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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#43 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Al Golden , 28-22 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

Al Golden has been at Miami four seasons and has yet to elevate the Hurricanes back to the ACC's elite. He has loads of talent — the Canes had seven players drafted in April — but hasn't been able to win a division crown. The offense has been solid every year Golden has been in Coral Gables. However, his defenses have been a major liability. With a star developing at quarterback, will 2015 finally be the season Miami returns to ACC title contention?

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Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2015
 

No Duke Johnson, no Phillip Dorsett, no Ereck Flowers … but at least the Hurricanes have Brad Kaaya. The quarterback-starved Canes thanked their lucky stars for the 6'4", 209-pound Southern California native who captured the ACC Rookie of the Year award and set UM true freshman records for passing yards and touchdowns. Now a sophomore, Kaaya’s the marquee player for an offense that loses a host of NFL-caliber talent — most notably Johnson, the program’s all-time leading rusher. Kaaya must also do without blazing-fast receiver Dorsett, athletic tight end Clive Walford and three offensive line starters, including Flowers, the elite left tackle. 

The Canes do have two promising backs in 5'9", 195-pound sophomore Joseph Yearby (509 yards and a touchdown as Johnson’s backup in 2014) and junior Gus Edwards, who has surprising burst for a 6'2", 230-pound power runner. They have a deep group of receivers, including Stacy Coley, who slumped last year but had a Freshman All-America season in 2013.

On the unfortunate side of things, Kaaya does not have a proven cast of offensive lineman. The only full-time starter returning is right guard Danny Isidora, though youngsters Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder saw meaningful snaps last year. Kaaya is also not very mobile, which is why the Canes might give a dual-threat backup Malik Rosier a look in certain packages.
 

Previewing Miami’s Defense for 2015

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

The Hurricanes were 14th nationally in total defense last season, but that was mostly a mirage. UM allowed 300-plus rushing yards to Nebraska and Georgia Tech and couldn’t get the stops needed to put away Florida State or South Carolina.

It’s not a sure bet the unit will improve after losing stalwart middle linebacker Denzel Perryman and reliable defensive linemen Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre. However, Miami’s talented secondary could be coming into its own. Senior safety Deon Bush (five forced fumbles) and junior corners Corn Elder and Artie Burns look like playmakers, and junior weak-side linebacker Jermaine Grace finished second on the team in tackles (60, 6.5 for a loss) despite playing second-string minutes. Defensive ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad look like breakout players.

As a whole, the defensive line is unproven and largely underwhelming. There’s also little depth among the linebackers, which forced coach Al Golden to move pass-rusher Tyriq McCord to strong-side linebacker.

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

Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2015


Though first-year punter Justin Vogel was reliable, true freshman kicker Michael Badgley was up-and-down (14-of-18 field goals, long of 48 yards, four missed extra points). The real problem area was the return game. The Canes will also have to be better in covering kicks; they were last in the ACC in return yardage allowed. 

Final Analysis

Few coaches in America occupy a hotter seat than Golden, who is 28–22 entering his fifth season. The Hurricanes lost four straight to finish 6–7 — UM’s third losing season in the last 35 years. He recruited well through a lengthy NCAA investigation, but fans howl that the program keeps sailing further and further from the glory years.

This year’s team is young, after losing a host of NFL-caliber talent, and has to battle a brutal October stretch that includes Florida State (in Tallahassee) and Clemson. The Canes haven’t played for the ACC title since joining the conference in 2004, and it doesn’t look like this will be the year.

The ‘U’ stands for ‘Underwhelming’ now, and if Golden doesn’t produce results this season, he might be looking for work elsewhere. 

The Debate

Where Does Brad Kaaya Rank Among ACC QBs?

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Carl Edwards’ Charlotte Triumph Proof the Difference One Sprint Cup Win Makes in NASCAR

Tom Bowles goes “Through the Gears” with 14 races remaining until the Chase
Carl Edwards’ Charlotte Triumph Proof the Difference One Sprint Cup Win Makes in NASCAR

NASCAR’s “new” Chase is changing the way we look at the course of a driver’s season. It used to be all 26 races were taken into account while judging success or failure. Now? Just one checkered flag will make the difference, both with shop morale and in the boardroom.

 

The 12 Most Shameful College Football Games of 2015

Big-time teams are still finding room on their schedules for these pointless games
The 12 Most Shameful College Football Games of 2015

Good news, everyone: Schedule-shaming works.

