News

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#33 Mississippi State Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#33

SEC West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Dan Mullen , 36-28 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy | DEF. COORDINATOR: Geoff Collins

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. 33 Mississippi State.

Previewing Mississippi State’s Offense for 2014:

The high hopes for the Mississippi State offense are centered around the lofty expectations for quarterback Dak Prescott. The junior returns as the SEC’s active leader in rushing touchdowns (17) by a quarterback, three more than Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace  He’s also second in the conference in rushing yards by an active quarterback with 947. To take the next step, Prescott will need to improve his consistency throwing the ball down the field.

Brian Johnson, MSU’s new quarterbacks coach, likes what he sees from his star pupil. “When you see him, you can tell he’s a quarterback,” says Johnson, a former quarterback at Utah. “He carries himself with a certain demeanor that draws people to him. He has some special abilities and special tools.”

The expectations are just as high at running back, where LaDarius Perkins has passed the torch to Josh Robinson. Now a junior, Robinson arrived at spring camp 10 pounds lighter than he was in the fall. He said he lost weight in the offseason, but gained muscle. Physically he looks bigger.  Robinson will have help in the backfield from senior Nick Griffin, sophomore Ashton Shumpert and promising true freshman Aeris Williams.

Senior Jameon Lewis headlines a receiving corps with plenty of weapons. Lewis totaled 923 receiving yards last season — the second-most in school history — including a 220-yard performance in the Liberty Bowl. He hopes to build upon the momentum from last year by adding consistency. Despite his breakout season, Lewis still posted four games with three or fewer receptions.

The offensive line is one of the few areas Mississippi State has questions marks entering the 2014 season. The Bulldogs need to replace guard Gabe Jackson, who was MSU’s most talented player last season, and tackle Charles Siddoway. The Bulldogs went through the spring without finding definitive answers at either spot.  

Previewing Mississippi State’s Defense for 2014:
It all starts up front for Mississippi State’s defense. The Bulldogs return eight defensive linemen who played at least 10 games last season.  MSU excelled at stopping the run last year, but struggled getting to the quarterback. It only recorded 20 sacks — and four came against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Improved depth along the line should help Mississippi State increase that number.

The coaching staff referred to the linebackers as the heart of the defense last year. It could be the same in 2014. The Bulldogs return two of their three starters, including leading tackler Benardrick McKinney. The junior looks to return to numbers he put up as a freshman when he recorded 102 tackles.

The Bulldogs are loaded at corner, where several young players were forced into action last fall. The staff has confidence in Taveze Calhoun, Jamerson Love and Will Redmond to contain some of the league’s top wideouts.

Previewing Mississippi State’s Specialties for 2014:
No unit struggled more for Mississippi State than special teams in 2013. MSU made 10-of-21 field goals, a 47.6 percent accuracy rate that ranked 120th in the country. The Bulldogs were one of four teams in the country that didn’t make at least 50 percent of their field goals. Last year’s kicker, Devon Bell, will now focusing on punting. Sophomore Evan Sobiesk, who made 3-of-6 last year, is the favorite to handle the field goals.
 
Final Analysis
Expectations are high in Starkville. Mississippi State enters the season with one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and a defense that has the potential to be among the best in the league. If suitable replacements are found on the offensive line and the special teams improves, the 2014 season could be the best in Dan Mullen’s six years at the school. 



COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#38 Duke Blue Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#38

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: David Cutcliffe , 31-44 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scottie Montgomery | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jim Collins, Jim Knowles

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. 38 Duke.

Previewing Duke's Offense:

Quarterback Anthony Boone was at the controls of a highly productive offense in 2013 (32.8 ppg), but his performance last season was actually quite uneven. There were times, such as the historic win at Virginia Tech, in which the Blue Devils won in spite of Boone. There was talk of a legitimate QB competition in the spring, but that all changed in April, when Brandon Connette — who has been used in more of a Swiss Army knife role in previous seasons — announced his plans to transfer to a school in California to be near his mother, who has brain cancer.

