College Football



#19 LSU Tigers





HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 95-24 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis

LSU has won at least 10 games in each of the last four years, but that streak could be in jeopardy in 2014. The Tigers return 12 starters from last year’s 10-3 team and have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. However, quarterback play is a concern with the departure of Zach Mettenberger, while receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be playing on Sundays next year. The defense should be solid, but question marks exist at defensive tackle and at linebacker. Additionally, the brutal SEC West doesn’t provide for many breaks on the schedule in 2014.

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Previewing LSU’s Offense for 2014:

LSU’s leading passer (Zach Mettenberger), leading rusher (Jeremy Hill) and three leading receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Hill) from 2013 will be playing on Sundays in 2014, so the Tigers will have to lean heavily on their dominant offensive line and stingy defense early.

It’s been awhile since LSU had a full-blown quarterback battle, and the competition between sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris could extend into the regular season. Regardless, it’s been awhile since LSU was this young at quarterback, and both players are likely to see snaps this season. Jennings and Harris offer vastly different skill sets than Mettenberger, a pure drop-back passer who excelled last season under coordinator Cam Cameron’s tutelage. Jennings and Harris are skilled athletes who do their best work on the move.

Heralded running back recruit Leonard Fournette is too talented to sit for long. By midseason, he should see the majority of carries. The receiver corps is talented but woefully inexperienced. The Tigers desperately need either sophomore Travin Dural or newcomers John Diarse, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre to emerge as a playmaker.
With so little experience at the skill positions, look for the Tigers to lean heavily on their talented, experienced offensive line. Senior left tackle La’el Collins leads four returning starters.

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Previewing LSU’s Defense for 2014: 

The Tigers must replace several key players who bolted early for the NFL Draft, but there’s more than enough returning talent and experience to once again rank among the SEC’s stingiest units.

In terms of depth and sheer athleticism, few teams anywhere can match the Tigers across the front four. Ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will give the Tigers two of the top edge-rushers in the SEC if they can become more consistent. The playmaking Hunter (6'6") appears primed for a breakout season. Defensive tackle remains a question mark, but Quentin Thomas, Chris LaCouture and a trio of talented redshirt freshmen in Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron could provide answers.

The linebacker play was below LSU’s standards last season, so coordinator John Chavis shook up the ranks in the offseason by switching several players to new positions. The six returning lettermen combined to produce just one takeaway, so there’s room and need for major improvement. The staff is waiting for the light bulb to turn on for Kendell Beckwith, a former star recruit with size, speed and explosiveness to dominate on the second level.

The secondary is led by promising sophomore cornerbacks ­Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson. Both are former top recruits who should uphold the school’s tradition of outstanding secondary play. Safety is a question mark.

Previewing LSU’s Specialists for 2014:

Big improvement is expected from punter Jamie Keehn. His leg isn’t quite as strong as fellow Australian and former LSU punter Brad Wing, but he might be more consistent in the end. Colby Delahoussaye is solid if unspectacular on kicks. The Tigers must find a replacement for Beckham on returns. Dural and White will get the first crack.

Final Analysis

In many ways, this team should resemble the 2011 team that rode a power rushing attack and dominant defense to the BCS title game. If Les Miles’ heralded recruiting class lives up to expectations — particularly explosive offensive playmakers like Fournette, Quinn and Dupre — the Tigers should be capable of posting another 10-win season. But with so many new faces at key positions, it would be surprising if LSU could unseat Alabama or Auburn for supremacy in the brutally tough SEC West.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking LSU at No. 19:

1. No shortage of talent
Despite the loss of a handful of key starters from last year’s team, LSU still has a ton of talent on the roster. The Tigers have signed four top-10 recruiting classes over the last five years, including the No. 2 class in 2014. The roster boasts plenty of future stars, including freshman running back Leonard Fournette. How quickly can this talent reach its potential?

