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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#67 Colorado Buffaloes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#67

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Leavitt

Thought this may be tough to prove to an outsider, Colorado improved in 2014 despite a 2-10 record and a winless Pac-12 season. The Buffaloes were more competitive at least as far as the scoreboard was concerned in the second season under Mike MacIntyre. If the Buffs can flip the margins a little further and sweep its non-conference schedule, they will start to show more tangible progress.

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Previewing Colorado’s Offense in 2015 


Colorado took some big steps forward offensively in 2014, ranking 40th in the nation in yards per game, up 50 spots from the previous season. The Buffs are hoping to build on that success with many of their key contributors back. 

Junior Sefo Liufau will enter the season as the starting quarterback for the second consecutive year hoping to build on his successes as a sophomore while also focusing on taking better care of the ball. He has 18 starts under his belt, has attempted 749 passes and thrown for nearly 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. There is a lot to like about that experience, but Liufau also has thrown 23 interceptions, and he’ll have to dramatically curtail his miscues for the Buffs to take a big step forward in the win column. 

Nelson Spruce was on the other end of almost one-third of Liufau’s completions last season, hauling in 106 passes for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns. Speedy Shay Fields caught 50 balls as a true freshman last year. 

Christian Powell has led the Buffs in rushing for three straight years, though his role has diminished since carrying the ball 158 times as a true freshman in 2012. Michael Adkins II and sophomore Phillip Lindsay played extensively in the four-back rotation Colorado employed in 2014.  Colorado added Boise State transfer Aaron Baltazar to the roster and also signed two running backs from the high school ranks.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense in 2015 
 

Stopping opponents has been a problem since Colorado joined the Pac-12. The Buffs ranked 102nd in the nation in rushing defense and 116th in scoring defense last season. Those numbers led head coach Mike MacIntyre to hire a new defensive coordinator in former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, and he added former Central Michigan defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin to coach safeties. 

Nose tackle Josh Tupou was a three-year starter, but he was lost for the 2015 season due to suspension. Samson Kafovalu took the 2014 season off for personal reasons but has returned to bolster the interior. Defensive end Derek McCartney is coming off a strong redshirt freshman season. Junior college transfers Jordan Carrell, Blake Robbins and Leo Jackson look like impact players. 

MacIntyre has two experienced linebackers in juniors Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode. Keeping them healthy is a must because there isn’t much experience behind them. 

The secondary might be the deepest and most talented unit on the team, thanks in part to senior safety Jered Bell being awarded a sixth season of eligibility. Cornerback Ken Crawley will be starting for the fourth straight year. 
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Previewing Colorado’s Specialists in 2015 


CU lost four-year starters at placekicker and punter but might have addressed both positions by signing standout Alex Kinney from just up the road in Fort Collins. Kinney was rated among the nation’s best punters coming out of high school. He could steal the placekicking duties away from Diego Gonzalez, a lefty who has struggled with accuracy but has a strong leg, and walk-on Chris Graham, who competed with Gonzalez in the spring. 

Final Analysis


Colorado won only two games in coach MacIntyre’s second season and went winless in conference play for the first time in 99 years. Despite those harsh realities, there were tangible signs that the program is finally on the right track and in position to become more competitive in the Pac-12. Four of the Buffaloes’ nine league losses came by five points or fewer, including double-overtime losses to Cal and UCLA. The goal in Year 3 is to turn some of those close losses into wins and make a move out of the Pac-12 South basement.

The Debate

Is Nelson Spruce the Top WR in the Pac-12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#74 Iowa State Cyclones

NATIONAL FORECAST

#74

Big 12 PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Paul Rhoads, 29-46 (6 Years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Mangino | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wally Burnham

Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has cultivated a reputation of being able to do more with less. After a 5-19 record the last two seasons, Rhoads and his reputation are being put to the test. The Cyclones went winless in the Big 12 last season — which, of course, means they lost to Kansas — and rebounding by a significant margin would seem to be a tall task.

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Previewing Iowa State’s Offense in 2015 
 

Iowa State finished last season ranked 89th in the nation in total offense. But with coordinator Mark Mangino’s system now fully in place and an experienced starting quarterback in Sam Richardson running the show, there is reason to believe the Cyclones can be greatly improved. 

