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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Arizona Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Rich Rodriguez, 16-10 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Casteel

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. 45 Arizona.

Previewing Arizona’s Offense for 2014:

In a sense, it is Groundhog Day at Arizona. After getting remarkable production from one-year quarterback starters Matt Scott in 2012 and B.J. Denker in 2013, coach Rich Rodriguez will open with his third QB in three years. Next in line is USC washout Jesse Scroggins, who is in his fifth year of college football. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, a four-time state champion from Las Vegas, challenged strongly for the No. 1 job in spring camp.

Two-time consensus All-America tailback Ka’Deem Carey — who became Arizona’s first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year — left for the NFL after his junior season. A mix of four young players, including Zach Green, Nick Wilson and Jonathan Haden — none with a college carry — could share the tailback job.

Six players are in the receiving rotation, all of them starter-quality. Senior Austin Hill, who missed 2013 after undergoing knee surgery, caught 81 passes a year earlier and is the dean of the group. DaVonte’ Neal, a transfer from Notre Dame and two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, has game-changing explosiveness and will be difficult to keep off the field. Cayleb Jones, a transfer from Texas, who has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver.

Four offensive line starters return, including three-year starting tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. Both have been durable and effective in Rodriguez’s fast-paced scheme.

Previewing Arizona’s Defense for 2014: 

The defensive line is troublesome and thin. Sophomore Dwight Melvin, with no career starts and little playing time, is the leading candidate to open at nose guard. The defensive ends are capable, if not standouts. Seniors Dan Pettinato and Reggie Gilbert aren’t skilled pass-rushers, which is what Arizona’s defense lacks. The Wildcats added LSU transfer Jordan Allen after spring practice. The former four-star recruit is an end but might be able to slide inside and play nose guard as well.

Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright started 12 games as a true freshman and made 83 tackles, fourth-best on the club. He will now be a leader on the defense. The rest of the linebacking crew will need introductions. Sophomores DeAndre’ Miller, Derrick Turituri and Jake Matthews are challenging for full-time jobs. Incoming freshman linebacker Jamardre Cobb is one of the school’s top recruits.

Arizona cut its points allowed from 35 per game in Rodriguez’s first year to 24 last year, and most of the secondary players partially responsible for that performance return. Safety Jared Tevis isn’t blessed with NFL size and speed, but he’s an effective college player. Three-year starting cornerback Jonathan McKnight is a possible all-conference back, and hybrid linebacker/safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant will be starting for the fourth season. Arizona won’t be shy to use its bench.

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists for 2014:

Junior punter Drew Riggleman averaged 40.1 yards in his first year as a starter, but incoming kicker Josh Pollack is expected to challenge for the job immediately. The placekicking job is a mystery. Junior Casey Skowron ended spring drills on top of the depth chart, but he hasn’t kicked in a Pac-12 game. The return game, which has been a problem for Arizona in the Rodriguez years, should improve significantly.

Final Analysis

Rodriguez has twin 8–5 seasons in two years at Arizona, and he has more Pac-12-ready players on the roster for Year 3. The uncertainty at quarterback hovers over the entire operation, but the strengths at receiver and on the offensive line create an optimistic feeling about another winning season. The Wildcats are faster and deeper on defense. The schedule — four winnable games to open the season — sets up favorably.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#58 Indiana Hoosiers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#58

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Kevin Wilson, 10-26 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Johns | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Knorr

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. 58 Indiana.

Previewing Indiana’s Offense for 2014:

Indiana plays eight-win offense. The Hoosiers have done that for several seasons. They also play two-win defense. That has needed to change for many seasons. But offense is what gives coach Kevin Wilson the optimism that Indiana can finish a season in a bowl game for the first time since 2007.

Wilson is comfortable playing multiple quarterbacks. He’s done that all three years in Bloomington. Tre Roberson started four games last season. Nate Sudfeld started eight. The plan was for them to split time again this fall, but Roberson transferred in June. Sudfeld won’t run much, but he throws a better deep ball. Indiana will miss Roberson's mobility and won't have a proven backup for Sudfeld.