2. Quarterback uncertainty
Will it be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris taking the first snap of the season for LSU? It’s a question not expected to be answered until deep into fall practice. Jennings received limited snaps last year and struggled in the bowl win over Iowa. Harris – a true freshman – enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Even though the quarterback position is a concern, LSU can lean on a solid offensive line and rushing attack to win games.

3. The front seven on defense
LSU’s defense is a factory for NFL talent, but question marks remain about the front seven going into 2014. Both starting tackles (Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson) must be replaced, and the Tigers need more from starting ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Coordinator John Chavis also has work to do at linebacker. LSU did not boast a vintage defense last year, allowing 5.7 yards per play in SEC games (ranked seventh in the conference). Talent certainly isn’t an issue, but the front seven needs a lot of work before this team can contend for the West Division title.

4. Who steps up at receiver?
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry both departing for the NFL, LSU’s receiving corps is thin on proven options. Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie are the top returning statistical receivers, but the Tigers will count on a group of young players to contribute, including true freshman Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshmen Avery Peterson and John Diarse. Combine the uncertainty at quarterback with the lack of experience at receiver, and it’s clear LSU will need some time to develop its passing attack.

5. Best offensive line in the SEC?
Four starters return from an offensive line that was one of the best in the SEC last year. The Tigers need to replace guard Trai Turner, but Hoko Fanaika is a proven option. Tackle La’El Collins could push for All-American honors, and guard Vadal Alexander is one of the best in the SEC. With the uncertainty at quarterback and receiver, the Tigers need to lean on this unit in 2014.

The Debate

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#20 Kansas State Wildcats





HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 178-90-1 (22 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Dimel, Del Miller | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Hayes

With Bill Snyder on the sidelines, never count out Kansas State in the Big 12 title mix. Despite a handful of key personnel departures, the Wildcats finished 8-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play last season. Most of Kansas State’s core is back for 2014, including quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats have to find a new running back and replace standout safety Ty Zimmerman, but this team should be in the mix for a spot among the top-four teams in the Big 12 this year.

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Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2014:

Take a look back at coach Bill Snyder’s best seasons. For the most part, they all occurred when he had the opportunity to work with a veteran quarterback he could trust. That will once again be the case this season, with Jake Waters returning for what could be a special senior year. He completed 159-of-260 passes while throwing for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He also developed a strong rapport with top receiver Tyler Lockett that should continue to blossom. Last season, Waters’ development was slowed by a position battle with Daniel Sams. But he took control of the job and is now the unquestioned starter, while Sams moved to receiver in the spring. However, Sams decided to transfer in early May.

With a strong core of offensive linemen returning in senior center B.J. Finney and juniors Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson, blocking shouldn’t be a problem. Give Waters time, and he will have ample options to choose from in the passing game. The Wildcats are loaded at wide receiver. Lockett, a senior, returns as one of the nation’s top playmakers, but there is more to the position. Curry Sexton caught 39 passes for 446 yards last year, and sophomore Deante Burton seems poised to take on a starting role. Kyle Klein and Andre Davis should both also see the field.

The biggest question mark on offense is at running back. John Hubert, a three-year starter and the No. 2 rusher in program history, has played his last game. That means an unproven runner will take his place. DeMarcus Robinson, a senior and former four-star recruit out of Wichita, figures to be the favorite, but sophomores Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones aren’t far behind. Freshman Dalvin Warmack could also get carries as the season goes along.

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Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2014:

Ryan Mueller was an unknown last season. This year, he will be at the top of every opposing team’s scouting report. After bursting onto the scene as a junior with 11.5 sacks, which tied the program record for a season, he is now expected to anchor K-State’s defensive line with his pass-rushing skills. He will have to deliver. Though the Wildcats have lots of promising young talent on defense, Mueller is one of the unit’s few proven playmakers.