Duke flourished despite erratic play at quarterback because it developed into a highly balanced offense. The Blue Devils ran for 178.0 yards per game in 2013, their highest average since 1977. The four-back rotation that Duke used to pile up those yards took a hit when Jela Duncan was dismissed from school for violating academic policy, but the Blue Devils still have productive options in Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell.

Two starters must be replaced on an offensive line that opened holes and still pass-blocked at the usual high levels (just 17 sacks allowed), but the three most vital parts — left tackle Takoby Cofield, right guard Laken Tomlinson and center Matt Skura — all return.

Duke also gets one more season from arguably its most valuable player, explosive wideout/returner Jamison Crowder, who enjoyed a record-setting season in 2013. 

Previewing Duke's Defense:

The Duke defense still had its struggles in 2013 (58 points against Pitt?) but it made up for its tendency to give up yards (418.0 per game) with a timely knack for making big plays. The Blue Devils forced the fourth-most turnovers in the ACC (26), led by a ball-hawking secondary that was responsible for 16 of the team’s 18 interceptions.

That will have to be the formula again this fall, because Duke still has issues on the defensive line. The Blue Devils had loads of experience there last season, but still not much in the way of production. Now all but one starter on that unit is gone, leaving just defensive tackle Jamal Bruce and a whole lot of question marks.

Fortunately for Duke, the secondary that was the big concern heading into last season is now the source of strength in 2014. Even without All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell, there’s plenty of talent in this group, led by tackling machine Jeremy Cash at safety. It may get even better if redshirt freshman Evrett Edwards makes the impact that many expect.

Also expected? Plenty of tackles from Duke’s pair of starting linebackers, David Helton and Kelby Brown. Keeping the talented but injury-prone Brown healthy will be key.

Previewing Duke's Specialists:

Perhaps no school in the country is more set on special teams than Duke. The Blue Devils feature All-ACC-caliber performers at kicker (Ross Martin), punter (Will Monday), punt returner (Crowder) and kick returner (DeVon Edwards). Last year, special teams played a critical role in several Duke wins. Expect the same this fall.

Final Analysis

The Coastal Division race should be wide open again this season, and Duke should be in the thick of it. Thanks to a pillow-soft non-conference schedule, and the absence of Clemson, Florida State and Louisville among Atlantic Division crossover opponents (the Devils get Syracuse and Wake instead), a third straight bowl game seems highly likely for the Blue Devils. A repeat trip to the ACC title game? Duke seemed to catch just about every late-game break in 2013 (for a change). It’s hard to envision a repeat of that level of magic again this fall. And the Blue Devils certainly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#36 Pittsburgh Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#36

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Paul Chryst, 13-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joe Rudolph | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt House

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. 36 Pittsburgh.

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Offense for 2014:

Pittsburgh was more jugger-not than juggernaut in its debut season in the ACC. It ranked 118th nationally in sacks allowed, 102nd in rushing yards and 80th in points. Are better times ahead? Hard to tell.

For the second consecutive season, coach Paul Chryst must break in a new starting quarterback. Sophomore Chad Voytik is a dual-threat in the mold of Russell Wilson (whom Chryst coached as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin). He threw for more than 5,000 yards as a prep. Problem is, his collegiate sample size is limited to 11 career passing attempts. That said, Voytik opened eyes after stepping in for injured starter Tom Savage in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and leading a last-second victory.

Voytik’s transition should be made easier thanks to sophomore wideout Tyler Boyd, who was the nation’s most productive freshman receiver with 85 receptions for 1,174 yards. The challenge is finding a No. 2 pass-catcher to offset the attention Boyd is sure to face.

At running back, bruising sophomore James Conner is coming off a 799-yard season (5.5 per carry), during which he ran for 229 yards in the bowl victory over Bowling Green. The offensive line could be a concern. The unit returns four starters, but given last season’s struggles, that might not be a positive.

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Defense for 2014:

How does Pittsburgh replace all-everything tackle Aaron Donald? It doesn’t. However, “Just because one guy left doesn’t mean the whole defensive line is going to fall apart,” says junior tackle Darryl Render. The belief is that Donald’s tenacity will have a residual effect for current and future Panthers. And with only five starters returning from a unit that ranked 34th overall, that’s a must. Render and Khaynin Mosley-Smith will provide experience on the interior line, while sophomore end Shakir Soto, who had a sack in his lone start in ’13, is a player to watch as Pittsburgh tries to increase its sack total of 25.