The Hoosiers lost their top two receivers and tight end, but Wilson always has plenty of replacement parts. Speedy veteran Shane Wynn was the star of the spring game, catching five passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Dominique Booth, a decommit from Tennessee, enrolled early and had a solid spring.

After leading the Hoosiers with 958 yards in 2013, halfback Tevin Coleman returned from knee surgery to carry three times in the spring game and show that he’s ready to contribute again. With five experienced players returning and sophomore Dan Feeney back from a knee injury, the offensive line should be the strength of this unit. Tackle Jason Spriggs has NFL ability.

Previewing Indiana’s Defense for 2014:

The numbers never lie. You’re not going beat any good teams when your defense allows 527.9 yards per game. Somebody had to take the hit after the Hoosiers were pounded for 38.8 points per game in 2013, so Brian Knorr arrives from Wake Forest to fix a defense that cost coordinator Doug Mallory his job. Knorr is transitioning the scheme to a 3-4 because it fits the Hoosiers’ personnel and because that is the alignment Knorr ran at Wake.

Expect Ralph Green to plug the nose guard spot. The pass rush needs to bring more heat. IU delivered 20 sacks last season. Nick Mangieri returns on one edge. Sophomore David Kenney had a productive spring game, and the Hoosiers could use his speed and athleticism.

Indiana suffered with three freshman linebackers last season, but Wilson believes the suffering will end this fall because T.J. Simmons Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton played through their mistakes. Indiana has not had a linebacker drafted by the NFL since 1979.

When a defense allows 5.4 yards per rush, the passing defense is not always severely tested. Cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter improved their coverage skills but contributed only two interceptions. Antonio Allen has the ability to be a star at safety but is recovering from knee surgery.

Previewing Indiana’s Specialists for 2014:

Aaron Del Grosso inherits the formidable task of replacing the dependable leg of Mitch Ewald for field goals and extra points. Punter Erich Toth averaged 40.6 yards per kick. Wynn returned a punt for a touchdown and also averaged better than 23 yards per kickoff return.

Final Analysis

The Indiana football story needs to break the endless loop of great offense, awful defense. A shift should begin this season. The defense looked faster, stronger and more determined during the spring game. The offense has more questions than usual after losing three of its top four receivers. But Indiana can rely on Sudfeld's arm, one of the Big Ten’s best runners in Coleman and IU’s best offensive line in a decade. A shift from eight home games to six will hurt. And the non-conference schedule, which includes trips to MAC-favorite Bowling Green and Missouri, is far from easy. Finding six wins will be a challenge.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44 Vanderbilt Commodores

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

SEC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Derek Mason, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Karl Dorrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Kotulski

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. 44 Vanderbilt.

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Offense for 2014:

Vanderbilt must replace a pair of wide receivers who accounted for 92 percent of the team’s production at the position, but the primary focus for first-year coach Derek Mason during preseason camp will be to identify a starting quarterback. Patton Robinette played a key role in some great moments last season — a comeback win over Georgia, a road victory at Florida, the winning touchdown at Tennessee — but the sophomore is far from a lock to earn the starting assignment. Robinette, a good athlete who lacks elite arm strength, will face stiff competition from redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary and Stephen Rivers, a transfer from LSU.

Whoever wins the job — and don’t be surprised if it’s Rivers — will be lacking proven playmakers at the wide receiver position. The new staff plans on incorporating tight ends (think Stanford) and running backs in the passing game, but the Dores will need some young wide receivers to take on much larger roles in 2014.

Mason is looking for big tailbacks to pound the ball between the tackles. He inherited what has to be the smallest running back duo in the SEC — Jerron Seymour (5'7", 200) and Brian Kimbrow (5'8", 185). Despite this duo’s shortcomings, the running game should be improved after a lackluster performance last fall.

