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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#105 Air Force Falcons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#105

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 49-41 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ

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. 105 Air Force.

Previewing Air Force’s offense for 2014

Nate Romine directed a diverse offense last season, at least by Air Force standards. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who is a better passer than runner. The Falcons went to six straight bowl games with a run-oriented offense. They stayed home last season with a 2–10 record employing their more diverse attack.

Coach Troy Calhoun faces a complicated decision for 2014. Does he go with Romine, the superior passer, or Kale Pearson, the superior runner? A run-first attack will keep opposing offenses off the field. The struggle between Romine and Pearson will define the season. Pearson is returning from a surgically repaired right knee, but he’s such a gifted runner that he might return kickoffs if he fails to win the starting quarterback job.

Senior tailback Jon Lee has long been a can’t-miss future star for the Falcons. He boasts sprinter’s speed and strength, and he’s elusive in the open field. But nagging ankle and elbow injuries might prevent Lee from reaching his considerable potential. Broam Hart, who played fullback last season, could switch to tailback while Lee watches, yet again, from the bench.

Under assistant coach Clay Hendrix’s direction, the Falcons’ offensive line consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most athletic. Air Force linemen are often seen decking defenders 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Center Michael Husar leads what could be a dominating unit.

When watching wide receiver Jalen Robinette, the question arises: Why did this big, fast, gifted pass-catcher decide to play for a running team? If Romine wins the quarterback job, Robinette will become one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous receivers. Sam Gagliano could serve as an effective sidekick to Robinette but must solve his habit of dropping passes.

Previewing Air Force’s defense for 2014

The Falcons return seven defensive starters, but here’s the key question of the 2014 season: Is that good news? Air Force’s defense was comically inept last season, surrendering averages of 40.0 points and 490.3 yards of total offense per game.

There is hope. Joey Nichol, if healthy, and Spencer Proctor lead an aggressive group of linebackers, and Weston Steelhammer, Christian Spears and Dexter Walker bring attitude at safety.

The Falcons need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. No one on the Falcons’ defensive front weighs more than 265 pounds. Air Force employed three down linemen during most of last season but tinkered with formations in the offseason. The Falcons could surprise opponents with a 2-5 alignment in the fall.

Previewing Air Force’s specialists for 2014

Will Conant owns an accurate (11-of-13 last season) and powerful leg. He should rank among the Mountain West’s top placekickers. The punting job is wide open.

Final Analysis

Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.

However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#104 Buffalo Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#104

MAC East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Jeff Quinn, 17-32 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Alex Wood | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lou Tepper

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. 104 Buffalo Bulls.

Previewing Buffalo’s Offense in 2014

The Bulls lost two of the most productive players in school history in tailback Branden Oliver and wide receiver Alex Neutz but return junior quarterback Joe Licata. A local product, Licata threw for 2,824 yards and 24 touchdowns — one shy of the single-season school record — while completing 58 percent of his passes. Licata missed spring practice while recovering from hip surgery, which allowed backup Tony Daniel to get the majority of the snaps.

With Oliver gone, junior Anthone Taylor, who rushed for 399 yards and three touchdowns, becomes the centerpiece of the running game. Junior Devin Campbell moves from slot receiver back to his natural position at tailback, where he provides breakaway speed. He’ll be pushed by sophomore Jordan Johnson, a bruising back who has been slowed by injuries.

Offensive coordinator Alex Wood wants to feature more players in the passing game, so there will be opportunities for some fresh faces at wide receiver. Sophomore Boise Ross is a blur and has the ability to be a quality playmaker after showing flashes as a true freshman. The Bulls hope Devon Hughes rebounds and enjoys a strong senior season, similar to Fred Lee last year.

Licata will be well protected with all five starters returning from an offensive line that is arguably the best in the MAC. The unit is anchored by versatile senior left guard Andre Davis, a starter for 37 consecutive games.

Previewing Buffalo’s Defense in 2014

Years of solid recruiting will help Buffalo survive the sting of losing seven starters on defense. Nevertheless, you can’t lose a player like All-America linebacker Khalil Mack and not expect a significant drop-off. Also gone is four-year starter Colby Way at end. Both ends, in fact, have to be replaced, but nose guard Kristjan Sokoli, who started all 13 games last season, and linebacker Adam Redden, an All-MAC selection, return to the Bulls’ lineup. Veteran defensive coordinator Lou Tepper will lean on both Sokoli and Redden for leadership as the unit matures.

