#107 FAU Owls





HEAD COACH: Charlie Partridge, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Roc Bellantoni

There are some things to get excited about at FAU for second-year coach Charlie Partridge. His offense has an identity and it should give them a chance to compete in most games in Conference USA. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson also returns for his senior campaign. But the Owls will have to overcome significant losses on defense if FAU wants to reach a bowl game.

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Previewing FAU’s Offense for 2015  

FAU did something strange last season: Despite hiring Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge as head coach, they retained offensive coordinator and one-time interim head coach Brian Wright. So it wasn’t that surprising that the offense showed many of the same poor traits from Wright’s first two seasons.

The Owls were inconsistent last year, never quite figuring out what kind of spread offense they wanted to be. That indecision likely stemmed from the fact that for the second straight fall camp, the Owls had a quarterback battle. Jaquez Johnson beat out Greg Hankerson for the starting gig last summer, and for better or worse, he should win the battle a third time in 2015.

The Owls will be forced to run more frequently as more than half of their receiving production has departed. That shouldn’t be a problem with Johnson under center running the read-option game with backs Jay Warren and Greg “Buddy” Howell. Despite poor blocking at times last season, Warren and Howell were dependable (combined 1,084 yards on 241 carries) and should have plenty left in the tank for 2015.

Top receivers Lucky Whitehead and William Dukes have graduated, as has tight end Alex DeLeon, meaning that one-time walk-on Jenson Stoshak will be the Owls’ top receiving target in 2015. Sophomore scatback Henry Bussey should take on Whitehead’s starting slot receiver job after catching just four passes for 88 yards last season.

Partridge revamped the Owls’ offensive line last season, setting it up for a big 2015. FAU’s front had a better 2014 season than the statistics show, but with experience and a better understanding of scheme, it should be even better in 2015. 


Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing FAU’s Defense for 2015 

The Owls lost their three best defensive players to graduation in linebacker Andrae Kirk, cornerback D’Joun Smith and safety Damian Parms. Senior tackle Brandin Bryant missed a big part of the 2014 season and is set to return, which could have a trickle-down effect. A healthy Bryant next to the steady Trevon Coley will close up some of the holes in a line that was atrocious against the run in 2014. If that duo can return to 2013 form, it could free up end Trey Hendrickson to have a breakout year.

FAU’s base defense is the nickel, putting more pressure on the two linebackers on the field. With Kirk gone, all eyes are on Robert Relf to improve his play and get into the backfield more often.

The Owls enter 2015 with plenty of faith in their corners — the physical Cre’von LeBlanc and crafty Raekwon Williams, who made a strong contribution as a true freshman. FAU has recruited defensive backs as well as anyone in Conference USA, but with the loss of both safeties, Parms and Christian Milstead, that recruiting will be put to the test. Top prospect Rodrick Archer and redshirt freshman Marquese Dudley-Gordon could see major playing time at the safety positions.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing FAU’s Specialists for 2015  

The loss of Whitehead as a returner will be huge. LeBlanc, Bussey and corner Reggie Brown will likely get a crack at replacing him. The Owls can expect another strong year from the kicking specialists, though. Placekicker Greg Joseph returns after making 14-of-20 field goals and all but one PAT. Punter Dalton Schomp brings back his impressive 45.4-yard average. 

Final Analysis

Losing the team’s three best defensive players and the offense’s top big-play threat will make improvement difficult for FAU in 2015. The Owls’ running game is strong enough that they should be able to play with Conference USA opponents and expect to win at home. That would keep bowl hopes on the table, but Partridge will need to have his young squad ready to impress out of the gate.  


#105 Buffalo Bulls





HEAD COACH: Lance Leipold, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Andy Kotelnicki | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Borland

Lance Leipold joins the top rank of college football after winning at an elite level at Wisconsin-Water in Division III. He has some nice pieces at Buffalo to compete in the MAC, but he needs to prove his winning system can succeed at the FBS level.

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Previewing Buffalo’s Offense for 2015  

First-year head coach Lance Leipold’s transition from Division III to the FBS will be eased by the presence of two productive seniors in quarterback Joe Licata and tailback Anthone Taylor.

Licata, a fourth-year starter who is cool in the pocket and fundamentally sound, already holds the school record for touchdown passes (60), ranks third in career completions (543) and fourth in career passing yardage (6,516).

Taylor had huge shoes to fill in replacing Branden Oliver, the school’s career rushing leader. But when he received his shot as the primary back, he flourished by finishing with 1,403 yards, the second-highest mark in Buffalo history. Local product Jordan Johnson and versatile senior Devin Campbell, who will see time at slot receiver, will also be part of the running game.

There are enough experienced receivers at Licata’s disposal in Ron Willoughby, Jacob Martinez and Marcus McGill, not to mention tight end Matt Weiser and newcomer Collin Lisa, who transferred in from UAB. The Bulls tied for No. 3 in the MAC in total offense and should be extremely balanced once again.

