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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#3 Baylor Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#3

Big 12 PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Art Briles, 55-34 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kendal Briles | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Bennett

Art Briles has transformed into an annual title contender, and the Bears are Athlon Sports’ pick to win the conference title and play in ’s four-team playoff. Seth Russell is the next in line at quarterback in Waco, and the supporting cast is among the best in the nation with a deep receiving corps and solid offensive line. The defense should improve with the return of nine starters, including All-America end Shawn Oakman.

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Previewing Baylor’s Offense for 2015


Spencer Drango hasn’t scored one touchdown, taken a snap at quarterback, caught a pass or even gained a yard rushing. But when you’re talking about a offense that’s led the nation in each of the last two seasons, there’s not a more important piece to the puzzle than the All-America left tackle.

“It certainly gives us a better opportunity (to compete for a national championship) when you come out of the gates with guys that have been there,” eighth-year coach Art Briles says.

With Drango and the entire starting line returning intact, along with a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers, it certainly eases the transition to a new quarterback.

Fourth-year junior Seth Russell takes the reins from Bryce Petty, who threw for 8,055 yards and 61 touchdowns while leading the Bears to back-to-back championships and a two-year record of 22–4. “He’s shown the ability to help our football team win with his feet and with his arm and with his intelligence,” Briles says of Russell, who’s much more of a running threat than Petty.

Joining Drango up front are Pat Colbert at the other tackle, Blake Muir and Jarell Broxton at guard and sophomore Kyle Fuller at center.

That’s music to the ears of junior running back Shock Linwood, a returning All-Big 12 pick who rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The Bears are also loaded at receiver with junior Corey Coleman and sophomore KD Cannon, a lethal duo that combined for 122 catches for 2,149 yards and 19 TDs.

Previewing Baylor’s Defense for 2015

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

Another pre-Signing Day recruiting coup was keeping defensive end Shawn Oakman in the fold for another year. A third-team All-America and first-team All-Big 12 selection, Oakman set the single-season school record for sacks (11.0) and was just shy of another mark with 19.5 tackles for a loss.

“I just think you can look at it a year from now, and you’re talking about a (Jadeveon) Clowney, one of those Ndamukong Suh’s, one of those J.J. Watt’s, where he will test well, he’ll play well,” defensive coordinator Phil Bennett says. 

Oakman anchors a front that includes All- pick Andrew Billings at nose tackle, fifth-year senior Beau Blackshear at tackle and either Jamal Palmer or returning Freshman All-American K.J. Smith at the other end.

The linebacking crew went through a makeover with former junior college transfer Grant Campbell in the middle, another Freshman All-American in Taylor Young on the weak side and sophomore Travon Blanchard at the “Bear” position.

Easily the most scrutinized area is the secondary, where all four starters return intact. Juniors Xavien Howard and Ryan Reid are the corners, with Terrell Burt and Orion Stewart at safety, but the depth is better than it’s ever been.

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Previewing Baylor’s Specialists for 2015 


There will be a lot of pressure on incoming freshman Drew Galitz, who was recruited to replace four-year starting punter Spencer Roth (43.7-yard career average). Kicker Chris Callahan had an up-and-down freshman season, missing five of his first six field goals, but he booted the game-winner to beat TCU and finished the season by making 17 of his last 20 attempts.

Final Analysis 


While the offense has led the charge in ’s meteoric rise and back-to-back league championships, this year’s team will have to count on an experienced defense being dominant out of the gates, “because you’re starting a new QB,” Briles says. The much-maligned secondary will have to be vastly improved for the Bears to three-peat in a league race that might come down to a Nov. 27 showdown at TCU.

The Debate

Is Art Briles the Big 12's No. 1 Coach?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#4 Auburn Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#4

SEC West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Gus Malzahn, 20-7 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Rhett Lashlee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Will Muschamp

A year after winning the Championship and falling short against Florida State in the national title, regressed to an 8-5 record in coach Gus Malzahn’s second year. But the Tigers are poised for a rebound in 2015, as Malzahn’s offense will be one of the nation’s best, and the defense should show marked improvement under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

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Previewing Auburn’s Offense for 2015


Few teams feel good about replacing six starters on offense, but should have little reason to worry. A blend of experienced backups ready to take the next step, incoming talent ready to make an instant impact and the mind of Gus Malzahn leave the Tigers in good position.

Expect Auburn’s offense to change, though. Gone are the days of Nick Marshall’s zone-read attack, replaced by a more balanced offense led by experienced backup Jeremy Johnson, who has been brilliant in brief glimpses over the past two seasons. D’haquille Williams (45 catches, 730 yards, five touchdowns) returns to lead the receiving corps, and reliable contributors Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis — along with newcomer Jason Smith — look ready to step into the roles left by Sammie Coates and Quan Bray.

At running back, hyper-talented freshman Roc Thomas will compete against Jovon Robinson, the nation’s No. 1 junior college transfer, for the right to take over the lead role in an offense that has produced 11 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Malzahn’s nine years at the collegiate level. Those two will be running behind an offensive line that lost three starters but somehow returns six players who have made a start in the , led by tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young.

Previewing Auburn’s Defense for 2015 

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

The big news in is the arrival of Will Muschamp, who tries to fix a defense that hasn’t been dominant since the last time he roamed Auburn’s sidelines.

Muschamp’s toughest task is fixing a pass rush that produced just 10 sacks in eight games. Getting Carl Lawson back from a torn ACL that cost him last season will help, as Muschamp plans to plug the sophomore into the “Buck,” his hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker spot, and turn him loose. Lawson’s presence should also help free Montravius Adams, a rising star at defensive tackle. lost four senior contributors at tackle, but redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell could be a star, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is on his way.

The top three tacklers from 2014 — safety Johnathan Ford, linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and linebacker Kris Frost — are all back, along with Jonathan Jones, who picked off six passes and earned second-team All-SEC honors. To that mix, adds the services of Tray Matthews, the former Georgia safety who looked like a star before he was dismissed following off-the-field issues. Now that his transfer year is complete, Matthews will be a physical presence in the back end.

Previewing Auburn’s Specialists for 2015 


Daniel Carlson stepped in as a freshman and instantly extended Auburn’s run of reliable kickers, punching through 75 percent of his field goals in his first season. What he won’t have to do this season is also handle the punting duties; signed punter Ian Shannon to take the load off of Carlson’s leg. Who will fill big holes in the return game is anybody’s guess; Auburn plans to audition a wide range of players through the spring and summer.

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Final Analysis 


Some moving parts have to come together for to once again be a player in the West, but Malzahn’s reputation as an offensive mind and Muschamp’s prowess on defense mean the Tigers are a safe bet to make some noise. With Johnson at the helm, should be a dangerous passing team, and the combination of talent at both running back and offensive line, plus Malzahn’s history of churning out 1,000-yard rushers, means Johnson should have a solid complement. The pressure, then, falls on Muschamp, who doesn’t have to hold teams to 10 points or less; if he can get the Tigers around 20-24 points against per game, should be a contender. 

The Debate

Where Does Gus Malzahn Rank Among SEC Coaches?

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Athlon Sports 2015 Big Ten Magazine Cover Gallery

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