College Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#49 BYU Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#49

Independent PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 90-39 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Anae | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Howell

Bronco Mendenhall enters his 11th season in Provo with some renewed excitement. That’s because BYU welcomes back Heisman candidate and superstar athlete Taysom Hill. The Cougars' schedule is much more difficult this fall as compared to last season, but getting Hill back could more than compensate for the increased difficulty.

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Previewing BYU’s Offense for 2015


BYU was 4–0 and ranked No. 18 before quarterback Taysom Hill broke his leg in the second quarter against Utah State, and the Cougars lost four straight games before recovering to finish 8–5 in 2014. Always a strong runner, Hill had shown signs of becoming an outstanding passer prior to his injury. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes in five games, a major improvement over his sophomore season. Hill also ran for 460 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. Running is a big part of his game, but he may be more conscious of protecting himself as a senior. He did not fully participate in spring drills but continued his passing development in limited work. “His arm is really good,” says offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

Jamaal Williams needs 930 yards to become BYU’s all-time leading rusher. He might have challenged the record as a junior, but his season ended in early November because of a knee injury. If he’s at full strength in 2015, he will complement Hill’s ability, and BYU should have a dynamic offense.

Receiver Mitch Mathews was the offense’s star of the spring, positioning himself for a big senior season. The coaches worry about depth on the line, but they’re very confident about the ability of the starters, led by Freshman All-America center Tejan Koroma.


Previewing BYU’s Defense for 2015
 

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

BYU’s 55–48 double-overtime loss to Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl persuaded coach Bronco Mendenhall to take over the defense again, after having coordinator Nick Howell make the in-game calls in 2014. Mendenhall is asking a lot of the defensive players, in effort and accountability. “They’re learning and adjusting to that,” he says. “They’re slowly making steps, rising to the expectations and demands I’m placing. Eventually, they’ll play well.”

Bronson Kaufusi is BYU’s best athlete among defensive players. Finding the best position for him is the issue. He played outside linebacker in 2014 and was productive, with a team-high 11.5 tackles for a loss, but he may be better suited at end.

Some of the Cougars’ top linebackers missed spring drills, but all of them are expected to be available in August and should help BYU improve after ranking 56th in total defense, allowing 391.5 yards per game. Harvey Langi is an intriguing player, having played running back at Utah prior to transferring and moving to defense.

Mendenhall is comfortable with his front seven but has concerns in the secondary, where junior college transfer Eric Takenaka was a discovery at safety in the spring. 


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

Previewing BYU’s Specialists for 2015


Trevor Samson attempted only 14 field goals in 2014, but he made 12, including a season-long 45-yarder in overtime against Memphis. Punting is a big issue, as BYU replaces Scott Arellano. Two freshmen, Taylor Parker and Chasen Brown, are among the contenders. Adam Hine’s 24.5-yard average on kickoff returns included a 99-yard touchdown against Virginia. Takenaka was an outstanding returner at Snow College and will join Hine. 


Final Analysis

BYU’s 2014 season did not end well. The loss to Memphis, followed by a postgame brawl, left the Cougars with regrets. The Cougars’ September schedule offers an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves and improve the outside perception of the program. Games with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan will go a long way toward defining BYU’s 2015 season. In an era when BYU is an Independent, Mendenhall is eager to make an impact. “We’re playing our way into contention and national recognition through the best opponents on the biggest stages, mostly away from home,” he says.




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.

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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

#48 Texas Tech Red Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

Big 12 PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, 12-13 (2 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Gibbs

Kliff Kingsbury has had an interesting two-year start to his head-coaching career at Texas Tech. Year One featured big offensive numbers and an impressive postseason victory over Arizona State. Year Two featured another undisciplined team, seven Big 12 losses and no postseason. Kingsbury has plenty of talent, both as a coach and on his depth chart, but has to correct his team’s sloppy play if Tech expects to get back to a bowl game in 2015.

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Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense for 2015


Texas Tech’s quarterbacks production was up and down throughout the 2014 season. Sophomore Davis Webb started the team’s first eight games before being shut down for the season due to a shoulder injury. True freshman Patrick Mahomes replaced Webb in the lineup and showed enough promise to emerge as a strong candidate to earn the job in the fall.