Travis Britz is back for another year in the middle of K-State’s defensive line, Dante Barnett will highlight the secondary at safety, and cornerback Randall Evans and linebacker Jonathan Truman have starting experience. But the rest of the defense will be filled with new faces. A pair of touted junior college transfers could slide seamlessly into the Wildcats’ defensive plans. Terrell Clinkscales is talented enough to play immediately at defensive tackle, and D’Vonta Derricott should start at linebacker. Still, they lack experience on the FBS level.

A year ago, K-State’s defense relied on veterans such as Blake Slaughter and Ty Zimmerman to lead the way. The Wildcats may be more talented this season, but they will need new leadership from players like Mueller.

Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Jack Cantele had a strong debut season as K-State’s kicker, connecting on 11-of-13 field goals. He seems ready for more this year. Lockett will once again lead the way at kick returner. He has been one of the most explosive return men in the nation the past few seasons, scoring four touchdowns.

Final Analysis 

K-State finished 2013 strong by winning six of seven. The Wildcats will need to take advantage of that momentum with an early trip to Iowa State and a home game with Auburn looming before October. If they do, it could be a special season in Manhattan.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Kansas State No. 20:

1. Finished 2013 by winning six out of their last seven games
Kansas State started 2-4 last year, but there was no shame in losing to North Dakota State, Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor. The Wildcats played better over the final seven contests, finishing with six victories in that span, with the only loss coming against Oklahoma. With 10 starters back, Kansas State has a chance to build off that total in 2014.

2. Jake Waters development at quarterback
In his first season at Kansas State, Waters quietly had an impressive debut. In 13 games, Waters threw for 2,469 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 61.2 percent of his throws. He ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 in quarterback rating and averaged 15.5 yards per completion. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, look for Waters to take the next step in his development in 2014.

3. Loaded receiving corps
Kansas State should have one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps in 2014. Tyler Lockett returns after catching 81 passes for 1,262 yards and 11 scores last year. Joining Lockett as key contributors will be Curry Sexton, Kyle Klein and junior college recruit Andre Davis.

4. Strength in the trenches
The defense returns only four starters, so there are some holes to fill, but coach Bill Snyder has to like what returns up front. The Wildcats return end Ryan Mueller and defensive tackle Travis Britz, and junior college recruit Terrell Clinkscales is expected to make an immediate impact. The offensive line is also among the best in the Big 12. Center B.J. Finney could be an All-American in 2014, and tackle Cody Whitehair is expected to be a first-team All-Big 12 player.

5. Challenging Big 12 schedule
Kansas State hosts Texas in a key conference swing game, but the Wildcats have five road Big 12 contests in 2014. Bill Snyder’s team plays at Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. This team has enough talent to exceed last year’s win total, but the schedule could prevent Kansas State from reaching 10 victories or challenging for the No. 1 spot in the conference.

The Debate

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#21 Clemson Tigers





HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 51-23 (5+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chad Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marion Hobby, Brent Venables

Clemson is coming off its best three-year stretch in school history, recording 32 wins and an Orange Bowl victory during that span. The Tigers have to rebuild on offense with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there is enough returning on both sides of the ball to expect another top-25 team. New quarterback Cole Stoudt has experience, and the defense is loaded with talent. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson has a favorable schedule, which could allow it to win 10 games once again in 2014.

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Previewing Clemson’s Offense for 2014:

This fall, change is the biggest constant for Clemson’s offense. Sure, offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the man behind the hurry-up, no-huddle, high-tempo system that averaged 40.2 points and 5

07.7 yards per game in 2013, is back for his fourth season running the Tigers’ offense. But most of the key weapons that fueled that run are gone. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s second-leading all-time passer, graduat

ed. Gamebreaking wideout Sammy Watkins left early for the NFL, and standout deep threat Martavis Bryant followed. Rod McDowell, a 1,000-yard rusher, also graduated, leaving the Tigers in the unenviable position of replacing their top passer, rusher and top two receivers.

However, Clemson has recruited well and believes in reloading, not rebuilding. Steady senior quarterback Cole Stoudt (79.7 percent completion rate in 2013) ended spring leading true freshman DeShaun Watson in the race to replace Boyd. That followed Chad Kelly’s post-spring dismissal after a spring-game sideline blowup, the last straw in what coach Dabo Swinney called “a pattern of behavior that was not consistent with the values of our program.”