Senior linebacker Lee Skinner has started all 37 games of his career and has ranked second on the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. In the secondary, Cortney Lester enters his fourth season as a starting cornerback, while Marqus Baker will get the nod at the other corner to replace All-MAC selection Najja Johnson. Witney Sherry was sidelined with an injury last season but will likely start at free safety. Okezie Alozie ranked seventh on the team in tackles with 45 a year ago and is the favorite at strong safety.

The Bulls’ ability to remain among the MAC’s elite will largely depend on how soon a pass rush can be developed. 

Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists in 2014

Kicker Patrick Clarke made 13-of-20 field goals and 45-of-48 extra point attempts last season and enters his senior season ranked third in Buffalo history with 29 career field goals. Tyler Grassman averaged 40 yards per punt a year ago with 26 downed inside the 20. Campbell is a feared returner, and Ross has the potential to blossom into one.

Final analysis

Plenty of attention has been paid to Buffalo’s heavy losses to graduation, and perhaps deservedly so, but the return of Licata should be enough to carry the offense. It will be challenging to avoid a projected slide on defense, but a soft schedule in the early season should ease the growing pains. Four of the first five games are at home, including games with two FCS opponents in Duquesne and Norfolk State.

Bowling Green is clearly the team to beat in the MAC East, but the Bulls, if the defense comes through, will have a chance to be a factor once again in the division race.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#103 San Jose State Spartans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#103

MW West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, 6-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimmie Dougherty | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Robinson

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. 103 San Jose State.

Previewing San Jose State’s Offense for 2014

The big question heading into fall camp is who will replace record-setting David Fales — the first player in school history to pass for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons — at quarterback. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray both backed up Fales and battled for the No. 1 job in spring practice, but coach Ron Caragher says that the competition will carry over until fall camp.

The Spartans also must replace the two top receivers statistically in school history in Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones, a first-team All-Mountain West pick, set a school record with 15 touchdown receptions in 2013, including a single-game record-tying three in the upset of Fresno State. But the cupboard is hardly bare. Tyler Winston returns after earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors with 58 receptions for 858 yards and five touchdowns, and senior Jabari Carr has 120 career receptions. Tight end Billy Freeman is another weapon, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West recognition as a freshman when he caught 27 passes.

Jarrod Lawson anchors a deep group of running backs that includes fellow sophomores Thomas Tucker and Tim Crawley. The trio combined for 1,345 yards and eight touchdowns and 65 receptions and four more scores.

Center David Peterson and left tackle Wes Schweitzer return to anchor an offensive line that must replace three starters, including second-team All-Mountain West guard Nicholas Kaspar.

Previewing San Jose State’s Defense for 2014

Caragher’s biggest recruiting coup might been landing highly respected Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson will oversee the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He brings five decades of NFL and FBS coaching experience, serving as defensive coordinator for the two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and Rose Bowl champion Texas Longhorns.

Robinson has four veteran defensive linemen returning, led by tackle Travis Raciti, a three-year starter who was a first-team All-WAC choice in 2012.

The Spartans must replace first-team All-Mountain West pick Keith Smith at linebacker, but they add Vince Buhagiar, who missed the 2013 season following right shoulder surgery after earning first-team All-WAC honors as a junior. Sophomore Christian Tago, who had 90 tackles (10.5 tackles for a loss) and four sacks, also returns.

The secondary loses standout cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had 14 career interceptions, but returns four players with starting experience, led by junior cornerback Jimmy Pruitt.

Previewing San Jose State’s Specialists for 2014

This area once again figures to be one of the strongest in the Mountain West. The Spartans last year shared the national lead in blocked kicks with seven. Junior kicker Austin Lopez has made 39-of-44 of his career field-goal attempts, including an NCAA-record-tying 23 in a row to start his career.

Final Analysis

The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Gray or Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#93 Arkansas State Red Wolves

NATIONAL FORECAST

#93

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Blake Anderson, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Walt Bell, Glen Elarbee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Cauthen

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. 93 Arkansas State.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Offense for 2014

Recruited to run Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced system two years ago, junior quarterback Fredi Knighten appears poised to take the reins as ASU installs Blake Anderson’s version of the hurry-up offense. Knighten spent most of 2013 on the sideline but took over near the end of the season when senior Adam Kennedy was injured. Knighten earned GoDaddy Bowl MVP honors after engineering a last-minute touchdown drive to beat Ball State. While not a classic pocket passer at 5'11", Knighten is capable of spreading the ball around and is always a big-play threat with his speed.