 

Those two weeks during the SEC schedule in November aren’t nearly as embarrassing as they used to be. Sure, every league team didn’t try to add another conference game or big-time out-of-conference game. But many of the FCS games that week have been traded out with Conference USA or Sun Belt teams.

 

They’re cupcakes for the most part, but it’s nice to see overmatched FCS teams depart schedules in September rather than setting up rivalry week.

 

SEC Win Total Projections for 2015

Take the over, under or push on SEC win totals?
SEC Win Total Projections for 2015

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away. However, the news cycle never stops, and there’s plenty to keep the conversation going this summer.

 

Athlon Sports is counting down its rankings for 2015, while 5Dimes Sportsbook has released some early win total over/under odds for the upcoming season.

 

College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40

Athlon releases its 2015 rankings from 26-40.
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40

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

 

College Football's Top 25 Offensive Triplets for 2015

Which team has the best QB-RB-WR trio?
College Football's Top 25 Offensive Triplets for 2015

Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are glamour positions in college football. While offensive linemen and defensive players are just as important to winning a title, it’s no secret the skill players and quarterbacks grab the attention and headlines.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#28 Oklahoma State Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#28

Big 12 PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 84-44 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

Oklahoma State stumbled through its worst season since 2007, finishing 7-6 for the first season with fewer than eight wins since Mike Gundy’s second season. The Cowboys entered the season knowing they were in store for a rebuilding season. The Cowboys enter this season hoping that rebuilding is well on its way to being complete. At least at quarterback — always a position of interest under Gundy at Oklahoma State — the personnel is settled and ready to rise.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense for 2015: 
 

Mike Gundy didn’t want to use quarterback Mason Rudolph in 2014. He still carries a trace of regret for doing so.

A tiny trace.

Rudolph, forced into action by injury in the season’s 10th game last fall, tossed aside his redshirt, fueled Oklahoma State’s late surge and provided much of the momentum that has the Cowboys as a stealthy pick to contend in the Big 12.

The Cowboys were mired in a four-game losing streak that would stretch to five in Rudolph’s first start, which became necessary due to injury. Yet even in that 49–28 loss to Baylor, Rudolph goosed a scuffling Oklahoma State offense with his live arm and moxie. 

Then he led an upset of Bedlam rival Oklahoma, pushing the Cowboys to 6–6 and bowl eligibility. And he was at it again in the Cactus Bowl against Washington, directing another win and driving optimism for a big season ahead.

“The best thing we did last year,” Gundy said, “was play him at the end of the year, when all the discussions were, ‘Do you play him or not?’”

Rudolph will have plenty of playmakers at his disposal, particularly at receiver, where nine of the top 10 pass catchers return, headlined by Brandon Sheperd and James Washington, physical and fast receivers who can dominate defensive backs. And there’s more, many more, including intriguing redshirt freshman Keenen Brown, a big wideout who wowed with the big spring.

The offensive line should be improved, bolstered by the addition of left tackle Victor Salako, a 6'6", 330-pounder with 23 career starts, freed to move when UAB dissolved its football program.

There are questions at running back, although one answer could come in August when four-star junior college recruit Chris Carson arrives.

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

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Defense for 2015: 
 

Overworked a year ago due to depth concerns and an offense that struggled through the heart of the schedule, the Cowboys defense now looks loaded.

There’s star power at every level, beginning with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who emerged as a force in 2014. Using his strength and burst on the edge, he amassed 11 sacks, 17 tackles for a loss and the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year award.

Ogbah is flanked by productive senior Jimmy Bean at the other end, giving the Cowboys strong bookends to accompany two new tackles. One of the major spring developments was sophomore Vincent Taylor’s emergence as a force inside.

Senior Ryan Simmons leads a promising young linebacking corps that runs three deep, while cornerback Kevin Peterson is the heart of a secondary that is also young yet talented.

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

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists for 2015: 
 

Ben Grogan followed a shaky freshman season by missing three of his first five field goal tries a year ago. Then he drilled 20 of his last 23, finishing ninth nationally at 1.69 field goals made per game and transforming into a reliable weapon. The Cowboys will have a new punter. Return men are also needed, although capable candidates should be found from a surplus of receivers.

