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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#82 Nevada Wolf Pack

NATIONAL FORECAST

#82

MW West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Brian Polian , 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Boone, Bill Teerlinck

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. 82 Nevada.

Previewing Nevada’s Offense for 2014

Nevada’s famed Pistol offense struggled in the first season under head coach Brian Polian and second-year offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. After years of being among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense and scoring, Nevada averaged only 26.9 points per game a season ago. And though Nevada improved as the season progressed, the Wolf Pack averaged a lackluster 3.8 yards per carry and dropped to No. 51 in the nation with 179.0 rushing yards per game. One of the major culprits: An offensive line that, despite the efforts of top lineman Joel Bitonio, struggled mightily. Four starters return on the line, but the bad news is that Bitonio isn’t one of them.

The good news is that the Wolf Pack still return eight starters on offense. The most important returnee in Nevada’s quarterback-dependent offense is dual-threat senior Cody Fajardo. Fajardo played with nagging leg injuries for much of last year, and his rushing yards were cut nearly in half to 621 yards, even as his passing numbers remained consistent. The all-conference-caliber quarterback must stay healthy this season to open up the running game.

A strong frontline receiving corps led by senior Richy Turner (61 catches, 755 yards) and 6'5", 230-pound sophomore Hasaan Henderson (29 catches, 326 yards), should help take the pressure off Fajardo. Incoming freshmen Andrew Celis and Wyatt Demps could also contribute.

Senior running back Kendall Brock (812 yards) and junior Don Jackson (332) are capable of carrying Nevada’s running game. But incoming freshman James Butler is an intriguing prospect who could battle for carries.

Previewing Nevada’s Defense for 2014

On paper, the Pack have one of the better defensive lines in the Mountain West, led by all-league end Brock Hekking. The duo of Ian Seau (nephew of Junior Seau) and Lenny Jones at the other end spot and the inside tandem of Jordan Hanson and Rykeem Yates should make for a solid unit. Yet this group was abysmal against the run in 2013, to the tune of 258.5 yards per game, and improvement is paramount.

The linebacking corps has four mainstays for three spots, as incoming defensive co-coordinator Scott Boone, one of the top DCs at the FCS level last year at William & Mary, will retain the Pack’s 4-3 front. Jonathan McNeal and Jordan Dobrich are dependable, while Matthew Lyons played very well at times in 2013. But the key may be athletic junior Bryan Lane Jr., who has split time at linebacker and safety in recent years.

Per usual at Nevada, the secondary appears shaky. Senior Charles Garrett is one of the top corners in the league, but he needs help. Safety Kaodi Dike and undersized corner Elijah Mitchell played last year as true freshmen, and senior corner Evan Favors needs to be a factor. Junior college transfer safety Duran Workman could be a starter right off the bat.

Previewing Nevada’s Specialists for 2014

Nevada loses a weapon in punter Chase Tenpenny, who averaged 44.5 yards per kick last season. Placekicker Brent Zuzo appears dependable after a solid freshman season in which he hit 14-of-17 field goals and 33-of-36 extra points. The Pack need a spark in the return game, and speedster D’Andre Fuller might just provide it.

Final Analysis 

With 16 returning starters, including Fajardo, Nevada should improve over last season. The Wolf Pack’s 2014 slate lightens up from a brutal 2013. Mountain West heavyweights Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State all come to Reno. If the Wolf Pack improve substantially on defense and solve their second-half woes, they should make a bowl game and contend for the West Division title.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#83 San Diego State Aztecs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#83

MW West Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 25-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Toledo | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

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. 83 San Diego State.

Previewing San Diego State’s Offense for 2014: 

Quarterback Quinn Kaehler underwent offseason elbow surgery on his throwing arm but is expected to be fully recovered well before fall camp. That’s a huge plus since he is San Diego State’s only proven commodity at quarterback and all but saved the squad’s 2013 season after replacing ineffective Adam Dingwell early in the campaign. Kaehler passed for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, and his efficient nature led to only nine interceptions in 389 attempts.

Kaehler has a big-time target to throw to in Ezell Ruffin, who emerged as a go-to receiver last season with 68 receptions for 1,136 yards. Eric Judge, who caught 13 passes in 2013, has the potential to develop into a solid receiving complement to Ruffin.

Two-time 1,000-yard running back Adam Muema surprisingly bypassed his senior campaign in favor of chasing an NFL roster spot, leaving scatback Donnel Pumphrey (10 total touchdowns as a freshman) as the most accomplished runner. But the 5'9", 170-pounder isn’t suited for heavy pounding, so the Aztecs will be hoping someone such as Chase Price or Dwayne Garrett can emerge as a between-the-tackles rusher.

