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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#57 Navy Midshipmen

NATIONAL FORECAST

#57

Independents PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Ken Niumatalolo, 49-30 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ivin Jasper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Buddy Green

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 57 Navy.

Previewing Navy’s Offense for 2014:

Keenan Reynolds was nothing short of sensational as a sophomore, setting numerous school records and several NCAA marks as well. In less than two full seasons on the job, the Tennessee native — who is 15–6 as a starter — is already being mentioned in the same breath as Navy greats Roger Staubach and Chris McCoy.

After averaging 33.5 points and 411.3 total yards in 2013, Navy’s patented triple-option offense figures to fire on all cylinders again this season as Reynolds will operate behind an experienced offensive line and has plenty of proven weapons at the skill positions.

Right guard Jake Zuzek, who has started 26 straight games, anchors an offensive line that played with great cohesion and chemistry toward the end of last season. Center Tanner Fleming, left guard E.K. Binns and left tackle Bradyn Heap are also returning starters.

Navy started three different fullbacks in 2013, and all return. Noah Copeland will start, but Chris Swain and Quinton Singleton will see plenty of action as part of a potent rotation. The Midshipmen bring back a pair of dynamic slotbacks in DeBrandon Sanders and Geoffrey Whiteside, who ranked second and third on the team, respectively, with 563 and 539 yards from scrimmage. The only question mark on offense comes at wide receiver, where Navy must replace both starters.

Previewing Navy’s Defense for 2014:

Navy must rebuild the heart of its defense after graduating two nose guards, both starting inside linebackers and the top two safeties.

Bernard Sarra, a powerfully built 303-pounder, returns as the starting nose after doing a superb job of taking on double-teams and plugging the middle a year ago. However, the Midshipmen have a pair of untested sophomores as backups at a position that has always required a rotation.

By far the biggest concern comes at inside linebacker, where the Mids must replace their top tacklers in Cody Peterson (142) and DJ Sargenti (110). Defensive coordinator Buddy Green’s 3-4 alignment requires the inside linebackers to make the majority of tackles, and none of the returning players at that position has seen much action beyond special teams. Late in spring camp, Green addressed the lack of experience by moving returning starting outside linebacker Jordan Drake (43 tackles) inside.

Rover Wave Ryder has graduated, and backup Chris Ferguson retired due to concussions. Lonnie Richardson, who also played primarily on special teams in 2013, will get first crack at the job.
Outside linebacker Chris Johnson (84) and free safety Parrish Gaines (65), the defensive captain, are the top returning tacklers. Defensive end Paul Quessenberry and cornerback Brendon Clements (three interceptions) are other key figures on defense.

Previewing Navy's Specialists for 2014:

A pair of veterans will handle the kicking chores. Pablo Beltran is only the second four-year starting punter in program history and ranks third all-time at Navy with a 41.1-yard career average. Nick Sloan begins his third season as the starting placekicker and has been fairly reliable, converting 21-of-29 field goals. Demond Brown averaged 22.2 yards on five kickoff returns in 2013 and has the speed to be a dangerous threat in that role.

Final Analysis

Navy has been one of the most consistent programs in the FBS with a winning record in 10 of the last 11 years. The Midshipmen also have been the dominant service academy during that time, capturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy nine times since 2003. In its final season as an Independent before joining the American Athletic Conference in 2015, Navy should sustain its success on both fronts. The Midshipmen have a contract to appear in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and should have no problem securing the six wins necessary to be eligible.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#55 UCF Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#55

American Athletic PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: George O'Leary, 72-56 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Charlie Taaffe | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tyson Summers

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 55 UCF.

Previewing UCF’s Offense for 2014:

UCF brings back plenty of weapons on offense from a 12–1 Fiesta Bowl champion squad that averaged nearly 34.6 points per game. One major problem: The Knights will be without the director of that offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles opted to declare for the NFL Draft, leaving a major hole under center and only inexperienced options to replace him. Sophomore Justin Holman, Bortles’ primary backup last season, is the most likely candidate to step in to the starting role. His top challenger will be Boise State transfer Nick Patti, who was granted a waiver to play for the Knights immediately. Holman came out of the spring as the narrow leader over redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and true freshman Tyler Harris, but Patti has one year of college experience and will push for the job.