The offense as a unit was inconsistent and prone to turnovers. But with eight starters back, the Red Raiders are hoping to build on the last few games of the year when they finally seemed to get things on track.

The two strengths are the starting offensive line, which will return four veterans, including all-conference left tackle Le’Raven Clark, and running back, led by DeAndre Washington. The Red Raiders are looking for consistency at receiver as a young group turned in an uneven performance in 2014. Jakeem Grant is the leader of the pack, and the shifty senior should be a versatile weapon for the offense. Devin Lauderdale and Ian Sadler both emerged late in the year, but they’ll need to build upon that success if Texas Tech is to take a step forward this fall. The coaches are hoping that junior Reginald Davis will step up — he has loads of talent but has yet to realize his potential.

Ultimately, the Red Raiders’ offense will go as the quarterback goes. If the winner between Webb and Mahomes can limit turnovers and produce at an above-average level, Texas Tech should return to the postseason in 2015. 

Previewing Texas Tech's Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big 12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The word of the offseason around the Texas Tech football office is turnovers. The offense is focused on reducing the amount committed, and the defense, led by new coordinator David Gibbs, is focused on forcing them.

Gibbs’ defense at Houston did a fantastic job of forcing turnovers over the last two seasons, and the hope in Lubbock is that he can duplicate some of that magic on the South Plains.

In the secondary, Gibbs will have some experience and potential with which to work, including sophomore corner Nigel Bethel and safety Keenon Ward. At linebacker, senior Micah Awe is the only experienced, veteran piece. But there are interesting options, including linebacker Dakota Allen and former five-star prospect and Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell.

The defensive line returns all but one player, including Big 12 sack leader Pete Robertson (12 sacks in 2014) at one end and senior Branden Jackson on the other. Things must improve on the interior, however, as former junior college transfers Rika Levi and Keland McElrath are being relied upon to take big steps forward, which they appeared to do in the spring. It’s a unit that must improve if Tech is to make a bowl, and things appear to be moving in the right direction. 

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


Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists for 2015

 

Clayton Hatfield, a former U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, will compete with Michael Barden and Taylor Symmank for the starting placekicking job. Hatfield has a big leg and likely has the edge. Symmank is expected to be the Red Raiders’ starting punter. The coverage units should take another step forward with an influx of young talent from among the incoming freshmen. 


Final Analysis


In Year 3 of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure, two things are very clear: The offense must find some consistency and the defense simply has to be better. The addition of Gibbs should help stabilize the ailing defense, but all bets are off until they hit the field this fall. The big key, however, is at quarterback. The winner of the Mahomes vs. Webb battle must play at a high level for Texas Tech to return to form.

The Debate

Where Does DeAndre Washington Rank Among Big 12 RBs?

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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.

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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?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Minnesota Golden Gophers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jerry Kill, 25-26 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Limegrover | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tracy Claeys

Few coaches get more out of their team than Jerry Kill at Minnesota. It's easy to forget that the Golden Gophers were one half away from winning the Big Ten West Division last fall. With just four starters back on offense, Kill knows his offense has some work to do this summer. Luckily, the defense brings back seven starters, so expect Minnesota to win low-scoring games early in the year while the offense gets up to speed.

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Previewing Minnesota’s Offense for 2015


Minnesota has steadily improved in each of Jerry Kill’s four seasons, but to take the next step, the passing game must improve. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner returns to a passing attack that ranked 119th nationally last year.

The Gophers need to replace their two best playmakers on offense, as running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams are both headed to the NFL. Minnesota installed a new, no-huddle offense this spring and worked extensively on its short passing game. The goal is to get the ball out of Leidner’s hands more quickly.

“We can’t lose our identity of who we are,” Kill says. “We’re going to run the football. But I think we win two or three more games last year if we throw it a little bit better. That’s our fault (as coaches), not the kids’ fault.”

The battle for the 300-plus carries that went to Cobb last year starts with senior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith. The receiving corps needs a boost, and the Gophers hope for big things from four redshirt freshmen — Jeff Jones, Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland Jr.

