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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#9 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#9

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 58-11 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

Florida State has a few holes to fill in 2015, but the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the ACC title. Replacing quarterback Jameis Winston is coach Jimbo Fisher’s biggest task, while the defense has to improve after giving up 5.5 yards per play in 2014. Running back Dalvin Cook headlines a deep group of young talent that’s ready to keep Florida State among the nation’s best.

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Previewing Florida State’s Offense for 2015 


When he met with reporters in February at the NFL Scouting Combine, quarterback Jameis Winston was asked how difficult it was to leave Florida State and declare for the draft. Winston responded by pointing out that his top receiver, top tight end, four offensive linemen and a senior running back were invited to the Combine as well. “If you were playing quarterback at Florida State, what would you do?” Winston asked with a smile.

That sums up the challenge for the Seminoles. Not only did they lose Winston but also record-setting receiver Rashad Greene, record-setting tight end Nick O’Leary (the 2014 Mackey Award winner) and four seniors on the line. What’s left is a group that is talented but unproven.

Tailback Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,008 yards as a freshman, likely will be the workhorse. But who will he take handoffs from? Sean Maguire distanced himself from the competition in the spring, but the Seminoles landed Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson on May 19. Maguire’s lone college start came under emergency circumstances last September when Winston was suspended for the Clemson game. Although he passed for 304 yards and the Seminoles pulled out the win in overtime, Maguire completed just 21-of-39 passes, was intercepted twice and sacked five times. Golson has more experience than Maguire, but how quickly can he learn the offense?

If the offensive line, which will be fortified by a pair of junior college transfers who sat out last season, can provide protection, Maguire will have plenty of weapons to target. Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are coming off impressive freshman campaigns (51 receptions for 822 yards and five touchdowns combined), and juniors Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are looking for bigger years after struggling with consistency in 2014.

Previewing Florida State’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.

Despite losing two junior starters to the NFL — tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. — FSU again will have exceptional depth in the trenches. Senior nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample returns after missing nearly all of last year with a chest injury, and the Seminoles have five other interior linemen with previous playing experience. A major priority this offseason has been breathing life into the pass rush, which generated just 17 sacks in 2014.

Second-year coordinator Charles Kelly will look for major improvement from the back seven, which also lost two juniors to the draft. Junior Jalen Ramsey, who earned All-America honors at safety, moved to boundary cornerback in the spring and drew rave reviews. That opened the door for talented sophomore Trey Marshall to claim the “Star” nickel back position, and he will be joined by returning safeties Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews.

Linebacker could be a sore spot again. Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup will start if healthy, but both are recovering from injuries, and neither was outstanding last season. Northrup, who tore his ACL vs. Oregon, can be an effective run-stuffer but sometimes struggles in space. Smith was slowed by injuries throughout his junior year and missed much of the spring with turf toe. 

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

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists for 2015
 

Junior Roberto Aguayo has been so spectacular the past two seasons that he seriously considered entering the NFL Draft. Senior punter Cason Beatty was solid in 2014, and the Seminoles’ coverage units are always very good. Great improvement is needed in the kickoff return game, where FSU averaged less than 20 yards per attempt.

Final Analysis
 

FSU had won 29 consecutive games before falling to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, so expectations will remain high in 2015. But an extremely young offense and a retooling defense likely will keep the Seminoles out of title contention. A run at a fourth-straight ACC crown would be an achievement. 

The Debate

Is Jimbo Fisher the ACC's Best Coach?

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Ranking the ACC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

Pittsburgh takes the No. 2 spot.
Ranking the ACC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

The ACC is losing some offensive star power with the departure of Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson to the NFL. But there’s a talented group of young players ready to step up this season, starting with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Cal Football's New (Rumored) White Helmets Are Awesome

Will the Golden Bears wear these in 2015?
Cal Football's New (Rumored) White Helmets Are Awesome

Cal’s blue and gold traditional uniforms could have some extra company in 2015. Pictures of a new white helmet have started to circulate recently, which features the school’s new logo instead of the “Cal” script.