One of the main reasons for the optimism is a wide receiving corps that should be among the best in the Big 12. Quenton Bundrage, who tied a school record with nine touchdown receptions in 2013, tore his ACL in the 2014 opener and is set to return at full strength. He will be joined by two large and talented partners in D’Vario Montgomery (6'6", 236) and Allen Lazard (6'5", 218), both of whom showed great promise during the 2014 campaign. 

It’s the offensive line and running backs who hold the questions surrounding this offense. Gone are both of Iowa State’s top tailbacks from last season, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy. Sophomore Tyler Brown and redshirt freshman Mike Warren are expected to share carries this fall. 

Iowa State’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries in each of the last two seasons. However, because of that, there are a bunch of players at the position who have received significant playing time. Jake Campos, forced into the lineup early last season, will anchor the line at left tackle. 

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

Previewing Iowa State’s Defense in 2015 
 

There is only one way for this group to go following last season’s final ranking of 125th in total defense. The good news for coordinator Wally Burnham is that his defensive line should be much improved, thanks in part to the arrival of junior college transfer Demond Tucker, who impressed at nose guard in the spring. Devlyn Cousin is a reliable defensive tackle, while Dale Pierson and Trent Taylor gained valuable experience in 2014 and should be viable defensive ends this fall. 

Linebacker is another story. Jevohn Miller was leading the team in tackles before he got hurt last year and is gone to graduation. Luke Knott can’t seem to stay healthy. A bulk of pressure is going to be put on the back of Jordan Harris, a junior college recruit from 2014 who redshirted last year because he couldn’t grasp the defense. Harris had a great spring and is the favorite to start in the middle. 

Iowa State is in good shape at cornerback with both starters from last year, Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson, returning. The Cyclones’ second-leading tackler, strong safety T.J. Mutcherson, was dismissed from the team in the offseason and is expected to be replaced by senior Qujuan Floyd. The Big 12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Kamari Cotton-Moya, will be the man at free safety. 
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Previewing Iowa State’s Specialists in 2015 
 

There is no controversy when it comes to Iowa State’s kicking game. Cole Netten went 11-for-14 on field goals last year and is back for his junior season. Punter Colin Downing had an impressive freshman campaign, averaging 39.4 yards per kick. The return game will be interesting, but specialist Jomal Wiltz was brought in as a junior college recruit specifically for these duties. 

Final Analysis
 

There is significant pressure on Paul Rhoads, whose program has won a total of five games in the past two years, to show significant improvement this season. First and foremost, for that to happen, the Cyclones have to stay healthy. After that, the offense needs to be more explosive and efficient. The defense should be improved, but not enough to consistently slow down quality Big 12 offenses. Getting to six wins — and reaching bowl-eligibility — will be a challenge for the 2014 Cyclones.

The Debate

Where Does Sam Richardson Rank Among Big 12 QBs?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#73 Oregon State Beavers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#73

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Andersen, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Baldwin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake

As far as surprising coaching moves during the 2015 offseason, Oregon State was the epicenter. On one end, longtime overachiever Mike Riley left for Nebraska after 12 seasons in his second stint with the Beavers. On the other, Oregon State pulled Gary Andersen from Wisconsin. Andersen is a proven coach, but he walks into an uncertain situation with only two returning defensive starters starters from a 5-7 team and a new quarterback replacing the productive veteran Sean Mannion.

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Previewing Oregon State’s offense in 2015 
 

New offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin is installing an up-tempo spread system that needs a quarterback to beat defenses with his arm, legs and mind. And coming out of spring practice, the Beavers had three players with zero college experience vying for that starting job in redshirt freshmen Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion and true freshman early enrollee Seth Collins. 

The good news is that the Beavers will have proven pieces surrounding whoever wins that quarterback job. Senior running back Storm Woods looks primed to push for 1,000 yards after splitting carries the last two seasons. The returning receivers are headlined by speedster Victor Bolden (72 receptions, 798 yards, two touchdowns in 2014) and Jordan Villamin, a 6'4", 235-pound physical specimen who broke out for 35 catches, 578 yards and six touchdowns during the second half of last season. Caleb Smith possesses physical gifts at tight end. 

