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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

#111 Army Black Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#111

Independents PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Jeff Monken, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Bateman

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. 111 Army.

Previewing Army’s Offense for 2014: 

First-year coach Jeff Monken brings his version of the triple-option to West Point. There is a basic understanding of the scheme among returning players, but different terminology made for quite a learning curve during the spring.

Angel Santiago started 11 games last season and is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks. A.J. Schurr, whose only career start was last year against Navy, is the better passer and frequently worked with the first team during the spring.

A groin injury cost two-time 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples most of last season, and an ankle surgery cost him the spring. Granted a fifth year of eligibility, the Academy’s sixth all-time leading rusher is expected to rejoin a ground attack that churned out 309.8 yards rushing per game in 2013. Senior Terry Baggett, the leading returning rusher (1,113 yards), should be good to go after injuries slowed him during the spring.

Xavier Moss emerged last season and was easily Army’s top receiver with 35 receptions. Chevaughn Lawrence and Kelvin White, who switched from QB in late spring, are in the mix. There are no experienced tight ends on the roster. An incoming freshman may ultimately be the answer when the formation requires one.

Ryan Powis, a three-year starter at center, moved to tackle late in the spring to accommodate Matt Hugenberg. However, Powis left the team in July. Monken felt Hugenberg, who has yet to start a game, was his best lineman in the spring and decided to put him at center. Guard Steve Shumaker and tackle Justin Gilbert are returning starters.

Previewing Army’s Defense for 2014:

Monken will stick with a 3-4 alignment for a defense that ranked 103rd against the run and tied for 107th in turnovers forced. Seven linemen with starting experience return, led by Mike Ugenyi and Robert Kough, who had a team-high eight tackles for a loss in 2013.

The linebacking corps lacks experience. Julian Holloway is the unit’s leading returning tackler with only 42. James Kelly saw action in every game last season, including three starts. Senior Derek Sanchez had a strong spring.

The secondary took a hit late during spring when Shaquille Tolbert left the team. Tolbert had been moved to corner after starting at safety. Still, there are some proven playmakers in the defensive backfield. Senior safety Geoff Bacon made the move from linebacker prior to last season and recorded 63 tackles to place second on the team despite missing four games. The top returning corner is junior Chris Carnegie, who started 20 games his first two seasons.

Previewing Army's Specialists for 2014:

Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Monken was the special teams coordinator at Navy. It is an area where the Black Knights are in desperate need of improvement after the unit placed 115th in punt returns and 121st in kick returns. Moss and Josh Jenkins could help in those areas. Kicker Daniel Grochowski drilled 8-of-11 field-goal attempts last season, while Alex Tardieu averaged a paltry 37.3 yards per punt. 

Final Analysis 

Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.

Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule. 




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#116 Old Dominion Monarchs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#116

C-USA East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Bobby Wilder, 46-14 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Scott | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kermit Buggs, Rich Nagy

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. 116 Old Dominion.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Offense for 2014: 

As it moves into its second season in FBS and its first in Conference USA, Old Dominion has the luxury of a proven quarterback in senior Taylor Heinicke. He begins this season with a string of 33 straight starts and the 2012 Walter Payton Award — the FCS equivalent of a Heisman — on his résumé. Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder says Heinicke’s decision-making is critical for his young team. Last year, the Atlanta native completed 70.0 percent of his passes for 4,022 yards with 33 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

He’ll have some options in the passing game as Antonio Vaughan and Zach Pascal return after catching 40 or more passes last year. There’s also a wave of young talent at receiver behind them that has the Monarchs’ staff excited.

The running backs will be young — the more established trio of Gerard Johnson, Cam Boyd and Malik Moseley might have to share time with newcomers. After losing some key contributors on the offensive line, the Monarchs are looking for answers there, too, although coaches believe there’s enough raw talent on hand to form a solid group.
Old Dominion as a program is still in the process of adjusting to the FBS level, but the Monarchs’ offense — which averaged 42.3 points per game as Heinicke torched opposing defenses — is ready to compete in Conference USA.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Defense for 2014:

All but two of the Monarchs’ defensive starters from the end of the 2013 season are back, but that may not mean much. After the Old Dominion defense gave up 34 points and more than 450 yards per game last season, every spot is up for grabs.
The main culprit for the struggles was inexperience. The Monarchs were painfully young on the defensive line in 2013, starting six first-year players at various points. All of them are back, and the coaches hope they’ll be able to build on that experience.