Final Analysis
 

With the loss of 28 seniors leaving an inexperienced cast to try and contend in the Big 12, the 2014 season always figured to be a rebuilding effort. And it played out as such, turning worse when injuries and a lack of depth left the Cowboys exposed.

But Rudolph’s arrival, both to the lineup and as a key piece to the future, reversed course and momentum. Now there’s talk that Oklahoma State, like TCU a year ago, could rise from seventh place to the top of the Big 12 in 2015.

The Debate

Where Does Mike Gundy Rank Among Big 12 Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#27 Missouri Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#27

SEC East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 113-66 (14 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Henson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Barry Odom

Doubt Missouri at your own peril. The Tigers weren’t thought to be any kind of prize for the SEC during conference realignment three seasons ago. After two trips to the SEC title game, Missouri has been one of the biggest success stories of conference-to-conference shuffling. A key to that success has been a pass rush that has produced two SEC Defensive Players of the Year. Missouri has won 23 games the last two seasons, but the Tigers will try to continue that momentum while rebuilding the cornerstone of the defense.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Missouri’s Offense for 2015: 
 

Maty Mauk is nothing if not resilient: Mizzou’s junior quarterback played his best ball late in games and late in the season. The Missouri offense didn’t dominate, but it did enough to get out of the defense’s way late in the year. Mauk will be asked to raise his game significantly in 2015, however, as his receiving corps is about as green as green can be.

Losing all three starters for the second consecutive season will take a toll on anybody’s receiver depth, and it has left Mizzou with a black hole on an otherwise seasoned two-deep. Returning wideouts have combined for just 10 career catches, five from the “leading” returnee, sophomore Nate Brown. The lack of experience at wideout could mean Mizzou leans more heavily on the tight end position that returns starter Sean Culkin and athletic backups Jason Reese and Kendall Blanton.

If the passing game can avoid becoming a complete liability, the run game could thrive. Senior Russell Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season; his return will make the loss of all-purpose star Marcus Murphy a bit more palatable. 

Meanwhile, an offensive line that struggled early in 2014 jelled and became a strength as the season progressed. Potential All-SEC center Evan Boehm and three-year starter Connor McGovern return, as do three other seniors with starting experience.

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Previewing Missouri’s Defense for 2015:  
 

When defensive coordinator Dave Steckel left to take the head coaching position at Missouri State, Gary Pinkel didn’t have to look far for a replacement. He simply called up former Mizzou assistant Barry Odom, who had spent the last three seasons engineering a dramatic turnaround as Memphis’ defensive coordinator. And for the time being, at least, Pinkel was also able to retain highly regarded defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.

Kuligowski’s ends will be awfully young, led by sophomore Charles Harris, freshman Walter Brady and junior college recruit Marcel Frazier. But the tackle position could be as strong and deep as it has ever been. Harold Brantley is an exciting weapon on the interior, man-mountain Josh Augusta should be ready for a larger role, and blue-chip freshman Terry Beckner Jr. is expected to quickly carve out a niche in the rotation the moment fall camp begins. Brantley's status for 2015 is uncertain after he was injured in a car wreck on June 21.

The line is greener than it has been for a while, but this might be the most battle-tested, experienced linebacking corps Pinkel has had at Missouri. Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer were steadying forces last fall, taking advantage of the attention blockers had to pay to linemen and combining for 113 solo tackles and 123 assists. Likely strong-side starter Donavin Newsom could become a key attacker in Odom’s aggressive defense.

The return of three experienced cornerbacks and senior safety Ian Simon might give Odom reason to get aggressive in the back of the defense. Kenya Dennis, Aarion Penton and John Gibson give Mizzou an experienced, confident trio of corners, but stalwart strong safety Braylon Webb’s graduation opens up opportunity for peril.

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

Previewing Missouri’s Specialists for 2015: 
 

Longtime placekicker and kickoffs specialist Andrew Baggett might take on more duty in 2015. He finished the spring listed as Mizzou’s starting punter, though incoming freshman Corey Fatony will be given an opportunity to unseat him in fall camp. Meanwhile, the Tigers will be looking for two new return men to replace Murphy.

Final Analysis
 

The Tigers boast solid experience at a majority of units on offense and defense, but they are young at defensive end and ultra-young at receiver, where they must replace all three starters for the second straight year. That seems like a lot to overcome in the battle for a third straight SEC East crown, but suddenly you don’t make much money betting against Pinkel.