Mason singled out the line as the strength of the offense during the spring. The Dores must replace All-SEC tackle Wesley Johnson, but otherwise this unit returns largely intact.

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Defense for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Vanderbilt’s move to the 3-4 has forced some reshuffling on the front seven. Last year’s defensive ends are now outside linebackers. Last year’s defensive tackles are either ends or nose guards. The biggest beneficiary of the new scheme could be Vince Taylor, a 6'2", 310-pound senior. “Vince will be as good as any nose (guard) or interior player in this conference,” Mason says.

Mason and the defensive staff spent the spring reprogramming the Commodores’ talented corps of inside linebackers. “These guys need to be thumpers,” he says. “(Last year), they were edge players. They ran around blocks. That is not what we do.” Kyle Woestmann and Caleb Azubike, who were pass-rushing ends last season, should make a smooth transition to outside linebacker.

The Commodores must replace four seniors in the secondary who combined to start 110 games over the last four seasons. There is, however, a decent amount of experience returning. Many of the young defensive backs were forced into duty late last season due to injuries. Paris Head and Torren McGaster gained the most experience at corner last year, but Darrius Sims also saw some action as a true freshman. Mason also has been pleased with redshirt freshmen Taurean Ferguson and Tre Bell. Oren Burks was recruited as a linebacker but has been moved to safety. He received praise from Mason throughout the spring.

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Specialists for 2014:

Finding a reliable replacement for standout placekicker Carey Spear will be of paramount importance. Redshirt freshman Tommy Openshaw is atop the depth chart for now. Taylor Hudson handled most of the punting last year but lost his job late in the season to Colby Cooke.

Final Analysis 

Mason is in uncharted territory for a first-year football coach at Vanderbilt. Unlike the vast majority of men who have occupied his seat, Mason is not facing a massive rebuild. The former defensive coordinator at Stanford inherits a program that has won 18 games over the last two seasons and been to three straight bowl games. There is enough talent on the roster to extend the postseason streak to four, but some playmakers need to emerge on offense, and the defense must adapt to a very different style of play for this team to finish higher than sixth in the SEC East.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#42 Tennessee Volunteers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#42

SEC East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Butch Jones, 5-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Bajakian | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Jancek

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. 42 Tennessee.

Previewing the Tennessee Offense for 2014:

If Tennessee’s offense improves significantly in 2014, you can throw football cliches out the window — or something like that. Championships may be won at the line of scrimmage, but the Vols are losing all five starting linemen from a year ago and still should be more productive on offense.

Tennessee is pinning its hopes on an influx of speedy playmakers, like freshman wideout Josh Malone and junior college star Von Pearson. Combine that with second-year improvement from Jason Croom and Marquez North, and Tennessee coaches believe their receiving corps will be vastly improved.

The primary question is, who will get the ball to the playmakers? If the quarterback battle were a political race, Justin Worley would be the conservative, reliable but somewhat bland incumbent. Riley Ferguson was the brash young challenger — risky, but perhaps worth it. However, Ferguson transferred in late May, leaving Worley and sophomore Joshua Dobbs to compete for the starting job.

The running game will be tested behind an entirely new offensive line. Tennessee had 2,261 rushing yards a year ago, the most since 2004. Senior Marlin Lane will have to hope that the running lanes are as generous as they have been for most of his career. But Lane is a placeholder for Jalen Hurd, the elite freshman back who coaches hope will add a bigger, tougher dimension to the Vols’ ground attack.

Previewing Tennessee’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
The SEC offers no place to hide for teams lacking speed in the back of their defense, and the schedule was particularly cruel to the Vols in 2013. Games against warp-speed teams Oregon and Auburn provided Exhibits A and B of Tennessee’s need to upgrade its speed. The changes might not be dramatic in 2014, but by improving some of the weakest links (like the nickel spot), coaches hope to notice a difference.