Previewing Minnesota’s Defense for 2015
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Defense has been a strength under Kill, and this could be defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys’ stingiest bunch yet. The Gophers will start four seniors in the secondary, including All-Big Ten cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. Boddy-Calhoun had five interceptions last year, compared to one for Murray, but that’s because teams often avoid Murray altogether.

After ranking ninth in the Big Ten in sacks last year (2.08 per game), the Gophers should have a better pass rush. Defensive end Hank Ekpe, who was limited with a severe sinus infection last year, was one of the most impressive players in spring camp. Another defensive end, Theiren Cockran, had 7.5 sacks in 2013. The Gophers must replace middle linebacker Damien Wilson, but Claeys felt like the linebackers were the most pleasant surprise this spring. It’s unclear who will start in Wilson’s place — Cody Poock or Everett Williams — but Claeys likes both options.


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

Previewing Minnesota’s Specialists for 2015


Kill’s teams are usually strong on special teams, and this unit could be one of his best. Senior Peter Mortell was the Big Ten Punter of the Year last season, leading the conference with a 45.2-yard average. Sophomore kicker Ryan Santoso hit a 56-yard field goal in the spring game. Craig James was the Big Ten’s fifth-leading punt returner last year, and Jalen Myrick was the conference’s second-leading kickoff returner.

Final Analysis

Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, and he’ll need to work more magic this year against a schedule that includes TCU and Ohio State. The coaches are confident they have enough running back talent to replace Cobb, but there’s no substitute for a dynamic tight end like Williams. Leidner was instrumental in all five Big Ten wins last year. He needs to be more consistent. If the offense finds a way, this won’t be a fun team to play.

“We’ve got a chance to be a really, really good football team,” Kill says. “We’re very athletic on both sides of the ball.”

The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West last year but wound up pushing Wisconsin to a final-week showdown for the division title. The Gophers landed their first New Year’s Day bowl appearance since 1962, and more than 20,000 of their fans turned out to watch them play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.

The fans want more. The Gophers haven’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003 and haven’t won a bowl game since 2004. If Kill can get those things done, his popularity will continue to soar.

The Debate

Where Does Jerry Kill Rank Among Big Ten Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44 Kansas State Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 187-94-1 (23 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Dimel, Del Miller | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Hayes

As long as Bill Snyder is the head coach in Manhattan, Kansas State will always be a contender in the Big 12. After another nine-win season last year — Snyder's 13th with the Wildcats — KSU enters the '15 season with some big holes to plug. Kansas State needs to find a leader at quarterback, replace stars at wide receiver and fill major voids in the front seven on defense if the Cats want to compete for a Big 12 crown.

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Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2015


Bill Snyder’s teams are at their best when he has a returning quarterback he trusts throwing passes. This season, he will try to prove he can win with a new quarterback, too. And when we say new, we mean brand, spanking new. The frontrunner, Joe Hubener, has never started a football game at any level at quarterback. The junior from Cheney, Kan., played other positions in high school and walked on at K-State as an athlete. He has since worked his way up to scholarship status and served behind Jake Waters as the team’s backup quarterback a year ago. He spent the spring battling with sophomore Jesse Ertz and freshman Alex Delton but says the job is his to lose.

No matter who ends up claiming the prize, K-State’s offense will look very different next season. While Waters was a gifted passer, his potential replacements are better runners.

Running will be key behind an offensive line that returns everyone other than center B.J. Finney. But the Wildcats will need better production from their running backs, none of whom exceeded 76 yards in a game last season. Charles Jones returns as the presumptive starter after rushing for 540 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.

The Wildcats lose star receivers Tyler Lockett and slot expert Curry Sexton and will look to an untested group of receivers to take their place.

Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big 12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Dante Barnett is understandably confident about K-State’s secondary. Allow the senior defensive back to explain why: “We are so experienced. We have the talent. We have a physical corner and a speed corner. That is big.” Barnett has started 28 games at safety, and he is ready to lead K-State’s defense as a senior, especially with fellow seniors Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns returning at corner. McDaniel covers short passes as well as anyone, and Burns has eye-popping speed.

That trio should help the Wildcats as they try to improve their front seven after the loss of leading tackler Jonathan Truman. Linebacker Elijah Lee did not make as many stops as most of his teammates while playing regularly as a true freshman, but he had as many highlight hits as anyone. Lee finished his first college season with 19 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. He did all that while playing mostly on third downs as a standup pass rusher. Now, K-State hopes he can do more in an expanded role, joining Will Davis in the middle of K-State’s defense.