A point of emphasis for the linebackers and defensive backs this spring was creating more turnovers, given that the Panthers ranked 107th in that category. They also had an ACC-low eight interceptions. A big season is needed from athletic linebacker Todd Thomas, who was fourth in tackles but provided no sacks or interceptions. Ditto for cornerback Lafayette Pitts (no interceptions). As a unit, the linebacking corps could flourish with returning starter and former blue-chip quarterback Anthony Gonzalez joining Thomas and true sophomore Matt Galambos. In the secondary, safety Ray Vinopal returns after ranking second in tackles. He also had two interceptions in an upset of Notre Dame. 

Previewing Pittsburgh’s Specialists for 2014:

Chris Blewitt set a record for Pittsburgh freshman kickers with 82 points, converting 14-of-18 field goals. At punter, redshirt freshman Ryan Winslow steps in for three-year starter Matt Yoklic. 

Final Analysis

In recent vintage, Pittsburgh would best be described as unimpressive and/or average. The words are cringe-worthy for those involved with the program, but not inaccurate. The Panthers are 13–13 in two seasons under Chryst and 19–20 since 2011. The good news is that the program firmly belongs to Chryst — only 17 players remain from previous regimes — and young players are making an impact. Chryst played 12 freshmen extensively last season. Still, the Panthers should expect to experience more growing pains, given the uncertainty at quarterback, the precarious nature of the offensive line and a defense that lost the best lineman in the nation. Victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Bowling Green in ’13 can serve as building blocks, but losses to Navy, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are reminders that more work must be done. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#27 Virginia Tech Hokies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#27

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Frank Beamer , 224-109-2 (27 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scot Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bud Foster

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. 27 Virginia Tech. 

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense for 2014:

With the departure of three-year starter Logan Thomas, the Hokies have as wide open of a quarterback battle as they’ve had in years. Sophomore Brenden Motley had a slight lead of the three quarterbacks in Blacksburg in the spring, but Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who in 2012 threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in nine games with the Red Raiders, might be the best bet to win the job after a summer arrival.

Tech’s ground game should be better, if only because it would be tough to be worse. The Hokies had one of the most inept rushing attacks in Frank Beamer’s 27 seasons in Blacksburg last year, averaging only 119.8 yards per game. But sophomore Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs) is back after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale, and 224-pound freshman Marshawn Williams might be the answer to the Hokies’ short-yardage woes. It’ll help if Tech’s underperforming offensive line, which returns five players who started games last year, can come together under Stacy Searels, the unit’s third coach in as many years.

The top three receivers, Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles, are back. All three caught at least 40 passes last year, but it’s the tight ends who have offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler most excited. Ryan Malleck returns from a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2013, Kalvin Cline is looking to build off a solid freshman year, and converted quarterback Bucky Hodges, a 6'6", 243-pounder with 4.5 speed, will be a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense for 2014:

With seven seniors who started during their careers gone from last year, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has some reloading to do with a group that ranked fourth nationally last season. The first team separated itself in the spring, especially up front. Luther Maddy turned down a chance at the NFL to be the anchor the Hokies need on the interior, and 257-pound tackle Corey Marshall has been a handful because of his quickness. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem have been bookend pass-rushers with good burst off the edge.

The linebackers had a complete overhaul, with fifth-year senior Chase Williams, a heady veteran who’s waited his turn, and Deon Clarke, an athletic junior who came on in the spring, standing out.

The secondary is solid, with beyond-their-years sophomores Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson locking down the cornerback spots. They combined for 11 interceptions as true freshmen. Seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner man the safety positions, rounding out the most experienced unit on the defense. It’s not the biggest defense Foster has had, but it might be among the quickest, one that has the potential to be plenty disruptive.

Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

A.J. Hughes is solid at punter, although that’s about the only sure thing on the Hokies’ once-proud special teams. Tech missed 11 field goals last year, second-most nationally, and doesn’t appear to have an obvious candidate at kicker this season. Incoming freshman Michael Santamaria, a rare scholarship kicker out of high school, might be the answer.

