College Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#1 Ohio State Buckeyes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#1

Big Ten East Division PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Urban Meyer, 38-3 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck, Ed Warinner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Ash, Luke Fickell

Ohio State opens 2015 as the favorite to repeat as college football’s national champion. Winning back-to-back titles is no easy assignment, but coach Urban Meyer’s team is loaded with proven talent. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman contender, and there’s no shortage of options at quarterback. The defense is also one of the best in the nation.

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Previewing Ohio State’s Offense for 2015


Urban Meyer teams move the ball and score — and that has only trended upward in Columbus.

The Buckeyes should be explosive once again as they return three accomplished quarterbacks, star running back Ezekiel Elliott, four starters along the offensive line (including All-Big Ten candidates Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein), useful tight end Nick Vannett, and a bevy of speedsters who can catch the ball.

The best of that lot is wideout Michael Thomas, who hauled in a team-best 54 passes for 799 yards and nine scores last season. The coaches want to get even more use out of Jalin Marshall and will really be able to put pressure on foes if burner Dontre Wilson can bounce back from a fractured foot.

Elliott is lined up for a monster year. The junior could approach 2,000 yards rushing — and Heisman finalist status. OSU also has another backfield weapon in Curtis Samuel, while true freshman Mike Weber could prove he deserves to see the field as well.

Ohio State’s trio of standout QBs — Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett — is an embarrassment of riches but raises lots of questions as to who is most deserving of the starting job. Miller is the most accomplished, Barrett the best game manager and Jones, or “12 Gauge” as he’s known, possesses the strongest arm. All of them can hurt defenses with their feet, making this unit even more lethal.

Related: Ohio State All-Time Athlon Sports Cover Gallery
 

Previewing Ohio State’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.

Ohio State wasn’t impenetrable last season, but the Buckeyes were pretty darn good at slowing teams down. Opponents averaged just 5.0 yards per play, 3.9 per rush and converted just a third of a their third-down plays. Plus, the Buckeyes racked up 45 sacks and scored six defensive touchdowns.

Key starters return up front, in the linebacking corps and at safety with defensive end Joey Bosa, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, the headliner. Bosa is a headache for offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Most teams try to stay away from him completely or double-team him with regularity. Tackle Adolphus Washington will counter some of that tactic. He’s also hard to keep out of the backfield.

If Ohio State adequately replaces departed lineman Michael Bennett, the linebackers should prosper. Joshua Perry is coming off a 124-tackle season on the outside and will be the leader of the defense. Darron Lee is a big-play performer, and middle backer Raekwon McMillan is perhaps the team’s biggest hitter.

Eli Apple is the Buckeyes’ top corner with Doran Grant out the door. He’s capable of big things. Safety is in experienced hands with Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell.

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

Previewing Ohio State’s Specialists for 2015 


All the key elements return to the specialty units, and the Buckeyes have plenty of speed and athleticism from which to choose as they formulate their new kick cover and return teams. Sean Nuernberger is coming off a solid year at placekicker, although he hasn’t attempted many pressure field goals. Power-legged Cameron Johnston is one of the Big Ten’s best punters at pinning opponents deep. Marshall is a weapon on punt returns but has a knack for making every one of them interesting.

Final Analysis


Last season was supposed to be the transition year for the Buckeyes. Instead, they blitzed through the Big Ten again, reached another level during the postseason and won the inaugural College Football Playoff. Now with seven returning starters entrenched on both sides of the ball, talent in all areas and a title under their belts, the Buckeyes’ challenge is to find a way to maintain an edge. Fortunately, they’ve got one of the game’s top motivators under the headset. 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#2 Alabama Crimson Tide

NATIONAL FORECAST

#2

SEC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 91-17 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kirby Smart

Alabama is loaded for another run at college football’s national championship. Sure, the Crimson Tide has a few holes to address on both sides of the ball, but coach Nick Saban’s roster is loaded with talent, and the defense should be among the best in the nation if the secondary is solidified. Finding a replacement for receiver Amari Cooper and a new starting quarterback are the top priorities for Saban this offseason.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Alabama’s Offense for 2015 


It’s been a long time since Alabama’s been forced to replace so much of its offense. The single-season passing record holder (Blake Sims), the top three receivers (Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones) and the school’s No. 4 all-time leading rusher (T.J. Yeldon) are gone. Oh, and three of the five starting linemen depart as well. So Lane Kiffin has a steep challenge in his second season as the Tide’s offensive coordinator.

The good news for Alabama? Its been stockpiling No. 1 recruiting classes, so there are plenty of talented players ready to take on leading roles. The biggest question, however, remains with the most important position: Who will be the starting quarterback? Continuity was lacking in spring as five scholarship QBs competed without a sure No. 1 emerging. Jake Coker will head into fall camp the leading candidate, but redshirt freshman David Cornwell emerged late in the spring as a viable option.

Former high school All-Americans Chris Black and Robert Foster appear primed to emerge as the top options in the passing game, and incoming freshman Calvin Ridley has a chance to be the next great playmaker at receiver.

The biggest threat, again, resides in the backfield. Derrick Henry, at 6’3”, 242 pounds, will be the feature back after two seasons sharing the role. The long-strider has an almost surprising second gear considering his size. Kenyan Drake returns from his horrifying broken leg suffered Oct. 4 at Ole Miss. The burst was back in the spring for the fastest member of Alabama’s backfield whose versatility will be utilized in the passing game again this fall.

Previewing Alabama’s Defense for 2015 

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

With inexperience on offense, the burden will be on Kirby Smart’s defense. The strength will be the front seven. Alabama’s line is as deep and as talented as it’s been in years with starters A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen back. They’re big but mobile enough to face the fast-paced, spread offenses that have become common in the SEC.

Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland turned down the NFL to play his final season in Tuscaloosa. His 95 tackles were second behind only Landon Collins last year. Former top recruit Reuben Foster is a big hitter and could join him in the middle of the defense this fall after proving his value on special teams.

The secondary was an issue late last season and will be without Collins and Nick Perry, the starting safeties. Competition at the position will continue through August with Geno Smith, Hootie Jones, Ronnie Harrison and Maurice Smith in the hunt. There’s experience at corner. Cyrus Jones, Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve and Tony Brown each have starting experience, but this group needs to play better in 2014.

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

Previewing Alabama’s Specialists for 2015 


Punter JK Scott broke out as one of the nation’s elite as a true freshman. His 48.0-yard average included 23 of 55 tries traveling more than 50 yards. His ability to impact field position could be crucial with an inexperienced offense. Kicker Adam Griffith’s consistency suffered when back problems surfaced in October. After making his first seven kicks last fall, Griffith made just 5-of-12 to close the season.

Final Analysis 


Alabama
hasn’t lost a season-opener since 2001, but a date with Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, will be a stout test with an uncertain offense. Establishing a No. 1 quarterback early in August will be crucial for developing chemistry with inexperienced receivers. On defense, the front seven should help Alabama retain its reputation among the nation’s most imposing units. But it’ll have to plug the leaks in the secondary that created major issues against Auburn and in the Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State.

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