With the question mark at quarterback, the biggest issue will be finding a way to get the ball into the hands of the Knights’ playmakers. UCF brings back five receivers, including team leaders Rannell Hall (57 receptions, 886 yards), J.J. Worton (47-721), Breshad Perriman (39-811) and Josh Reese. UAB transfer Jackie Williams adds another solid option out of the slot. Sophomore running back Will Stanback has the size, speed and natural instincts to be an NFL prospect, and he’ll be counted on to replace Storm Johnson as the Knights’ feature back after rushing for 443 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman.

UCF also must replace three starters on the offensive line and will rely on some untested options at tackle.

Previewing UCF’s Defense for 2014: 

The Knights’ inexperienced defense used smoke and mirrors to finish 17th in the country in scoring defense last season, allowing just 21.3 points per game. It will be a much stronger unit this season.

UCF returns eight starters and will add two major junior college recruits to the mix in defensive tackle Lance McDowdell and linebacker Errol Clarke. With Freshman All-American Jacoby Glenn back as the top cover corner and senior leader Terrance Plummer still patrolling the middle of the defense at Mike linebacker, UCF brings back its two top defenders.

The Knights are experienced on the back end with senior safeties Clayton Geathers and Brandon Alexander. Sophomore Shaquill Griffin is slotted as the nickel back but will be pushed by an influx of top-end defensive back recruits, including four-star Kyle Gibson and former Alabama commit Chris Williams.

UCF will be bigger, more experienced and more athletic than last season, when it smothered opponents and limited big plays. The Knights allowed 122.5 rushing yards per game, 16th-best in the nation. The biggest concern will be the pass rush; UCF had just 29 sacks last season. The Knights need ends Thomas Niles, Luke Adams and Deion Green to be more effective getting to the quarterback.

Previewing UCF’s Specialists for 2014:

UCF returns the most consistent kicker it has had in recent seasons in senior Shawn Moffitt, who connected on 21-of-23 field goals last season and all 49 extra-point attempts. Punter Caleb Houston also is back after averaging 42.2 yards on 41 punts. The Knights could be more dynamic in the return game. Williams was a threat at UAB, averaging 9.6 yards on 29 punt returns with a touchdown. Worton has been an all-conference returner, and incoming freshman Mike Rogers could also factor.

Final Analysis 

UCF will have a tough task replicating its 2013 success without Bortles, but they have the talent in place to put together another strong season. The Knights will rely on a stingy defense to keep them in every game and a pro-style offense that takes few risks but has playmakers at running back and wide receiver. If UCF finds an answer at quarterback, it should once again be a strong contender in the American.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#54 Utah Utes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#54

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 76-39 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Christensen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 54 Utah.

Previewing Utah’s Offense for 2014: 

Utah’s best moment of the 2013 season also became the start of a downward spiral that created a complicated quarterbacking situation in 2014. While leading the Utes past Stanford, quarterback Travis Wilson injured his hand. He struggled in the next three games, then was diagnosed with a concussion. Further tests revealed a pre-existing condition that sidelined him for Utah’s final three games. Wilson was cleared to participate in spring drills, without being tackled, and reclaimed his No. 1 position. He’ll be re-evaluated in July.

Regardless of Wilson’s status, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will compete for the starting job. He’s listed No. 2, prior to arriving on campus as a graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining. “Finding out about Kendal will be job one,” coach Kyle Whittingham says.

The Utes also are adjusting to new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s fast-paced scheme. The spread offense is similar to what the Utes have used, but the tempo is “drastically different,” Christensen says.

Leading rusher Bubba Poole returns, but the Utes need help at receiver to complement the dynamic Dres Anderson. Much is expected from Kenneth Scott, who caught 32 passes in 2012 before being injured in last season’s opener, and Kaelin Clay, who will have one season to play as a junior college transfer.

