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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#76 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#76

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

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. 76 California.

Previewing California’s Offense for 2014:

Jared Goff’s freshman season began last fall with a 450-yard passing performance against Northwestern and ended with a shoulder separation against Stanford. In between, Goff set school records for most yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) in the fast-paced, no-huddle offense. The Bears expect him to be more efficient and have a better command of the offense this fall.

Fully healthy by spring, Goff will only thrive if the running game comes alive. After averaging just 122.2 yards per game, the Bears seek better balance. “When they’re rockin’ and rollin’ it’ll make everything happen easier,” Goff says of the Bears’ running backs.

Fast but undersized sophomore Khalfani Muhammad and injury-plagued junior Daniel Lasco will get first shot at the tailback spot, but freshman Tre Watson, who rushed for 3,434 yards and 48 touchdowns as a high school senior, will get a look. The Bears’ deepest group is receiver, where juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs combined for 147 receptions last season, but only six TDs. 

It will only click if the experience gained by a young O-line translates into a more productive unit this season. Eight returnees, led by center Jordan Rigsbee and left tackle Steven Moore, combined for 51 starts on the line last season.

Previewing California’s Defense for 2014: 

Stripped of five would-be starters, who missed most or all of the season because of injuries, the Bears were helpless on defense last season. They allowed 45.9 points per game — worst in school history — prompting three changes on the defensive coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman brings a simplified system that will include more blitzing and more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. “This year communication is a lot better,” linebacker Jalen Jefferson says. “Guys feel confident out there. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Defensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark on the team after the departure of players who accounted for 37 of 48 starts. Two key players are end Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil, former top-10 national recruits at their positions who were both sidelined last season by injuries. Scarlett, moved from outside linebacker to utilize his pass-rush abilities, “can be a dominant player,” coach Sonny Dykes says.

Also back after a year on the shelf are safeties Avery Sebastian (Achilles) and Stefan McClure (knee), anchoring a secondary that allowed 32 touchdown passes last season.

Previewing California’s Specialists for 2014:

The Bears’ special teams hit rock bottom in a 62–28 home loss to USC in which the Trojans returned two punts for touchdowns and a blocked punt for a third. Punter Cole Leininger actually had a solid sophomore season, averaging nearly 43 yards per kick. Sophomore Noah Beito will try to replace departed senior Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 17-of-20 field goals.

Final Analysis

The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.

“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.” 

Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.

Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#75 Toledo Rockets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#75

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Matt Campbell, 17-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jason Candle | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Heacock

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. 75 Toledo.

Previewing Toledo’s Offense for 2014: 

Toledo has maintained one of the best offensive machines in the MAC ever since it went to the spread more than a decade ago under former coach Tom Amstutz. In 2013, the Rockets were again near the top of the league in scoring (33.0 ppg) and total offense (447.3 ypg). Although it has several skill positions to fill, Toledo is once again loaded with talent and options to charge up its offense.

Sophomore Logan Woodside is the frontrunner to start at quarterback after seeing time in four games as a backup and hitting on 51.2 percent of his passes without an interception. Sophomore Kareem Hunt is the featured back after rolling up 866 yards and averaging 6.3 yards per carry in a supplemental role in 2013 behind 1,100-yard rusher David Fluellen. Filling in for the injured Fluellen, Hunt rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the final five games.

The strength and experience of the Toledo offense is up front, where four starters return. All-MAC guard Greg Mancz is a pro prospect who leads the group, along with fellow returning starters Jeff Myers at guard and Josh Hendershot and Chase Nelson at tackle. The group allowed just six sacks in 12 games last year, best in the conference.

The receiving corps is rich in talent and speed, led by junior Alonzo Russell, who has had 115 catches over the past two seasons. Seniors Dwight Macon and Justin Olack are steady performers. Junior Kishon Wilcher adds explosive speed.

Previewing Toledo’s Defense for 2014: 

With six returning all-conference players among the 10 regulars coming back on this side of the ball, the Rockets should be a stronger defensive unit in 2014 and improve on the 421.8 yards allowed per game last season. Toledo has five of its top six tacklers returning, led by senior linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

The crew up front is deep, with a dozen players possessing a shot at making the rotation. The athleticism of the unit should allow it to pressure the quarterback in the same manner the Rockets did in 2013, when they recorded 34 sacks in 12 games. All-conference tackle Treyvon Hester anchors the middle. Senior Ray Bush and junior Allen Covington will man the ends, with junior college transfer Tre James also a part of the plan.

Sylvestre joins experienced juniors Trent Voss and Chase Murdock in a strong linebacking unit. The Rockets have nine defensive backs with experience, but when the sorting out is completed, look for seniors Cheatham Norrils and Cameron Cole to man the corners, with help from sophomore Jordan Martin. Senior Jordan Haden leads the group at safety.

Previewing Toledo’s Specialists for 2014: 

Senior Jeremiah Detmer is one of the nation’s most accurate placekickers, currently working a streak in which he’s hit 36-of-37 field goals. Sophomore Nick Ellis looks to replace four-year starter Vince Penza at punter. Speedster Wilcher leads a deep return corps.