 

Four Potential Trade Suitors for the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki

It is only a matter of time before the slugging shortstop is donning another team's ball cap
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Four Potential Trade Suitors for the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki

When healthy, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is one of baseball’s most complete and exciting players. The problem is Tulowitzki is hardly healthy. When Tulo is on the diamond, he is one of the elite, five-tool players in the game and potentially one of the faces of baseball. 

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#11 Ole Miss Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#11

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 24-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack

Ole Miss has increased its win total in each of coach Hugh Freeze’s three years in Oxford, and the 2015 edition of the Rebels could be even better than the 9-4 squad from last season. The quarterback position has uncertainty, but the receiving corps is among the nation’s best, and the offensive line is improving. Leading the way for Ole Miss should be a strong defense, which is headlined by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Ole Miss’ Offense for 2015


Hugh Freeze was hired because of his offense, but Ole Miss was less than dynamic on that side of the ball last year. While the Rebels led the nation in scoring defense, they were just No. 67 in scoring offense. That could change this year if a more experienced offensive line is more productive, and if Chad Kelly, the nation’s No. 1 junior college quarterback, plays with passion and focus and moves away from issues that led to his dismissal at Clemson last spring and an arrest in the winter.

No quarterback starter was named in the spring as Kelly competed with third-year sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Kelly’s arm strength, accuracy and mobility make him the favorite. Understanding this is likely his last opportunity to lead a major college football team may make him more focused.

All five starters return on the offensive line. Most of the time that’s a good thing. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a likely top NFL Draft pick, but the Rebels couldn’t gain consistency around him last year. Freshman Javon Patterson, rated the nation’s No. 3 guard by 247Sports, should help on the interior. There is potential among other young players, but a handful of linemen will have to work their way back from offseason injuries, including Tunsil, who sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the Rebels’ Peach Bowl loss to TCU.

Also coming back from injury is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, another potential top-10 NFL Draft pick.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Defense for 2015

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.

The Rebels lost two All-Americans in the secondary, but defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was so impressed with new corners Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard that he moved returning starter Mike Hilton to safety before the start of spring drills. Bridges and Sheperd are both tall, long and physical. 

Veteran Trae Elston moves from strong safety to free where he’ll help tutor a talented sophomore, C.J. Hampton.

Robert Nkemdiche, another All-American, is back at defensive tackle. Like Tunsil and Treadwell, Nkemdiche is expected to exit the draft board quickly next spring. Unlike Tunsil and Treadwell, he heads into August camp injury-free and in great condition.

He’ll get an assist this season from junior college transfer D.J. Jones, an athletic 300-pounder who should provide both mass and quickness to help stiffen a run defense that wasn’t as dominant as the Rebs’ pass defense in 2014. Nkemdiche gets the headlines for this unit, and deservedly so.

The hidden gem is safety Tony Conner, the fifth defensive back in the 4-2-5.  He plays usually near the line of scrimmage and is a sure tackler with good coverage skills.

Middle linebacker is a position to watch. C.J. Johnson will get a lot of work there, but not so much on third downs, and the position will have a committee feel.

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


Previewing Ole Miss’ Specialists for 2015


Will Gleeson at punter and Gary Wunderlich at placekicker are both returning starters. Gleeson often punts on the run to get extended roll. He pinned opponents inside the 20 on 24 of 58 punts last year. The Rebels must replace Will Denny, a four-year long snapper.

Final Analysis 


This may be Freeze’s last chance to do something big with the vaunted 2013 signing class. Barring the unforeseen, Tunsil, Nkemdiche and Treadwell will likely be gone after this season. Conner may join them.

There are questions on offense, but Kelly should make a seamless transition. Freeze helped the lightly recruited Bo Wallace become a three-year starter and tie Eli Manning with 24 career wins.

