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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#62 Fresno State Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#62

Mountain West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tim DeRuyter , 20-6 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Schramm | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Toth

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. 62 Fresno State.

Previewing Fresno State's Offense:

Josh HarperFor the first time since 2010, Derek Carr won’t have the keys to the offense. The two-time Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year is gone, and so are favorite targets Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse. Fresno State will stick with the no-huddle spread, though no one’s expecting a repeat of 43.4 points per game.

The battle to succeed Carr took an interesting twist in late April with the arrival of graduate transfer Brandon Connette. Connette was a major part of Duke’s offense last fall, both as a passer and goal-line specialist. Brian Burrell had the best spring of three returning quarterbacks, but doesn’t have anywhere near Connette’s resume. Coach Tim DeRuyter doesn’t plan to name a starter until two weeks before the opener.

The Bulldogs had three 1,000-yard receivers a year ago. One returns, Josh Harper, but he sat out all spring as the coaches took a cautious approach with a late-season knee injury. Exacerbating things, three promising young wideouts (Da’Mari Scott, Darrell Fuery, Delvon Hardaway) missed large chunks of spring as well. Aaron Peck was healthy, and he looked like an emerging star.

Tailbacks Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller split carries last fall with each averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. That sounds good, but most of the damage came against defenses geared to stop the pass. This year, the ground game could become the primary option. DeRuyter wants to get a good look at promising redshirt freshman Dontel James, who like Quezada sat out the spring. Three starters return on a line anchored by right guard Cody Wichmann and right tackle Justin Northern. Pass protection has been the unit’s forte. Clearing holes in short yardage? Not so much.

Previewing Fresno State's Defense:

This will be of little solace to Bulldogs fans still smarting over the 62–52 loss at San Jose State, but the defense will be much improved. Eight starters return, including All-MWC free safety Derron Smith and second-teamers Tyeler Davison and Ejiro Ederaine. There’s even depth at cornerback, a glaring weakness last year.

Smith enters his senior year with 14 career interceptions, more than any active FBS player. He’s a pure ball-hawk, so quarterbacks beware. Strong safety Charles Washington is such a good athlete that the coaches moved him to corner for a few games. But with a healthy Jamal Ellis, expected improvement from Curtis Riley and more depth coming in, Washington is back stuffing the run.

Davison is the linchpin up front, but the MWC’s best nose tackle may play much of his senior season at end. Defensive coordinator Nick Toth experimented with that alignment as a way to get his three best linemen on the field. Maurice Poyadue is one of them, and he’s a pure nose. Even at 304 pounds, Davison showed the versatility to play both positions.

All four starters return at linebacker. Ederaine surprised everyone by finishing third in the MWC in both sacks (10) and tackles for a loss (1.27 per game). Not bad for a first-year starter. Donavon Lewis, who plays on the opposite side, is just as big a handful.

Previewing Fresno State's Specialists:

Kicker Colin McGuire, punter Garrett Swanson and return man Dillon Root are solid. The kickoff coverage was poor in 2013, ranking dead last in the conference. Things got so bad that DeRuyter stopped kicking the ball deep.

Final Analysis

DeRuyter has enjoyed a pretty good run: two seasons and two MWC titles. But the job’s about to get a lot tougher, breaking in a new quarterback against a brutal early schedule.

After tangling with USC, Utah and Nebraska, it’s possible Fresno State will be 1–3 for the conference opener. Yet there’s enough talent to hang another championship banner. It may depend on whether the Bulldogs are steeled by those early games — or battered by them.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Arizona Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#4

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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 45 Arizona.

Previewing Arizona’s Offense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Arizona’s Defense for 2014: 

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

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

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

Previewing Arizona’s Specialists for 2014:

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

Final Analysis

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




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#58 Indiana Hoosiers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#58

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#6

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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 58 Indiana.

Previewing Indiana’s Offense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Indiana’s Defense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Indiana’s Specialists for 2014:

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

Final Analysis

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




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44 Vanderbilt Commodores

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

SEC East PREDICTION

#6

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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 44 Vanderbilt.

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Offense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Defense for 2014:

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

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

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

Previewing Vanderbilt’s Specialists for 2014:

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

Final Analysis 

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




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#42 Tennessee Volunteers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#42

SEC East PREDICTION

#5

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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 42 Tennessee.

Previewing the Tennessee Offense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Tennessee’s Defense for 2014: 

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

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

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

Previewing Tennessee’s Specialists for 2014:

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

Final Analysis 

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




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