Utah’s offensive linemen were asked to lose weight to thrive in the up-tempo offense, and left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi has responded well.

Previewing Utah’s Defense for 2014: 

Utah will miss Trevor Reilly, a versatile athlete who played end and linebacker in various alignments and led the team with 8.5 sacks as a senior. Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake hopes senior Nate Orchard can fill Reilly’s void as a disruptive lineman who also can move around in the scheme.

Utah appeared loaded at linebacker in their 4-3 scheme until Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul sustained significant injuries during spring drills. Hale recorded 6.5 sacks last season, helping the Utes lead the Pac-12 with 3.25 sacks per game, and Paul was making a great impression as a transfer from Miami. Each is expected to become available at some point this season, but for now, Uaea Masina is listed as the starter at one position and as the backup at another spot. Orchard may be asked to spend more time at linebacker.

The Utes were tied for last in the country with only three interceptions in 2013, and they hope Brian Blechen’s return at strong safety will make an impact. Blechen, who has eight interceptions in 35 career games, missed last season with tendinitis in his knee. Eric Rowe is a returning starter at free safety, but Sitake hopes Tevin Carter establishes himself at that position, enabling Rowe to move to cornerback.

Previewing Utah’s Specialists for 2014:

Andy Phillips became a big story as a former international ski racer who tried out for the team and earned the placekicking job as a freshman at age 24. Phillips made three field goals in his first football game at any level and finished 17-of-20 for the season, including a 51-yarder against Arizona State. Tom Hackett excelled as a short-punting specialist in 2012 and earned the full-time job in 2013, when he averaged 43.4 yards and the Utes led the Pac-12 in net punting.

Final Analysis 

Whittingham believes the Utes are improving their talent level and depth in their fourth season of Pac-12 membership. They were competitive in every conference game in 2013, including an upset of eventual champion Stanford, but the Utes need to double last season’s total of two conference wins for 2014 to be judged as any kind of success.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#53 Oregon State Beavers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#53

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 88-73 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Garrett | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 53 Oregon State.

Previewing Oregon State’s Offense for 2014:

The Beavers breathed a sigh of relief when quarterback Sean Mannion elected to return for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft. Mannion was inconsistent his first two years with the Beavers and was benched at the end of his junior season, but he re-established himself as the starter heading into 2013 and had a record-setting year. Mannion broke the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 passing yards, and he threw 37 touchdowns.

He lost his top target when Brandin Cooks opted to leave early for the NFL after leading the nation with 1,730 receiving yards and winning the Biletnikoff Award. Junior Richard Mullaney started across from Cooks and is the top returning receiver with 52 catches for 788 yards and three touchdowns. No other returning wide receiver had more than seven catches. Oregon State has a strong group of tight ends, led by Connor Hamlett, who was fourth on the team with 40 catches for 364 yards and five touchdowns. Caleb Smith also started several games and finished with 25 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns.

The Beavers have to give Mannion more help in the running game after ranking 11th in the conference with only 94.4 rushing yards per game. OSU does return its top two rushers from last season, Terron Ward (521 yards) and Storm Woods (477).
Oregon State returns only two starters on the offensive line, guard Sean Harlow and center Isaac Seumalo. This could be a problem area.

Previewing Oregon State’s Defense for 2014:

The Beavers return a wealth of experience at linebacker, where Jabral Johnson, D.J. Alexander and Rommel Mageo combined for 29 starts last season. Michael Doctor started 25 straight games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the second game last year. He received a medical redshirt from the NCAA to return for one more year. Doctor, who has 185 tackles in his career, will start at outside linebacker along with Alexander.

Safeties Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back along with cornerback Steven Nelson. Murphy and Nelson both received honorable mention, All-Pac-12 honors last season.

OSU will need to rebuild its defensive line after Scott Crichton left early for the NFL Draft, leaving defensive end Dylan Wynn as the only returning starter. Senior Siale Hautau and junior Jalen Grimble are the projected starters inside, while Jaswha James is expected to start on the end.

