College Football


#24 Stanford Cardinal





HEAD COACH: David Shaw, 42-14 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bloomgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lance Anderson

For the first time under coach David Shaw, Stanford completed a season with fewer than 11 victories. The Cardinal finished 8-5 and second in the North but lost three games by three points. While the defense must be revamped, Stanford appears to be the biggest challenger to Oregon in the North. And the Cardinal could push for double-digit victories once again if the offense takes a step forward in quarterback Kevin Hogan’s final year.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:

Previewing Stanford’s Offense for 2015:

Stanford’s success offensively will likely hinge on the progression of quarterback Kevin Hogan — a veteran in his third year as a starter who had an up-and-down 2014. The Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2007, and that put a great deal of strain on Hogan. But as the coaching staff tweaked the offense down the stretch, he closed out the year completing 76 percent of his throws in the final three games — wins over Cal, UCLA and Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Look for sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey to make a major impact this season. He came on strong at the end of last year and provided a big lift on the ground and in the return game. Remound Wright and Barry Sanders will also see plenty of time in the rotation, but McCaffrey should get the bulk of the carries in 2015. That’ll open up all sorts of possibilities in the passing game, where Devon Cajuste returns as the primary pass catcher. Look for the Cardinal, who are known to get creative with offensive formations, to run multiple tight end sets with a trio of big-bodies — Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton and Greg Taboada.

And while Stanford does have to replace All-America tackle Andrus Peat, four of five starters from the offensive line are back.

Previewing Stanford’s Defense for 2015:

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

Stanford had its issues on offense last season — which contributed to the disappointing 8–5 record — but the defense was dominant as usual. The Cardinal not only led the in total defense (282.4 ypg), they also allowed more than 100 fewer yards per game than the league’s No. 2 defense (Utah, 393.5 ypg).

The linebacking corps should be the strength of the unit, led by explosive pass-rushing outside backers Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi. Last year the two combined for 12 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. The Cardinal are solid up the middle with Blake Martinez (team-leading 102 tackles last year) and Kevin Palma rounding out the corps.

Up front, the Cardinal have limited experience and depth issues. Aziz Shittu and Harrison Phillips should make up two-thirds of the line, with Cal transfer — yes, a transfer from Stanford’s Bay Area rival — Brennan Scarlett expected to offer some relief at the other defensive end spot.

There are some veterans in the defensive backfield, but not a ton of overall experience with the graduation of safety Jordan Richards, cornerback Alex Carter declaring for the draft and the transfer of Wayne Lyons to Michigan. Safety Zach Hoffpauir was expected to be one of this group's top performers, but he was selected in the MLB Draft and won't return to the team. Former quarterback Dallas Lloyd and former receiver Kodi Whitfield — who switched positions prior to 2014 — have another year of experience in the secondary.



Previewing Stanford’s Specialists for 2015:

The Cardinal have to replace their kicker and punter. Conrad Ukropina looks like the choice at kicker, and the hope is that incoming freshman Jake Bailey can take over the punting responsibilities. If he doesn’t win the job, it will likely fall to either Alex Robinson or Ukropina. Look for Sanders and McCaffrey to contribute in the return game.

Final Analysis 

Stanford closed last season as one of the hottest teams in the country. The offense, which played its best down the stretch, should be better this year, but there are depth issues on defense for the first time in a while. If they can plug those gaps and find solid replacements in the kicking game, the Cardinal should threaten Oregon for supremacy in the North. 

The Debate

Is David Shaw the Pac-12's Best Coach?

Click here to join the debate.


#22 Tennessee Volunteers





HEAD COACH: Butch Jones, 12-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike DeBord | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Jancek

is a program on the rise entering its third year under coach Butch Jones. The Volunteers improved from 5-7 in 2013 to 7-6 in 2014 and finished last season with a dominant win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. With 17 returning starters, Tennessee is poised for another jump in its win total and final ranking in 2015.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:

Previewing Tennessee’s Offense for 2015

Joshua Dobbs’ rise from third on the depth chart to being the impetus of Tennessee’s 2014 bowl push and the projected star of the 2015 Vols has been, in a word, meteoric. The aerospace engineering major from suburban Atlanta has even been mentioned as having an outside shot at this season’s Heisman Trophy. Keeping Dobbs healthy will be of utmost importance; no other quarterback on the roster has taken a collegiate snap.

There are only three scholarship running backs on the roster, but ’s backfield duo of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara should be as exciting to watch as any. Hurd finished with a team-high 899 yards in 2014 but seems eager to share carries with Kamara, who began his career at Alabama. Kamara will complement the punishing style of Hurd with his maneuverability and speed.

The receiving corps should be a talented group of playmakers that is a coverage nightmare. The return of Marquez North from a shoulder injury that ended his 2014 season will be a huge boost, and anything less than North’s best season yet will be a disappointment. The Vols also bring back Pig Howard, who led the team with 618 yards last year.

