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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#24 Washington Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#24

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Chris Petersen, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jonathan Smith | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Kwiatkowski

Washington made steady progress under former coach Steve Sarkisian, increasing the win total from five in 2009 to nine in 2013. However, the Huskies never challenged Oregon or Stanford for the top spot in the North or finished better than 5-4 in Pac-12 play. New coach Chris Petersen comes to Seattle after a successful stint at Boise State. Petersen is regarded as one of the top coaches in the nation, but he inherits a roster with question marks at quarterback and running back. Are the Huskies ready to take the next step in 2014?

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Previewing Washington’s Offense for 2014:

The first order of business for new coach Chris Petersen will be to settle on a quarterback. Mobile sophomore Cyler Miles, last season’s backup, was the logical choice until the Denver-area product was arrested in connection with a couple of Super Bowl-related altercations involving Seahawks fans. Miles was cleared of any criminal charges but still missed spring practice. He was reinstated to the team in mid-May. Sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams shared spring duties and were inconsistent. The job is far from settled, but Miles is the leading candidate going into fall practice.

Sophomore Dwayne Washington, a 6'2", 221-pounder with breakaway speed, has been groomed to replace Bishop Sankey at running back and has plenty of potential. He snapped off scoring runs of 71 and 32 yards against Oregon State and 52 against Colorado. A wild card is junior linebacker Shaq Thompson, who was given several carries during the spring and was impressive.

The receivers look promising, yet there are nagging issues. Senior Kasen Williams, with career totals of 142 catches for 1,726 yards and 13 scores, is attempting to bounce back from a serious leg injury. Sophomore Damore’ea Stringfellow, a three-game starter, was charged in the Super Bowl incidents and remains suspended indefinitely. Until everyone’s status is clear, the Huskies will throw to junior Jaydon Mickens (team-leading 65 catches) and sophomore John Ross, the fastest player on the team. Junior Joshua Perkins, who had three TD catches among five receptions at tight end, is an able replacement for NFL-bound Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

A seasoned offensive line should give the new quarterback and tailback plenty of time to acclimate to their jobs. The Huskies return all five starters, four of whom are seniors.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Washington Huskies for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Pac-12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Previewing Washington’s Defense for 2014:

The front wall remains solidly intact with starters back at each spot, notably disruptive players in senior end Hau’oli Kikaha and senior tackle Danny Shelton. After missing consecutive seasons with knee injuries, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2013. The 6'2", 332-pound Shelton is highly effective at stuffing the run.

Proven players are in abundance at linebacker in senior John Timu and Thompson, both returning starters, and junior Travis Feeney, a former starter. Timu will enter his fourth season as a first-team player and brings a steadying influence. The multi-talented Thompson plays like another safety, only closer to the line of scrimmage.

In the secondary, Petersen has major issues. He will build around junior corner Marcus Peters, one of the league’s better cover guys. Otherwise, the Huskies will turn to young, untested players to fill in the gaps. Speedy top recruit Budda Baker could find his way into the lineup immediately, either at safety or cornerback. Redshirt freshman corner Jermaine Kelly, one of the UW’s top 2013 recruits, is ready to step in.

Previewing Washington’s Specialists for 2014:

Travis Coons, who handled every field goal, extra point and punt in 2013, has moved on, leaving the kicking game unproven. Replacements are sophomore Cameron Van Winkle, who handled kickoff chores in his first year, and junior Korey Durkee, the UW’s starting punter briefly in 2012 who was limited to holder duties last season. The Huskies aren’t hurting in the return game. The versatile Ross ran back a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

Final Analysis

Petersen inherits the bulk of a 9–4 bowl team left behind by Steve Sarkisian, who bolted after five seasons for USC. Both lines are intact. If he can find some offensive playmakers, namely a quarterback, and rebuild the depleted secondary, Petersen could move the Huskies up a notch right away and make the rest of the Pac-12 understandably uncomfortable.

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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Washington No. 24:

1. Upgrade at head coach?
Steve Sarkisian brought stability to Washington after the Huskies went 0-12 in 2008. Chris Petersen is unproven at the BCS level, but after a 92-12 mark at Boise State, he could be the right pick to move Washington up the Pac-12 pecking order.

2. Who replaces Keith Price at quarterback?
Petersen opened spring without the leading candidate to replace Keith Price, as Cyler Miles was suspended due to an off-the-field incident. Miles was reinstated in mid-May and will return in time for fall practice, but he is behind Troy Williams and Jeff Lindquist in learning the new offense.

3. Does Washington have a replacement for running back Bishop Sankey?
Sankey was one of the nation’s top running backs in 2013, recording 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns on 327 attempts. The Huskies have options in Dwayne Washington, Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier, but the wildcard to watch is linebacker Shaq Thompson.

4. Favorable schedule
Due to a road trip at Hawaii to start the year, Washington will play 13 games in 2014. The Huskies should be 4-0 before a home date against Stanford on Sept. 27. Road games at Washington State, Arizona and Oregon won’t be easy, but Washington has enough winnable matchups to push for 10 victories.