After strong springs, junior college transfers Reece Schmidt and Martez Simpson will provide a boost for the linebacker corps. Andre Simmons should help too after moving down from the safety spot.

The secondary returns two starters, including last season’s leading tackler Fellonte Misher.

For a unit that had its share of low moments last season, most notably giving up a head-spinning 80 points at North Carolina, improvement is mandatory if the Monarchs plan on making any noise in their new league.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Specialists for 2014:

Ricky Segers will handle the kicking duties after redshirting last season. Sophomore Joe Pulisic and freshman Jarrett Cervi will likely battle in preseason for the punter job. All of them should benefit from experienced long snapper Rick Lovato. In addition to being key cogs on offense, Vaughan and Moseley will figure prominently in the return game as well.

Final Analysis 

Since the program restarted in 2009, the Monarchs have shown that they can adapt. In their second year in the powerful CAA, they won a league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. In their first season as an FBS program, they knocked off Idaho and hung with bowl teams East Carolina and Pittsburgh. In five seasons, all under Wilder, the Monarchs are 46–14.

The challenge will be steeper this season as there’s only one FCS school on the schedule as opposed to the seven that the Monarchs played in 2013.

But with Heinicke as the face of the program and last season’s young talent maturing, Old Dominion appears to have what it needs to keep that steady upward trajectory in place.




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#101 UNLV Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#101

MW West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bobby Hauck, 13-38 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Timm Rosenbach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Hauck

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. 101 UNLV.

Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2014

Replacing a player who began last season as a backup wide receiver will arguably be the biggest key for the Rebels offensively. Caleb Herring took over at quarterback midway through the fourth game of the season and rallied UNLV to its first bowl game and winning season since 2000, breaking a number of school records in the process, including the single-season passing percentage mark (62.9) held for three decades by the legendary Randall Cunningham.

Junior Nick Sherry, who beat out Herring for the starting job as a freshman and also began last season as the starter, is battling junior college transfer Blake Decker for the starting job entering fall camp. Both had their moments during spring practice, but neither was impressive enough for coach Bobby Hauck to hand him the job.

The Rebels also must replace tailback Tim Cornett, a four-year starter who departed as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,733 yards, second-best in Mountain West history. Projected starter Adonis Smith left the team in early May, leaving senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence as the likely starter. Murray-Lawrence rushed for 418 yards in a reserve role last fall in his first season after transferring from junior college.

Senior Devante Davis, an NFL prospect who caught 87 passes for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, returns to anchor a veteran wide receiver corps.

The strength of the offense, if not the entire team, is a big, strong and physical offensive line that returns most of its key contributors, including left tackle Brett Boyko.

Previewing UNLV’s Defense for 2014

It’s taken a while, but the Rebels finally have developed some size and decent depth on this side of the ball. Now the question is whether that will translate into improvement statistically after UNLV allowed averages of 31.8 points and 215.5 yards rushing per game.

The Rebels use a 4-3 base defense led by three defensive ends — Sonny Sanitoa, Jordan Sparkman and Siuea Vaesau — who could line up for any team in the conference. But the Rebels must replace both starting tackles.

The linebacking corps, led by Tau Lotulelei, is young but athletic and will likely feature three sophomore starters.

The secondary, which made significant progress under the tutelage of Hauck’s brother, former NFL defensive backs coach Tim Hauck, returns three starters, including junior strong safety Peni Vea, who had a team-high 108 tackles and two interceptions, and senior corner Tajh Hasson, who forced a team-high four fumbles.

Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2014

The Rebels must replace placekicker Nolan Kohorst, a four-year starter who kicked 39 career field goals, and they thought they had his replacement when they landed local star Conor Perkins. But shortly after signing his letter of intent, Perkins informed UNLV that he had decided to take a two-year LDS Church mission before enrolling. Jonathan Leiva, a late junior college signee out of Palomar (Calif.) College, will be handed the job in the fall. Junior Logan Yunker returns to handle the punting.

Final Analysis

UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. However, in late June, the program won an appeal and is eligible to play in a bowl in 2014. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hope to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stand a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.




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#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.




