College Football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#25 Boise State Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#25

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#1

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.

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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).

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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.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#23 UCLA Bruins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#23

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#3

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?

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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.

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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.

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