Previewing Oregon State’s Specialists for 2014:

Trevor Romaine will be the kicker for the fourth season in a row as he looks to bounce back to the form he showed as a sophomore. Romaine was 16-for-18 in 2012 before going 14-for-20 on field goals last season. Punter Keith Kostol was also better as a sophomore when he averaged 41.9 yards per kick before falling to 40.5 yards last year. Victor Bolden was seventh in the conference with 20.7 yards per kickoff return as a freshman and could also be a candidate to replace Cooks as the punt returner.

Final Analysis 

The Beavers return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Mannion, but he will be operating without Cooks and must adapt to new offensive coordinator John Garrett, who spent the last seven seasons in the NFL. The defense, with seven returning starters, should be better under veteran coordinator Mark Banker.

The Beavers should get off to a good start with non-conference home games against Portland State and San Diego State along with a trip to Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back road games at USC and Colorado. This looks like another bowl team, but Oregon State doesn’t figure to pose too much of a threat to the top teams in the tough Pac-12 North.

The Debate

Who Will Lead the Pac-12 in Passing Yards in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#52 Minnesota Golden Gophers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#52

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Jerry Kill, 17-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Limegrover | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tracy Claeys

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 52 Minnesota.

Previewing Minnesota’s Offense for 2014: 

Three weeks after Minnesota’s loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, the Gophers’ most experienced quarterback, Philip Nelson, announced he was transferring. He said he was seeking a more pass-oriented offense and quickly landed at Rutgers before his dismissal from the team this summer. Nelson’s departure leaves Mitch Leidner in charge of Minnesota’s offense. Leidner battled Nelson for playing time last season, starting four games and completing 55.1 percent of his passes.

Beyond Nelson, most of the offense returns, including 1,200-yard rusher David Cobb. With the offensive line returning almost fully intact, the Gophers will rely heavily on their running game again, especially with redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards flashing loads of promise during spring practice.

Tight ends have become a major part of Minnesota’s passing game, especially Maxx Williams, but wide receiver is still the team’s biggest concern. Derrick Engel, who led the team in receiving last year before tearing his ACL, has graduated. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones both had productive freshman seasons, and junior KJ Maye is back from a sports hernia injury. But the Gophers probably need some of their incoming freshmen to emerge.

Previewing Minnesota’s Defense for 2014:

A defense that ranked 25th in the nation in points allowed (22.2 ppg) needs to replace two All-Big Ten selections — defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman and defensive back Brock Vereen. The defensive line still has Theiren Cockran, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last year, but depth looked like an issue for that unit this spring.

The linebacker corps took a hit this spring when Cody Poock suffered a torn ACL. Poock, who looked ready to start at outside linebacker, didn’t rule out a return this fall, but the Gophers wasted little time moving Jack Lynn into the strong-side role. Lynn was stuck at middle linebacker, behind Damien Wilson, who made 78 tackles as a junior. The Gophers believe weak-side linebacker De’Vondre Campbell will be an eventual star, and as much as they’ll miss Vereen’s leadership, they still believe the secondary is the strength of the defense.

Previewing Minnesota’s Specialists for 2014:

Junior punter Peter Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt last season — the third-best mark in Gophers history. Redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso, an Under Armour All-American in 2012, is the leading candidate to take over at kicker for departing senior Chris Hawthorne. Marcus Jones is back after scoring touchdowns on a punt return and kick return within the first two weeks last year.

Final Analysis

Coming off its best season since 2003, Minnesota has the talent to improve again this year, if the Gophers can survive a more difficult schedule. Coach Jerry Kill’s teams have gone 3–9, 6–7 and 8–5 in his first three seasons. He sees parallels to the way his programs progressed at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. “We built it on defense, and now you’ve got to bring the offense (along),” he says. “That’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been.”

Kill, who turns 53 in August, faced more questions about his health last season after an in-game seizure against Western Illinois and another that kept him from traveling to Michigan.

He was the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten last year, at $1.1 million, but the university more than doubled his salary with a new deal that will pay him an average of $2.3 million through 2018.
“I think it shows our commitment to football,” Gophers AD Norwood Teague says. “It shows our commitment to Jerry, and it’s the right thing to do at this time.”