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#102 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

NATIONAL FORECAST

#102

American Athletic PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Bill Blankenship, 22-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Denver Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Guy

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. 102 Tulsa.

Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2014

Tulsa’s football program took a huge step backward in 2013, with offense the main culprit. The Golden Hurricane scored more than 30 points only twice en route to a 3–9 season. In 2012, when Tulsa captured the Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl victory, the offense surpassed that mark eight times.

“We have to be more physical and simply get more production on offense,” fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship says.

Part-time starting quarterback Dane Evans gets the first opportunity to guide the unit. Evans started five games last season and completed only 84-of-195 passes for 898 yards. He had four touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions. He is expected to get pressed by Joseph Calcagni and true freshman Jabe Burgess.

Tulsa has had stability at running back since 2005, but that changes as the Hurricane must replace Trey Watts, who finished with 3,515 career yards, and backup Ja’Terian Douglas. A pair of sophomores will get close looks. James Flanders only had two carries last season but enters fall camp atop the depth chart. He is expected to be challenged by highly touted junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson.

Keyarris Garrett, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second game last year, is expected to anchor the wide receiver position. Garrett had 67 catches for 845 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Talented sophomore Keevan Lucas (32 catches, 442 yards, one TD) returns. Look for Derek Patterson and Zach Epps to contribute as well.

The offensive line, so inexperienced last season, is looking for improvement. Garrett Stafford (left tackle), Dylan Foxworth (center) and Davis Walton (right tackle) will form the unit’s nucleus.

Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2014

Nine starters return for the Hurricane, but the one who doesn’t is C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson. “He is one of the greatest players we’ve had here, but we have 10 other spots where we are returning depth and not just individual starters,” Blankenship says. “The secondary has a chance to be special.”

Tulsa traditionally has fought a numbers game on the defensive line, but Blankenship should be able to rotate more players at the position this season. Defensive ends Derrick Alexander (team-high 6.5 sacks) and Chris Hummingbird (three sacks) should provide a steady pass rush, while Derrick Luetjen (49 tackles) has proven himself a run-stopper on the line.

Many different faces could get looks at linebacker. Trent Martin, who played in only five games last year, will be expected to provide leadership. Mitchell Osborne had 83 tackles last year, and Donnell Hawkins added 50 stops.

The secondary will be highlighted by the return of free safety Demarco Nelson, who sat out 2013 to focus on academics. Nelson, a preseason first-team All-C-USA pick last year, has 239 career tackles and eight interceptions. Strong safety Michael Mudoh had a team-high 133 tackles. 

Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2014

Carl Salazar solved Tulsa’s two-year search for a placekicker by connecting on 16-of-19 field-goal attempts last season, including an early season game-winner at Colorado State. Dalton Parks will return for punting duties.

Final Analysis

Tulsa won a conference championship in 2012 and finished with only three victories in 2013, the lowest total since a one-win campaign in 2002. TU will try to regroup in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season.




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#107 Central Michigan Chippewas

NATIONAL FORECAST

#107

MAC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Dan Enos, 19-30 (4 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Morris Watts | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Tumpkin

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. 107 Central Michigan.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2014

Injuries caused the Central Michigan offense to be slowed considerably in 2013. It was a storyline that helped turn what looked like one of the top offenses in the MAC into a middle-of-the-road attack that had some big games but also some very disappointing outings.

While senior quarterback Cody Kater is healthy again after being out almost all of last year with a broken collarbone suffered in the opener at Michigan, he might not be able reclaim his starting job. Cooper Rush took the reins in Kater’s absence and had some impressive moments as a redshirt freshman. He came off the bench in Week 2 against New Hampshire to throw for 326 yards and three touchdowns, leading the way to a 24–21 comeback victory. Rush also struggled at times with reads; too often he threw interceptions into the hands of sitting linebackers.

What will help Rush is the return of senior wide receiver Titus Davis, who toyed with the idea of entering the NFL Draft before opting to return. Arguably the best big-play threat in the conference and a first-team All-MAC selection as a junior, Davis caught 61 passes for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He ranks first among active FBS players in yards per catch (18.9).