Left tackle Terry Poole is the top offensive lineman.

Previewing San Diego State’s Defense for 2014: 

San Diego State will be searching for reinforcements up front and in the back end but is well stocked at linebacker. Middle linebacker Jake Fely is one of the top defensive players in the Mountain West and is fully recovered from a foot injury that ended his 2013 season in late September. Josh Gavert played well in Fely’s place, but having the fiery leader back to team with outside linebacker Derek Largent gives the Aztecs a sturdy group in the center of the defense.

The toughest chore is replacing standout safeties Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins — the squad’s top two tacklers last season. Most of that will be hashed out in fall camp as Brandon Porter was the only player to secure a starting spot in the three-safety alignment during spring drills.

The defensive line will be deep, as tackle Sam Meredith and end Dontrell Onuoha are expected to be fully healthy after missing the spring, and former USC defensive tackle Christian Heyward figures to push for a role. J.J. Whittaker, who had three of the Aztecs’ eight interceptions in 2013, and Damontae Kazee are the starting cornerbacks.

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists for 2014: 

The placekicking was a disaster last season as departed Wes Feer and Seamus McMorrow combined to go 8-of-16 on field goals and missed six extra points. Coach Rocky Long moved to fix the issue by recruiting junior college kicker Donald Hageman and freshman John Baron II. The two kickers will compete for the job during fall camp with the more experienced Hageman holding an edge after going 19-of-20 at the junior college level last fall. Joel Alesi placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line last season, and only 13 of his 53 punts were returned. He holds an edge over McMorrow for the job.

Final Analysis 

San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.

That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#81 South Florida Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#81

American Athletic PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Wulff | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan

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. 81 South Florida.

Previewing South Florida’s Offense for 2014:

Willie Taggart’s mantra — “Do Something!’’ — seemed like a hollow promise through most of last season. Offensively, USF did very little. The Bulls managed just 11 offensive touchdowns.

Taggart, in his first season after arriving from Western Kentucky, was stunned by that development. In retrospect, he was mostly coaching players he didn’t recruit, athletes who came to USF expecting to play a different style. The first season is over, though, and Taggart has promised vast improvement.

It starts with the quarterback, where Taggart wants to see intelligence, mobility and toughness. Sophomore Mike White, seemingly ticketed for a redshirt year, started the last five games and showed enough flashes to make Taggart believe better days were ahead.
Without a running game, Taggart’s bruising style won’t get off the ground. It’s still not known whether USF possesses a go-to runner, although senior Michael Pierre and sophomore Darius Tice had promising moments. It looks like a position-by-committee.
Taggart believes the offensive line will be better after an offseason in the weight room. Four starters return, paced by three-year starting center Austin Reiter.

Although the Bulls hope to become a run-first offense, Taggart wants to take his shots down the field. Senior receiver Andre Davis is the team’s primary option. The continued development at tight end, with junior Sean Price and senior Mike ­McFarland, also bears watching.

Previewing South Florida’s Defense for 2014: 

By the end of last season, the Bulls’ defense was playing exceptionally well, finishing the year ranked No. 21 in the nation. Learning the system of Chuck Bresnahan, while incorporating a handful of young players, the Bulls matured into a unit that ran to the ball and created turnovers.

It began up front with pressure, but after losing much of their defensive line depth, the Bulls must hope for more youthful contributions. Sophomore Derrick Calloway, the prize of Taggart’s first recruiting class in 2013, is expected to rule the interior while getting help from experienced junior Todd Chandler.

Senior outside linebacker Reshard Cliett, last season’s second-leading tackler, is expected to help fill the leadership chasm created by the loss of middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore, a four-year starter. The Bulls are equally enthused by the emergence of Nigel Harris, who became a freshman starter and showed no sign of nerves.

At one point late last season, the secondary played with four freshmen. That’s bound to pay off with sophomores such as Nate Godwin, Johnny Ward, Hassan Childs and Lamar Robbins playing with unmistakable confidence. But the biggest impact might come from junior college transfer Jamie Byrd, a take-no-prisoners strong safety.

Previewing South Florida’s Specialists for 2014:

Placekicker Marvin Kloss began last season trying to replace Maikon Bonani, the school’s all-time leading scorer. Kloss ended last season as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. Meanwhile, Mattias Ciabatti had a successful first season as the starting punter, averaging 40.2 yards, getting 20 punts inside the 20 and having 14 of 50 yards or greater.

