander and Rommel Mageo combined for 29 starts last season. Michael Doctor started 25 straight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the second game last year. He received a medical redshirt from the NCAA to return for one more year. Doctor, who has 185 tackles in his career, will start at outside linebacker along with Alexander.

Safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back along with cornerback Steven Nelson. Murphy and Nelson both received honorable mention, All-Pac-12 honors last season.

OSU will need to rebuild its defensive line after Scott Crichton left early for the NFL Draft, leaving defensive end Dylan Wynn as the only returning starter. Senior Siale Hautau and junior Jalen Grimble are the projected starters inside, while Jaswha James is expected to start on the end.

Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists for 2014:

Trevor Romaine will be the kicker for the fourth season in a row as he looks to bounce back to the form he showed as a sophomore. Romaine was 16-for-18 in 2012 before going 14-for-20 on field goals last season. Punter Keith Kostol was also better as a sophomore when he averaged 41.9 yards per kick before falling to 40.5 yards last year. Victor Bolden was seventh in the conference with 20.7 yards per kickoff return as a freshman and could also be a candidate to replace Cooks as the punt returner.

Final Analysis 

The Beavers return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Mannion, but he will be operating without Cooks and must adapt to new offensive coordinator John Garrett, who spent the last seven seasons in the NFL. The defense, with seven returning starters, should be better under veteran coordinator Mark Banker.

The Beavers should get off to a good start with non-conference home games against Portland State and San Diego State along with a trip to Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at USC and Colorado. This looks like another bowl team, but Oregon State doesn’t figure to pose too much of a threat to the top teams in the tough Pac-12 North.

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