College Football

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#18 Ole Miss Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#18

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 15-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack

Ole Miss is a program on the rise, and with the personnel departures at LSU and Texas A&M, the Rebels have a chance to make some noise in the SEC West. Injuries played a huge role in last year’s 8-5 record, but improving depth and a return to full strength by several players should help this team in 2014. Quarterback Bo Wallace needs to cut down on his mistakes, and the Rebels need Laquon Treadwell to fill the void left behind by Donte Moncrief at receiver. The biggest concern on offense is the line. However, the defense could be among the best in the SEC.

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Previewing Ole Miss’ Offense for 2014:

The Rebels return the most experienced quarterback in the SEC in Bo Wallace and have more than ample talent around him. Wallace has led the Rebels to some big wins — including an improbable 27–24 win over then-No. 6 LSU a year ago — but he was the subject of criticism for his struggles against rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, a 17–10 overtime loss in which his fumble into the end zone ended the game. It was the unfortunate exclamation point on a four-turnover game in which Wallace threw three interceptions. Wallace, though, is in the best shape of his career and poised for a big senior season.

Wide receiver Donte Moncrief left a year early for the NFL, but there’s exciting potential for sophomore Laquon Treadwell, who moves from the slot to the outside. Treadwell caught 72 balls and was named the SEC’s top freshman by league coaches last year.
While Wallace struggled to the regular-season finish line in 2013, he was missing a key weapon. Evan Engram, a stretch-the-field tight end, is healthy again after doing enough in eight games as a true freshman to earn second-team All-SEC honors.

Running backs Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers combined to rush for almost 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. They are juniors now. Look for sophomore quarterback Jeremy Liggins in short-yardage situations. He left the spring listed at 6'3", 296 pounds. That’s almost 40 pounds heavier than Jared Lorenzen’s playing weight at Kentucky in 2003.

Sophomore Laremy Tunsil at left tackle is already drawing the attention of NFL scouts. Junior Aaron Morris returns at left guard after tearing his ACL in the season opener last year. The Rebels have to replace a three-year starter at center, a competition that could see veteran Justin Bell move over from right guard.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the Ole Miss Rebels for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Defense for 2014:

Finally healthy, defensive end C.J. Johnson should lift last year’s subpar pass rush with help on the other side from Fadol Brown, one of two FBS transfers expected to fill key roles. Brown played at Florida International two years ago. That’s when Anthony Alford was a quarterback at Southern Mississippi. Now Alford’s an Ole Miss safety and is considered the team’s most athletic player.

Sophomore Robert Nkemdiche was the nation’s No. 1 recruit as a defensive end. He moved to tackle toward the end of last season and had eight tackles and a sack in his last two games.

There is experience at corner with senior Senquez Golson and junior Mike Hilton, and intriguing depth behind them in long and athletic Derrick Jones (6'2", 188) and junior college transfer Tee Shepard, once a Notre Dame signee. Senior free safety Cody Prewitt is a returning All-American, while sophomore Tony Conner is a rising star at the Huskie position in the Rebels’ 4-2-5 scheme.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Specialists for 2014:

The Rebels will miss the flip-the-field ability of punter Tyler Campbell. Freshman Gary Wunderlich could get a look here. Redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and senior Andrew Fletcher are competing to replace kicker Andrew Ritter. Both have impressive high school résumés, but there’s no college game experience for Pappanastos and precious little for Fletcher.

Final Analysis 

After the Rebels closed strong in Freeze’s debut season, then added a consensus top-10 recruiting class, they were a popular pick as a team to make a big leap in 2013. That didn’t happen, largely due to offensive struggles late in the season.

This season, with increased depth and more experience from the stellar 2013 recruits, expectations are soaring once again. This team has the potential to be a factor in the SEC West race. For that to happen they need Wallace — with talent around him — to reduce turnovers and deliver in big games more consistently.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Ole Miss at No. 18:

1. The door is open for a move in the SEC West
With LSU, Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M losing some key pieces from last year’s team, Ole Miss and in-state rival Mississippi State have a chance to make some noise in the SEC West. The Rebels have improved their overall depth over the last two seasons, and 13 returning starters could help this team make a two-game improvement in the win column. Under coach Hugh Freeze, recruiting has improved, which has allowed this team to bolster its depth to challenge the top teams in the West.

2. A healthy Bo Wallace at quarterback
In his second year as Ole Miss’ starting quarterback, Wallace increased his completion percentage to 64.8 percent and lowered his interception total to 10. However, Wallace wasn’t healthy for most of the season due to a shoulder injury, and the offseason should allow him to return at full strength. Assuming Wallace makes another jump on the stat sheet, the Rebels’ offense should take off in 2014.

3. Concerns on the offensive line
This unit is coach Hugh Freeze’s biggest concern. The Rebels must replace Emmanuel McCray, Jared Duke, Evan Swindall and Pierce Burton as key members of last year’s offensive line. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is already one of the best in the SEC, while guard Aaron Morris is back after suffering a torn ACL in the opener. With Tunsil, Morris and Justin Bell returning, the foundation is there for a solid group. However, filling out the final two spots and the overall depth is a concern that could last into the season.

4. Injuries on defense last season
Injuries hit Ole Miss’ defense hard last season, as a handful of key players missed time. Getting defensive end C.J. Johnson back to full strength will help the defensive line, while Robert Nkemdiche has settled into the rotation at tackle. The Rebels allowed 5.8 yards per play in SEC action in 2013 but should improve in 2014 with better injury luck and Nkemdiche’s presence on the interior.

5. Manageable schedule
Ole Miss plays in the toughest division in college football, so it’s hard to call this year’s schedule easy. However, Alabama and Auburn both visit Oxford, and the Rebels host rival Mississippi State. Also, Ole Miss catches Tennessee and Vanderbilt in crossover play. The Oct. 25 matchup against LSU is a huge swing game, but the Rebels defeated the Tigers last season and only lost by a touchdown or less in their last two meetings in Baton Rouge.

The Debate

Ole Miss or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#19 LSU Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#19

SEC West PREDICTION

#4

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.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

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.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the LSU Tigers for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

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.

Download a LSU wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

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

Ole Miss or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2014?

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