News

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.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#43 Cincinnati Bearcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

American Athletic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville, 9-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eddie Gran | DEF. COORDINATOR: Hank Hughes, Robert Prunty

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. 43 Cincinnati.

Previewing Cincinnati's Offense for 2014:


Gunner Kiel was rated the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect while in high school, and the Notre Dame transfer is expected to be the Cincinnati starter this season.

Kiel sat out 2013 as a transfer and has three years of eligibility remaining. Scouts like Kiel’s big arm, precision and mobility. He shows a nice touch on the deep ball but needs to improve while throwing on the run. Kiel will be challenged in camp by junior college transfer Jarred Evans. Former starting quarterback Munchie Legaux returns for a fifth season after tearing knee ligaments in 2013, and anything he contributes would be a bonus.
UC returns its top three rushers in seniors Hosey Williams and Ralph David Abernathy IV and junior Tion Green. Abernathy is too small (5'7", 161) to be an every-down back, so he also worked at slot receiver in the spring.

Shaq Washington, a senior who had a team-high 78 receptions last season, headlines what should be a strong corps of wide receivers. Junior Chris Moore is among several returning wideouts, and highly regarded junior college transfer Casey Gladney enters the mix.

Left tackle Eric Lefeld was a unanimous first-team All-AAC choice last year. Center Deyshawn Bond and Parker Ehinger also are returning starters, with Ehinger moving from right tackle to right guard.

Previewing Cincinnati's Defense for 2014:

The Bearcats finished No. 9 nationally in total defense (315.6 ypg), but head coach Tommy Tuberville did not retain defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. Tuberville wanted to upgrade recruiting and hire coaches with more regional connections, so he tapped former Connecticut coordinator Hank Hughes to run the defense. Hughes will retain the 4-3 front that UC played last year.

Linebackers Nick Temple and Jeff Luc, defensive end Silverberry Mouhon (9.5 sacks), safety Zach Edwards and cornerback Howard Wilder are among key returnees. Mouhon became a real force last year. His brother, true freshman linebacker Kevin Mouhon, is the Bearcats’ highest-rated 2014 recruit.

Linebacker is again a strength, with Northwestern transfer Eric Wilson joining Temple and Luc in the starting lineup. Luc, who began his career at Florida State, shifts inside to middle linebacker.

Gone are defensive tackle Jordan Stepp, linebacker Greg Blair and cornerback Deven Drane, who each earned all-league honors in ’13.

Tuberville favors speed over size, and he says the Bearcats have more speed this year. UC compiled good defensive stats against relatively mild AAC opposition, but the speed issue was a problem in blowout losses to Illinois and North Carolina.

Previewing Cincinnati's Specialists for 2014:

Special teams were a disaster in 2013. Veteran placekicker Tony Miliano slumped to 7-for-17 on field goals after hitting 34-of-47 in his first two seasons. UC ranked No. 121 nationally in net punting (33.0), had a long kickoff return of only 38 yards and a long punt return of only 35 yards. The punt return team allowed a TD in the Belk Bowl. There is a new special teams coach, however, with former grad assistant Marc Nudelberg.

Final Analysis 

Much depends on the development of Kiel at quarterback. Kiel has the physical tools and has been a commanding presence at practice, but the test will be how he handles inevitable on-field adversity. UC started slowly last year (3–2) as the players adjusted to Tuberville and his staff. The coaches are entrenched now, but the lack of quarterback experience is an issue.

The non-league schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.), but the Bearcats should contend for another upper-echelon finish in the AAC. With talent at the skill positions and improved speed on defense, a fourth consecutive bowl game seems reasonable.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#41 Texas Tech Red Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#41

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Smith, Matt Wallerstedt

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. 41 Texas Tech.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense:

With both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, it’s quarterback Davis Webb’s time to shine at Texas Tech. He had a huge performance in the Holiday Bowl against a stout Arizona State defense, and he’s established himself as the program’s quarterback of the future. The sophomore from Prosper, Texas, looked poised and confident in the spring, cementing his place as the alpha male on offense. Webb has also gained about 20 pounds since the end of last season, and it’s helped add noticeable zip to his throws.

Things look to be improved on the offensive line in 2014 as well, as the Red Raiders will return essentially four of their five starters in the trenches, including All-Big 12 tackle Le’Raven Clark. On top of that, the Raiders will add two junior college transfers — Dominique Robertson and Shaquille Davis — who could play their way into the starting lineup.

Kenny Williams, who rushed for a team-high 497 yards in 2013, was moved to defense in the spring, making junior DeAndre Washington the favorite to start at tailback. True freshman Justin Stockton will contribute right away.

Outside receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro leave big holes in the receiving corps from last fall, and a few young stars are looking to fill their shoes. Bradley Marquez has been moved inside to Y — where Amaro caught over 100 passes last year — and sophomore Reginald Davis looks to be a burgeoning star on the outside at the Z spot.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
A number of starting defenders have graduated, and an influx of junior college talent is looking to play immediately on the line and in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Keland McElrath has already arrived on campus, and three more junior college transfers will arrive in June. These newcomers will add size to the line as well — their average weight is just over 300 pounds. That’s a marked improvement from last year, and defensive co-coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is hoping it will help shore up a run defense that allowed 228.4 rushing yards per game in conference play.

Senior inside linebacker V.J. Fehoko, a transfer from Utah, impressed in the spring, and he established himself as an emotional leader on defense in quick fashion. Williams’ move from running back to outside linebacker has been smooth, and it appears that the senior has filled an important need for 2014.

Cornerback Justis Nelson and safety J.J. Gaines are proven players, but questions remain at the other two spots in the secondary. Jalen Barnes, Keenon Ward and junior college transfer Josh Keys will fight to start at the other safety spot, while Thierry Nguema, Tyler Middleton, and La’Darius Newbold battle it out at corner.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists for 2014: 

Kicker Ryan Bustin will return for his final year on the South Plains, and he’s looking to improve on a fantastic junior season in which he broke Tech’s single-season kicking record with 23 field goals (in 27 attempts). Taylor Symmank will take over punting duties this fall, and the junior impressed with his distance during the spring.

Final Analysis 

Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.




More Stories:

Pages