Speed is the new mantra now, so much so that Emmanuel Moseley, a gangly athlete who had no big-school offers when he was discovered by Tennessee, could be the starting cornerback as a true freshman. He’s truly fast. After two years of breakdowns tolerated only because there were no better options, expect some veterans to lose their jobs or be pushed for playing time.

Depth at the defensive line is a real concern, but this could be the year defensive end Corey Vereen appears on the national scene. He played on passing downs in 2013 but is likely to be an every-down player now. Linebacker A.J. Johnson and hybrid Curt Maggitt will anchor the defense. Johnson keeps putting up ridiculous tackle numbers (now 324 in three years), but more widespread respect has eluded him.

Previewing Tennessee’s Specialists for 2014:

Maybe it was a reflection of a rough year, but Butch Jones designated kicker/punter Michael Palardy as the team’s MVP in 2013. It might take three players to replace him. Freshman Aaron Medley could end up handling field goals, although George Bullock showed a solid leg in the spring. The punting job returns to Matt Darr after he lost it to Palardy in 2013. UT has a handful of young athletes who could impact the return game, but they’ll have to unseat senior Devrin Young.

Final Analysis 

Even after a 5–7 debut season, Jones has retained his relentlessly sunny attitude, and it seems to be infectious in Knoxville. But here’s the downer: While this team will eventually be better than the 2013 version, the roster turnover represented by 32 newcomers offers plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And this schedule (once again) offers little margin for error. Reaching six wins and a bowl game won’t be easy, but it will be a critical hurdle in keeping the Jones-fueled optimism alive and well in Knoxville.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#47 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#47

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 48-32 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

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. 47 Georgia Tech.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Offense for 2014:

The thought last year was that Georgia Tech’s offense could take a jump forward because it had never had a quarterback like Vad Lee — a true dual-threat who could make run-focused defenses pay with his arm. Unfortunately, Lee completed only 46 percent of his passes — not entirely his fault — and had a hard time operating coach Paul Johnson’s option offense.

Move forward a year, and a similar thought is being applied to replacement quarterback Justin Thomas. The former state high school sprint champion is the fastest and quickest quarterback that Johnson has had, someone who could make the option offense explosive just with his feet. Last season, mostly in mop-up action, Thomas had 33 carries, and five of them went 20 yards or more.

The question, though, is whether Thomas can make that happen on a consistent basis. He struggled in the spring with his ball-handling and his decision-making with option reads. There’s also the matter of whether or not an offensive line that will replace three starters who had combined for 117 career starts can find suitable replacements among a fairly inexperienced lot.

Beyond wide receiver DeAndre Smelter — who joined the football team after a three-year run with the Yellow Jackets’ baseball team to become the team’s most consistent and dangerous threat in the passing game — Georgia Tech doesn’t have a proven pass-catcher. B-back (fullback) Zach Laskey has speed and runs hard behind his pads but has played a backup role the past two seasons. B-back Travis Custis was supposed to be a contributor in the backfield, but he was ruled ineligible following spring practice.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Defense for 2014:

Defensively, the Jackets face a similar uncertainty. Six starters are lost, including All-America defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and defensive back Jemea Thomas, a clutch playmaker.

Georgia Tech will have to find and develop three new starters on the defensive line from a group that couldn’t push the starters in 2013. Coordinator Ted Roof would prefer that he have backups who can play and contribute. Whether that happens could determine the course of the season. Key pieces include nose tackle and returning starter Adam Gotsis (14.5 tackles for a loss last season); and defensive tackle Shawn Green, who didn’t see the field much because of injuries. Jabari Hunt-Days was expected to move from linebacker to defensive end but was ruled ineligible for the 2014 season following spring practice.

There are solid players elsewhere. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy is a three-year starter with a nose for the ball, and fellow linebacker Tyler Marcordes came on strong in spring practice. At safety, Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden missed most or all of last season with injuries, but they bring experience and savvy. Cornerback D.J. White is a star on the rise.

The Jackets also expect to be more comfortable now in the second year under Roof’s guidance. Tech improved from 28.3 points per game allowed in 2012 to 22.8 last fall.