Final Analysis

The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that Foster will figure things out like he always does. Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#39 TCU Horned Frogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#39

Big 12 PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Patterson, 120-44 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Sonny Cumbie, Doug Meacham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dick Bumpas

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. 39 TCU. 

Previewing TCU’s Offense for 2014:

TCU hopes its beleaguered offense will get a boost from the up-tempo, no-huddle attack installed by new offensive co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. The Horned Frogs also hope new quarterback Matt Joeckel, who transferred from Texas A&M in April, can step in and help run the show in 2014, his final year of eligibility.

Joeckel allows TCU the option to move Trevone Boykin back to receiver, where he was often an effective playmaker in 2013 when he wasn’t starting at quarterback.

TCU has speedy running backs B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green returning, and both should thrive in the new system.

Reinforcements were an offseason priority for the line, which struggled a year ago, and the receiving unit is looking to rebound from an inconsistent and unreliable 2013.

Previewing TCU’s Defense for 2014:

Eight starters return to a unit that finished a close second in the Big 12 in total defense a year ago. And that doesn’t include end Devonte Fields, who missed the last nine games with an injury. If Fields returns to his freshman glory — when he was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year — the Frogs’ defensive line, which includes standout tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter, should be one of the strongest in the league.

All-America cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode must be replaced, but TCU returns experienced corner Kevin White and safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett to a secondary that was among the best in the Big 12 in 2014. TCU intercepted 19 passes in 2013, tied for second-most in the league. Since 2012, the Frogs have 40 interceptions, second most in the nation behind Oregon’s 43.

The linebackers, a source of consternation before the season a year ago, turned out to be a reliable unit. Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson return, as does TCU’s leading 2013 tackler Paul Dawson. Dawson started the last seven games, including the last five alongside Anderson, who was moved from safety to linebacker before the ’13 season.

Previewing TCU’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Jaden Oberkrom and punter Ethan Perry return as reliable third-year starters. Oberkrom made 14-of-18 field-goal attempts last season and has made 79 consecutive extra points, tying a TCU record. Perry averaged 40.3 yards per punt and placed 29 of 80 inside the 20-yard line. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper provide an experienced kickoff return duo. Catalon averaged 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, second-most in the Big 12. Echols-Luper’s 13.4-yard average on punt returns ranked third in the league and 16th nationally. 

Final Analysis

It became clear to coach Gary Patterson during the Horned Frogs’ second year in the Big 12 that major changes were in order on the offensive side of the ball. His defense, long a program hallmark, was maintaining its success in the new league. But the Frogs missed the postseason for the first time since 2004 largely because the offense — which had moved the ball with ease in the Frogs’ final years in the Mountain West — failed to produce.

If the offense, under new leadership, can make modest gains, the Frogs could emerge as a surprise contender in the Big 12. TCU went 4–8 in 2013, but the Frogs lost four games by a combined 11 points, including one in overtime. In two other 10-point losses, TCU had a chance to win late in the game.

With better play at quarterback and along the offensive line — two areas that underperformed in 2013 — TCU will be in position to win a few more of those close games and put itself back into postseason play. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#37 Oklahoma State Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#37

Big 12 PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 77-38 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

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. 37 Oklahoma State.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense:

Uncertainty at quarterback has become a recent trend at Oklahoma State. J.W. Walsh, who has spent time on and off as the starter, used a strong spring to reestablish himself in the eyes of coaches. Always touted as a leader and a “winner,” he showed improved judgment and accuracy throwing the ball, offering hope that he’s growing into the role. Walsh’s mobility is also a plus behind an offensive line that is rebuilding and counting on the healthy return of its projected starting tackles, Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett.

So Walsh, who entered spring in competition with former Arizona transfer Daxx Garman and true freshman Mason Rudolph, makes sense on many levels. “He’s going to be our guy,” says senior Daniel Koenig, the Cowboys’ most veteran lineman. “He has to be.”

If Walsh and the guys up front develop, there are plenty of playmakers to keep OSU’s productive offense rolling.

