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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#126 Georgia State Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#126

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, 1-23 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Jagodzinski | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

Patience will need to be in ample supply for Georgia State. The Panthers have gone 2-33 during the last three seasons as the startup program has moved into the FBS ranks. Trent Miles rebuilt Indiana State but his lone win in two seasons at Georgia State is by one point over Abilene Christian to start last season. With 16 returning starters, including 10 on offense, and a growing roster of scholarship players, Miles will look to continue building the foundation.
 

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Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2015 
 

There weren’t many things Georgia State did reliably well last season except pass the ball, which allowed the Panthers to be competitive more often than they had been during a winless 2013. The good news is most of the key pieces that made Georgia State’s passing game respectable return with what should be a deeper and more talented supporting cast. 

But the Panthers still have a long way to go, and it’s unclear how much a bevy of new faces up front and at tailback will help a rushing attack that averaged just 3.0 yards per carry and 96.3 yards per game, which ranked next-to-last in the Sun Belt. “We still have some holes we can’t fill for a couple years, but we’re a lot closer,” coach Trent Miles says. 

Optimism starts with 6'1" senior quarterback Nick Arbuckle, a former junior college transfer who completed 60.4 percent of his passes and threw for 3,283 yards with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. “He’s got good touch, and he usually knows where to go with it,” Miles says. “He tried to force some plays, which happens when you’re struggling as a team. But he’s relaxed a lot more, and I’m looking for a big year.” 

The Panthers should benefit from the return of tailback Kyler Neal, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in four games before getting injured, and most of a receiving corps led by Donovan Harden, who had 60 catches for 885 yards last season. “He’s a stud,” Miles says. “That’s one of our deeper positions.”

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2015 
 

Miles has a pretty simple assessment of Georgia State’s defense in 2014: “Horrible.” The Panthers allowed 303.4 rushing yards per game, had just 12 sacks, gave up 51.9 percent of third-down conversions and forced a paltry eight turnovers. Once again, though, there’s no quick fix for a roster that was bereft of talent, depth and size when Miles took over aside from recruiting and internal growth, particularly in the weight room. 

With some new personnel, there could be big changes on the defensive line. Julien Laurent, a 6'4", 325-pound Canadian, is poised to make a big impact after a year at New Mexico Military Institute. Georgia State is hoping a mix of junior college transfers, UAB transfer Alonzo McGee and players such as linebackers Michael Shaw and Niemus Bryant will supplement a couple solid returning pieces on the front seven. Linebacker Joe Peterson is a four-year starter and an All-Sun Belt selection, and sophomore Trey Payne had 88 tackles last season. 

Miles says the Panthers are “deeper than we’ve ever been” in the secondary with the addition of junior college safety Cloves Campbell and UAB transfer Bobby Baker, who played well for the Blazers before suffering an early season injury. Even if the Panthers’ front-line personnel is better, injuries and depth are going to be a major concern. 

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

Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Senior Wil Lutz didn’t get many scoring opportunities last season but made the most of them. He hit on 7-of-8 field goals and is 15-of-16 in his career inside of 40 yards. He will also handle punting duties after splitting time there last season. Miles hopes for more big plays out of the return game from Harden and new slot receiver Kameron Myers, who can really fly.

Final Analysis
 

This program has had a rough transition from FCS to FBS, and it’s going to take more time to turn it around. Still, the Panthers will have around 80 scholarship players this year, up from the mid-60s last season, and return all but four contributors. Though there are still major questions about physicality and size on both lines of scrimmage, the skill level is improving at nearly every position, which should be enough to see incremental strides in Miles’ third season.  




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#124 New Mexico State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#124

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Martin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Zane Vance

Optimism is not usually plentiful for New Mexico State, but that may be the case for the Aggies this season. New Mexico State improved on offense late last year, scoring 35 points in the finale at Arkansas State. If the defense with 10 returning starters can keep up, the Aggies might — might — be able to double last season’s win total (two).

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Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2015
 

The Aggies moved to an up-tempo, quick-passing game under offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon last season, and while it wasn’t a consistent success, it was an identity — something the program has sorely lacked in recent years. 

Brandon is gone (he replaced Bob Stitt as head coach at Colorado School of Mines), but New Mexico State returns the majority of an offensive roster that began to figure it out last year. 

Sophomore running back Larry Rose III amassed 1,102 yards (on a healthy 5.9-yard average) in his rookie season and will be the primary rusher in the single-back offense. Junior Teldrick Morgan will be the top option in the passing game and is looking to build on a breakout season. 

But the effort to find the man to take the helm of the offense is a battle that will likely play out deep into fall camp. Tyler Rogers held the position last season and at times looked like he was the man for the job. But Rogers’ 23-interception season kept the competition open, and South Florida product Nick Jeanty closed the gap in spring camp. Sophomore Andrew Allen is also part of the fray.  

Whichever quarterback wins the job will be playing behind one of the better offensive lines in the Sun Belt. The Aggies lose linchpin center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke to graduation, but guard Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and tackle Houston Clemente are a tremendous left side on a unit that allowed only 10 sacks last season.  