The defensive line is strong, and if the corners play as well as expected, Ole Miss will again be a factor in the SEC West.

The Debate

Where Does Hugh Freeze Rank Among SEC Coaches for 2015?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#13 Arizona State Sun Devils

NATIONAL FORECAST

#13

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 28-12 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Graham, Keith Patterson

Arizona State has won 20 games over the last two seasons and has finished as a top 25 team in back-to-back years under coach Todd Graham. And even with a few losses on both sides of the ball, the Sun Devils should be in contention for the Pac-12 South title once again in 2015. Quarterback Mike Bercovici should have a breakout year in his first as the starter, while the defense will be an aggressive group with seven returning starters.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Arizona State’s Offense for 2015 


Usually, when a team replaces a three-year starter at quarterback, there’s going to be a drop-off. But that’s not the case at ASU. In three relief starts last year, Mike Bercovici proved he could be an elite quarterback; he has a strong arm and shows great leadership. He’s not as mobile as predecessor Taylor Kelly, so the Sun Devils will tweak their offense to suit his skills.

ASU will lean more on its running game, and it has the horses to do so, with three backs — Demario Richard, two-way player Kalen Ballage and speedster Gump Hayes — capable of doing damage. Going to the ground first also makes sense, because the two big question marks on offense most affect the passing game. ASU has to replace both of its starting tackles, and the wide receiver position has been decimated with Jaelen Strong going to the NFL and Cameron Smith sidelined the entire season after knee surgery. D.J. Foster, now a full-time slot receiver after splitting time between tailback/receiver the last three seasons, will be Bercovici’s No. 1 target. The Sun Devils picked up a late addition in the spring in UCLA transfer Devin Lucien, which gives Bercovici another proven target.

Previewing Arizona State’s Defense for 2015 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

ASU lost a couple of key players in defensive lineman Marcus Hardison and safety Damarious Randall, but coach Todd Graham has recruited so well that replacements should be able to step right in.

The strength of the defense is the back seven. ASU can rotate five linebackers without much drop-off. Keep an eye on sophomores Christian Sam and DJ Calhoun; they were pressing for starting positions in spring ball and have the sideline-to-sideline quickness Graham loves at the position.

ASU returns three starters in the secondary, and James Johnson will help negate the loss of Randall.

If there’s a concern, it’s the lack of a true pass rusher up front. Four-star junior college recruit Davon Durant was plugged in to be the Devil-backer — primarily a pass-rusher in ASU’s scheme — but he was suspended indefinitely following an arrest on allegations of domestic abuse.

Graham won’t back off despite the lack of an elite pass-rushing threat. Instead, he’ll dial up a variety of blitzes to try to keep quarterbacks guessing. It’s a dangerous gambit — Oregon State had three touchdowns of at least 35 yards in its 35–27 victory over the Devils last year — but Graham will remain aggressive. It’s who he is and how he coaches.

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

Previewing Arizona State’s Specialists for 2015 


The kicking game will be solid with punter Matt Haack and placekicker Zane Gonzalez, but the mission for new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum is to improve the return game, which has been a disaster for ASU. The answer might be Hayes, who terrorized the defense in practices leading up to last year’s Sun Bowl. Hayes has the speed and natural running instincts to be a threat every time he touches the ball.

Final Analysis


In three seasons Graham has turned an underachieving program into one that regularly cranks out 10-win seasons. This year should be no different. ASU returns 12 starters, and that number doesn’t include Bercovici. There are some worries — most notably at wide receiver and offensive tackle — but the Sun Devils have the talent and the coaching to contend for the Pac-12 title.

The schedule is daunting, particularly early in the season. ASU opens against Texas A&M in Houston, and three of its first four conference games are USC, at UCLA and at Utah. But if the Sun Devils can somehow come out of that stretch with just one conference loss, they will be in great shape to win the Pac-12 South. Three of their final five games are at home, and the only road contests are against California and Washington State.