Up front, all-conference defensive tackle Travis Britz should lead the way, while Marquel Bryant and Jordan Willis try to replace Ryan Mueller’s production at defensive end.


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

Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2015


Placekicker Matthew McCrane had a fantastic freshman campaign, connecting on 18-of-19 field goals. He will provide a steady foot in the kicking game, while Nick Walsh returns as punter. At specialist, the main question is: Who will replace Lockett? The do-everything player was hard to catch a year ago. Morgan Burns returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season, so he should slide into that role.

Final Analysis

On paper, Kansas State looks like it lost too many playmakers to match its win total from a year ago, but you can’t count out a Snyder-coached team.

“It is obvious there were some critical elements in our program that we lost. When you lose the production that we had offensively, it certainly is sorely missed,” Snyder says. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost fewer people, fewer numbers. The dynamics are difficult, and they are every year. Some positions are a little harder to reconstruct than others. We have a lot of work ahead of us.” 

The Debate

Is Bill Snyder the Best Coach in the Big 12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#43 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Al Golden , 28-22 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

Al Golden has been at Miami four seasons and has yet to elevate the Hurricanes back to the ACC's elite. He has loads of talent — the Canes had seven players drafted in April — but hasn't been able to win a division crown. The offense has been solid every year Golden has been in Coral Gables. However, his defenses have been a major liability. With a star developing at quarterback, will 2015 finally be the season Miami returns to ACC title contention?

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
 

Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2015
 

No Duke Johnson, no Phillip Dorsett, no Ereck Flowers … but at least the Hurricanes have Brad Kaaya. The quarterback-starved Canes thanked their lucky stars for the 6'4", 209-pound Southern California native who captured the ACC Rookie of the Year award and set UM true freshman records for passing yards and touchdowns. Now a sophomore, Kaaya’s the marquee player for an offense that loses a host of NFL-caliber talent — most notably Johnson, the program’s all-time leading rusher. Kaaya must also do without blazing-fast receiver Dorsett, athletic tight end Clive Walford and three offensive line starters, including Flowers, the elite left tackle. 

The Canes do have two promising backs in 5'9", 195-pound sophomore Joseph Yearby (509 yards and a touchdown as Johnson’s backup in 2014) and junior Gus Edwards, who has surprising burst for a 6'2", 230-pound power runner. They have a deep group of receivers, including Stacy Coley, who slumped last year but had a Freshman All-America season in 2013.

On the unfortunate side of things, Kaaya does not have a proven cast of offensive lineman. The only full-time starter returning is right guard Danny Isidora, though youngsters Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder saw meaningful snaps last year. Kaaya is also not very mobile, which is why the Canes might give a dual-threat backup Malik Rosier a look in certain packages.
 

Previewing Miami’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Hurricanes were 14th nationally in total defense last season, but that was mostly a mirage. UM allowed 300-plus rushing yards to Nebraska and Georgia Tech and couldn’t get the stops needed to put away Florida State or South Carolina.

It’s not a sure bet the unit will improve after losing stalwart middle linebacker Denzel Perryman and reliable defensive linemen Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre. However, Miami’s talented secondary could be coming into its own. Senior safety Deon Bush (five forced fumbles) and junior corners Corn Elder and Artie Burns look like playmakers, and junior weak-side linebacker Jermaine Grace finished second on the team in tackles (60, 6.5 for a loss) despite playing second-string minutes. Defensive ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad look like breakout players.

As a whole, the defensive line is unproven and largely underwhelming. There’s also little depth among the linebackers, which forced coach Al Golden to move pass-rusher Tyriq McCord to strong-side linebacker.

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

Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2015


Though first-year punter Justin Vogel was reliable, true freshman kicker Michael Badgley was up-and-down (14-of-18 field goals, long of 48 yards, four missed extra points). The real problem area was the return game. The Canes will also have to be better in covering kicks; they were last in the ACC in return yardage allowed. 

