College Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#56 Boston College Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#56

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Steve Addazio, 14-12 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Todd Fitch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Brown

Steve Addazio has installed a personality in two seasons at . His teams have an identity, and the program is coming off back-to-back bowl games. The rest of the knows exactly what it’s getting out of the Eagles on both sides of the ball and it’s still tough to stop. However, with just nine starters back, Addazio has his work cut out for him in the brutal .


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Previewing Boston College’s Offense for 2015
 

With former offensive coordinator Ryan Day now the quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, new OC Todd Fitch will have to break in a new system, a new starting quarterback and a new offensive line that replaces five starters. In other words, while the have plenty of returning talent at running back, there are more questions than answers for an offense that rushed for 254.7 yards per game last year, good for 14th in the nation.

Expect quarterback Darius Wade to start. The sophomore threw only eight passes a year ago, and the 6'0", 201-pound dual threat will need to be more accurate than the departed Tyler Murphy (57 percent completion rate in 2014) for the offense to take the next step. Tight end/receiver Dan Crimmins was expected to be the top target for Wade, but his status with the team is uncertain as of late May.

The ground game should be in good hands with sophomore running back Jon Hilliman, who gained 860 yards with 13 touchdowns last fall. He will lead another committee approach that includes Myles Willis, Tyler Rouse and Marcus Outlow. Although not a running back, the speedy Sherman Alston should get plenty of carries from his wide receiver spot on jet sweeps, as the sophomore rushed for 352 yards at 10.4 yards per carry as a true freshman.

The only fly in the ointment may be the offensive line, which replaces all five starters. That said, coach Steve Addazio likes what he has on the interior, with sixth-year senior Harris Williams, who can play either guard or center, leading the way.

Previewing Boston College’s Defense for 2015

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown always puts together an attacking unit that is led by a rugged front seven and utilizes a lot of creative blitzes. Expect that to be the case again and for the Eagles to repeat as one of the top defenses in the country against the run. A year ago, the finished second only to Michigan State in rush defense, allowing only 94.5 yards per game.

Clearly, the strength of the defense — and possibly the team overall — is in the front seven. The return five starters there, including three along a defensive line that returns tackles Truman Gutapfel and Connor Wujciak and end Kevin Kavalec. Along with other projected starter Malachi Moore at end, those four combined for 29.5 tackles for a loss last year and should increase that production in 2015.

The linebackers are led by senior Steven Daniels, who was second on the team with 72 tackles last year, including 7.0 for a loss. The secondary loses cornerback Manny Asprilla and safety Dominique Williams, but free safety Justin Simmons, the team’s leading tackler, is back. Simmons, who made 76 stops and two interceptions a year ago, can also play cornerback and gives the secondary leadership and experience. 


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Previewing Boston College’s Specialists for 2015
 

The will need more consistency out of kicker Alex Howell, who made just 5-of-11 field goal attempts last year, including 3-of-9 from 40 yards or longer. Howell acquitted himself much better as a punter with a 42.5-yard average. Returns should be in good hands with Willis and Alston back to handle kick and punt return duties, respectively.

Final Analysis 
 

Addazio has this program going in the right direction after taking over a 2–10 team and putting together back-to-back winning seasons. Still, the question remains whether or not the can take that next step and become a true contender in the . The defense should give this team a chance, but an inexperienced offense may prevent any giant leaps forward.

The Debate

Where Does Jon Hilliman Rank Among ACC RBs?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#59 Memphis Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#59

American Athletic West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Justin Fuente, 17-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Darrell Dickey | DEF. COORDINATOR: Galen Scott

Justin Fuente has quickly changed the mindset of the Memphis program. This team was competitive against big-time competition last year and claimed a share of the championship. The offense should be solid with seven starters back, but Fuente has to replace eight starters and a coordinator on the defensive side of the ball. If things fall into place quickly, this team is a top challenger in the once again.

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Previewing Memphis’ Offense for 2015
 

When he named Paxton Lynch, a 6'7" freshman, his starting quarterback before the start of the 2013 season, Memphis coach Justin Fuente encountered mild criticism. Fuente never wavered in his belief that Lynch could develop into one of the top quarterbacks. After struggling his freshman season, Lynch blossomed last fall. He passed for 3,031 yards — becoming only the third Tigers quarterback to surpass 3,000 yards in a season — to lead the program to its first 10-win season since 1938 and its first bowl game since 2008.

At running back, the Tigers lost veteran Brandon Hayes, who finished just shy of 1,000 yards, but return Doroland Dorceus, who missed most of the season and spring practice with a knee injury. Sophomore Jarvis Cooper is a punishing 250-pounder who possesses deceptive speed. He should be a first option in goal-line situations. Junior Sam Craft is a multi-purpose talent who could line up in the backfield or at receiver.

Memphis returns leading receiver Mose Frazier, more efficient than flashy operating out of the slot. In all, four of the team’s top six receivers are back, including tight end Alan Cross, who was a first-team all-league selection last year. 