Central Michigan returns an experienced offensive line led by senior left guard Andy Phillips, a second-team All-MAC selection as a junior.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Defense for 2014

This will be the third full year that the Chippewas will employ a 4-2-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin, and it has produced mixed results thus far. Central Michigan tied for seventh in the MAC in scoring defense (28.6 ppg) in 2013, but the Chips ranked fourth in the league in total defense (405.2 ypg).

Leading the charge defensively will be senior linebacker Justin Cherocci, who notched 121 tackles a year ago and is entering his third year as a starter. A third-team All-MAC selection in 2013, Cherocci shifts over to the strong side linebacker spot to replace the graduated Shamari Benton. Senior Cody Lopez and junior Tim Hamilton will battle for the other starting linebacker spot.

Expect a better frontline for CMU, with sophomore defensive tackle Jabari Dean back in the fold after missing last year with a groin injury. He was impressive as a freshman in 2012 and played well during spring practice. Senior defensive tackle Leterrius Walton has dropped down from 323 pounds to 297 and could make a huge difference inside.

Sophomore safety Tony Annese made some noise last season as he stepped into the starting lineup late and had 34-yard interception returns for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Western Michigan and Massachusetts.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2014

Ron Coluzzi converted 12-of-17 field goals as a freshman and will once again handle the placekicking. Punting duties will likely fall to true freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko, the son of former NFL punter Ralf Mojsiejenko.

Final Analysis

Central Michigan was bowl-eligible in 2013 with a 6–6 record but did not receive a postseason invite. There is considerable pressure on Dan Enos and his staff to get the Chips back among the elite in the MAC West. Enos inherited a program that went 32–7 in the MAC from 2005-09, but is 13–19 in league play in four seasons.

There are reasons for optimism: The Chips return 16 starters from a team that went 5–3 in the league. But there are also reasons for concern: Four of the five victories came against teams that either went 1–7 or 0–8 in the MAC.

Bottom line: This team is competitive but still not ready to contend in the West.




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#109 UAB Blazers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#109

C-USA East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Bill Clark, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryant Vincent | DEF. COORDINATOR: Duwan Walker

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. 109 UAB. 

Previewing UAB’s Offense for 2014

Finding playmakers shouldn’t be a problem for the Blazers. Finding someone to get the football to the playmakers could be a bit trickier. UAB has several quarterback candidates but none with any significant FBS experience. Junior college transfer Cody Clements moved to the front during spring practice, but redshirt freshman Jeremiah Briscoe, who had shoulder surgery last season, is not far behind. Four other quarterbacks are on the roster, including a pair of true freshmen, but it looks like the job will go to either Clements or Briscoe.

The good news is, they can spread it around to some quality playmakers. Sophomore running back Jordan Howard was a Freshman All-Conference USA selection after sharing the position with departed standout Darrin Reaves. If junior Bashr Coles stays healthy, then the Blazers have a pair of rugged runners.
Senior receiver Jamarcus Nelson was one of the most dynamic receivers in the conference last season — averaging 20.1 per catch on his 42 receptions and scoring eight touchdowns — and sophomore Jamari Staples is also a big-play threat. They are just the start of a deep and talented corps of pass-catchers that also features the top C-USA tight end in veteran Kennard Backman.

UAB should be solid up front, even though there could be a bunch of interchangeable parts. The Blazers have four returning regulars, including a pair of solid tackles in Cameron Blankenship and Victor Salako, and plenty of incoming help. Redshirt freshman center Zach Sims could be a future star.

Previewing UAB’s Defense for 2014

UAB fans are accustomed to bad defense. New head coach Bill Clark, a defensive coach by trade, looks to change that quickly. The Blazers appear to be deep on the defensive side and possibly more talented than in the recent past. Time will tell if that translates into more defensive success.

The secondary should be a strength after a disastrous 2013 when injuries decimated the defensive backfield. Calvin Jones and Jay Davis, who started at safety in last year’s opener, return after missing most of the season with injuries. They are part of a deep group of safeties, including intriguing junior college transfer Kalen Jackson, who also could play linebacker. Cornerback is well manned with Kelton Brackett, Lamarcus Farmer and Jimmy Jean leading the way.

UAB has to get better up front. Defensive ends Diaheem Watkins and undersized Chris Rabb give UAB speed on the edge, but the Blazers need to shore up the inside. Junior Jontavious Morris is solid at nose tackle, and junior college transfers Parrish Huddleston and Robert Mondie will contribute. Health is not an issue, and the numbers are good if some first-year players can fit in right away.