Final Analysis

Give Taggart credit for this: Even after a horrendous 53–21 home loss against McNeese State to open the season, even after watching his offense struggle mightily just to move the chains, he remained undaunted. He insists his approach will work. It just needs patience and hard work.

The up-and-coming program that once upset the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson and West Virginia? That’s now ancient history. USF must rebuild from the ground up. The intermediate goal is obvious. If Taggart can coax USF’s first bowl trip since 2010, then the Bulls are definitely on their way back.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#78 Kansas Jayhawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#78

Big 12 PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: Charlie Weis, 4-20 (2years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Reagan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clint Bowen

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. 78 Kansas.

Previewing Kansas’ Offense for 2014: 

One of KU’s biggest issues during Charlie Weis’ tenure has been its quarterback play, and the coach will be going with his third different starting QB in three years after naming sophomore Montell Cozart the starter at the end of spring practice. Cozart is a dual threat, as he was named offensive MVP in the spring game after rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 6-of-10 passes. His question mark is accuracy; he connected on just 23-of-63 passes in 2013.

Though KU loses James Sims at running back, it should be just fine at the position. Senior Brandon Bourbon, a big back with surprising speed for his size, should get the first crack at carries. Darrian Miller, blessed with good balance, was expected to serve as the No. 2 back, but he transferred in June. Senior Taylor Cox and junior college transfer De’Andre Mann will provide depth.

The biggest reason for optimism at receiver is senior Nick Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) who posted three straight 800-yard receiving seasons with the RedHawks. Also starting will be Rodriguez Coleman, who shined in the spring, and speedy senior Tony Pierson, who has been KU’s best playmaker during the past two seasons. Senior Jimmay Mundine, who battled drops in 2013, returns as KU’s best offensive threat at tight end.

The offensive line figures to be one of the team’s biggest unknowns heading into 2014, as the Jayhawks lost a lot of experience from a group that already was an area of weakness. The strength of the unit most likely will be the guard spots, as seniors Ngalu Fusimalohi and Mike Smithburg combined for 20 starts in 2013.

Previewing Kansas’ Defense for 2014:

Senior Keon Stowers is the star of the defensive line at the nose tackle spot, while Ben Goodman made the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end after adding some weight in the offseason. The Jayhawks also will rely on the athletic-but-raw Andrew Bolton at the other end spot while hoping that fall newcomers provide additional depth.

Senior middle linebacker Ben Heeney is KU’s best bet to earn All-Big 12 honors, as the high-motor player was a second-team all-league pick a year ago. Junior Jake Love is a solid-but-not-flashy player at the other inside linebacker spot. Michael Reynolds is KU’s best pass-rusher at Buck outside linebacker.

The secondary figures to be KU’s greatest strength. Two players stood out most in 2013 — senior Dexter McDonald, a tall corner who often had opponents throwing the other direction, and junior safety Isaiah Johnson, who was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after ranking second in the league with five interceptions. Cornerback Kevin Short, a former junior college transfer who redshirted in 2013, also emerged in the spring and appears to have locked up a starting spot.

Previewing Kansas’ Specialists for 2014:

The strength of the special teams is senior punter Trevor Pardula, who averaged 43.7 yards per kick a season ago while booting a school-record 84 punts. KU’s biggest concern is at kicker, as student-tryout-hopeful-turned-starter Matthew Wyman remains the team’s top option after making 5-of-10 field goals in 2013.

Final Analysis

During his first two years at KU, Weis was careful to not set specific win total goals for his rebuilding football team. That’s changed this season, as he enters Year 3 with the most talent he’s had and a solid base of upperclassmen.

“Before you can be a perennial winning program, the first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500,” Weis says.

Though this probably isn’t a “bowl or bust” season for the Jayhawks, Weis likely will need to improve his win total to avoid the hot seat in the third year of a five-year contract.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#63 Arkansas Razorbacks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#63

SEC West PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim Chaney | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robb 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. 63 Arkansas.

Previewing Arkansas' Offense:

Brandon Allen’s lackluster passing numbers in his first year as the starter shouldn’t have come as a surprise. His ascension to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart coincided with the loss of high-end talent at the receiver position and the introduction of a run-first philosophy by new coach Bret Bielema. Allen completed 49.6 percent of his passes, and his accuracy fell to 47.7 percent in SEC games, worst among conference starters. Allen, who played with an ailing throwing shoulder most of the season, should produce better results this fall. Both his backups are untested — redshirt freshman Austin Allen (his brother) and true freshman Rafe Peavey.