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Previewing Memphis’ Defense for 2015

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

One of the league’s top defensive units was hit hard by losses as it must replace eight starters. Plus, highly regarded coordinator Barry Odom left to return to Missouri, his alma mater, in the same role. Associate head coach and linebackers coach Galen Scott steps into Odom’s position.

Scott has to find three new starting linebackers, three new starting defensive backs and two new starting defensive linemen. Cornerback Bobby McCain was a four-year starter, and defensive end Martin Ifedi was the school’s career sacks leader. Linebacker Tank Jakes was the .

In their places, Scott could insert Dontrell Nelson at cornerback, Latarius Brady at defensive end and Wynton McManis at linebacker. All played extensively as reserves with Nelson returning an interception 58 yards for a touchdown.

The top defensive returnee will be end/linebacker Jackson Dillon, a rangy, hard-hitting player who forced two fumbles and had nine tackles for a loss. Nelson and junior Chauncey Lanier are the leading candidates to start at cornerback. Free safety Reggis Ball is the lone returning starter in the secondary.

Previewing Memphis’ Specialists for 2015
 

Memphis returns the league’s top kicker and reigning conference Special Teams Player of Year in Jake Elliott, whose season included a dramatic 54-yard, game-tying field goal in the first overtime of the Tigers’ win over BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. He has made 37-of-50 field goals in his first two seasons, including the game-winner in the closing seconds at Temple last year that made the Tigers bowl-eligible. The punting game is solid behind sophomores Spencer Smith and Nick Jacobs. On kickoffs, the Tigers will attempt to snap what is believed to be nation’s longest drought. Memphis has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1996.

Final Analysis 
 

After going 10–3 last season and claiming a share of the title, the Tigers are poised to repeat those successes. With Lynch at quarterback, the Tigers will possess a potent offense, one capable of overcoming whatever a rebuilding defense allows. A running game featuring two physical, punishing backs could be potent. Defensively, the Tigers will have to find replacements for eight players, including two — McCain and Ifedi — who will be playing in the NFL. How quickly the secondary develops in a pass-oriented conference could determine the team’s ability to repeat as league champs.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#53 Iowa Hawkeyes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#53

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Kirk Ferentz, 115-85 (16 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Parker

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at the helm of the football program. He’s seen amazing highs — two Orange Bowls and two titles — and plenty of lows. For all of the heat he’s taken, Ferentz has still gotten Iowa to 12 bowls games in his last 14 seasons. That should once again be the target of the ’15 squad. The question is how many more solid but uninspiring seasons will keep Hawkeyes fans happy? 

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Previewing Iowa’s Offense for 2015


The end of last season was also the end of Jake Rudock as an Iowa quarterback. Rudock, who started 25 of Iowa’s last 26 games, transferred to Michigan after being passed on the depth chart by junior C.J. Beathard shortly after last season.

Rudock had a 14–11 record as starting quarterback but was criticized for being too conservative as a passer, often settling for safer underneath routes instead of throwing downfield. Beathard, on the other hand, is blessed with a powerful right arm and likes to use it. The Tennessee native, who is the grandson of former NFL executive Bobby Beathard, played in nine games last season, starting one. He replaced an injured Rudock for the second half against Pittsburgh and for the entire game at Purdue. Iowa won both games, which fueled Beathard’s popularity. Keeping Beathard healthy will be of utmost importance because no other quarterback on the roster has any game experience.

Senior Jordan Canzeri takes over for the departed Mark Weisman as the starting running back. Canzeri is faster and shiftier than the 240-pound Weisman, but Canzeri also is injury prone. Junior LeShun Daniels also will be in the mix at running back after missing most of last season with an injury. The 225-pound Daniels probably has the best combination of power and speed among all the Iowa running backs.

Much is expected from senior receiver Tevaun Smith and senior tight end Jake Duzey. Smith led with 596 receiving yards last season, while Duzey was third with 392 receiving yards.

Previewing Iowa’s Defense for 2015
 

, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

As disappointing as the offense was last season, the defense wasn’t much better. You could argue that it was worse in the TaxSlayer Bowl, as Tennessee shredded the Iowa defense for 461 total yards, including 283 rushing yards.

It won’t matter a whole lot what the offense does if the defense continues to struggle. There are some quality pieces to build around, most notably All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott and cornerback Desmond King.

However, the linebackers are a major concern, and there will be new starters at both tackle positions. All three of Iowa’s starting linebackers are sophomores who were rushed into duty last season as freshmen. They flashed at times but were overmatched on many occasions.

The secondary, with three starters returning, is probably the strength on defense, although it was hard to tell during the loss to Tennessee because of all the missed tackles.


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Previewing Iowa’s Specialists for 2015


Senior kicker Marshall Koehn might have improved more than any player on the team last season. He went from being a liability in the early stages of the season to a strength at the end. He made 12 of his 16 field-goal attempts and was impressive during spring practice. In fact, Koehn has impressed the coaches enough to where they also might let him punt. Seniors Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd, both of whom are on scholarship, shared the punting responsibilities last season, but neither has distinguished himself. 