Michael Gordon emerged as one of the Sun Belt’s best running backs as a sophomore, rushing for 754 yards and 10 touchdowns, but backfield depth is a concern, and freshmen could be in the mix. Anderson’s first recruiting class included three running backs.

ASU features one of the league’s most versatile players in J.D. McKissic, who was on the All-Sun Belt team as a wide receiver, all-purpose player and kick return specialist last fall. McKissic has caught 185 passes in his first two seasons. Graduation hit the receiving corps hard, however, and redshirt freshmen Dijon Paschal, Brandon Cox and Carl Lee Jr. got plenty of work in the spring.

The Red Wolves have all-conference talent at tight end in 6'5", 264-pound Darion Griswold, who figures to thrive in Anderson’s system. All-Sun Belt center Bryce Giddens retired from football in July, but Colton Jackson returns at right tackle and Alan Wright has experience at right guard. The Red Wolves have to replace the left side of the line.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Defense for 2014

The Red Wolves will still line up in a 4-2-5 system under new coordinator Joe Cauthen. Their personnel won’t change in many places, either, with eight starters returning from last year’s unit that ranked third among Sun Belt teams in scoring defense (26.2 ppg).

The greatest concern is the interior line, where the Red Wolves can no longer rely on Ryan Carrethers to stop the run. Dexter Blackmon, who sat out the spring with a back injury, and Darrius Rosser were key members of last year’s rotation. Recruits are likely to fill in behind them. At end, the Red Wolves can count on junior Chris Stone, who led the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss last year.

All-Sun Belt linebacker Qushaun Lee, a two-time GoDaddy Bowl Defensive MVP, is a punishing hitter who led ASU with 134 tackles in 2013. Senior Kyle Coleman and sophomore Xavier Woodson lead what should be a solid supporting cast at linebacker.

The Red Wolves were burned for big pass plays early last season but improved as the year progressed. Second-team All-Sun Belt free safety Sterling Young has started 33 games. Chris Humes and Money Hunter split time at strong safety last year, while second-team All-SBC selection Rocky Hayes, Artez Brown and Andrew Tryon return at cornerback.

Previewing Arkansas State’s Specialists for 2014

ASU improved dramatically in the kicking game last year, but the Red Wolves have to replace All-Sun Belt placekicker Brian Davis. Luke Ferguson, one of two punters used last season, could handle all kicking duties. McKissic averaged 30 yards on kickoff returns in 2013, tops in the Sun Belt and fourth in FBS.

Final Analysis

Coaching changes followed conference championships in each of the last three seasons at ASU. With a $3 million buyout in the first two years of his contract, Anderson figures to have a longer stay than immediate predecessors Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. The former North Carolina offensive coordinator inherits more than expectations, too. The Red Wolves figure to experience some of the typical transition issues, and there are key players to replace on both sides of the ball, but they have enough talent to contend for another Sun Belt title and bowl bid.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#91 FAU Owls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#91

C-USA East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Charlie Partridge, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Roc Bellantoni

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. 91 FAU

Previewing FAU’s Offense for 2014

Offensive coordinator Brian Wright took over as FAU’s head coach with four games remaining last season and led the team to four wins and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008. Wright was passed over for the permanent head coaching job but remained at FAU and will be the Owls’ offensive coordinator for a third year. The continuity should be evident in 2014.

FAU returns two quarterbacks who saw action last year and will battle for the starting job deep into — or perhaps through — preseason camp. Junior incumbent Jaquez Johnson is the reigning Conference USA Newcomer of the Year after accounting for 22 touchdowns (12 passing, 10 rushing). Sophomore Greg Hankerson, who played in eight games last year, starting one, had a stellar spring camp to re-ignite the battle.

Both quarterbacks will have the luxury of throwing to senior wideout William Dukes, who — despite double- and triple-teams — caught six touchdowns and averaged 15.8 yards per catch last season.

