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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#67 Colorado Buffaloes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#67

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Leavitt

Thought this may be tough to prove to an outsider, Colorado improved in 2014 despite a 2-10 record and a winless Pac-12 season. The Buffaloes were more competitive at least as far as the scoreboard was concerned in the second season under Mike MacIntyre. If the Buffs can flip the margins a little further and sweep its non-conference schedule, they will start to show more tangible progress.

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Previewing Colorado’s Offense in 2015 


Colorado took some big steps forward offensively in 2014, ranking 40th in the nation in yards per game, up 50 spots from the previous season. The Buffs are hoping to build on that success with many of their key contributors back. 

Junior Sefo Liufau will enter the season as the starting quarterback for the second consecutive year hoping to build on his successes as a sophomore while also focusing on taking better care of the ball. He has 18 starts under his belt, has attempted 749 passes and thrown for nearly 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. There is a lot to like about that experience, but Liufau also has thrown 23 interceptions, and he’ll have to dramatically curtail his miscues for the Buffs to take a big step forward in the win column. 

Nelson Spruce was on the other end of almost one-third of Liufau’s completions last season, hauling in 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns. Speedy Shay Fields caught 50 balls as a true freshman last year. 

Christian Powell has led the Buffs in rushing for three straight years, though his role has diminished since carrying the ball 158 times as a true freshman in 2012. Michael Adkins II and sophomore Phillip Lindsay played extensively in the four-back rotation Colorado employed in 2014.  Colorado added Boise State transfer Aaron Baltazar to the roster and also signed two running backs from the high school ranks.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense in 2015 
 

Stopping opponents has been a problem since Colorado joined the Pac-12. The Buffs ranked 102nd in the nation in rushing defense and 116th in scoring defense last season. Those numbers led head coach Mike MacIntyre to hire a new defensive coordinator in former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, and he added former Central Michigan defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin to coach safeties. 

Nose tackle Josh Tupou was a three-year starter, but he was lost for the 2015 season due to suspension. Samson Kafovalu took the 2014 season off for personal reasons but has returned to bolster the interior. Defensive end Derek McCartney is coming off a strong redshirt freshman season. Junior college transfers Jordan Carrell, Blake Robbins and Leo Jackson look like impact players. 

MacIntyre has two experienced linebackers in juniors Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode. Keeping them healthy is a must because there isn’t much experience behind them. 

The secondary might be the deepest and most talented unit on the team, thanks in part to senior safety Jered Bell being awarded a sixth season of eligibility. Cornerback Ken Crawley will be starting for the fourth straight year. 
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Colorado’s Specialists in 2015 


CU lost four-year starters at placekicker and punter but might have addressed both positions by signing standout Alex Kinney from just up the road in Fort Collins. Kinney was rated among the nation’s best punters coming out of high school. He could steal the placekicking duties away from Diego Gonzalez, a lefty who has struggled with accuracy but has a strong leg, and walk-on Chris Graham, who competed with Gonzalez in the spring. 

Final Analysis


Colorado won only two games in coach MacIntyre’s second season and went winless in conference play for the first time in 99 years. Despite those harsh realities, there were tangible signs that the program is finally on the right track and in position to become more competitive in the Pac-12. Four of the Buffaloes’ nine league losses came by five points or fewer, including double-overtime losses to Cal and UCLA. The goal in Year 3 is to turn some of those close losses into wins and make a move out of the Pac-12 South basement.

The Debate

Is Nelson Spruce the Top WR in the Pac-12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#73 Oregon State Beavers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#73

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Andersen, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Baldwin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake

As far as surprising coaching moves during the 2015 offseason, Oregon State was the epicenter. On one end, longtime overachiever Mike Riley left for Nebraska after 12 seasons in his second stint with the Beavers. On the other, Oregon State pulled Gary Andersen from Wisconsin. Andersen is a proven coach, but he walks into an uncertain situation with only two returning defensive starters starters from a 5-7 team and a new quarterback replacing the productive veteran Sean Mannion.

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Previewing Oregon State’s offense in 2015 
 

New offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin is installing an up-tempo spread system that needs a quarterback to beat defenses with his arm, legs and mind. And coming out of spring practice, the Beavers had three players with zero college experience vying for that starting job in redshirt freshmen Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion and true freshman early enrollee Seth Collins. 