Final Analysis

It seems like with every strength that has, there is a weakness to offset it. Three starters return on the offensive line, but both tackles have to be replaced, including Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff. Both starters return at defensive end, but neither starter returns at defensive tackle.

Beathard is considered more athletic than Rudock, but he still is mostly unproven as a starting quarterback.

Iowa has been average over the past three seasons with a 19–19 record. Expect more of the same from this team despite another favorable schedule.

The Debate

Where Does Kirk Ferentz Rank Among Big Ten Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#50 Houston Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#50

American Athletic West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tom Herman, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Major Applewhite | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando, Craig Naivar

Tom Herman enters his first season as a head coach accustomed to expectations. After winning a national championship as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, he now enters the as one of the league’s contenders with . The  has one of the most talented rosters in the league and could be considered the frontrunner if Herman can hit the ground running.

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Previewing Houston’s Offense for 2015


By the end of the spring, new coach Tom Herman did not have a ringing endorsement for his offense: “We’re awful,” he said. “We’re not very good.” That’s to be expected as the Cougars attempt to change the culture of a once high-powered offense that had become stagnant in recent years.

The biggest question is at quarterback, where the competition between incumbent Greg Ward Jr. and Utah transfer Adam Schulz will continue into the fall. Ward went 6–2 after taking over the final eight games, including a 25-point, fourth-quarter comeback over Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Running back is the most experienced unit on offense with the return of Kenneth Farrow, who rushed for 1,037 yards and led the American Athletic Conference with 15 total touchdowns, and speedster Ryan Jackson. Both are seniors, so the Cougars will need to groom a few young heirs at some point during the season.

The will be young and inexperienced at receiver because of graduation and the surprising decision of Deontay Greenberry to leave a year early for the NFL Draft. Greenberry had 72 catches last season, more than double any other Cougars receiver. Among returners, only Demarcus Ayers and Steven Dunbar had at least 20 catches. Chance Allen, a transfer from Oregon, should provide immediate help. A rare sighting: The plan to use a tight end for the first time in eight years, with Tyler McCloskey the leading candidate.

Offensive line is the weak spot, with left tackle Zach Johnson, who is coming off ACL surgery, and right tackle Alex Cooper the only locks to start.


Previewing Houston’s Defense for 2015

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The terminology is different, but that’s about the only change as the plan to roll out the same attacking, hard-hitting, ball-hawking unit that has produced 73 turnovers the past two seasons. New co-coordinator Todd Orlando, who was hired from Utah State, will switch to a 3-4 scheme that mixes up looks and brings pressure from all angles.

The strength is a secondary that returns all four starters, including Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart at safety and William Jackson, a shutdown cornerback drawing some NFL Draft buzz.

Defensive end B.J. Singleton is the only returner on the line. He’ll be joined by defensive tackle Nick Thurman and end Cameron Malveaux, who were impressive in the spring but have combined to start only one game.

Steven Taylor, coming off a breakout season with four sacks and nine tackles for a loss, could be next in a line of great linebackers at the school following the graduation of Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant. With the shift in schemes, Tyus Bowser will be used in a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role. 


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Previewing Houston’s Specialists for 2015
 

A big improvement is needed in the return game, after the ranked among the bottom half in the AAC in both punt and kickoff returns. Ayers and Stewart are candidates to handle punts, while Herman would like to use a bigger body, such as Ryan Jackson, on kickoffs. Kyle Bullard tied for third in conference with 16 field goals, while punter Logan Piper showed improvement in the spring. 


Final Analysis

A first-time head coach, Herman brings credibility after winning a national title as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s spent the first several months on the job instilling a toughness that had been lacking in recent years. The Cougars have enough talent to compete in the AAC but will need to figure things out on the offensive line and develop across-the-board depth. A ninth bowl appearance in the last 11 years is certainly within reach.

The Debate

Where Does Tom Herman Rank Among the Best Coaching Hires for 2015?

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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
 

, 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. 


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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 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 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 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 arsenal. Wide receiver remains 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
 

, 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? 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, 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.


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Previewing Cal’s Specialists for 2015


There was nothing special about 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 . Defense remains 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 . Year One featured big offensive numbers and an impressive postseason victory over Arizona State. Year Two featured another undisciplined team, seven 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


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 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

, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The word of the offseason around the 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 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:


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 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 was to change the culture at . 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 .

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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2015


In his second season as 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 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 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 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

, 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 graduated all four starters and now move to a truer 3-4 alignment. Which prompts this pressing question: Can this 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 . 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.

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Previewing Washington's Specialists for 2015


The 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. 

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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 . It's easy to forget that the Golden Gophers were one half away from winning the 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 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. 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
 

, 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 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 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.


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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 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 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 were picked to finish fifth in the 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.

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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, will always be a contender in the . 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 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, 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

, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Dante Barnett is understandably confident about 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, defensive tackle Travis Britz should lead the way, while Marquel Bryant and Jordan Willis try to replace Ryan Mueller’s production at defensive end.


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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, 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.” 

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