The Debate

Is Gary Pinkel One of the Top Five Coaches in the SEC?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#37 South Carolina Gamecocks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#37

SEC East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Steve Spurrier, 84-45 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Spurrier | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lorenzo Ward, Jon Hoke

South Carolina’s season was lost in essence before the first Saturday of the season. The Gamecocks lost 52-28 at home to Texas A&M on the first Thursday night of the year, exposing Carolina’s defense and derailing the Gamecocks’ bid for the SEC East. South Carolina finished 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC for its worst season since 2009. The defense was the main culprit, and Steve Spurrier hired Jon Hoke with hopes of a remedy. The question at South Carolina, though, seems to be more big picture: Was 2014 a minor speed bump for a program that won 33 games in the previous three seasons or was it the first season in a decline.

Previewing South Carolina’s Offense in 2015
 

First things first: South Carolina must find a quarterback. Dylan Thompson set the school’s single-season passing record last year with 3,564 yards. The frontrunner to replace him entering the fall is sophomore Connor Mitch. The former four-star prospect threw for 12,078 yards at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, N.C., with 63 touchdown passes in his senior season.

“Connor Mitch is tremendously improved from when he first got here,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier says. “He seems to have a little bit more confidence and knows what to do now. I think he’s ready to take some giant steps.”

Mitch threw six passes last year, completing two of them for 19 yards. He will be trying to hold off junior walk-on Perry Orth, who bags groceries at Publix to help offset his collegiate expenses, and freshman Michael Scarnecchia, a lightly recruited Floridian who redshirted last year.

Senior Brandon Wilds and sophomore David Williams will share carries at running back after Mike Davis’ early entry into the NFL Draft. Junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper didn’t get much work in the spring because the Gamecocks already know what he can do. The All-SEC first-teamer will be Spurrier’s go-to guy after catching 69 passes for 1,136 yards in 2014.

Up front, the Gamecocks must replace stalwart A.J. Cann, who started 51 games at South Carolina. Senior right tackle Brandon Shell takes up the status of grizzled veteran thanks to his 36 career starts, twice as many as anyone else on the team.

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

Previewing South Carolina’s Defense in 2015
 

The defense was terrible last year, prompting Spurrier to hire old friend Jon Hoke, who coordinated defense for Spurrier at Florida from 1999-2001 and spent the last 13 years in the NFL as a defensive backs coach. 

“Jon fits in everywhere he goes because he’s a good person, good guy,” Spurrier says. “He’s been around a lot of really sharp coaches, and I think he’s a sharp coach. But he’s got a lot of work to do, he will tell you that.”

The Gamecocks were No. 92 in the nation in total defense last year, and Hoke already has made changes. South Carolina will use a base 4-3 rather than last year’s juggling between a 4-2-5 and 3-4 look, and several players have swapped positions. Safety T.J. Gurley is now a nickel back. Spur Jordan Diggs is a safety. Spur Larenz Bryant is a linebacker, and Bryson Allen-Williams is back to his natural position at strong-side linebacker. Graduate transfer safety Isaiah Johnson will be plugged in immediately.

None of that shuffling will matter, though, if the Gamecocks don’t improve their defensive line. They were No. 118 in the nation in sacks (14.0) and No. 121 tackles for a loss (52.0) last year. South Carolina recruited seven defensive linemen to help fix the problem. The most promising is junior college transfer Marquavius Lewis.

Previewing South Carolina’s Specialists in 2015
 

Kicker Elliott Fry, a 158-pounder who walked on out of Frisco, Texas, and won the job as a true freshman, is back for his junior season. He’s made 33-of-43 field goals for his career. Walk-on transfer Sean Kelly looks like the frontrunner for the punting job.

Final Analysis 
 

South Carolina opened spring practice with a sense of urgency that may have been lacking last season.

“Sometimes after you go 11–2 three years in a row, some people just assume, ‘We’re going to keep on winning,’ but it didn’t quite happen that way,” Spurrier says. “We were not a real strong team. We are by a long way not a finished product, but we’ve got time.”

The Gamecocks will be breaking in a new quarterback and rebuilding a defense that lost its morale along with a lot of games last year, so the time had better be well spent.

The Debate

Where Does Steve Spurrier Rank Among SEC Coaches?

Click here to join the debate.




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