The good news is that the Beavers will have proven pieces surrounding whoever wins that quarterback job. Senior running back Storm Woods looks primed to push for 1,000 yards after splitting carries the last two seasons. The returning receivers are headlined by speedster Victor Bolden (72 receptions, 798 yards, two touchdowns in 2014) and Jordan Villamin, a 6'4", 235-pound physical specimen who broke out for 35 catches, 578 yards and six touchdowns during the second half of last season. Caleb Smith possesses physical gifts at tight end. 

The line brings back all five players who started the final four games of the season, including center Josh Mitchell and left tackle Sean Harlow. Also expected back is star Isaac Seumalo, who missed all of 2014 and spring practice while recovering from two foot surgeries. And watch out for Ryan Nall, a redshirt freshman who boasts unique athleticism and versatility. He took snaps at H-back, tight end and running back in the spring.   

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense in 2015 
 

The Beavers are moving to a 3-4 base defensive front under new coordinator Kalani Sitake, allowing linemen such as Kyle Peko (if he can get academically eligible), Jaswha James and Jalen Grimble to plug the interior while an impressive crop of young linebackers make plays. Those linebackers — highlighted by sophomore Darrell Songy and redshirt freshman Bright Ugwoegbu — offered one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring after the Beavers lost all three starters from last season’s squad. 

The secondary also lost a trio of starters but returns cornerback Larry Scott, who has improved his coverage technique dramatically after an uneven 2014, and a pair of safeties with a nice blend of physicality and playmaking instincts in Cyril Noland-Lewis and Justin Strong. The top position battles on the back end are at the other cornerback spot, where Dwayne Williams looks primed to step in for former standout Steven Nelson after wowing on the scout team as a true freshman in 2014; and nickel back, where walk-on Devin Chappell has quickly morphed into one of this squad’s biggest feel-good stories. 

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists in 2015 
 

Oregon State returns kicker Garrett Owens, who nailed 11-of-13 field-goal attempts (including a long of 46 yards) while splitting time with Trevor Romaine last season. The other specialist spots, however, will have new faces in punter Nick Porebski and long snapper Connor Kelsey. Bolden, Rahmel Dockery and Chris Brown have experience as returners. 

Final Analysis
 

Oregon State has been trumpeting the “new era” motto, and for good reason. After former coach Mike Riley pulled off arguably the biggest stunner of the coaching carousel by bolting for Nebraska, Oregon State’s luring Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin was almost as shocking. Andersen rebuilt Utah State in a short time and has hired a top-notch staff to help him do the same in Corvallis. But with so much youth at quarterback, plus a slew of holes to fill on a defense that will consistently match up against some of the nation’s most potent offenses, can Oregon State expect to contend for a bowl game in a loaded Pac-12? The Beavers are likely still at least a year away from making serious progress in the win/loss column.  

The Debate

Where Does Gary Andersen Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#66 Washington State Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#66

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 12-25 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Alex Grinch

Washington State may have been ahead of schedule when the Cougars reached a bowl game in 2013, even if they finished with a losing record after the collapse against Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl. After a 3-9 season, Washington State needs to get back on track in the fourth season under Mike Leach. The Cougars will have a new quarterback who got his feet wet last season and a new defensive coordinator, so this may be an uphill climb.

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Previewing Washington State’s Offense for 2015
 

Little-known redshirt freshman Luke Falk filled in admirably when starter Connor Halliday went down against USC, throwing for 346 yards and two touchdowns. He won his first start by tossing five touchdowns at Oregon State and showed impressive poise and mobility while finishing the season with 13 touchdown passes and more than 1,800 yards in just six games. 

The Cougars return their top two running backs — Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks — and add explosive former receiver Keith Harrington to the mix. Throw in the fact that WSU also returns all five starting offensive linemen, and it’s a good bet that the Cougars will run the ball a fair amount more this fall. In fact, while the Cougars have been exclusively a shotgun team since coach Mike Leach arrived at WSU in 2012, he says that the quarterbacks could be under center as often as 25 percent of the time in 2015, in part to give the running backs better angles.

On the one hand, the Cougars lose two of the most productive receivers in school history in Isiah Myers (78 catches, 12 touchdowns) and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Vince Mayle (106 catches, 1,483 yards). But the Cougars will get back Gabe Marks, who redshirted last season after leading the Cougars in catches (74), yards (807) and tying for the team lead with seven touchdowns in 2013. Marks and playmaking receiver Dom Williams will start at the outside positions, while speedster Robert Lewis will be inside along with River Cracraft, who provides consistency and was a favorite target on third downs.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2015


Defensive coordinator Mike Breske was dismissed during last season’s disappointing campaign. Leach hired Alex Grinch, the safeties coach at Missouri, to replace him. Grinch’s emphasis is on speed, and in spring practice the Cougars worked almost exclusively out of a nickel defense.