Power back Desmond Roland emerged as a force a year ago, taking over the starting job midseason and finishing with 811 rushing yards, a 4.6 per-carry average and 13 rushing touchdowns.

Receiver may be the team’s greatest strength; it’s a position stacked with talented breakout candidates, including three — Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman — who started hinting at their upside as youngsters in critical roles a year ago. The Cowboys added a fascinating wild card in junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, who literally has world-class speed as a track standout and is being pegged as a combo running back and receiver.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Defense:

The Cowboys made great strides on defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer, who successfully implemented an aggressive and attacking style that was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense.

Well, that was fun. Spencer now faces a massive overhaul, after losing seven senior starters and several other key backups. “The fun part about it is, I think this young group is really hungry,” Spencer says. “They’re hungry to show what they can do. They’re hungry to learn. And as a coaching staff, we can hammer in the core principles and values of what we believe in.”

There are valuable cornerstones, beginning up front with tackle James Castleman and end Jimmy Bean, two returning starters on a deep and promising line. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, two juniors, have already played a lot in their careers and project as all-conference candidates. So in the pass-happy Big 12, the Cowboys bring rushers and cover men — must-haves.

Still, inexperience at linebacker and safety is a major concern. Ryan Simmons fit in as this group’s pup a year ago, starting 13 games as a sophomore and finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles. Suddenly, he’s cast as the veteran and a leader. Kris Catlin and Seth Jacobs, who have worked up through the program, and junior college addition Devante Averette are in play for the other two starting jobs.

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists:

The Cowboys uncharacteristically struggled in the kicking game a year ago, mostly because of the inconsistencies of kicker Ben Grogan and punter Kip Smith. Both are back, so the hope — and need — is that they’ve improved. New return men must be identified, although Hill and his dazzling speed have coaches excited his potential on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis

Oklahoma State lost 28 seniors from a year ago; it was a special group that matched the best four-year win total of any class in program history. So while Cowboys coaches believe they’ve recruited well, so much turnover, coupled with a challenging schedule that opens with defending national champion Florida State, suggests that a step back is in order. Just how far back depends on how quickly the kids grow up.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#35 BYU Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#35

Independent PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Bronco Mendenhall, 82-34 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Anae | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Howell

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. 35 BYU.

Previewing BYU’s Offense for 2014:

BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae would love to replay the 2013 season, with his players being more accustomed to his fast-paced scheme. “I wish we would have had this as our starting point last season,” he says.

As it is, the Cougars can only hope to improve on their 8–5 record, facing a less demanding schedule. Quarterback Taysom Hill knows he can get better. Hill is a remarkable athlete who rushed for 1,344 yards as a sophomore, including a 259-yard performance against Texas. He also showed signs of passing ability, but his accuracy rate dropped off considerably against quality opponents.

Running back Jamaal Williams almost matched Hill’s per-game rushing average last season, finishing with 1,233 yards while missing one game due to injury. He’s a shifty, explosive runner who helped the Cougars rank 10th in the country in rushing.

The Cougars must replace Cody Hoffman, the school’s all-time leading receiver. Mitch Mathews, who caught three touchdown passes against Utah State, and senior Ross Apo are the top returnees. Junior college transfer Nick Kurtz improved during the spring.

Because of injuries and inconsistency, BYU used 11 different starters at the five offensive line positions in 2013. Ten of those players return, but former defensive lineman Tuni Kanuch has emerged as the starting right guard after missing last season due to injury.

Previewing BYU’s Defense for 2014:

Defensive coordinator Nick Howell expects the linemen to be “more physical and more stout against the run” than in 2013, when BYU ranked 56th in rushing defense, allowing 159.9 yards per game. BYU will have a more traditional look up front, with Bronson Kaufusi having moved to outside linebacker.

No defensive player in BYU history made as many impact plays as Kyle Van Noy. BYU’s coaches believe they’ve found a creative solution to replacing Van Noy by moving Kaufusi from the defensive line. As a linebacker, Kaufusi “just looks so much more natural,” Howell says. “He’s leaner and faster, and he’ll shock some people.”

On the other side, Alani Fua is a versatile athlete who was used as a nickel back at times, when BYU’s secondary was depleted, while also excelling as a linebacker.

