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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#125 Idaho Vandals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#125

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Paul Petrino, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kris Cinkovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ronnie Lee

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. 125 Idaho.

Previewing Idaho’s Offense for 2014:

The No. 1 question for coach Paul Petrino is at quarterback. Sophomore Chad Chalich, who started seven games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury, is being pushed by redshirt freshman Matt Linehan. Chalich completed 61.4 percent of his passes but only threw five touchdown passes (and three INTs) in 184 attempts.

The winner of the job — right now, Linehan is penciled in as the starter — will operate behind an offensive line that returns nine players who have started at some point during their careers. The challenge for Petrino and his staff will be piecing the unit together. The best of the bunch is senior center Mike Marboe, who has played since his freshman season.

As far as the skill positions, receiver Dezmon Epps was slated to be Idaho’s top threat. He caught at least four passes in every game last season and scored four touchdowns. However, he was dismissed from the team in July. Physically gifted wideout Deon Watson and converted quarterback Josh McCain also give Idaho’s passing game a boost.

The Vandals likely will use a committee at running back, with Jerrel Brown, Richard Montgomery and Kristoffer Olugbode providing different skill sets that need to produce better than the 3.3 yards per carry Idaho averaged a year ago. If Idaho can be somewhat balanced, the Vandals should be able to score some points this season.

Previewing Idaho’s Defense for 2014: 

Things got so bad last season in the secondary for Idaho that coaches had to put wide receivers in on defense to try and slow down opposing passing attacks. The lack of speed was glaring and a huge reason why opponents scored 40 or more points nine times last season, including an 80-point performance by eventual national champion Florida State. For the Vandals to be a factor in the Sun Belt, the defense has to improve.

The top four tacklers from last season return, and there is talent on the defensive front that could generate a pass rush to help out the secondary. Quayshawne Buckley recorded 7.5 sacks last season and joins a front that has size and experience. Marc Millan led Idaho with 90 tackles from the linebacker position, which was strengthened with the addition of junior college transfer Irving Steele.
The secondary remains the biggest concern, though. Even though safety Bradley Njoku (89 tackles) and corner Jayshawn Jordan (77) return, Idaho needs to get better play from the secondary to have any chance of a winning season.

Previewing Idaho’s Specialists for 2014: 

Austin Rehkow handled the kicking and punting duties as a freshman. His punting was proficient, but his inconsistency in kicking field goals will need to change if Idaho is going to capitalize on scoring chances. He made only 10-of-17 attempts last season with a long of just 41 yards. The Vandals did not return a punt or a kickoff for a score in 2013, but Montgomery averaged more than 20 yards per kickoff return.

Final Analysis

Things can’t get any worse for Idaho, right? The Vandals are coming off a 1–11 season in which they weren’t very competitive as an independent. The Sun Belt Conference once again is home, which will lower the degree of difficulty on the schedule (Florida is the only major-conference opponent). But the conference affiliation brings additional travel — the Vandals will play half of their games in the Eastern and Central time zones.

If Petrino can overcome the travel and find some consistency in all phases, Idaho has a chance at making some noise in the overhauled conference. But even if the Vandals do surprise and find a way to get to six wins, they will not be spending the holidays at a bowl game. It was announced in late April that low APR scores had made the program ineligible for a postseason game in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#128 New Mexico State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#128

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Gregg Brandon | DEF. COORDINATOR: Larry Coyer

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. 128 New Mexico State.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2014: 

The Aggies suffered a big blow in the offseason when junior wide receiver Austin Franklin elected to leave school early for the NFL Draft. Franklin supplied the team with a big-play threat on offense — after his return from a four-game academic suspension, the Aggies averaged 27.4 points over the final five games (compared to just 16 during the previous seven).

NMSU does, however return a veteran receiving corps, with six seniors and a junior on the two-deep. 

At quarterback, junior college transfer Tyler Rogers took the majority of the snaps during spring practices, and the team will bring in five freshmen to compete for the starting job spot this fall. Redshirt freshman Barry Coffman will also be in the mix.

Ditto for running back, where Xavier Hall returns after a good second half to the 2013 season. Hall had 95 yards against Boston College and 74 against Florida Atlantic in consecutive games in November. Redshirt freshman Marquette Washington and a handful of incoming freshmen will compete for carries.

The offensive line appears to be relatively stable. Senior center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke is entering his fourth year as a starter, while Andy Cunningham is a junior who’s started at guard and tackle. The two guards — Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and Abram Holland — are also returning. The team does need to solidify the all-important left tackle position, however, as steady four-year starter Davonte Wallace graduated.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2014:

This is a brand-new unit with a brand-new coordinator. With nearly 50 years experience coaching in college and the NFL, Larry Coyer joined the Aggie program this offseason.