Defensive end Xavier Cooper left early for the NFL Draft, but replacing his five sacks is doable. Potentially more challenging will be finding a nose tackle to replace Kalafitoni Pole, WSU’s starter in the middle of the line the last two seasons. Making things more difficult, two of the true nose tackles on the roster, Robert Barber and Ngalu Tapa, both missed the spring with injuries.

Jeremiah Allison and Peyton Pelluer return to head the linebackers, of which typically there will be only two on the field at one time. Getting to the quarterback will be an emphasis for Grinch, and indications this spring were that the weak-side backer will spend a lot of time in opposing backfields.

Darius Lemora started 10 games at safety for the Cougars last year, and he will take over as the full-time nickel back. Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White each played well at times last year, and they will get looks at cornerback along with junior college transfer Treshon Broughton following the dismissal of Daquawn Brown, the team’s leading tackler. Sulaiman Hameed and Isaac Dotson were the starting safeties during spring practice, but four-star junior college signee Shalom Luani joins the mix this fall.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Washington State’s Specialists in 2015 


Erik Powell lost his starting job to Quentin Breshears after hitting just 2-of-5 attempts to start the season, but it looks like the coaches will give him another shot. Since Jordan Dascalo left the team after starting each game as a freshman, Powell will have a chance to assume punting duties as well. Expect incoming freshman Matt Abramo to also figure into the mix.

Final Analysis


After making their first bowl game in a decade in 2013, the Cougars backslid last season. Experience and depth are still issues, but the hope in Pullman is that the coaching changes combined with an infusion of junior college talent will help this team get back to the postseason.

The Debate

Where Does Mike Leach Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#47 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#47

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

The Golden Bears were just a handful of plays away from getting to a bowl game last fall. This team has shown marked improvement under Sonny Dykes, and with star quarterback Jared Goff poised for a breakout season, reaching the postseason in 2015 should be an extremely reasonable expectation in Berkeley. The Pac-12 has been warned.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports


Previewing Cal’s Offense for 2015


The nation’s 10th-ranked scoring offense in 2014 should be even more prolific. Junior quarterback Jared Goff, who already has passed for 7,481 yards and 53 touchdowns, could own Cal’s career records in both categories by midseason. The Bears expect Goff to have even more command of the fast-tempo, no-huddle Bear Raid offense. “He just knows what he’s looking for,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes says.

A versatile running back corps is led by senior Daniel Lasco, who rushed for 1,115 yards last season. Sophomore Vic Enwere, now 6’1”, 225 pounds, could be the power back missing from Cal’s arsenal. Wide receiver remains Cal’s deepest position group, featuring senior Bryce Treggs (150 career receptions) and junior Kenny Lawler, who at 6’3” with huge hands topped the Bears in every receiving category last season. Stephen Anderson, Maurice Harris, Trevor Davis and Darius Powe combined for 115 catches.

Progress on the offensive line has been tangible, and Dykes envisions more improvement. The goal in spring was not merely to settle who would win the two vacant O-line spots but also to develop a group that goes nine or 10 deep, and Dykes feels like the Bears did that.


Previewing Cal’s Defense for 2015
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

How inept were the Bears on defense a year ago? Cal gave up the mind-blowing total of 61 touchdowns, allowing each of its final 10 opponents to score at least 31 points. The defense should be better but must demonstrate its ability to hold up against the pass. With neither a consistent rush on the passer nor the ability to cover in the secondary, the Bears allowed 42 TD passes, most ever by a Power 5 team.

The Bears believe their defensive line will be improved after signing six new players at the tackle or end positions, including junior college transfer DeVante Wilson, who began his career at USC. Back after missing last season with mononucleosis is end Kyle Kragen, identified by defensive coordinator Art Kaufman as the team’s best D-lineman in spring ball. Mustafa Jalil had a solid season and may be ready to become a force in the middle. James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, likely will line up alongside Jalil.

Linebackers Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton have combined to start 54 career games, but the secondary remains, without question, Cal’s biggest area of concern. Five new defensive backs were part of the recruiting class, but only Derron Brown, a junior college safety, was on campus for spring ball. Four returning safeties sat out while mending, prompting Dykes to label the position “a mess.” Stay tuned.


Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Cal’s Specialists for 2015


There was nothing special about Cal’s kicking units last season, but at least they were improved from 2013, when the Bears allowed six touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns. Still, Cal hopes to see improvement in about every category here. Cole Leininger returns as the punter, but placekicker is up for grabs. Trevor Davis, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns at Washington State, may add punt return duties.


Final Analysis

Cal was one of the nation’s most-improved teams. But the Bears were far from satisfied after losing six of their final seven games to miss out on the postseason for the third straight year. “We could have taken the program to the next step,” Lawler says, “but we just came up short.” 


No one in the program will be happy with anything less than a bowl game and the chance to compete near the top of the Pac-12 North. Defense remains Cal’s great unknown, and the road schedule is daunting. But Goff says the team is ready for something different. “There’s so much more confidence on our team,” Goff says. “Expectations are very high.”

The Debate

Is Jared Goff the Best QB in the Pac-12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Washington Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Chris Petersen, 8-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jonathan Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Kwiatkowski

Chris Petersen’s first order of business in the Pac-12 was to change the culture at Washington. Reworking a locker room’s mentality doesn’t happen over night and that led to six losses despite a glut of top flight NFL Draft picks a year ago. Petersen still has to answer questions under center and in his front seven, but his plan has worked everywhere he has been and there is no reason not to believe in the process in the Pac-12.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports


Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2015


In his second season as Washington coach, Chris Petersen’s top priority is to settle on a new quarterback. Looking to improve the Huskies’ passing attack that ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in 2014, Petersen will choose between redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning, a pair of promising pocket passers. Carta-Samuels would seem to have the edge simply because he’s been in the program longer and is more physically developed.

The ground game is in more established hands with Dwayne Washington. The Huskies’ leading returning rusher (697 yards, 5.3 per carry) in just a half season as the starter, he’s a big back with breakaway speed. The 6'2", 221-pound junior ripped off scoring runs of 66, 68, 51 and 60 yards late in the season.

The new quarterback won’t have any shortage of passing targets, especially if he wants to throw deep. Jaydon Mickens and Dante Pettis run well as multi-purpose threats. Mickens is the Huskies’ leading returning receiver (60 catches, 617 yards), and he scored twice as a runner scooting around the corner. Pettis, the son of former MLB player Gary Pettis, best demonstrated his explosiveness with an 87-yard score on a punt return. However, the receiving corps suffered a setback with the loss of John Ross for the year with a knee injury. Ross was elusive in a limited offensive role — he started at cornerback, too — averaging 75 yards on seven scoring plays coming as a receiver, runner and returner.

Left guard Dexter Charles is the only returning full-time starter up front, back for a fourth season in the opening-day lineup. But given the experience of some of the candidates, this position area might not be as worrisome as it appears.  

Previewing Washington's Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The line will require a complete makeover after the Huskies graduated all four starters and now move to a truer 3-4 alignment. Which prompts this pressing question: Can this Washington team stop anyone on the ground? Redshirt freshman Jaylen Johnson, sophomore Elijah Qualls and senior Taniela Tupou will get the first shot at it. None has any starting experience.

The linebacking corps also suffered a huge loss of talent with four-year starter John Timu and All-American Shaq Thompson departing. The only full-time starter returning is senior Travis Feeney, who enters his third season as a regular. He’ll be joined on the inside by sophomores Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria, who played a lot in their first seasons.

What once was a glaring weakness — with as many as three freshmen starting at one time, compounded by cornerback Marcus Peters’ midseason dismissal — the secondary is now the Huskies’ defensive strength. Back for his second season, free safety Budda Baker arguably is the team’s best player and top honors candidate. As a true freshman, Baker was on the field more than any other Washington player, collecting 80 tackles and pulling steady special-teams duty. Sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones is a proven coverage guy who has established himself.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
 

Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2015


The Huskies have full confidence in their special teams. Placekicker Cameron Van Winkle was among the nation’s best in 2014, converting on 20-of-24 field-goal attempts. Senior punter Korey Durkee averaged 42.5 yards per kick. Ross already possesses a school-record three touchdowns on kickoff returns in just two seasons and will be missed in 2015. Pettis’ punt return for a score was the first for the Huskies in 11 seasons.


Final Analysis

For Petersen’s second season, Huskies followers will lower their expectations. Just nine starters return. The defensive front seven must be almost completely rebuilt. A new quarterback needs to be broken in. Now the rebuilding really begins. Six or seven wins would be considered progress. 

The Debate

Where Does Chris Petersen Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

Click here to join the debate.




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