Final Analysis 

Toledo has 17 starters back to work on purging the sour taste left from last season, when the Rockets went 7–5 overall and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. The schedule is not easy; the Rockets play Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State in non-conference action and host Bowling Green, the defending league champs, from the MAC East.

Toledo has a wealth of experience and talent along its offensive front and at linebacker, but the Rockets will be featuring a new starter at quarterback — always a dangerous proposition. If Woodside emerges as viable playmaker and the defense improves, the Rockets should be right back in the MAC East title picture.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#74 Colorado State Rams

NATIONAL FORECAST

#74

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jim McElwain, 12-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Baldwin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marty English, Al Simmons

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. 74 Colorado State.

Previewing Colorado State’s Offense for 2014:

With running back Kapri Bibbs leaving early for the NFL after setting school records with his 1,741 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns last season, the Rams are likely to air it out a bit more this season. Quarterback Garrett Grayson, now a senior, threw for a school-record 3,696 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013 while directing the most productive offense in CSU history. The Rams averaged 470.8 yards per game.

Coach Jim McElwain likes his receiving corps. Sophomore Rashard Higgins, last year’s leader with 68 catches for 837 yards and six TDs, is back, as are four others who caught 20 or more passes. Senior Kivon Cartwright, who had 27 catches for 462 yards and six TDs as the second tight end, should become one of Grayson’s favorite targets.

Converted safety Jasen Oden and redshirt freshman Bryce Peters battled for the starting job at running back during spring drills and will get some added competition from true freshmen Deron Thompson and Johnathan Lewis. Donnell Alexander, the leading rusher two years ago, chose to transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.

Rebuilding the offensive line will be a challenge, given that star center Weston Richburg and three of the other four starters last year were seniors. But McElwain and his staff like the players who were backing them up last year and don’t believe there will be much of a drop-off.

Previewing Colorado State’s Defense for 2014:

Although outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, is gone, seven defensive starters return, including leading tacklers Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, both inside linebackers. Morgan was in on 134 tackles, including 71 solo stops, last year, while Davis was in on 120 with 63 solo stops.

Four players who started 10 or more games return in the secondary, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a CSU team that gave up an average of 275.7 passing yards per game and more passing touchdowns (33) than 123 other FBS teams. McElwain and his staff hope a year of seasoning and increased competition from a recruiting class that included seven defensive backs will spur improvement.

All three of last year’s starters on the defensive line were seniors, but the three players behind them all were part of the regular playing rotation, and one, junior Terry Jackson, had 29 tackles — more than all but one of the starters up front.

Specialists 

All-MW kicker Jared Roberts, who has made 30-of-34 field goals the past two seasons, returns. The Rams are also in good shape in the punting department; Hayden Hunt, who averaged 41.9 yards a kick with 14 inside the 20-yard line and only four touchbacks, is back for his sophomore season. Colorado State ranked second in the league in both kickoff and punt returns last season.

Final Analysis

The Rams lost some significant star power with Bibbs’ decision to forego his final two seasons to turn pro and the graduations of Richburg, Barrett and All-MW tight end Crockett Gillmore. But they’ve still got a lot to work with in Grayson and a talented corps of receivers, including three who redshirted last fall. They’ll have to develop enough of a running threat to keep defenses honest but should be able to move the ball effectively through the air. The secondary has to improve for the Rams to be a factor in the pass-happy MW.

A favorable schedule that does not include MW West Division powers Fresno State and San Diego State gives the Rams a legitimate chance to make back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2002-03, when Sonny Lubick was the coach.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#73 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#73

Big Ten East Division PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kyle Flood, 15-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ralph Friedgen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Joe Rossi

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. 73 Rutgers.

Previewing Rutgers’ Offense for 2014:

New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen — the former Maryland head coach — inherits a wealth of experience and one major decision: Should inconsistent senior Gary Nova be the quarterback to lead Rutgers into the Big Ten or should it be an unproven newcomer? Nova made 23 consecutive starts before being benched for the final three games last season. Redshirt freshman Chris Laviano will challenge Nova for the position through the summer and into preseason camp.

Beyond that, the offense is set. All five offensive line starters return, with four-year starter Kaleb Johnson anchoring the unit at left guard after briefly considering entering the NFL Draft.

The running back tandem of Paul James (881 rushing yards in nine games) and Justin Goodwin (521 rushing yards as a true freshman last year) also returns, along with fullback Michael Burton.

Tight end Tyler Kroft, who caught a team-leading 43 passes last season, has All-Big Ten potential. The wide receiver spots will have a new look, but Leonte Carroo (nine TD catches and a team-leading 17.1-yard average) flashed star potential before being injured at the end of last year. Slot receiver Ruhann Peele (28 catches) will concentrate strictly on offense this season after also being forced to start at cornerback a year ago. Andre Patton, a sophomore, has offered hints of being a No. 1 receiver.