The line brings back all five players who started the final four games of the season, including center Josh Mitchell and left tackle Sean Harlow. Also expected back is star Isaac Seumalo, who missed all of 2014 and spring practice while recovering from two foot surgeries. And watch out for Ryan Nall, a redshirt freshman who boasts unique athleticism and versatility. He took snaps at H-back, tight end and running back in the spring.   

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense in 2015 
 

The Beavers are moving to a 3-4 base defensive front under new coordinator Kalani Sitake, allowing linemen such as Kyle Peko (if he can get academically eligible), Jaswha James and Jalen Grimble to plug the interior while an impressive crop of young linebackers make plays. Those linebackers — highlighted by sophomore Darrell Songy and redshirt freshman Bright Ugwoegbu — offered one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring after the Beavers lost all three starters from last season’s squad. 

The secondary also lost a trio of starters but returns cornerback Larry Scott, who has improved his coverage technique dramatically after an uneven 2014, and a pair of safeties with a nice blend of physicality and playmaking instincts in Cyril Noland-Lewis and Justin Strong. The top position battles on the back end are at the other cornerback spot, where Dwayne Williams looks primed to step in for former standout Steven Nelson after wowing on the scout team as a true freshman in 2014; and nickel back, where walk-on Devin Chappell has quickly morphed into one of this squad’s biggest feel-good stories. 

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Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists in 2015 
 

Oregon State returns kicker Garrett Owens, who nailed 11-of-13 field-goal attempts (including a long of 46 yards) while splitting time with Trevor Romaine last season. The other specialist spots, however, will have new faces in punter Nick Porebski and long snapper Connor Kelsey. Bolden, Rahmel Dockery and Chris Brown have experience as returners. 

Final Analysis
 

Oregon State has been trumpeting the “new era” motto, and for good reason. After former coach Mike Riley pulled off arguably the biggest stunner of the coaching carousel by bolting for Nebraska, Oregon State’s luring Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin was almost as shocking. Andersen rebuilt Utah State in a short time and has hired a top-notch staff to help him do the same in Corvallis. But with so much youth at quarterback, plus a slew of holes to fill on a defense that will consistently match up against some of the nation’s most potent offenses, can Oregon State expect to contend for a bowl game in a loaded Pac-12? The Beavers are likely still at least a year away from making serious progress in the win/loss column.  

The Debate

Where Does Gary Andersen Rank Among Pac-12 Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#70 Marshall Thundering Herd

NATIONAL FORECAST

#70

C-USA East PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Doc Holliday, 40-25 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Legg | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Heater

A year after a near-perfect season, Marshall still hopes to be in contention for a Conference USA title. The Thundering Herd lost 67-66 to WKU in overtime for their only loss of the season in 2014. Marshall has the personnel and schedule to challenge for another C-USA title — but it may again come down to a date with the Hilltoppers to end the season.


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Previewing Marshall’s Offense for 2015 
 

Michael Birdsong, a 6'5", 242-pound transfer from James Madison, steps in at quarterback to replace Rakeem Cato, who produced nearly 15,000 total yards and 146 touchdowns in his career. Birdsong possesses a live arm and the starting experience to help Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg keep his attack in the top 15 nationally for a fourth-straight year.

Birdsong will have plenty of help from a veteran group of skill players that includes senior running back Devon Johnson and junior Remi Watson as well as a bevy of talented receivers. Johnson rushed for 1,767 yards — sixth best in FBS — and 17 touchdowns last year, while Watson added another 546 yards on the ground for an offense that averaged 6.8 yards per rush in 2014.

While there is a new quarterback, the targets at receiver are familiar. Davonte Allen, Angelo Jean-Louis and Deon-Tay McManus provide the Herd with guys who can stretch the field. Marshall has to replace Tommy Shuler, who left as Conference USA’s all-time leader in receptions, but the Herd coaching staff is high on Hyleck Foster, who had a strong year as a freshman reserve.

Along the offensive front, Marshall has moved right guard Michael Selby to center to replace four-year starter Chris Jasperse, who logged more than 4,000 career snaps. Right tackle Clint Van Horn and left guard Sebastian Johansson are proven starters, but the unproven entity will be sophomore Sandley Jean-Felix, who will assume the left tackle spot.