Now, Kill will seek to justify his big payday, as the Gophers move into the Big Ten West. They have a non-conference matchup against TCU and two tough draws from the Big Ten East — Michigan and Ohio State.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#51 Northwestern Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#51

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 55-46 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 51 Northwestern.

Previewing Northwestern’s Offense for 2014: 

After two years with a two-quarterback system and a run-oriented attack, Northwestern likely will return to its pass-first roots under coordinator Mick McCall. Trevor Siemian put to rest any questions about a quarterback competition with an impressive spring. He boasts a plus arm and has been productive when healthy.

If protected, Siemian should capitalize on Northwestern’s depth at the wide receiver and superback (tight end/H-back) positions. Veterans Tony Jones and Christian Jones return at wideout, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler is a prototype slot receiver who can stretch defenses with his speed. Kyle Prater is finally healthy and provides size on the perimeter, and top superback Dan Vitale has star potential after recording 62 receptions in his first two seasons.

Although the offense should have a passing lean, it also looks strong at running back, especially with Venric Mark returning after an injury-plagued 2013 season. Mark eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards in 2012, and despite his size provides a between-the-tackles threat. Treyvon Green is a solid backup, and Warren Long and Stephen Buckley both will push for carries.

The depth at the skill positions won’t matter if the line doesn’t dramatically improve. Competition ramped up at several positions in the spring. Other than center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen, no spot is safe. Northwestern had its lowest third-down conversion percentage (39.9) since 2006 and must get back to moving the chains.

Previewing Northwestern’s Defense for 2014: 

Seven starters return on a unit that repeatedly put Northwestern in position to win last season. “We were five plays away from winning five more games,” coordinator Mike Hankwitz says. “We’ve just got to make those plays.” Takeaways could be a hallmark for the defense, especially a secondary featuring more depth than any in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is the headliner of the secondary, but Northwestern will be able to go two or three deep at every position as several redshirt freshmen, including safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro, enter the mix.

Two veteran playmakers return at linebacker in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who has moved from the strong side to the middle. They combined for seven interceptions and 184 tackles last season.

Offseason surgeries hit the defensive line hard, creating some question marks entering the fall. The pass rush should be strong with ends Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Defensive tackle was a weak point a year ago, and Northwestern needs Sean McEvilly to stay healthy and C.J. Robbins to build on his strong finish. Opponents ran at the middle of the Wildcats’ defense too easily in 2013.

Previewing Northwestern’s Specialists for 2014:

The Wildcats lose a huge piece in the kicking game in Jeff Budzien, the Big Ten’s top placekicker each of the past two years, but they also regain a weapon in Mark, an All-America punt returner in 2012. Northwestern needs Arthur Omilian or Hunter Niswander to show poise and Chris Gradone to stabilize a shaky punting situation. 

Final Analysis

The good vibes accompanying Northwestern for much of Fitzgerald’s tenure vanished after the program’s first bowl-less season since 2007, but Northwestern returns a roster strong enough to return to the postseason and play spoiler in a wide-open Big Ten West. The offense finally has a quarterback and an identity, but questions remain up front. The defense is still reliant on takeaways but boasts good depth throughout the unit.

Northwestern plays Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cal in non-league play but misses both Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Wildcats should return to the postseason in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#50 East Carolina Pirates

NATIONAL FORECAST

#50

American Athletic PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Ruffin McNeill, 29-22 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lincoln Riley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rick Smith

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 50 East Carolina.

Previewing East Carolina’s Offense for 2014:

It’s full speed ahead for the Pirates as they sail into the American Athletic Conference with what should be another offensive juggernaut. East Carolina was ranked second in Conference USA in total offense (468.2 ypg) and was eighth in the land with 40.2 points scored per game.