BYU scrambled to fill the cornerback positions last year after Trent Trammell was injured on the first day of spring drills and Jordan Johnson also was lost for the season with a knee injury in August. In their absence, Robertson Daniel became a highly valuable player on one side, but BYU struggled to find a consistent player at the other corner.

Previewing BYU’s Specialists for 2014:

Scott Arellano proved to be a fairly consistent punter as a junior college transfer, averaging 41 yards with 13 of his punts covering 50-plus yards. BYU will have to shore up the protection after having three punts blocked. The Cougars needs a new kicker, with sophomore Moose Bingham having moved ahead of Trevor Samson in the spring competition.

Final Analysis

A tough schedule and a bowl defeat kept BYU stuck on eight victories in 2013, but coach Bronco Mendenhall likes the trajectory of the program. “We win every year, and it’s just a matter of how much,” Mendenhall says. “I think this group wants to do even more than we’ve done before.”

Even after a Fight Hunger Bowl loss ended BYU’s streak of five bowl victories, the Cougars have “tons of momentum,” Mendenhall says. “I like our program a lot right now, and I like our players.”

In BYU’s fourth season of independence, the Cougars are positioned to make some national impact especially if the defensive front seven comes together and Hill becomes a more consistent passer. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#29 Nebraska Cornhuskers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#29

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 58-24 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis

The Big Ten’s West Division is up for grabs, and Nebraska has the talent and personnel to finish ahead of Wisconsin and Iowa. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong should be better in his second year under center, and he will have the luxury of working with two of the Big Ten’s top skill players in running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell. Only three starters return on defense, but one of the players is All-America defensive end Randy Gregory. The Cornhuskers have a tough road schedule, which includes trips to Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Bo Pelini’s team has a difficult path to a division title, but this program is positioned for another solid year.

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. 29, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. 

Previewing Nebraska’s Offense for 2014:

All-Big Ten running back Ameer Abdullah is back after considering an early exit by way of the NFL Draft. Abdullah rushed for 1,690 yards, fourth-most in Husker history, with 100 or more yards in 11 games. There’s depth at I-back, including big back Imani Cross, who scored 10 touchdowns on just 85 carries. Ball security has been an emphasis for Abdullah and the rest of the offense.

Abdullah caught 26 passes, third-most on the team. But the Huskers ranked next-to-last in the conference in passing. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a threat on the option but threw almost as many interceptions, eight, as touchdown passes, nine. That has to change.

Kenny Bell, who has more career receptions than the rest of the wide receivers combined, is in position to become the leading receiver, statistically, in school history. Jamal Turner is a game-breaker but has never become the consistent threat expected when he was moved from quarterback as a freshman. He was limited by injury last season.

A key to success will be the development of a rebuilt offensive line. Left guard Jake Cotton is among the team’s emotional leaders. Left tackle Alex Lewis, a transfer from Colorado, is a potential star.

Previewing Nebraska’s Defense for 2014:

Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at every team, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Even though the Huskers are young on defense, this side of the ball should be the strength of the team, with end Randy Gregory, an All-America candidate, leading the way. He led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks, nine of them in conference play. The Huskers’ marked defensive improvement over the course of last season coincided with his development following a transfer from Arizona Western Community College. Sophomore tackles Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins will anchor the middle of the line. They need to stay healthy, unless some young players develop quickly.

Depth isn’t a problem at linebacker, which has a wealth of returning players, including Trevor Roach, who missed last season because of injury. David Santos was second on the team in tackles but will have to compete for playing time. Sophomores Michael Rose and Josh Banderas are also important pieces.

Safety Corey Cooper and cornerback Josh Mitchell are the most experienced players on defense, with a combined 32 starts. Mitchell is among the team’s vocal leaders.

Previewing Nebraska’s Specialists for 2014:

The Huskers ranked 121st nationally in punt returns; their longest was 19 yards. Incoming freshmen should help, Glenn Irons prominent among them with nine return touchdowns as a high school senior. Bell tied for the Big Ten lead in kickoff-return average. The senior wide receiver returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Penn State. Punter Sam Foltz, a walk-on, is back, but placekicker Pat Smith must be replaced. Mauro Bondi, who had 48 touchbacks on kickoffs, will be challenged by freshman Drew Brown. 