Jake Ganus, last year’s leading tackler, returns at linebacker but is not guaranteed a starting spot. Truth is, no one had a starting spot secured heading into fall camp. Destin Challenger played well in a short stint before getting injured last season, and Shaq Jones is impressive physically. Perhaps the most important thing is finding someone to win the job in the middle.

Previewing UAB’s Specialists for 2014

The Blazers have one of the top pairs of specialists in the league in kicker Ty Long and punter Hunter Mullins. Nelson is a dynamic kick returner.

Final Analysis

Don’t expect miracles from Clark in his first season, but do expect improvement from Garrick McGee’s short tenure as the program’s head coach. Defensive improvement is a must, and someone needs to secure the quarterback job. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see UAB double its win total from last season, which was two, but they are probably a couple of years away from turning things completely in the right direction.




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#127 FIU Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#127

C-USA East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Ron Turner, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Shankweiler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Josh Conklin

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. 127 FIU.

Previewing FIU’s Offense for 2014:

Coming off arguably the worst offensive season the Football Bowl Subdivision has seen since 2005, further regression seems impossible for FIU. The team will be based around an offensive line that returns five starters from last season, including left guard Jordan Budwig, a local product who started as a true freshman last season and was the team’s best run-blocker.

In all, FIU returns offensive linemen with a combined 69 career starts. The hope of FIU coach Ron Turner and his staff is that experience will help the Panthers improve a rushing offense that averaged 2.1 yards per carry last season (last in the nation, and it wasn’t even close) and a passing game that was forced into quick dump passes on nearly every down.

The big question for FIU in 2014 is who will be under center (and that idiom still applies to the pro-style Panthers). Jake Medlock, the Panthers’ starting quarterback last year, transferred to D-II Valdosta State for his senior season, leaving the man he beat out last year, E.J. Hilliard, and a promising pair of early enrollee freshmen to battle for the job. Hilliard, a scrambling quarterback from nearby Miami Northwestern, has never looked comfortable in Turner’s anti-spread scheme. His competition for the starting job comes from Tampa product Alex McGough. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, McGough is as prototypical of a pocket passer as FIU is going to find, and he stole the show in the Panthers’ spring game. He’ll be pushed by fellow freshman Bud Martin, who has the best arm strength of the three.

Regardless of which quarterback plays, he’ll be handing the ball off to junior running back Lamarq Caldwell, who averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season. For a team based in South Florida, FIU has a surprising dearth of playmakers at wide receiver. Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith picked up many of those dump passes.

Previewing FIU’s Defense for 2014: 

FIU didn’t exactly pair a strong defense with its anemic offense last year, and the defense could devolve further in 2014.

Finding two defensive tackles who can replace Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane is priority No. 1 in West Miami. The two tackles were the reason FIU’s 5.28 yards allowed per opponent rushing attempt wasn’t a bigger number and that the FIU pass rush had any numbers at all. With both gone to graduation, the Panthers will give first dibs on their jobs to junior Lars Koht and sophomore Imarjaye Albury.

There’s depth at defensive end, with Giovani Francois and Denzell Perine standing out. Wonderful Monds II should provide quality snaps as well. Darrian Dyson can play multiple positions and could be the D-line’s X-factor.

The return of cornerback Richard Leonard from academic ineligibility should boost an already solid secondary, which is anchored by free safety and male model (seriously) Justin Halley.

Linebacker is another position of concern. Middle backer Luis Rosado is the group’s top returning tackler (35). He’ll be flanked by Davison Colimon and Patrick Jean, who combined for 39 tackles.

Previewing FIU’s Specialists for 2014:

The Panthers are young on special teams. Austin Taylor returns after a decent freshman season in which he made 8-of-12 field goals. True freshman Luke Medlock is likely to win the starting punting job.

Final Analysis

While the natural progression of players and the return of Leonard at cornerback provide hope that FIU can improve, holes in the defensive front seven and the possibility that a true freshman will start at quarterback extinguish those small bits of positivity. Games against Louisville, Pitt, Marshall and even rival FAU are likely to be embarrassingly lopsided. The Panthers have a better chance of going winless than making a bowl game. 




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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