The offensive line was hit hard by graduation with the loss of veterans Trevor Sales, Andre Davis and Jake Silas, and the returning players have done plenty of shuffling. Right tackle John Kling returns, while right guard Robert Blodgett has moved to left tackle. Brandon Manosalvas has moved from center to left guard and will be replaced in the middle by redshirt freshman James O’Hagan. Senior Dillon Guy gets the nod at right guard.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Buffalo’s Defense for 2015 

The Bulls, who shift from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3, return only three starters on defense. The defensive line has to be mostly rebuilt, although it returns Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse, who are moving inside from end. Sophomores Demone Harris and Solomon Jackson look to fill the vacant end spots.

There are also questions at linebacker, where Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner must be replaced. Jarrett Franklin is back, while Okezie Alozie moves from safety to linebacker. The two are the team’s top returning tacklers with 49 apiece.

Marqus Baker and Boise Ross are locks at cornerback. Baker missed seven games 2014 with an illness, which forced Ross to convert from wide receiver to fill in at corner. Although Baker has experience, he’s starting for the first time in his career. Buffalo needs to find a pair of safeties and will miss All-MAC selection Adam Redden. Andrews Dadeboe has played extended minutes, while Ryan Williamson played in all 11 games as a true freshman. Jordan Collier, another UAB transfer, figures to be in the mix at safety.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists for 2015  

The Bulls have to replace Patrick Clarke, who ranks second in program history in field goals. Adam Mitcheson, who redshirted as a freshman, assumes Clarke’s role, while Tyler Grassman is back for his fourth season at punter. Campbell is just 80 yards shy of the school record in career kick return yardage and could see time at punt returner as well.

Final Analysis

It was a surprise to see the abrupt ending to the Jeff Quinn era, especially one season removed from the second bowl appearance in school history. Replacing Quinn with Leipold was equally unforeseen, but the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach was without peer on the Division III level (109–6 in eight seasons). There will be an adjustment period for the defense, which has to learn a new scheme and must replace several key contributors. But the offense, led by the serene Licata, is as good as any in the MAC. The schedule is not easy, but the Bulls are certainly capable of being a factor in the MAC East Division.

UAB Reinstates Football Team

The Blazers are coming back.
UAB Reinstates Football Team for 2016

Just six months after UAB announced its football team would be disbanded following the 2014 season, the Blazers are set to return to FBS competition.


School president Ray Watts announced the decision to reinstate the football program on Monday afternoon, but it’s uncertain when UAB will return to the gridiron.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers’ Meeting Overshadows Jimmie Johnson's Dover Win

Tom Bowles goes “Through the Gears” following Johnson’s historic 10th victory at the Monster Mile
NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers’ Meeting Overshadows Jimmie Johnson's Dover Win

The Monster Mile was known just as much for a monstrous meeting this weekend as it was for on-track competition. Saturday night, NASCAR spoke with nine drivers privately, a constructive conversation but facing the reality they’ve got the closest formation to some sort of driver’s union since those movements were shut down by force in the late 1960s.


Ranking the Big 12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015

Who has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 this fall?
Ranking the Big 12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015

When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.


And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.


College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100

Athlon releases its 2015 ranks for No. 81-100.
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.



#85 Syracuse Orange





HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, 10-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Lester | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bullough

Syracuse took a couple of steps backwards in Scott Shafer's second season, as the Orange won just three games. If any bounce back occurs this fall it will have to happen with a new offensive coordinator in place and very little starting experience returning on either side of the ball. The Orange could have a tough time climbing out of the basement in the ACC Atlantic Division.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2015


Fifth-year senior quarterback Terrel Hunt is one of the few steady figures on the roster despite fracturing his fibula midway through last season. Hunt likely will be Syracuse’s best running threat, but he is working to develop as a pocket passer with the ability to use his feet, much like Seattle’s Russell Wilson. That aligns with offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s system, which will feature more downfield routes and simpler terminology.

The Orange lose more than 67 percent of their running back production to graduation. And with Erv Philips sliding to the H-back position, juniors Devante McFarlane and George Morris II are expected to take the majority of carries by true running backs. Philips and senior Ashton Broyld, arguably the team’s two most dynamic playmakers, will take handoffs both between the tackles and on the perimeter from the H-back position.

Steve Ishmael is the only proven entity at wide receiver after starring as a true freshman. Lining up opposite him is junior Alvin Cornelius, who recorded as many tackles as receptions last season (three), but was a standout player in the spring. Junior Brisly Estime may be SU’s fastest skill-position player, but ankle and foot injuries derailed his 2014 season and carried into the spring.

With Sean Hickey off to the NFL, Syracuse has a three-year starter to replace at left tackle. The leading candidate is senior Ivan Foy, who has played primarily at right tackle the last two seasons. Rob Trudo, a two-year starter at left guard, is likely to replace center John Miller. The biggest question facing the unit: Can it stay healthy? SU played 10 offensive linemen last season.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2015

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The good news for the front four is that junior Ron Thompson, once a four-star tight end recruit, returns to his natural defensive position on the end of the line. The bad news? Senior defensive tackle Wayne Williams was the next-most-productive returner after a nine-tackle season in 2014, and he decided to transfer in late June. New faces will be relied on to produce immediately, including 23-year-old Luke Arciniega, who was granted two additional years of eligibility by the NCAA in March.