Sophomore Jay Warren, who became the starter at the end of the 2013, will be the Owls’ feature back in 2014. He rushed for 340 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season.

FAU enters the season needing to replace its starting left tackle and center. Instead of flipping to the left side, right tackle Braden Lyons will be at center in 2014. Vinny Davino and true freshman Reggie Bain (who had a stellar spring) will compete for the starting left tackle spot.

Previewing FAU’s Defense for 2014

FAU returns four of its five best defensive players in cornerback D’Joun Smith, strong safety Damian Parms, defensive tackle Brandin Bryant and middle linebacker Andrae Kirk. Despite a new defensive coordinator in Roc Bellantoni, no radical changes are expected to be made to a unit that finished 11th nationally in total defense (325.9 ypg).

Bryant had 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2013 but tore his ACL in the final game of the year. His return, along with that of defensive tackle Trevon Coley, who has started every game of his two-year career, should help FAU control the run game in 2014.
With Smith leading the way (seven INTs, 13 breakups in 2013), FAU should have Conference USA’s best secondary. Injury forced Christian Milstead to play corner last season, but he’ll be moving to free safety for his senior season. Add in the do-it-all Parms as the linchpin, and it’s going to be difficult to pass on FAU in 2014.

Linebacker could be a concern. Kirk returns a team-leading 84 tackles, but he’ll be flanked by inexperience. Junior Freedom Whitfield and sophomore Robert Relf are the favorites to start at outside linebacker, though FAU has experimented with Parms as a ‘star’ linebacker/safety in a nickel set.  

Previewing FAU’s Specialists for 2014

FAU signed one of the nation’s top kicking prospects, Landon Scheer, in Partridge’s first recruiting class. He’ll be the Owls’ top kicker from the first day he steps on campus in the summer. Sean Kelly was one of the top punters in Conference USA last season, but he transferred from the team in June. It's uncertain who will replace Kelly. The Owls will likely go with a returner-by-committee system with Cre’von LeBlanc, Smith, Lucky Whitehead and DJ Juste splitting time on both punt and kick returns.

Final Analysis

If the offensive line can find cohesion, FAU has the weapons to put up a lot of points in 2014. The defense lacks depth but boasts an outstanding secondary and a defensive tackle rotation that should limit big gains by opponents via the ground game. FAU should make a bowl for the first time in six years and could gain some national notoriety with an upset in Week 1 at Nebraska. But the season will be defined in back-to-back weeks in October, when FAU hosts Western Kentucky and then travels to C-USA favorite Marshall.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#87 Rice Owls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#87

C-USA West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: David Bailiff, 40-48 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Billy Lynch, Larry Edmondson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Thurmond

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. 87 Rice.

Previewing Rice’s Offense for 2014:

The Owls may have lost last year’s top rusher, Charles Ross, and quarterback Taylor McHargue, but they still have plenty of firepower available this season. New offensive coordinator Larry Edmondson is quite comfortable at Rice, since he has spent the last three seasons directing the passing game and coaching the quarterbacks.

That’s good news for quarterback Driphus Jackson, who missed most of last year with injuries. The junior can pressure defenses by running and throwing, and if he becomes a more consistent passer, Rice will be in good shape. “He had a good spring,” coach David Bailiff says of Jackson. “It was important for his growth that we kept the continuity in the offense. Driphus was consistently able to work on getting better. He’s a tremendous leader of our football team and is courageous.”

Expect several backs to get carries, including Jowan Davis (476 yards), Darik Dillard (396) and Luke Turner. They’ll work behind a line that has three returning starters, although left tackle remains a question mark. Jordan Taylor caught 55 passes and scored eight times last year, making him a top target, and Dennis Parks averaged 17.5 yards on his 29 catches.

Previewing Rice’s Defense for 2014:

The Owls didn’t shackle opponents last year, but they were pretty solid most of the time and held six opponents under 20 points. There is reason to believe that the unit will be even better this year.

Bailiff calls the linebacking corps “the depth of the defense,” but Rice’s defensive front will be pretty good, too. Junior tackle Christian Covington was a first-team all-conference choice last year. Nose guard Stuart Mouchantaf tore his knee last October and was expected to be ready for the opening of preseason camp. However, Mouchantaf was ruled out for the 2014 season in early June. The end positions feature new starters.