The 2013 Conference USA MVP (and long-shot 2014 Heisman hopeful), quarterback Shane Carden is back for his senior year, and he has already piled up a treasure chest of big numbers — 318.4 yards passing per game, a 70.5 completion percentage and 33 touchdowns,  and that was just last year. His favorite target, talented Justin Hardy, is back after setting ECU records with 114 catches and 1,284 yards, and he is the first Pirate ever with back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Diminutive 5'8" senior Breon Allen was second on the team with 311 yards rushing, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The little back will shoulder a bigger load this fall, with a lot of help from junior Chris Hairston.

The biggest concern is the offensive line. Big junior Tre Robertson, all 6'5", 310 pounds of him, is back at right tackle, and the Pirates hope to have promising Ike Harris on the left side after his shoulder completely heals from a February car accident. Redshirt freshman guard Larry Williams can also help.

Previewing East Carolina’s Defense for 2014:

The Pirates had a defensive renaissance under first-year coordinator Rick Smith, who presided over C-USA’s top run defense. Now Smith must replace eight starters in his 3-4 defense while he faces a more daunting schedule.

Chrishon Rose returns up front, although Rose is moving from nose tackle to end. Terrell Stanley, a potential all-conference end, missed spring as a result of the same car crash that sidelined Harris and will miss the 2014 season. Quick-footed nose tackle Terry Williams can be a force.

Keep an eye on athletic outside linebacker Montese Overton.The key, though, is inside linebacker Zeek Bigger, who was forced into the lineup by injuries and responded well. Already the signal-caller, Bigger will have a bigger role as a team leader alongside Brandon Williams in the middle.

Only boundary corner Detric Allen is back in the secondary, but there are some good pieces to rebuild around, including former walk-on Josh Hawkins, who had a spectacular offseason. Senior Lamar Ivey seems to have found a home at free safety, too.

Previewing East Carolina’s Specialists for 2014:

Hardy and his 11.2-yard punt return average are back to anchor some experienced specialty units. Warren Harvey slumped by his high standards, hitting just 15-of-25 field-goal attempts, but he was money inside of 30 yards (10-of-11) and hit 61 of his whopping 63 PAT attempts. Weight-room wonder Worth Gregory, a transfer from Alabama, looks like the heir apparent at punter.

Final Analysis

Coach Ruffin McNeill has a good thing going at his alma mater, where the Pirates have had the wind at their backs since he arrived, sailing to three bowl appearances in four years. They capped a meaty 10-win season with a 37–20 victory over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, and now they’re off to the American Athletic Conference — home to many of the Pirates’ old C-USA rivals.

East Carolina already got a big offseason win, hanging on to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who was pursued for the same job at some bigger programs. With the swashbuckling Carden at quarterback and the NFL-ready Hardy on the other end of his passes, the Pirates are primed for another big season. That is, if the defense rebounds from heavy losses and a rebuilding offensive line can come together to give Carden time.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#49 Utah State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#49

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Matt Wells, 9-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin McGiven, Luke Wells | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 49 Utah State.

Previewing Utah State’s Offense for 2014:

Two of Utah State’s top players on offense happen to play the same position — quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Darell Garretson. Keeton, a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate a year ago, went down with a knee injury in the sixth game last fall. Garretson, a true freshman in 2013, went 6–1 as a starter. Those two combined to lead the offense to five single-season school records. Keeton missed spring drills but is on track to return to full speed in time for camp.

Protecting the signal-caller will be the biggest challenge, as five seniors graduated from the offensive line, including four starters. Left tackle Kevin Whimpey has started 26 straight games and will provide leadership. “I’ve been pleasantly pleased with the offensive line,” Utah State coach Matt Wells says. “Our guys are talented. They are just youthful and inexperienced.”

Like the quarterback, the starting running back is coming back from a knee injury. Joe Hill missed the last nine games and spring. He will be pushed by Rashad Hall and Kennedy Williams, the little brother of Kerwynn Williams, a former Aggie who is now with the San Diego Chargers.

Two key receivers return in Bruce “JoJo” Natson and Brandon Swindall. Several new players shined in the spring, and the coach is excited about the guys who will be catching passes.

“Potentially, this could be one of our more talented groups at wideout here in a long time,” Wells says.