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

Previewing Marshall’s Defense for 2015 
 

Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater transformed a team that was next to last in the nation in scoring defense in 2012 to a defense that was No. 18 in 2014, but his hands are full in 2015.

Top cornerback Darryl Roberts is gone, along with linebacker Neville Hewitt, who was Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. While Hewitt’s loss looks biggest on paper, Roberts had keyed the defensive turnaround with an ability to win one-on-one battles, which freed up Heater to send multiple blitzes at the opposition. To continue this scheme, cornerbacks Keith Baxter, Antavis Rowe and Chris Williams-Hall will need to emerge quickly as physical defenders.

Hewitt became a leader in the middle of the defense last season, but Marshall is high on Shawn Petty, a transfer from Maryland who excelled in the spring. Petty joins D.J. Hunter and Evan McKelvey in a linebacking corps that should be among the best in the conference. McKelvey returns after missing much of 2014 with a knee injury.

The biggest defensive concerns will be the lack of a proven pass rusher, so big things will be asked of UCF transfer Blake Keller. Gary Thompson has shown his playmaking ability in spurts, and Joe Massaquoi is a guy who had a solid preseason.

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Previewing Marshall’s Specialists for 2015
 

Marshall returns one of the nation’s top punters in Tyler Williams, a Ray Guy Award candidate who has averaged 43.7 yards per punt in his career. Nick Smith is the likely replacement for Justin Haig at kicker, but Amoreto Curraj, who will handle kickoff duties, is also a candidate. The Herd’s kick return game looks strong with Deandre Reaves, who returned a kickoff for a score in the bowl win. Foster is the likely punt returner.

Final Analysis 
 

Johnson’s return and a bevy of talented receivers help ease the pressure on Birdsong for an offense that has eclipsed 500 yards per game on average for each of the last three seasons. If the defense provides anything this season, the Herd — who face another soft schedule — should be in contention for a Conference USA Championship and potential New Year’s Six bowl berth. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#78 Bowling Green Falcons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#78

MAC East PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Dino Babers, 8-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Lynch, Sean Lewis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Ward

Dino Babers won eight games in his first season at , led the Falcons to their second straight MAC East title and first bowl victory in a decade, but his team enters 2015 with even loftier goals in mind. An experienced offense welcomes back just about every key contributor, while five starters return on a defense that finished near the bottom in every major category. If the offense continues to produce and the defense rebounds, Bowling Green could be a MAC champion once again.

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Previewing Bowling Green’s Offense for 2015

 

It is hard to hide the wealth on this unit, so the won’t try. They have two quarterbacks with extensive starting experience. Matt Johnson, who started 13 games two years ago but suffered a season-ending injury in last year’s opener, returns healthy. The backup is the MVP from last year’s Camellia Bowl win, James Knapke, who also led the team to eight wins and a second straight MAC East title after Johnson’s injury.

The Falcons quarterbacks have plenty of viable targets, as the top four receivers return. Roger Lewis was a first team all-conference selection a year ago when he was the first freshman in school history to reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Veteran Chris Gallon, who missed last season due to injury, and Baylor transfer Robbie Rhodes also join a veteran group.

Running back Travis Greene has put up almost 2,600 yards rushing and scored 26 total touchdowns over the past two seasons and accounted for a pair of scores in the Camellia Bowl victory. The key to it all on offense for the Falcons is likely their considerable strength up front. Bowling Green had the same five linemen start all 14 games a year ago, and they all return. This solid group is led by guard Alex Huettel, a two-time all-conference choice. 

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Previewing Bowling Green’s Defense for 2015

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

The took a significant graduation hit on this side of the ball. Seven starters are gone from last year’s unit that struggled more than intermittently, allowing the opposition 33.5 points and nearly 500 yards of offense per game. This is a major area of concern, since a mediocre defense just got a whole lot younger and less experienced.

Bowling Green lacked an intimidating pass rush last season (just 28 sacks), and the top four ends are gone, along with two linebackers, both safeties and one cornerback. Zach Colvin, Taylor Royster and Mike Minns should man the interior line posts, with Bryan Baird and Bryan Thomas (if he returns to the team after an off-field incident) expected to see plenty of time at end.