Senior weak-side linebacker James Radcliffe has good speed and can find the football, while sophomore Alex Lyons showed he was a sure tackler in space on the strong side in 2013. Expect junior Nick Elder and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Nick Uretsky and DJ Green, to see time at linebacker, also.

Although the Owls return three starters to their five-man secondary, Bailiff acknowledges that the departure of cornerback Phillip Gaines is “a big loss.” But there is a lot of reason for optimism in a secondary that allowed rival passers to complete only 51.7 percent of their throws last year. Senior safety Julius White was third on the team in tackles and picked off two passes, while seniors Bryce Callahan and Malcolm Hill, a converted safety, provide a strong pairing on the corners.

Previewing Rice’s Specialists for 2014: 

Junior James Farrimond had a solid season in 2013, averaging 42.1 yards per punt, but he could be better. Hill and Callahan are serviceable return men, but the Owls need to find a new kicker.

Final Analysis 

The Owls won 10 games last year and took the C-USA title by whipping Marshall in the championship game. Two years ago, Rice fans wondered whether Bailiff was the man to run the program. Now, they are convinced of his ability to lead. The Owls are in a position where they can redshirt just about all their freshmen. That’s huge.

But Rice will be tested this year. The schedule features seven road games with four of the first five away from home. If Jackson can return to the form he flashed at the end of the 2012 season, Rice will be dangerous on offense, thanks to a strong supporting cast around him. The defense is deep and experienced. Another C-USA title may be asking too much, but the Owls should be bowling, for sure.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#88 UConn Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#88

American Athletic PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Bob Diaco, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Cummings | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vincent Brown, Anthony Poindexter

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. 88 UConn.

Previewing UConn’s Offense for 2014:

Three quarterbacks split the starting duties at UConn in 2013, each making four starts. Spring camp ended with the same three in the running for the starting job again. Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle will enter preseason practice battling it out for the No. 1 spot, but first-year coach Bob Diaco wants the situation settled no later than two weeks before the Aug. 29 opener against BYU. Cochran directed the Huskies to victories in the last three games of 2013, including a record-breaking 461-yard, four-touchdown performance against Memphis.

The starting quarterback will be blessed with a talented group of wide receivers who should form the strength of this offense. The most prolific of the bunch is senior Geremy Davis, who last season became the first 1,000-yard receiver at UConn in the FBS era. Davis will be joined by Deshon Foxx, who could be an impact player in his final season. Diaco hopes to have his tight ends heavily involved in the offense. Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers headline another deep position.

Tailback Lyle McCombs, who ranked fourth all-time at UConn with 2,681 rushing yards, won't return to the team in 2014. UConn ranked No. 119 in the nation in rushing offense last season and needs production from backup Max DeLorenzo and incoming freshman Arkeel Newsome, as well as fullbacks Jazzmar Clax and Matt Walsh, to help replace McCombs.

The Huskies essentially are starting from scratch on the line, where senior center Alex Mateas is the only returning starter. One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring was sophomore Andreas Knappe, who made the switch from defense and could earn the starting nod at right tackle.

Previewing UConn’s Defense for 2014: 

Any success the Huskies had after upgrading their program and joining the Big East was built on defense. That reputation took a bit of a hit in 2013 when UConn slipped to No. 51 in the nation in total defense after a No. 9 ranking in 2012. The Huskies still shut down the rush but ranked 70th in turnover margin and 107th in team sacks.

Diaco, who built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, will have a nucleus of five returning starters and four talented defensive backs. The problem is depth behind the starters — corners Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams. True freshman Jamar Summers could develop into a contributor.

Starters Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni return to anchor the defensive line. Senior tackle B.J. McBryde had a good spring, highlighted by an impressive spring game. Yawin Smallwood, UConn’s leading tackler, departed for the NFL, leaving questions at the linebacker spot. Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann bring the most experience, but Graham Stewart could emerge as an impact player.

Previewing UConn’s Specialists for 2014:

Redshirt sophomore Bobby Puyol has waited patiently in the wings and finally gets his chance to handle the kicking duties, replacing consistent and reliable Chad Christen. There’s a new punter as well. Justin Wain will take over for Cole Wagner. Diaco may go against tradition at the holder spot, opting for a skilled ball-handler to bring the threat of fakes into play.

Final Analysis 

Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. That’s why Diaco was given a five-year contract worth $8 million.




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