This was an abysmal group last year, one that ranked dead last in the NCAA in rush defense (299.5 ypg) and total defense (549.5 ypg) and No. 120 in scoring defense (44.6 ppg). Only two starters return from that group.

It starts in the secondary, where a drastically different look will take shape in 2014. Two converted quarterbacks — Travaughn Colwell and King Davis III — were getting looks in the defensive backfield during spring practices. Again, look for incoming freshmen to get a shot here.

The same goes for the front seven, where just a handful of experienced players return. Somehow, Coyer will have to find a way for his defense to generate a pass rush. The Aggies recorded only 11 sacks last year; only one team had fewer. New Mexico State is hopeful that defensive end Clint Barnard and middle linebacker Rodney Butler can make a positive impact.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2014:

This was another area of struggle last year, specifically the team’s kick coverage units. NMSU gave up touchdowns both in kick and punt coverage, and surrendered a blocked extra point, two blocked field goals and two blocked punts last year. In terms of kicking, the Aggies must replace standout punter Cayle Chapman-Brown. Placekicker Maxwell Johnson returns after a solid performance in 2013 (10-of-12 on field goals).

Final Analysis 

The Aggies are a team in transition, if for no other reason than their youth and inexperience. The program signed 23 freshmen, a number of whom will be counted on this year.

The team does have a much more manageable schedule this season, moving to the Sun Belt Conference after competing as an FBS Independent. After winning only two games in Doug Martin’s first season as head coach, there will be pressure on the Aggies to be competitive with the lower half of the new-look Sun Belt. It will be a troubling sign if New Mexico State struggles with FBS newcomers like Georgia State and Georgia Southern.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#123 Appalachian State Mountaineers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#123

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Scott Satterfield, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dwayne Ledford, Frank Ponce | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nate Woody

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. 123 Appalachian State.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Offense for 2014:

As the quarterbacks coach during Appalachian State’s string of three FCS titles less than a decade ago, second-year head coach Scott Satterfield is used to seeing the Mountaineers thrive on offense. After seeing a dip in scoring and several other categories last season, stability in several spots means they should move back toward that familiar form.

Kameron Bryant is back for his second season as Appalachian State’s starting quarterback. He threw for more than 2,700 yards and completed 71.2 percent of his passes. Bryant isn’t the same running threat that some of Satterfield’s former charges were, but with an offense that takes advantage of the junior’s accurate arm, the Mountaineers’ spread look should still be tough to stop.

Sophomore running back Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,250 yards last season, will have a veteran offensive line to work behind and some help in freshman running back Terrence Upshaw.

The one area on offense in which the Mountaineers will see significant turnover is at receiver. Since only three of Bryant’s top targets return from last season, Satterfield expects the six new faces he’s brought in to make an impact.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Defense for 2014: 

Last season was a period of transition for Appalachian State’s defense. New defensive coordinator Nate Woody, a longtime assistant at Southern Conference rival Wofford, brought in a 3-4 look that took some time for the young Mountaineers to grasp.

Satterfield says that while this season’s group will still be largely comprised of young players, he sees progress.

Senior Ronald Blair will lead a defensive line that should also receive major contributions from defensive ends Deuce Robinson and Olawale Dada and nose tackles Darian Small and Tyson Fernandez. The group will try to better the eight sacks it accrued last season.

Outside linebackers Rashaad Townes and Kennan Gilchrist also had strong springs and should push for playing time. Along with John Law, who racked up 71 tackles last year, they’ll have to offset the loss of last season’s leading tackler Karl Anderson.
A young secondary is the lone question mark facing the defense. But with a large group of potential contributors, the Mountaineers believe there are answers out there.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Punter Bentlee Critcher was a pleasant surprise last season, going from freshman walk-on to third-team FCS All-American. After averaging 45.9 yards per punt — the second-best mark in school history — Critcher has a firm grip on the job. Zach Matics will take over the rest of the kicking duties after handling kickoffs last season. The return game will be sorted out in the preseason.

Final Analysis

One of the dominant programs in the Southern Conference and on the FCS level for decades, Appalachian State is on the brink of its first season in the FBS ranks.

The Mountaineers — who matched their lowest win total since 1993 last season — will face several challenges, like depth issues stemming from the push to reach their full complement of scholarships and a lineup of new Sun Belt Conference opponents. So for a team and a fan base that’s used to success, this season could be a big adjustment.

But if things are kept in perspective, there’s reason for optimism.

While on the staff at Florida International, Satterfield did win a Sun Belt title, so he understands what Appalachian State is up against. And with a team that will lean on young talent, there’s reason to believe that the Mountaineers will eventually be a force in their new league. Still, there’s a strong chance their first taste of FBS life — which begins with a trip to Michigan, site of their unforgettable 2007 upset — will have some bumpy moments.




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