Alex Collins led the nation’s freshmen with 1,026 rushing yards, joining Darren McFadden as the only Arkansas freshmen to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Collins did it while sharing time with Jonathan Williams, who compiled 900 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Both return, with help from speedster Korliss Marshall and big fullback Kody Walker. A better passing attack should help the run game.

Tight end Hunter Henry leads a pass-catching crew that includes senior Demetrius Wilson — who is back from a knee injury — Keon Hatcher, D’Arthur Cowan and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.

The Hogs are trying to stockpile talent on the offensive line, which will feature senior right tackle Brey Cook and standout sophomores in left tackle Dan Skipper and right guard Denver Kirkland. 

Previewing Arkansas' Defense:

Robb Smith, previously with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers, will be Arkansas’ fourth defensive coordinator in the past four seasons. Smith inherited a unit that brings back four starters after ranking 76th nationally in total defense. The lone holdover assistant is linebackers coach Randy Shannon. Smith seems more willing to attack with blitzes than the previous defensive staff, which might help the Hogs improve on their paltry takeaway count of 14.

The pass rush should be solid with veteran end Trey Flowers taking on a leading role. Sophomore ends Deatrich Wise, Brandon Lewis and JaMichael Winston played well in the spring, and tackle Darius Philon could be ready for a breakout year alongside 343-pound run-stuffer DeMarcus Hodge.

The Hogs have struggled at the linebacker position in recent years. The expectation by the staff is that seniors Braylon Mitchell and Martrell Spaight and sophomore Brooks Ellis will play faster, be better run-stoppers and more authoritative tacklers.

Arkansas has a bounty of options at cornerback, where Tevin Mitchel is trying to rebound from a rough season, with help from Carroll Washington, Will Hines and others. The numbers at safety are still thin, but veterans Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines should pick it up a notch, and redshirt freshman De’Andre Coley could be the kind of hard-hitting ball-hawk the Razorbacks have lacked.

Previewing Arkansas' Specialists:

Australian Sam Irwin-Hill’s introduction to major-college football was action-packed. The ambidextrous punter ranked 13th in the nation with a 44.3-yard average, and he triggered several fourth-down gambles, running and throwing, with mixed results. The Razorbacks gave a scholarship to Texas legend Cole Hedlund, hoping he can follow Zach Hocker as the next four-year kicker in the program.

Final Analysis

Arkansas should be improved on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean another winless SEC season is out of the question for the Razorbacks, who are still trying to stabilize and upgrade their roster after the disruption of the Bobby Petrino affair. Qualifying for a bowl berth would be a significant step in Year 2 under Bielema, as Arkansas chugs forward with a difficult rebuild.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#70 Kentucky Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#70

SEC East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Mark Stoops, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Neal Brown | DEF. COORDINATOR: D.J. Eliot

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. 70 Kentucky.

Previewing Kentucky’s Offense for 2014:

The “Air Raid” didn’t exactly take flight in Year 1 under coordinator Neal Brown. Kentucky ranked 98th in passing offense in 2013 after Brown’s Texas Tech offenses ranked top-10 nationally in each of his three years in Lubbock. Blame a bad roster for some of those struggles — he inherited sparse talent and precious little depth — but Brown is not without regrets.

“What happens when you’re maybe not as talented as some of the teams you’re playing is you try to out-scheme some people and maybe deviate from the system you have in place,” Brown says. “I think we did that. We tried to maybe cover up some areas that were weaknesses for us, where if I had it to do over again I would just really concentrate on fundamentals and stuck with the system and not swayed off it as much.”

He’ll get back to that system — and his usual fast pace — this fall. Improved quarterback play will help. A pair of former four-star recruits, sophomore Patrick Towles and freshman Drew Barker, and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips staged a tight spring competition, with Towles holding a slight edge.

This year’s quarterback will benefit from a stacked backfield — four former four-star recruits, led by sophomore Jojo Kemp and junior Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard — and a veteran offensive line. Four starters return up front, including standout tackles Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle. At receiver, playmakers Javess Blue and Ryan Timmons are back along with the rest of UK’s top five wideouts from 2013.

Previewing Kentucky’s Defense for 2014:

The defense should take a significant step forward in Year 2. Mark Stoops’ defenses at Arizona and Florida State did, and the Cats return eight starters plus add several talented newcomers. Few SEC teams will have a more formidable pair of defensive ends than 6'6", 264-pound Za’Darius Smith and 6'4", 267-pound Bud Dupree, who combined for 13 sacks last season.

Kentucky’s biggest loss is at middle linebacker, where Avery Williamson had 100-plus tackles each of the last two seasons and was a locker room leader. Junior Josh Forrest, a long, athletic former receiver and defensive back, will battle junior college transfer Ryan Flannigan for that job.