Possibly the strongest position on the team last year, the linebacker corps loses NFL hopefuls Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Sophomore middle backer Zaire Franklin steps in as the unit’s leader. He’s smart, savvy and well respected by his teammates. Marqez Hodge will slide to the weak-side spot in 2015, while sophomore Parris Bennett has the inside track for the strong-side spot.

Cornerback Julian Whigham returns from what he described as a “wasted” junior year as the secondary’s most experienced player. Wayne Morgan is expected to line up opposite Whigham. There is little experience at safety, where sophomores Chauncey Scissum and Rodney Williams are the expected starters.

Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2015


Senior punter Riley Dixon is one of the team’s most talented players, and he got more than his fair share of work last season. After winning the starting placekicking job last year as a true freshman, walk-on Cole Murphy will have to defend his spot against two scholarship kickers in senior Ryan Norton and incoming freshman Sterling Hofrichter. In the return game, McFarlane and Philips are the likely choices for kickoffs, while Estime brings experience returning punts.

Final Analysis


Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has his work cut out to improve on a 3–9 season. Margin for error will be slim with a new offensive system and eight new defensive starters. And with (now former) athletic director Daryl Gross choosing to “take on new challenges” following the NCAA’s handing down of sanctions in March, Shafer could be coaching for his job.


#84 Purdue Boilermakers



Big Ten West Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Darrell Hazell, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Shoop | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Hudson

Purdue showed improvement in its second season under Darrell Hazell. Unfortunately, the end result is still just four victories overall and none at home in Big Ten play in Hazell's two seasons leading the Boilermakers. Sixteen starters return, giving Hazell plenty of experience to work with, but it's probably too much to expect this Purdue team to climb out of the cellar in the Big Ten West Division.

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Previewing Purdue’s Offense for 2015

Junior quarterback Austin Appleby, who started the 2014 season’s final seven games and led the Boilermakers to their only Big Ten victory in coach Darrell Hazell’s two seasons at Purdue, returns but will have to improve after an ugly November in which he completed at least 50 percent of his passes in only two of four games. If he struggles early, redshirt freshman David Blough or true freshman Elijah Sindelar will be waiting in the wings.

The Boilermakers must replace their top two running backs — Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert — but have promising freshman Markell Jones, Indiana’s 2014 Mr. Football who rushed for 60 touchdowns as a high school senior, and sophomore Keyante Green, who rushed for 199 yards as a backup in 2014.

Led by senior center Robert Kugler, the entire starting line returns, and senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop will give the Boilermakers one of the Big Ten’s top targets if he is 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in early December. Anthrop caught 38 passes for 616 yards in only nine games, suffering a knee injury at Nebraska in Week 10.

Previewing Purdue’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Eight of Purdue’s 12 opponents in 2014 scored 30 points or more against a defense that was feeling its way while playing a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, now a sophomore, will anchor the 2015 defense after making 76 tackles as a freshman. Junior linebacker Jimmy Herman made 56 tackles a year ago, and sophomore Danny Ezechukwu also is a returning starter.

Junior Evan Panfil and sophomore Gelen Robinson will step into the starting end slots to replace Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips. Junior Jake Replogle returns as a starting tackle, but this unit knows it must improve after finishing 10th in total defense in the Big Ten.

Frankie Williams will be the focal point of the secondary after making 74 tackles and intercepting three passes as a junior, earning All-Big Ten second-team accolades from the league’s coaches. He can play corner or safety. Senior Anthony Brown will start at one corner after making 54 tackles last season, and hard-hitting junior Robert Gregory likely will start at one of the safety positions. If Hazell decides to play Williams at safety with Gregory, junior Leroy Clark probably will start at the corner opposite Brown.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Purdue’s Specialists for 2015

With senior kicker Paul Griggs and senior punter Thomas Meadows both back as starters, special teams should be a Boilermaker strength. Griggs made 16-of-20 field-goal attempts as a junior along with 32-of-33 extra points. Meadows punted 58 times for a 39.8-yard average, including 15 that rolled to a stop inside the 20-yard line and seven of 50 yards or more. Williams returned 10 punts for a 17.1-yard average, and Anthrop is the likely candidate to replace Mostert as Purdue’s kickoff return specialist.

Final Analysis

Having yet to win a Big Ten home game in Hazell’s first two seasons and having failed to win any game after the first week of October, Purdue needs to take a big step in 2015 to placate a fan base that is grumbling after a November free fall that included losing to rival Indiana for a second consecutive season. The defense has a chance to be much better, and the offensive line is sound with six players back who started at least six games in 2014. But other than Anthrop, the Boilermakers are lacking in proven playmakers — and he is coming off a torn ACL.

Finding a way to get out of the Big Ten West basement will be quite a challenge.