Previewing Utah State’s Defense for 2014:

Wells has preached that defense wins championships, and this side of the ball certainly had a big part in the Aggies winning the Mountain Division title in 2013. Utah State’s defense ranked seventh nationally in scoring (17.1 ppg), eighth in rushing (106.7 ypg), 12th in total defense (330.9 ypg) and 15th in passing efficiency defense (113.2).
The linebacker corps will lead the way again as two all-league players return in Kyler Fackrell and Zach Vigil, whose younger brother Nick became a starter toward the end of last year.

“We’ve been really good on defense the last two years, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t be again this year,” Wells says. “I think we have one of the best, if not the best linebacking corps in the Mountain West.”

Up front, only one starter is back in B.J. Larsen, but a number of players saw action. The coach likes the depth and believes the line will be solid. The secondary took a hit from graduation as four key players are gone. Safety Brian Suite will be counted on to provide leadership. Wells says that the key to the defense being an “elite” group will be the progress of the secondary.

Previewing Utah State’s Specialists for 2014:

Nick Diaz, who made 17-of-23 field-goal attempts, returns. Punter Jaron Bentrude is back as well. He averaged 39.8 yards per kick. The Aggies ranked in the top half of the league in both kickoff and punt returns.

Final Analysis 

Expectations just keep growing for the Aggies. In their first year in the Mountain West, they made it to the inaugural league championship game after capturing the Mountain Division. The largest crowd to attend a spring game turned out in April, and the second-year coach received a contract extension through 2018. USU has been to three straight bowls — something never before accomplished at the school — winning the last two.

Wells lost two assistants on the defensive side, but the transition with the new coaches went smoothly in the spring. There are some challenges with the schedule: The Aggies travel to Tennessee, Arkansas State and BYU in non-conference action and end the season with a trip to Boise State. Another bowl berth and 10 wins are reasonable goals in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#48 Maryland Terrapins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

Big Ten East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Randy Edsall, 13-24 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Locksley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Stewart

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 48 Maryland.

Previewing Maryland’s Offense for 2014:

The Big Ten’s new kid on the block has the potential to be potent offensively if it can get healthy. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown became the first Terrapin to ever pass for 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 in a single season, but his physical style makes him prone to injury, particularly behind an unproven offensive line still hoping to add pieces this summer.

But what Brown can do for you, besides make chunk-yardage plays on the ground, is get the ball to two talented targets, speedsters Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both back from broken legs. Their return should make the Terps better on third down — where they converted just 32 percent of the time (114th nationally) in 2013 — and make Maryland a quick-strike team in a pound-on-the-ground league.

The return of sophomore tailback Wes Brown from suspension improves a running back-by-committee that boasts Brandon Ross and his 776 rushing yards last year. C.J. Brown and Diggs, who will get the ball in a variety of ways in multiple receiver formations, are the main threats, though.

Previewing Maryland’s Defense for 2014:

The Terrapins should be stout on the defensive line with nose tackle Darius Kilgo flanked by sack-machine Andre Monroe and quick Quinton Jefferson. There’s some depth, too, behind them, particularly in the middle with Keith Bowers and Nate Clarke.

Seniors Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree both return at inside linebacker, and they can locate and discombobulate runners with the best of them. Farrand was honorable mention All-ACC and second on the team with 84 tackles (7.6 per game) despite an array of nagging injuries. On the outside, Matt Robinson is a stud in pass coverage just like a former safety should be. Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil was on his way to a monster year terrorizing quarterbacks when a pectoral injury knocked him out of the last seven games.

Jeremiah Johnson is back from a toe injury that took him out of all but two games, and he’s a lockdown corner. Fearless 5'7" sophomore William Likely returns at the field corner. Better play from veteran safeties Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon will help, too.

Previewing Maryland’s Specialists for 2014: 

The special teams were markedly improved last year under coordinator Andre Powell. When Diggs went down and the Terps lost his 23.4 yards per kickoff return, Likely stepped in and averaged 26.0 yards. He had a punt return TD at Virginia Tech. Brad Craddock bounced back from an erratic freshman year to hit 21-of-25 field goals, 20-of-22 inside 50 yards. His 1.62 field goals per game led the ACC. Punter Nathan Renfro had a 40.8-yard average but has been inconsistent and had a rocky spring.