Final Analysis

Few coaches in America occupy a hotter seat than Golden, who is 28–22 entering his fifth season. The Hurricanes lost four straight to finish 6–7 — UM’s third losing season in the last 35 years. He recruited well through a lengthy NCAA investigation, but fans howl that the program keeps sailing further and further from the glory years.

This year’s team is young, after losing a host of NFL-caliber talent, and has to battle a brutal October stretch that includes Florida State (in Tallahassee) and Clemson. The Canes haven’t played for the ACC title since joining the conference in 2004, and it doesn’t look like this will be the year.

The ‘U’ stands for ‘Underwhelming’ now, and if Golden doesn’t produce results this season, he might be looking for work elsewhere. 

The Debate

Where Does Brad Kaaya Rank Among ACC QBs?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#42 North Carolina Tar Heels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#42

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora , 21-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Seth Littrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Gene Chizik

Larry Fedora enters a critical fourth season at North Carolina with lots of talent and high expectations. He's won more ACC games than he's lost (13-11) but hasn't been able to get the Tar Heels over the hump and compete for a division crown. In fact, Fedora's win total has dropped year over year in each of his three seasons at the helm in Chapel Hill. Marquise Williams is back under center on offense and former Auburn coach Gene Chizik joins the ranks in an effort to reform what was an atrocious defense a year ago.

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Previewing North Carolina’s Offense for 2015
 

North Carolina brings back 10 offensive starters and several key reserves from 2014, resulting in some unusual continuity. The Tar Heels return 100 percent of their rushing yards, 99.2 percent of their passing yards and 83.7 percent of their receiving yards from last season.

Quarterback Marquise Williams is the trigger man after setting a single-season school record for total offense. He is a dual threat who led the team in rushing last season, but coaches want to ease his burden in the run game so that he takes fewer hits in 2015.

The success of that plan depends on the play of UNC’s talented running backs and the improvement of a developing offensive line. The Tar Heels have running backs with a variety of skills in T.J. Logan (all-around ability), Elijah Hood (power), and Romar Morris (speed). The offensive line is headlined by senior right guard Landon Turner, who is joined by fellow third-year starter Jon Heck at right tackle. Sophomore Bentley Spain has ascended to the starting position at left tackle, where he figures to become a fixture.

In the passing game, UNC’s collection of receivers is impressive. Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, and Bug Howard all stand at least 6'4" and make for inviting targets, while 5'10" Ryan Switzer is a big-play threat on short and long passes alike.

Previewing North Carolina’s Defense for 2015
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Head coach Larry Fedora hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to fix a defense that finished last in the conference in every major category and set league records for points and yards allowed. Chizik is installing a base 4-3 to take the place of the 4-2-5 scheme that the Tar Heels used over the last three seasons, and players have noted that it is easier to understand and execute.

The defensive line lacks a proven stud, but it features some intriguing young prospects in sophomores Nazair Jones and Dajaun Drennon and freshmen Jeremiah Clarke and Jalen Dalton. Senior middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer emerged during the spring as the leader of the defense, and he is coming off a season in which he finished second on the team in tackles. UNC returns seven of its top eight defensive backs from a year ago, including a potential standout in cornerback Brian Walker. But the Tar Heels need improvement from everyone in the secondary after allowing an ACC-record 31 touchdown passes last season.

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

Previewing North Carolina’s Specialists for 2015
 

After struggling on punt returns last season, Switzer is looking to recapture the form he showed in 2013 when he led the nation in punt return average and tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns. UNC has far bigger worries on special teams. Kickoff specialist Nick Weiler and redshirt freshman Freeman Jones are competing for the placekicking job after the Tar Heels missed all seven of their field-goal tries from beyond 30 yards a year ago. UNC also is breaking in a new punter.

Final Analysis 
 

North Carolina's season depends heavily upon two factors: the health of Williams, and how much the defense can improve on last season’s disastrous results. The Tar Heels don’t look like a championship contender, but they have a couple of factors in their favor. One, they play in the ACC’s Coastal Division, so they don’t have to worry about league heavyweights Florida State and Clemson in the standings. And two, they don’t have to worry about Florida State and Clemson at all because they don’t play them (or Louisville, for that matter) this season. A winning season and another bowl trip are within reach, and any result substantially better than that could make Chizik an appealing candidate for a head coaching job with another program.

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