Previewing Georgia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Harrison Butker made 10-of-14 field-goal attempts, but he needs to improve on his kickoffs. Punter Ryan Rodwell redshirted last season after playing in six games in the 2012 season. Consistency will be his big challenge. After missing the final 10 games of the season with a shoulder injury, Golden should give a boost as a return specialist. In 2012, he was the only player in the country in the top 12 in both punt and kickoff return average.

Final Analysis 

The Jackets seem stuck around the seven-win mark, almost always competitive but usually falling short against top-tier competition. If all the variables fall their way, this could be a nine-win team that contends for the Coastal Division title. But if Thomas struggles and the defense takes a step back, six or seven wins could be the ceiling.  




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#56 Washington State Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#56

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Leach, 9-16 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Leach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske

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. 56 Washington State.

Previewing Washington State’s Offense for 2014: 

Washington State returns many of the components of a passing offense that ranked second in the Pac-12 with 368.0 yards per game. Connor Halliday had 410 passing yards and six touchdown passes in the New Mexico Bowl, but the most impressive part of his day? He threw only one interception in 58 attempts. Halliday enters his senior season with a chance to break all of the school passing records. That’s impressive when you think of the QBs who have played at Washington State — Drew Bledsoe, Mark Rypien, Ryan Leaf, Jack Thompson and Jason Gesser, among others.

But Halliday has a tendency to throw too many interceptions. Along with 34 touchdown passes and 4,597 passing yards last year, he threw it to the opposing team 22 times.

As you’d expect with an offense that stresses the passing game, the Cougars are loaded with guys who can stretch the field. It’s their strongest position, led by Gabe Marks, who had 74 receptions for 807 yards and seven TDs last year. Four other wideouts had at least 40 receptions.

Offensive line could be a source of concern with the loss of two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 center Elliott Bosch, right guard Matt Goetz and right tackle John Fullington.

Previewing Washington State’s Defense for 2014:  

Washington State will need to improve on this side of the ball after ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense (458.0 ypg) and scoring defense (32.5 ppg). The defense did, however, force 30 turnovers, second in the Pac-12 in that category.

WSU had one of the more solid defensive lines in the conference last year and returns the three standouts from that unit — Xavier Cooper, Kalafitoni Pole and Destiny Vaeao. Cooper registered five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last year. Pole’s numbers don’t match those, but he will be the 290-pound key to WSU’s run defense this year.

At linebacker, the Cougars have a hard-hitting group featuring Kache Palacio, Cyrus Coen, Darryl Monroe and Tana Pritchard. Palacio led the linebackers with four sacks and 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Monroe, a junior, finished third on the team with 94 tackles.

The Cougars will need to shore up a secondary that lost three of its four starters to graduation, including All-Pac-12 strong safety Deone Bucannon. Daquawn Brown might be the best defensive back, but his status was unclear coming out of spring practice. He was arrested in the offseason on felony second-degree assault and misdemeanor assault charges.

Previewing Washington State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Michael Bowlin held the punting job for most of the 2013 season but was replaced late in the year by Wes Concepcion, who will hold the job on a full-time basis this year. Reliable Andrew Furney made 16-of-20 field goals last year, but he graduated. Now it’s freshman Erik Powell’s job. The left-footed Powell had an outstanding spring, showing accuracy and range. The Cougars have a variety of candidates for kickoff and punt returns. Dom Williams or Rickey Galvin should handle kickoffs, while Robert Lewis is the likely frontrunner for punt returns. 

Final Analysis

Leach has engineered a quick turnaround in Pullman, guiding the Cougars back to a bowl game in his second season. He has eliminated the losing culture and given the program an identity. Leach’s third season figures to be similar to his second. The Cougs, with a senior quarterback and solid corps of receivers, will score a ton of points, but the defense remains an issue. Washington State can be a consistent bowl team as it’s currently constructed but will need to improve on defense to emerge as a contender in the tough Pac-12 North.




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