Final Analysis

There’s some talent in tow as Maryland makes the big move to the Big Ten, but there are also questions. After winning seven games last season, fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is still trying to get some traction while he continues to get players out of traction. The team’s top three receivers all return from injuries, and several defensive stalwarts are coming back from offseason surgery. If everyone’s healthy, Edsall has a team that could be explosive on offense (pending the play of the team’s biggest question mark, a makeshift offensive line). And the defense, with nine starters back, should be solid.

But how will a middlin’ (7–6 overall, 3–5 in conference) ACC team fare in the Big Ten? It’s one of this season’s most intriguing questions and one that Edsall’s most veteran Terrapin team — 87 percent of last year’s late-season two-deep returns — is anxious to answer.

“We’ll be ready,” C.J. Brown says.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Boise State Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 46 Boise State.

Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2014:

New coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 2006-10, and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, a former Boise State quarterback and Stanford assistant, hope to revive an offense that was one of college football’s signature units for a decade. The Broncos tumbled to 54th in the nation in scoring (30.2 ppg) in 2012, when they failed to score an offensive touchdown twice, and improved to 19th (37.5 ppg) in 2013, when they still struggled mightily against quality defenses.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick is the starter after taking the vast majority of snaps in the last seven games last season. He produced 22 total touchdowns but also nine turnovers.

He is surrounded by three dynamic playmakers who need some help to emerge in fall camp. Junior tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last season; senior wide receiver Matt Miller is on pace to break the school record for career receptions and finished last season on a crazy roll (636 yards, 10 TDs in five games); and junior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes is a slippery 5'6" dynamo. Harsin and Sanford expect to bring the tight end back to its former glory in the Broncos’ offense, and their leading candidate is redshirt freshman Jake Roh, a spring standout.

The offensive line is a major question mark. Two starters return but have changed positions — junior Marcus Henry from guard to center and junior Rees Odhiambo from right tackle to left tackle. The other three starters likely will come from the freshman and sophomore classes.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2014:

The Broncos’ usually dominant defense also fell on hard times last year, particularly on the road. They allowed at least 30 points in five of six road games.

The pass defense, which ranked in the top five nationally in efficiency in three of the previous five seasons, plummeted to 88th. Marcel Yates, the defensive backs coach from 2006-11, arrives as the coordinator after two years as the co-coordinator at Texas A&M.
Six starters on the back end return. Linebackers Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo combined for 140 tackles last season as freshmen despite not playing full seasons. Junior cornerback Donte Deayon, who intercepted six passes, and senior safety Jeremy Ioane, who made 59 tackles, were All-Mountain West second-teamers. Corey Bell could be the X-factor — he was the second-leading tackler as a linebacker last year but moves to a safety-like nickel role this year.

The defensive line has quality front-line talent — sophomore ends Gabe Perez and Kamalei Correa and junior tackle Armand Nance are up-and-comers — but lacks depth. Junior college transfers Antoine Turner and Rondell McNair and true freshman Dereck Boles need to contribute.

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Dan Goodale missed only two field-goal attempts last season, but one was a potential game-winner at the end of regulation before the Broncos lost in overtime at San Diego State. That loss cost them a spot in the Mountain West title game. Punter Sean Wale needs to level his play. Kickoff returner Bryan Douglas and punt returner Williams-Rhodes are weapons.

Final Analysis 

Coming off an 8–5 season — the Broncos’ worst since 1998 — there is hope for a quick turnaround with an experienced roster and a new energy created by the coaching change. The schedule sets up well with Fresno State, San Diego State and = Utah State set to visit Boise, but the Broncos will count largely on the same players who failed to win the Mountain West Mountain Division last year. They need Hedrick and the veteran defenders to make noticeable leaps and that young offensive line to jell quickly — particularly if they hope to impress a national audience in the made-for-TV opener against Ole Miss in Atlanta.




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