Final Analysis

Bo Pelini’s record is 58–24, with at least nine victories in each of his six seasons. But he has yet to coach a conference champion. In fact, Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, much too long for a program with three national titles in the five years prior to that.

In the aftermath of a 38–17 regular-season-ending loss to Iowa, speculation spread that Pelini’s tenure as coach might be over. But he has since received a contract extension through the 2018 season. Extension or not, however, there’s pressure to win a championship and return to national relevance. The Huskers should have the defense for that. The question is whether the offense can be balanced enough to get the job done against a schedule that sets up very well in a restructured division of the expanded Big Ten.

The Debate

Nebraska or Iowa: Who Finishes Higher in the Big Ten in 2014?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#26 Iowa Hawkeyes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#26

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Kirk Ferentz, 120-100 (18 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Greg Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Parker

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. 26 Iowa. 

Previewing Iowa’s Offense for 2014:

Unlike this time last season, there is reason to be optimistic about the Iowa offense. Six starters return, including quarterback Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman, leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and potential All-America left tackle Brandon Scherff.

Rudock passed for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, helping Iowa double its win total from the disastrous 2012 season with an 8–5 record. Hardly a dual-threat quarterback, Rudock showed surprising mobility before being hobbled by a knee injury down the stretch. His biggest flaw was the tendency to force passes into coverage, which resulted in 13 interceptions.

Iowa is loaded at running back, and Scherff is among three starters returning on the offensive line, which is traditionally a strength for the Hawkeyes under veteran coach Kirk Ferentz. The 236-pound Weisman led the team with 975 rushing yards last season, using a bruising style that fits nicely in Iowa’s power running scheme. Junior Jordan Canzeri and senior Damon Bullock rushed for 481 and 467 yards, respectively, last season. Both are more elusive than Weisman, while Bullock is also a threat as a receiver. LeShun Daniels, a 6'0", 230-pound sophomore, is also an intriguing option.

There is a void at tight end with C.J. Fiedorowicz having moved on. But much like the offensive line, tight end is traditionally a stable position for the Hawkeyes, and that’s the expectation for this season. Senior Ray Hamilton and junior Jake Duzey are among four tight ends with extensive game experience.

Previewing Iowa’s Defense for 2014:

Six starters have to be replaced, including all three linebackers and an All-Big Ten cornerback. It’ll be a daunting task, made easier by the presence of two standout tackles. Senior Carl Davis was one of the most improved players on the team last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors after being a reserve in 2012. Fellow senior tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat also progressed throughout last season, his first as a full-time starter.

However, he and Davis won’t have the luxury of playing with three senior standout linebackers, as was the case last season. Senior Quinton Alston has waited three seasons to replace James Morris at middle linebacker and now finally has that opportunity. Alston made an impact on special teams last season, in addition to being a key part to a new rush package that was installed in 2013.

Replacing All-Big Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery is a priority, but the Hawkeyes also might have a star in the making at that position in sophomore Desmond King. He started every game last season and finished sixth on the team with 69 tackles to go along with eight pass break-ups. Senior strong safety John Lowdermilk also returns after starting all 13 games last season.

Previewing Iowa’s Specialists for 2014:

Martin-Manley is a reliable punt returner, and there plenty of candidates to return kicks. The kicking game, however, is a concern. Mike Meyer has moved on after handling the placekicking duties the past four seasons. Walk-on Marshall Koehn was listed as the starter throughout spring practice, but incoming freshman Mick Ellis will be given a chance to win the job. Junior punter Connor Kornbrath is back, but he struggled with consistency, so the staff signed junior college prospect Dillon Kidd to compete with him. 

Final Analysis

Many of the pieces are in place for Iowa to continue this latest resurgence under Ferentz, especially on offense. Combine that with a schedule that doesn’t include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and has Iowa State, Wisconsin and Nebraska coming to Kinnick Stadium, and there is reason to believe Iowa can be a legitimate contender in the new Big Ten West Division.




More Stories:

Pages