The Debate

Where Does Mike Bercovici Rank Among Pac-12 Quarterbacks?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

NATIONAL FORECAST

#12

Independents PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Brian Kelly, 45-20 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian VanGorder

Notre Dame has won at least eight games in each of Brian Kelly’s five seasons, but the Fighting Irish are looking to rebound after an 8-5 campaign in 2014. After a 7-1 start, Notre Dame lost four out of its last five games. Injuries and youth hindered the Fighting Irish last season, but the experience and additional depth should pay dividends for Kelly’s team in 2015.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Notre Dame’s Offense for 2015 


Notre Dame showed marked improvement in scoring (from 27.2 ppg in 2013 to 32.8 in 2014) and total offense (405.8 ypg to 444.9), and all but four starters return in ’15. The challenge is maximizing the assets. And there’s clarity at the quarterback after uncertainty surrounded this position at the end of spring ball. Everett Golson transferred in early May, which leaves the starting job to promising sophomore Malik Zaire.

The offensive line, led by veterans Ronnie Stanley (left tackle), Nick Martin (center) and Steve Elmer (right guard), is the foundation upon which the Irish attack is built.

There appear to be plenty of skill-position buttons to push, starting with wideout Will Fuller, who exploded as a sophomore with 76 receptions for 1,094 yards and a school-record-tying 15 touchdowns. Running back Tarean Folston also had a quality sophomore season (889 yards rushing). Now the challenge is to get former five-star recruit Greg Bryant in the mix with Folston.

Weapons abound in the receiving corps, but reliability is the challenge. Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle have yet to put together consistent seasons. C.J. Prosise offers versatility in the backfield and receiving prowess from the slot. Durham Smythe is the heir apparent to a dynamic tight end tradition.

Previewing Notre Dame’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big Ten College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at Notre Dame, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

It was a tale of two defenses in 2014, but most of the unit is back. The hope is the group that held its first five opponents to 60 points (12.0 ppg) will show itself more than the defense that surrendered 319 points (39.8 ppg) against the last eight opponents.

Ringleaders include two-time captain/defensive tackle Sheldon Day (7.5 tackles for a loss, nine QB hurries), linebacker Jaylon Smith (team-leading 112 tackles, 9.0 tackles for a loss) and linebacker Joe Schmidt, who garnered defensive MVP honors despite missing the last five games with a broken ankle.

To get to the next level, the Irish will need a more stout performance up front than the 26 sacks of 2014. Defensive end Isaac Rochell (7.5 tackles for a loss, 10 QB hurries) emerged as a building block as a sophomore. Nose tackle Jarron Jones, also coming off a significant foot injury, forms a dynamic one-two punch with Day up the middle. The pass rush should come from ends Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti, among several candidates. Look for freshman nose tackle Jerry Tillery to make an impact.

The return of cornerback KeiVarae Russell after his academic suspension is huge. He’ll pair with Cole Luke, who tied for the team lead with four interceptions to go with 15 passes defensed and 11 broken up. Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield struggled a good portion of the time in 2014, but they’re back and their troubles were not for a lack of talent.

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

Previewing Notre Dame’s Specialists for 2015


Do-everything Kyle Brindza is gone after a quality but often-erratic career with the Irish. There could be a drop-off punting with Tyler Newsome moving into the lineup, but highly touted true freshman kicker Justin Yoon has the skills to hit the ground running. Fuller, Carlisle and Bryant are the likely return men.

Final Analysis 


It’s the sixth year of the Brian Kelly regime, and in only one of the previous five — 2012 when the Irish played for the national title vs. Alabama — has Notre Dame finished with fewer than four losses.

This is the deepest, most well-equipped team Kelly has fielded. If the Irish can maximize Zaire’s talents at quarterback, establish a consistent ground game and play more stout up front defensively, this season should resemble 2012 more than any of the others under Kelly. That would mean playing in a New Year’s Day bowl if not contending for a playoff spot.




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