Previewing Rutgers’ Defense for 2014:

A year after the team set school records for total yards allowed (5,366) and passing yards allowed (4,056), there’s a new defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi. Philosophically, there won’t be a noticeable change, but Rossi has already left his imprint on the unit with a bold personnel move. Steve Longa, a Freshman All-American last season, and senior Kevin Snyder will switch positions. Longa’s speed is better suited for the weak side, while Snyder’s size makes him an ideal fit at middle linebacker.

The secondary, which was roughed up a year ago, offers Rossi his biggest challenge after seven different players started at corner — including two true freshmen in the same game — during the 2013 season. Most of the young players now have experience after their trial by fire. Chief among them are Anthony Cioffi, expected to handle one starting corner spot, Delon Stephenson and Nadir Barnwell. All three were forced to play as true freshmen last year. Three-year starter Lorenzo Waters will lead the unit from his strong safety spot.

The defensive line will undergo some change, though tackle Darius Hamilton and end Djwany Mera are returning starters. A key to the line will be the play at nose tackle, where senior Kenneth Kirksey will share time with promising redshirt freshman Sebastian Joseph. Julian Pinnix-Odrick is being counted on to provide a pass-rushing presence at the other end spot.

Previewing Rutgers’ Specialists for 2014:

Kyle Federico overcame inconsistency and injuries to establish himself as the starting placekicker, a role the junior will handle again after going 12-of-18 on field goals last season. But there’s uncertainty at punter, where junior Joe Roth appears to have the advantage despite never appearing in a game. The return game is in game-breaking hands once again after Janarion Grant dazzled as a true freshman last year on both punts and kickoffs.

Final Analysis

Rutgers welcomes back a solid group of returning starters, but there is uncertainty at the all-important quarterback position, and the schedule is the most difficult in school history. The defense, torched by teams from the American Athletic Conference in 2013, must show significant improvement. There is a chance Rutgers will be better in 2014 but fail to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since ’04.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#71 Colorado Buffaloes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#71

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike MacIntyre, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Lindgren | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kent Baer

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. 71 Colorado

Previewing Colorado’s Offense for 2014:

Sophomore Sefo Liufau will be the opening-day starter at quarterback barring a dramatic drop-off in performance in fall camp. There is no other QB on the roster who has even taken a snap in a college game at the FBS level. Sophomore Jordan Gehrke will likely be the backup. Gehrke played well at the junior college level during the 2012 season. True freshman Cade Apsay will compete for playing time when he arrives in the summer, but he’s likely ticketed for a redshirt season.

Christian Powell led the team in rushing the past two seasons and could do so again in his junior year, but he might have a hard time fighting off sophomore Michael Adkins II, who averaged more than five yards a carry and led the team with six rushing touchdowns last season. The Buffs averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and 120.8 yards per game on the ground last fall.

Junior wide receiver Nelson Spruce was second on the team in receiving last season after leading it in 2012. Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo had a big spring and is the likely starter opposite Spruce, with senior D.D. Goodson, sophomore Devin Ross and speedy freshman Shay Fields likely to get opportunities in the slot. CU also should be improved at tight end, with sophomore Sean Irwin poised to move into a starting role. 

The talent is there at the skill positions, but those players are only going to be as effective as the offensive line allows them to be. There could be as many as three new starters.

Previewing Colorado’s Defense for 2014:

The Buffs have struggled big time on defense since joining the Pac-12, but they have pieces in place for improvement.

Tackle Josh Tupou, an all-conference-caliber player, will anchor the defensive line. The Buffs are young at end, especially if Samson Kafovalu isn’t available (due to academics). If Kafovalu can’t go, Jimmie Gilbert would be the most experienced end on the roster after playing 261 snaps as a true freshman last season.

Sophomore middle linebacker Addison Gillam, who led the team in tackles as a true freshman last season, will be joined by Woodson Greer and Kenneth Olugbode in the starting lineup, giving the team much more speed at linebacker than it has had in the recent past.

Second-year coach Mike MacIntyre returned to his roots by working with the cornerbacks during spring drills and may continue to do so during the season. His secondary is loaded with depth. Greg Henderson is the best corner on the team entering his senior season. That leaves potential starters Chidobe Awuzie, Kenneth Crawley and Ahkello Witherspoon fighting for two jobs — the other cornerback spot and the nickel back. The starting safeties should be senior Jered Bell and sophomore Tedric Thompson, but they have plenty of competition, too.

Previewing Colorado’s Specialists for 2014:

This can accurately be described as an area of strength. Punter Darragh O’Neill and placekicker Will Oliver are entering their senior seasons and will be four-year starters. O’Neill, who can punt with either foot, set a school record with 22 punts inside the 20-yard line last season. Oliver has been dependable throughout his career, though he hit a rough patch for a stretch last season.

Final Analysis

The depth and talent are improving in Boulder under MacIntyre. But the program is still in rebuilding mode. The Buffaloes have won a combined four Pac-12 games in their three seasons in the league, including one win in each of the past two years. Last season, the Buffs’ average margin of defeat in their eight conference losses was 29 points. More wins would be nice, but simply being competitive on a consistent basis would show progress in the short term.




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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