James Sanford, Nate Locke and Austin Valdez have all seen time at linebacker in their careers, with Sanford the most experienced of the group. On the back end of the defense, corner Darrell Hunter had eight starts last season, while Clint Stephens intercepted four passes while seeing plenty of playing time as true freshmen in 2014.

Previewing Bowling Green’s Specialists for 2015

 

Expect this to be a very strong area for the Falcons. Placekicker Tyler Tate is back after booting 23 field goals (in 29 attempts) last season. Punter Joseph Davidson also returns after setting records for attempts and punt yardage in 2014, when he knocked 14 punts 50 or more yards. Long snapper Greg Hohenstein adds further experience and continuity to the group.

Final Analysis

 

How the expectations have changed. The won at least eight games for the third straight season, claimed a second consecutive MAC East crown and won their first bowl game in a decade — but it wasn’t enough to reach the team’s lofty goals.

When coach Dino Babers and his fast-paced, high-powered offense arrived following the MAC championship season of 2013, visions of 50 points per game and another league title were prevalent. For 2015, Babers has the personnel to pull off that kind of explosive scoring. The Falcons have just about everyone back on an offense that should be among the best in the league. The young and inexperienced defense is suspect, however. Babers will be plugging holes with players he hopes possess the skill set to solidify the defense. If that happens, this should be a championship-caliber team that once again flirts with fulfilling those lofty expectations.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#75 Toledo Rockets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#75

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Matt Campbell, 26-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jason Candle | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Heacock

As consistent as Toledo has been as a program — five consecutive winning seasons — the Rockets are more than 10 years removed from their last MAC championship and last division title. After winning nine games and finishing 7-1 in the league, Toledo has the goods to contend again, provided the Rockets can find an answer on a completely rebuilt offensive line.

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Previewing Toledo’s Offense in 2015
 

The most important person around the Rockets’ program in the offseason was offensive line coach Tom Manning, since his unit likely holds the key to Toledo’s 2015 season. The Rockets have a wealth of experienced and proven skill position players but lost five senior starters on the offensive line, including three all-conference performers. 

The rebuild could not be more significant. Left tackle Storm Norton filled in for three games last season due to an injury, but beyond him the Rockets hope to get rapid development and productive play from a host of newcomers. Depending on that line will be running back Kareem Hunt, a first team all-conference pick and 1,600-yard rusher a season ago who had 271 yards and five touchdowns in the GoDaddy Bowl win over Arkansas State.

Phillip Ely and Logan Woodside both started and were productive at quarterback last season before injuries forced them to the sidelines. Ely returns from knee surgery, while Woodside rehabs a serious ankle injury. Ely, who transferred from Alabama two years ago, might have the edge in the derby to earn the starting job, but both he and Woodside have demonstrated they can make this offense explosive.

The fireworks through the air usually involve three-time all-conference wide receiver Alonzo Russell, a 6'4" target who caught 51 passes for 770 yards and eight scores last season. Speedy slot receiver Corey Jones had a team-high 68 receptions a year ago.

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

Previewing Toledo’s Defense in 2015
 

Toledo’s deck is full of options on this side of the ball, where depth and athleticism are plentiful. The crew up front comprises the deepest and likely the most talented unit in the program, and the group is led by returning all-conference tackles Treyvon Hester and Orion Jones. End Trent Voss led MAC linemen in tackles last season with 77. Adding depth at tackle are Chris Collins and Marquise Moore, both of whom have starting experience, while returning starter Allen Covington had 29 stops last season at end. 

The Rockets return veteran Chase Murdock at linebacker, where he could be joined by Jaylen Coleman, Ju’Wuan Woodley or Zach Quinn once the position battles play out. 

After being decimated by injuries the last two seasons, the secondary boasts four cornerbacks with significant starting credentials — Cheatham Norrils and Cameron Cole, the 2013 starters who missed last season with injuries, and 2014 starters Jordan Martin and Christian Dukes. The safeties will come from the group of Chaz Whittaker, UAB transfer Rolan Milligan, DeJuan Rogers and Delando Johnson.
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Previewing Toledo’s Specialists in 2015

The kicking game is a big question mark after the departure of three-time All-MAC kicker Jeremiah Detmer. Sophomore Sam Vucelich has the inside track to man that position. Junior Nick Ellis returns at punter, but he needs to improve on his league-worst 36.6-yard average. The strength of the special teams is likely the return game. Jones averaged 11.8 yards on his league-high 24 punt returns in 2014.