Sophomore wideout Mike Williams has drawn comparisons to former NFL first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, and senior Adam Humphries is a steady presence. Coaches are high on a trio of freshman early enrollees: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.
If a lead back can emerge from the pack of junior Zac Brooks, senior D.J. Howard and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman, and the new receivers are capable, the Tigers will be dangerous.

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Previewing Clemson’s Defense for 2014:

Entering his third season, defensive co-coordinator Brent Venables has turned Clemson’s defense from a liability into a strength. Venables’ defense is smart and aggressive and knows its assignments.

The core of that defense returns, highlighted by most of the defensive line two-deep. Senior end Vic Beasley (13 sacks as a junior) is one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, a consensus All-American who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft. Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a run-stuffer and underrated talent.

The Tigers’ linebackers are also deeper than when Venables arrived three years ago. Senior Stephone Anthony is the leading returning tackler, with 131 tackles (13.5 for loss) and four sacks. He rebounded from a disappointing sophomore year to become a defensive leader, fierce tackler and impressive presence in the middle of the field. Former five-star recruit Tony Steward appears primed to step in for graduated senior Spencer Shuey (119 tackles in 2013).

In the secondary, Clemson will miss junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a gritty player who left early for the NFL Draft. But senior Martin Jenkins showed toughness in playing through wrist and shoulder injuries and is an excellent cover man, and touted redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander appears primed for a breakthrough.

Previewing Clemson’s Specialists for 2014:

With the departure of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson must replace the ACC’s No. 2 all-time scorer. Junior Ammon Lakip, who left the program briefly last summer, has a strong leg and is the favorite to replace Catanzaro. Junior Bradley Pinion is consistent and has a booming leg.

Final Analysis 

Clemson has established itself as one of the nation’s most consistent programs with three consecutive 10-win seasons and back-to-back 11-win seasons. But the Tigers have yet to solve rivals Florida State and South Carolina, going 0–4 against them in the past two years. Swinney and Co. have a stingy, improving defense and the talent to replace major offensive losses, but it’s hard to see how this group could take the leap from consistent program to national title contender this fall.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Clemson No. 21

1. Chad Morris back as the team’s offensive coordinator
Despite receiving interest from programs to be a head coach, Morris is back in Death Valley for 2014. Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football, and his return should ensure Clemson’s offense doesn’t suffer too much despite the loss of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

2. Best defensive line in the ACC
It’s hard to pick against Florida State at any position, but Clemson’s defensive line could be among the nation’s best in 2014. End Vic Beasley is back after recording 23 tackles for a loss, while tackle Grady Jarrett should be one of the top interior linemen in the ACC. There’s also quality depth, and this unit registered nearly three sacks a game in 2013 (2.9).

3. Favorable schedule
Yes, the opener at Georgia, the finale against South Carolina and ACC games against Florida State and North Carolina in September are a challenge, but Clemson has enough winnable games on the 2014 slate to push for 10 wins. Louisville is a key swing game for the Tigers, but the Cardinals have to come to Death Valley.

4. Offensive line concerns
Clemson’s roster doesn’t have many holes, but the line is a concern with the departure of tackle Brandon Thomas and guard Tyler Shatley. Center Ryan Norton is the anchor, and there’s talent returning with Isaiah Battle, David Beasley, Shaq Anthony and Kalon Davis. But how quickly will this unit mesh with Beasley and Anthony suspended for the opener?

5. Cole Stoudt should be solid at quarterback
Tajh Boyd leaves big shoes to fill at Clemson, but Stoudt appears to be a capable replacement. In relief work last year, Stoudt completed 47 of 59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Asking Stoudt to replicate Boyd’s numbers is a tough assignment. However, with experience, mobility and a good grasp of the offense, Stoudt should have a solid senior year.