5. Strength in the trenches
Washington’s offensive line play has been inconsistent in recent years, but the Huskies return all five starters for 2014. On the defensive side, end Hau’oli Kikaha and tackle Danny Shelton are among the best in the Pac-12.

The Debate

Chris Petersen or Steve Sarkisian: Who Has a Better Debut in 2014?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#25 Missouri Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#25

SEC East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 102-63 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Henson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Steckel

Missouri was a surprise champion of the SEC East in 2014, finishing 12-2 overall and 7-1 in regular season conference play. Despite significant personnel losses, the Tigers are expected to be in the mix for the East Division title once again. Quarterback Maty Mauk is a rising star, and he will be surrounded by a solid group of skill players and a steady offensive line. The defense loses key performers at each level, but players like end Markus Golden are back to ensure there isn’t much of a drop in production in 2014. 

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

Previewing Missouri's Offense for 2014:

It’s Maty Mauk’s show. The precocious sophomore quarterback filled in for an injured James Franklin and kept Missouri steered toward a stunning SEC East Division title last fall, and with Franklin out of the picture, Mauk takes the reins. He brings to the table confidence and big-play ability. He completed only 51 percent of his passes in 2013, but he averaged nearly 16 yards per completion and threw only two interceptions. And he’s got weapons around him.

Three Missouri running backs rushed for at least 600 yards and 6.0 yards per carry, and while Henry Josey stole the show late in the year, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy had their share of moments. Josey is off to the pros, but Hansbrough and Murphy return to carry the load for a Missouri running game anchored by a line that improved dramatically last fall. Left tackle Justin Britt is gone, but three starters return up front, including potential all-conference center Evan Boehm.

The Tigers lost receivers Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington to graduation but still expected to field a strong corps of pass-catchers. That was until Dorial Green-Beckham, a former five-star recruit, was dismissed from the team in April. DGB’s departure will put more pressure on Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt to emerge as primary options in the passing game. They will be joined by a grab bag of rotation candidates. Senior Darius White is a former blue-chipper with one last chance to make an impact. Sophomore Levi Copelin and redshirt freshman J’Mon Moore had some strong moments in spring practice.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the Missouri Tigers 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.
Previewing Missouri's Defense for 2014:

Missouri lost a ferocious pair of pass-rushers in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, but if you were to ask insiders what position might be the biggest strength for the Tiger defense in 2014, the answer would probably be “defensive end.” Markus Golden and Shane Ray return after combining for 11 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss in backup duty. Every defensive tackle from the end-of-year two-deep returns as well. Run support could be an issue at end, however, and it’s possible that tackle Harold Brantley could see time lined up wide on the line.

The line will need to thrive again in 2014 to take pressure off of less proven pieces in the back of the defense. Kentrell Brothers, a 2013 starter at outside linebacker, takes over for hard-hitting Andrew Wilson in the middle. He will be joined by some combination of veterans who have yet to crack the starting lineup or youngsters with potential and minimal proven production.

Meanwhile, an experienced set of safeties, led by longtime starter Braylon Webb, should be able to help in big-play prevention, but there will be a lot of pressure on athletic sophomore cornerbacks Aarion Penton and John Gibson. They are tasked with replacing E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder.

Previewing Missouri's Specialists for 2014:

Missouri has loads of experience in the special teams units. Murphy was one of the country’s best return men in 2012, and Andrew Baggett made 6-of-8 field goals longer than 40 yards in 2013. They are not without question marks, however; Murphy didn’t make much of an impact last fall, and Baggett fell into a costly slump last October.

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Final Analysis:

With 12 wins and an East title last fall, Gary Pinkel and his program managed to silence every doubter and answer every lingering question after a tough first season in the SEC. The Tigers face an interesting contradiction in 2014. There is still an abundance of star power, from Mauk on offense to Golden and Ray on defense. But the depth that was so key a year ago has been thinned out quite a bit, and injuries could be particularly costly, as they were in 2012.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Missouri No. 25:

1. Rising star in quarterback Maty Mauk
Mauk threw for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns in limited action last year. Needs to improve on a 51.1 completion percentage.

2. Only four returning starters on defense
Tigers had quality depth last year, but four All-SEC performers need to be replaced on defense.

3. Replacing cornerback E.J. Gaines
Gaines was one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC last year. Can Aarion Penton replace him as the top cover corner in 2014?

4. Can a +16 turnover margin be replicated?
Missouri was +16 in turnover margin last season, including a +12 in SEC play. The +16 number is the best for the Tigers since a +13 in 2007.

5. Tough SEC road schedule
Missouri plays tough road tests at Florida and South Carolina early in the year, as well as swing games against Texas A&M and Tennessee in November.

The Debate

Which Player Leads the SEC in Rushing Yards in 2014?

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