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2015
 

While the NMSU offense found a system that worked in 2014, the Aggie defense will enter 2015 in flux. The ’14 unit was young and small, and subsequently one of the worst defenses in the country. The Aggies had the nation’s sixth-best passing defense in terms of yards per game last year, but that’s because teams didn’t need to throw it against NMSU. The Aggies were dead last nationally in rushing yards against, allowing 309.9 per game. 

Size on the front seven is a major issue, as starting defensive linemen Kalei Auelua and Stody Bradley both played last year at about 240 pounds. The Aggies return only three sacks from 2014.

The vast majority of the defensive roster returns in 2015, and new coordinator Zane Vance is hoping that a year in the weight room will spark an improvement on the field. 

Despite the struggles of the Aggies defense in 2014, there were positives to be gleaned from the secondary and linebacking corps. Free safety Kawe Johnson was a diminutive wrecking ball, and linebacker Rodney Butler’s 7.5 tackles for a loss were impressive, considering how easy it was for opponents to get out of their own backfield. 

Scheme will play a major factor in the Aggies’ effort to turn around their defense. Vance will use more zone blitzes in an effort to mask the Aggies’ lack of size with deception and frenetic play.

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

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The Aggies’ special teams last year were terrible. Morgan is a threat on returns, but the lack of team depth made itself known on special teams, as the blocking was never there to break a return for a touchdown. Another year of experience for special teamers could bring improvement — and there’s nowhere to go but up. 

Final Analysis
 

The Aggies started to figure it out last year, and if the offense continues to progress, they’ll be able to stay competitive in conference games. If they are to be successful, the defense will need to make a big leap — a scheme change might facilitate that improvement. Games against UTEP and New Mexico will be measuring sticks for the program and the progress it’s made. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#118 Troy Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#118

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Neal Brown, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield, Matt Moore | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vic Koenning

For the first time since 1990, someone other than Larry Blakeney will coach Troy. Blakeney’s tenure, which coincided with the Trojans’ move to major college football, included five Sun Belt titles and five bowl games. He’ll be tough to replace, but Troy turns to a familiar face to replace Blakeney and — the Trojans hope — revitalize the program. 

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Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2015 
 

Old habits die hard, so it will come as little surprise that first-year Troy coach Neal Brown, a former offensive coordinator for the Trojans before moving on to the same job at Texas Tech and Kentucky, plans to continue calling plays in his new role. The offense will have his stamp on it, which means an emphasis on a faster pace of play and less rotation of players.

Brown’s task won’t be easy. While there are several starters returning, there are also holes that must be filled and, more important, consistency that must be established. The Trojans were 10th in the Sun Belt in both scoring offense and total offense last year.

Brown appears to have his quarterback in place, which is a nice start. Brandon Silvers set the NCAA record for pass completion percentage (70.5) by a freshman, but he was up and down. One positive: He threw only three interceptions in 271 attempts. Dallas Tidwell and perhaps incoming freshman Gardner Minshew will try to impress the new staff in the fall, but the job appears to be Silvers’ to lose.

Running back is perhaps the deepest position on the offense, though Brandon Burks and Jordan Chunn combined to barely top 1,000 yards rushing in 2014. Josh Anderson, a 260-pound fullback, should have an impact. 

Bryan Holmes, K.D. Edenfield and Teddy Ruben return to the receiving corps, and if Brown has his way, the group should be far more productive this fall. 

The offensive line will be led by Antonio Garcia and Dalton Bennett, but improvement is needed there as well. This group will have to adjust to the faster pace of play that Brown intends to implement.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Troy’s Defense for 2015
 

In effect, the Trojans’ defense is being rebuilt from scratch. Brown hired Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator, a position he held at the school from 2003-04. The Trojans ranked near the bottom of the league in most key defensive categories in 2014, and they gave up at least 40 points five times in 12 games. 

Koenning will technically run a 4-2-5 alignment but will often switch the alignments in an effort to catch the opponent off guard. The aim is to use a swarming attack that takes advantage of speed and quickness off the edge. 

Up front, Troy has Tyler Roberts and former Arkansas Razorback Lonnie Gosha leading the way, with some expected added talent also set to contribute. At linebacker, junior college signees William Lloyd and Justin Lucas are expected to step in and play big roles right away. In the secondary, newcomers Jalen Rountree and LaMarcus Farmer should add experience and talent. Troy ranked a respectable fifth in the Sun Belt in passing defense last season.

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

Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The placekicking duties are wide open, and the competition will continue right up until the start of the season. Ryan Kay will return as the team’s punter. The Trojans were average at best in the return game last season.

Final Analysis 
 

In many ways, this is a complete rebuild for Brown and his coaching staff. The once-proud Troy program had fallen on hard times in recent years; the Trojans have missed a bowl in four straight seasons after playing in the postseason four times from 2006-10.

A bowl game isn’t likely this fall, either. The Trojans have a difficult non-conference schedule that includes trips to NC State, Wisconsin and Mississippi State, and they play Sun Belt heavyweights Appalachian State and UL-Lafayette on the road.

Anything close to six wins should be considered a big success in Year 1 of the Brown era. 




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