The most important area of improvement is the secondary. UK’s defensive backs intercepted just one pass last season and ranked 117th in passes defended. But they’ll get a boost at safety from junior college transfer A.J. Stamps and at corner from J.D. Harmon, who led the team in interceptions in 2012 but was academically ineligible last fall. Four freshman defensive backs — three of them four-star recruits — will also significantly upgrade the talent.

Previewing Kentucky’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Cats have a new special teams coordinator in Craig Naivar, a high-energy guy who blasts 1980s hair metal before meetings. They also have junior punter Landon Foster back in freshman form. He had 22 punts of 50-plus yards that year but just seven such bombs in 2013 thanks to a nagging quadriceps injury. He’s healthy now and averaged 45.6 yards on eight punts in the spring game. The new field-goal kicker is redshirt freshman Austin MacGinnis, a former top-three recruit nationally at his position.

Final Analysis

Stoops has done the impossible — keep fans and recruits excited after a 2–10 debut season. He signed a top-25 class and had 35,000 people show up for this year’s spring game, second-most in program history. Now he just needs to win. Although he posted exactly the same record that got Joker Phillips fired a year earlier, the Cats were more competitive in 2013, losing five games by two touchdowns or less and three by single digits. The big payoff is probably still a year away, but a four- or five-win season this fall would probably keep everyone happy.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#72 Virginia Cavaliers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#72

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Mike London, 18-31 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Fairchild | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Tenuta

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. 72 Virginia.

Previewing Virginia’s Offense for 2014:

There’s plenty of blame to go around for last year’s 2–10 season, but the root of Virginia’s problem was an anemic offense that lacked imagination and identity. Its lack of production put a lot on the shoulders of a defense decimated by injuries late in the year.

A second season in coordinator Steve Fairchild’s system is expected to pay dividends. Virginia also believes it has more playmakers than a year ago. Fans have heard that before.

The biggest change this year could be at quarterback, where Greyson Lambert is expected to unseat incumbent David Watford, who struggled in 2013. Lambert is not as elusive as Watford, but if he can be more accurate and less mistake-prone, it will be a net gain.
Kevin Parks, the leading returning rusher in the ACC, brings durability and between-the-tackles toughness to the tailback slot. Former five-star recruit Taquan Mizzell offers sizzle and big-play potential.

Both will depend on a rebuilt offensive line that must replace multi-season fixtures Morgan Moses and Luke Bowanko.

The decision of tight end-turned receiver Jake McGee to transfer turns up the heat on a largely unproven group. Sophomores Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins, part of a youth movement last year, bring size and toughness. Senior Darius Jennings, who has 106 career catches, is being counted on to improve on his 10.8 yards-per-catch average by stretching the field.

Previewing Virginia’s Defense for 2014:

When the band was all together last season, Jon Tenuta’s defense showed signs of becoming the type of marauding bunch the longtime coordinator craves. Injuries left the team short-handed, however, and forced Tenuta to dial back on his pressure schemes. With nearly everyone returning, and with another year to tinker with different fronts and packages, the group has the potential to bring the heat this year, particularly off the edge.

Defensive end Eli Harold is a speed-rusher who has the look of a possible breakout star. So does outside linebacker Max Valles, another long, lean athlete who should thrive in Tenuta’s attacking style.

“I believe that those two guys could be special,” London says. “I believe that you can do multiple things with them, whether their hands are on the ground or they’re standing up.”

The Cavaliers also look strong up the middle at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker, where senior Henry Coley is a stalwart. The secondary is loaded with experience, led by senior Anthony Harris, who led the nation in interceptions with eight last season.

Virginia increased its takeaways from 12 to 21 last year. Gambling led to some inevitable breakdowns. Minimizing those mistakes while remaining disruptive is the key.

Previewing Virginia’s Specialists for 2014:

Alec Vozenilek earned his scholarship last year, punting 85 times and downing more kicks inside the 20 than anyone in the ACC. He also filled in for the injured Ian Frye on field goals, hitting 12-of-15. Frye, who has more range as a placekicker, is back this season, good news for a team that must take points wherever it can find them.

Final Analysis 

For these keeping track, and everyone is, Virginia’s 2–10 finish last year represented its fewest wins since 1982. The Cavaliers were winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

London won’t survive another campaign like that. He might not even make it to midseason. With a maturing roster and the continuity that comes with a second season in offensive and defensive systems installed last year, Virginia should be better. The question, given a challenging schedule and a culture of coming up short, is how much that improvement will be reflected in the bottom line.




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