A year of experience will help alleviate serious concerns about the offensive line, which last season gave up more yards due to sacks (305) than all but two FBS teams. One of the only positives about this group in 2014 was Jashon Robertson, who started all 13 games and was named to the ’s All-Freshman team.

Previewing Tennessee’s Defense for 2015

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

As hard as it is to believe, the defensive line that dominated Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl somehow got even better this offseason. Back are Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, who combined for 21 sacks last season. No position group enters this season with more potential.

Gone is A.J. Johnson, ’s middle linebacker and team leader. Finding a suitable replacement up the middle will be paramount to the Vols’ ability to stop the run this season. On the outside, there are far fewer question marks. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is coming off a breakout season as a sophomore and will likely lead the team in tackles once again.

The Vols’ defensive backfield, led by cornerback Cameron Sutton, should be one of the conference’s best. The reports on junior college transfer Justin Martin, an athletic corner, sound as if he’ll transition nicely into Division I football. Replacing nickel corner Justin Coleman with sophomore Rashaan Gaulden seems like a logical fit. At safety, Brian Randolph packs a punch and was an integral part of the defense last season. Opposite him, LaDarrell McNeil looked rejuvenated in 2014.


Previewing Tennessee’s Specialists for 2015

Aaron Medley was automatic on field goals from within 40 yards last season. He has spent the offseason trying to develop long-kick accuracy, which will also help him on kickoff duty. Replacing punter Matt Darr and his penchant for pinning teams deep won’t be easy, but the incoming transfer of three-year Maryland starter Nathan Renfro, a Nashville-area native, will help. So will the addition of Tommy Townsend, a high school All-American. Sutton will likely handle punts with Evan Berry returning kicks for the second straight year.

Final Analysis 

Tennessee’s dismantling of Iowa in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl guaranteed that excitement in Knoxville would reach a fever pitch by this season’s opener. With the suddenly high expectations for the Vols comes pressure for Butch Jones for the first time in his career. There’s talent at the skill positions, but enough to win the East? Jones probably has another year before fans grow restless, but if the Vols don’t win the division, they’ll need to at least come very close.

The Debate

Where Does Butch Jones Rank Among the SEC's Coaches in 2015?

Click here to join the debate.


#25 Boise State Broncos



MW Mountain Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, 12-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eliah Drinkwitz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

’s first season under coach Bryan Harsin was a success. The Broncos won 12 games, including a 38-30 victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. is back among the nation’s top 25 teams in 2015 with 17 returning starters. Replacements must be found for quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, but the Broncos are loaded for another run at a double-digit win season.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:

Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2015:

The Broncos return nine offensive starters but still will look dramatically different this year. The two lost starters — quarterback Grant Hedrick and tailback Jay Ajayi — accounted for 89.1 percent of the team’s yards and 92.4 percent of the offensive touchdowns. The program also changed offensive coordinators again. Tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz was promoted to become the fifth man in six years to orchestrate the Broncos’ offense. He replaces Mike Sanford, who left after one successful season at his alma mater to become the coordinator at Notre Dame. Drinkwitz previously called plays for coach Bryan Harsin in 2013 at Arkansas State.

The quarterback and tailback holes won’t be filled until August. Sophomore Ryan Finley, the backup last year, is the favorite to replace Hedrick. He tossed two touchdown passes in relief last year against Air Force. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols, who played a receiver/tailback combo role as a true freshman, is the front-runner for Ajayi’s job, but coaches expect to utilize a committee this season rather than the one-back approach of 2014.

The two new starters will be surrounded by talent, including standout offensive linemen Marcus Henry (center) and Rees Odhiambo (left tackle); emerging pass catchers Thomas Sperbeck, Chaz Anderson and Jake Roh (tight end); and veteran receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2015:

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

The Broncos return all but one defensive lineman, two outstanding linebackers and two all-conference defensive backs from a defense that lacked consistency but showed flashes of dominance last season.

The goal is to regain the conference’s top spot in defense, a perch the Broncos have occupied frequently during their run of 10 top-25 seasons in 13 years. They turned stingy for a four-and-a-half-game stretch from halftime of the San Diego State game to the end of the season. The biggest flaw last year was giving up the big play, an area that should improve with this group’s experience and the return of the nickel back. The Broncos were forced by injuries to move linebacker Tanner Vallejo to nickel, which limited their coverage options. Vallejo, who was the Defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship Game and Fiesta Bowl, returns to middle linebacker after recording 16.5 tackles for a loss.

Other defensive standouts include Mountain West sack leader Kamalei Correa (12.0), MW interception leader Darian Thompson (seven, with one TD) and cornerback Donte Deayon (six interceptions, two TDs).


Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2015:

Junior Tyler Rausa replaces solid kicker Dan Goodale, while Sean Wale returns as the punter, coming off a career-best performance in the Fiesta Bowl. Long snapper Kevin Keane and holder Wale return, too. Williams-Rhodes and Deayon provide dynamic options as kick returners, though the Broncos did rank last in the league in kickoff returns in 2014 (18.8-yard average).

Final Analysis 

The Broncos’ 12–2 record and Fiesta Bowl championship were a surprise in 2014. This team is much better equipped for that type of season with its experience, depth and stable coaching staff. The Broncos might be unanimous favorites in the Mountain West and should start in the top 25. The key will be a loaded September schedule: The opener is against Washington and former coach Chris Petersen in Boise, and trips to BYU and Virginia follow. A 4–0 September would rekindle the buzz that surrounded the program’s Kellen Moore era as an outsider trying to crash the national championship party. But even with a difficult start, the schedule strength will allow the Broncos to contend for another New Year’s Six berth.


#23 UCLA Bruins





HEAD COACH: Jim Mora, 29-11 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Noel Mazzone | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Bradley

enters its fourth season under Jim Mora with a roster that’s capable of winning the title. However, there’s a glaring question mark at quarterback, and true freshman Josh Rosen is expected to emerge as the team’s starter. The Bruins are in good shape on defense, and new coordinator Tom Bradley should help this unit take a step forward in 2015. The talent is in place. Can UCLA win 10 games for the third consecutive season?

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter:

Previewing UCLA’s Offense for 2015

After leading ’s offense for three years and breaking a number of records in the process, quarterback Brett Hundley is now off to the NFL, leaving an otherwise well-established offense with a gaping hole at its most important position. But never fear — the Bruins have a pretty good contingency plan. They’ll almost certainly replace Hundley with the nation’s top quarterback recruit, Josh Rosen, who conveniently operated an offense similar to ’s while in high school. Rosen still needs to win the job over backups Jerry Neuheisel and Asiantii Woulard, but while coaches may not admit he’s already a shoe-in for the spot, his talent is light years ahead of the competition.

Rosen may take some time to get acclimated, but he’ll have an experienced offensive line that returns all five starters to protect him and a running back (Paul Perkins) who led the in rushing yards last season to lean on. Building on last year’s breakout, Perkins should be the centerpiece of UCLA’s offense that returns nine of 11 starters. As lead wideout Jordan Payton says, Rosen will get the keys to “a Ferrari.” The question is what he does with them.

Previewing UCLA’s Defense for 2015

, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The defense’s leadership, at all three levels, is off to the NFL, and may have some trouble adjusting early to life without linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive end Owa Odighizuwa and cornerback Anthony Jefferson. But talent-wise, the Bruins will be as strong as ever on defense.

Linebacker Myles Jack returns for what could be his final season at , and he’ll shift inside in order to maximize his impact. The Bruins will have two up-and-coming pass-rushing threats to mold this fall, as outside linebacker Deon Hollins and defensive end Takkarist McKinley try to build on their strong finishes to last season. Hollins, who had six sacks in UCLA’s last four games in 2014 to finish with nine on the season, is the unit’s most likely breakout candidate, if he’s able to harness his devastatingly quick first step.

The secondary is the biggest question mark, but tough-yet-undersized sophomore safety Jaleel Wadood looks like a star in the making. If UCLA can establish a pass rush early in the season and leadership emerges, the defense could be a force.


Previewing UCLA’s Specialists for 2015 

Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has taken his fair share of criticism in the past few seasons, but after finishing last season on a high note — making 13 of his last 14 field goals — he should be a more consistent option from long range as a senior. Consistency was also a problem for punter Matt Mengel, who was forced into action after little experience with the position. Another year of experience should do him good. The Bruins have looked very good at times in the return game, but returner Ishmael Adams faded a bit down the stretch in his first full season in the role. With a new special teams coordinator in promoted assistant Scott White, we’ll have to wait and see if UCLA’s kickoff and return units can return to their dominance from 2013.

Final Analysis

Few teams nationally can say they return 17 of 22 starters from a year ago, and none of those teams had as good of a season in 2014 as did. And while those absences are sure to loom large — especially in the case of Hundley and Kendricks — experience is finally on the Bruins’ side. The defense should be fine, and if Perkins can build on his impressive sophomore season, then the offense should be able to take some pressure off Rosen.

But ultimately, UCLA’s fate will likely rest on its freshman quarterback’s shoulders, and few teams historically have had wild success with that approach.

The Debate

Is UCLA's Paul Perkins the Pac-12's Best Running Back?

Click here to join the debate.

More Stories:

On Campus: Gun for hire

Philadelphia, PA ( - Former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has decided to transfer, so let the bidding begin. Golson burst on the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2012, leading Notre Dame to the national championship game (although the Irish defense was the main...