Final Analysis
 

Toledo has the luxury of playing seven home games in 2015, and the Rockets return of plenty of playmakers on defense and some extremely talented individuals at running back and receiver. But all of the optimism has to be tempered by the fact that Toledo has gone from having one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country last year with five senior starters to having one of the least experienced this time around. The development of that new line is the key to the season. If the offensive line grows up fast, the Rockets should be a championship-caliber team in 2015.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#72 East Carolina Pirates

NATIONAL FORECAST

#72

American Athletic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Ruffin McNeill, 37-27 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Nichol | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rick Smith

East Carolina enters 2015 without three of the key cogs of its offense — quarterback Shane Carden, receiver Justin Hardy and coordinator Lincoln Riley. Those are major departures, but with eight bowl games in the last nine seasons, the Pirates are rarely out of the mix.

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Previewing East Carolina’s Offense for 2015 
 

Some of the Pirates’ top swashbucklers are gone, including offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (off to Oklahoma) and the AAC Player of the Year, quarterback Shane Carden. That doesn’t mean the Air Raid offense is taking on water. New OC Dave Nichol is confident that strong-armed sophomore Kurt Benkert can step in and keep the ship on course.

There’s still a treasure chest of receivers, even without Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy (who combined for 2,510 yards and 14 scores last year). Returnees such as Isaiah Jones (81 catches, second on the team), Davon Grayson, Jimmy Williams and Trevon Brown will share Benkert’s booty in the passing game. Don’t count out eagerly anticipated freshman Deondre Farrier, who was wooed by Florida, Miami and USC, among others. 

In a subtle tweak, 6'6", 250-pound Bryce Williams might be listed as an inside receiver in the spread but actually is an old-fashioned tight end. He will see more action than just around the goal line, where he terrorizes defensive backs and linebackers. On the ground, Chris Hairston (6.7 yards per carry) and a couple of other solid candidates operate behind a big, veteran offensive line that will be a strength of the team under new line coach Brad Davis. 

The big concern is that Benkert threw only 10 passes last year. He was a quick study in the spring, and the offense should again set sail, maybe with a more stellar running game to punch up the red-zone offense. 

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

Previewing East Carolina’s Defense for 2015 
 

The Pirates like to stop the run — they were 11th in the nation, allowing just 111.8 rushing yards per game — and get after opponents on third down (13th, yielding just 34.2 percent conversions). 

Linebacker Zeek Bigger is the returning tackles leader (140), but fellow senior Montese Overton should be the next big thing. He has all the tools. Physical Devaris Brunson is back from his knee injury in the middle, too, and walk-on Joe Allely just keeps improving on the weak side. Incoming junior college linebacker Darius Wright will get a long look, too. 

The backers will need help from a rebuilding front. End Johnathon White is the only returning starter, and he’ll get a push from K’Hadree Hooker. Terrell Stanley has made a dramatic return from injuries suffered in an auto accident that sidelined him last year. He was honorable mention All-C-USA in 2013. Former Georgia Tech signee Darius Commissiong could figure in, too. 

Senior cornerback Josh Hawkins is a ball hawk who had five interceptions and broke up 11 more passes. Free safety Travon Simmons and corner Rocco Scarfone came on strong late last year and look assured of jobs as well in a deep, experienced secondary.

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Previewing East Carolina’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Texas A&M transfer Davis Plowman is the favorite to fill Warren Harvey’s shoes as the placekicker, and that won’t be easy after Harvey set the career ECU scoring record. Punter Worth Gregory averaged 43.6 yards, put 19 kicks inside the 20-yard line and had 13 50-yard boots on his way to Ray Guy Award consideration. 

Final Analysis 
 

Ruffin McNeill, on a cane all spring after hip surgery, can stand tall with what he has done in Greenville at his alma mater. The Pirates were 5–3 in their first year in the American Athletic Conference and went to their fourth bowl in McNeill’s five seasons. He graduated the leading passer in school history and the FBS’s all-time receptions leader (Hardy), but he had a 105-man roster out in spring, certainly a sign of a healthy program. If his young quarterback comes through, it looks like he has another bowl team to lean on.




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