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. 84 South Alabama.
Previewing South Alabama’s Offense for 2014:
All the parts are in place for South Alabama to have the best offensive squad in the program’s six-year history — if the team can answer its question at quarterback. Surrounded by a plethora of returning skill players and eight starters overall, Brandon Bridge takes over under center. The 6'5" Canadian showed promise as a dual-threat backup last season, but his consistency and decision-making must be cleaned up in the full-time role.
“Brandon can make a lot of plays, and I sat on my back porch last season trying to decide if he was going to be our starter back then,” USA coach Joey Jones says. “But we went with (All-Sun Belt senior Ross Metheny). Now it’s Brandon’s time. And he’s in the same spot as any quarterback from little league football to college, where he just has to stay away from mistakes.”
USA’s top three running backs and top four pass-catchers are back, led by first-team All-Sun Belt tight end Wes Saxton. That receiving corps should be even deeper with the addition of Alabama transfers Josh Magee and Marvin Shinn. Up front, two all-conference tackles return in Chris May and Ucambre Williams to anchor a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Sun Belt last season.
Previewing South Alabama’s Defense for 2014:
Travis Pearson takes over as defensive coordinator, promoted from linebackers coach after former defensive play-caller Kevin Sherrer took a position on Georgia’s staff. Pearson will try to continue the focus on strong play up front, but USA must replace first-team all-conference defensive linemen Alex Page and Romelle Jones.
Led by returning nose tackle Jerome McClain, junior college All-America end Jimmie Gipson III and playmaking linebacker Maleki Harris, the front seven should be solid once again, but depth may be a concern at multiple positions.
“At defensive end, we feel good. But with those inside guys, we have depth issues right now,” Jones says. “We need some junior college guys to play in those spots right away.”
Four starters return for a nickel-heavy secondary that allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the Sun Belt last season, but that performance came with the support of a strong pass rush. This season’s secondary may have to lead rather than follow.
Previewing South Alabama’s Specialists for 2014:
Placekicker Aleem Sunanon made his final 12 field-goal attempts and ranked second in the Sun Belt in scoring as a freshman in 2013, and his return solidifies the position for the next three years. USA’s coverage teams have been stingy, but a new punter must emerge. The return game is in good hands with Magee and T.J. Glover.
USA finished its first full-fledged season of FBS play with bowl eligibility (6–6 record) and one win shy of the Sun Belt title. Now the bar is raised, and the Jaguars are no longer the ever-changing conference’s newcomer.
“We are not a veteran in this conference by any means, but things have changed quickly,” Jones says. “We were about a play or two away from winning a conference championship and going to a bowl. There is some pep in our step.”
Taking another step forward is plausible but carries conditions. Last year’s team won by committing very few turnovers on offense and causing disruption on the defensive front. The 2014 squad must do the same with a new quarterback and new starters on the defensive line. After a tough home opener against Mississippi State, the Jaguars face five consecutive winnable conference games before difficult road trips to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. If the Jaguars are riding a winning streak at midseason, title contention could be a possibility.