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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#125 Idaho Vandals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#125

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Paul Petrino, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kris Cinkovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ronnie Lee

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. 125 Idaho.

Previewing Idaho’s Offense for 2014:

The No. 1 question for coach Paul Petrino is at quarterback. Sophomore Chad Chalich, who started seven games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury, is being pushed by redshirt freshman Matt Linehan. Chalich completed 61.4 percent of his passes but only threw five touchdown passes (and three INTs) in 184 attempts.

The winner of the job — right now, Linehan is penciled in as the starter — will operate behind an offensive line that returns nine players who have started at some point during their careers. The challenge for Petrino and his staff will be piecing the unit together. The best of the bunch is senior center Mike Marboe, who has played since his freshman season.

As far as the skill positions, receiver Dezmon Epps was slated to be Idaho’s top threat. He caught at least four passes in every game last season and scored four touchdowns. However, he was dismissed from the team in July. Physically gifted wideout Deon Watson and converted quarterback Josh McCain also give Idaho’s passing game a boost.

The Vandals likely will use a committee at running back, with Jerrel Brown, Richard Montgomery and Kristoffer Olugbode providing different skill sets that need to produce better than the 3.3 yards per carry Idaho averaged a year ago. If Idaho can be somewhat balanced, the Vandals should be able to score some points this season.

Previewing Idaho’s Defense for 2014: 

Things got so bad last season in the secondary for Idaho that coaches had to put wide receivers in on defense to try and slow down opposing passing attacks. The lack of speed was glaring and a huge reason why opponents scored 40 or more points nine times last season, including an 80-point performance by eventual national champion Florida State. For the Vandals to be a factor in the Sun Belt, the defense has to improve.

The top four tacklers from last season return, and there is talent on the defensive front that could generate a pass rush to help out the secondary. Quayshawne Buckley recorded 7.5 sacks last season and joins a front that has size and experience. Marc Millan led Idaho with 90 tackles from the linebacker position, which was strengthened with the addition of junior college transfer Irving Steele.
The secondary remains the biggest concern, though. Even though safety Bradley Njoku (89 tackles) and corner Jayshawn Jordan (77) return, Idaho needs to get better play from the secondary to have any chance of a winning season.

Previewing Idaho’s Specialists for 2014: 

Austin Rehkow handled the kicking and punting duties as a freshman. His punting was proficient, but his inconsistency in kicking field goals will need to change if Idaho is going to capitalize on scoring chances. He made only 10-of-17 attempts last season with a long of just 41 yards. The Vandals did not return a punt or a kickoff for a score in 2013, but Montgomery averaged more than 20 yards per kickoff return.

Final Analysis

Things can’t get any worse for Idaho, right? The Vandals are coming off a 1–11 season in which they weren’t very competitive as an independent. The Sun Belt Conference once again is home, which will lower the degree of difficulty on the schedule (Florida is the only major-conference opponent). But the conference affiliation brings additional travel — the Vandals will play half of their games in the Eastern and Central time zones.

If Petrino can overcome the travel and find some consistency in all phases, Idaho has a chance at making some noise in the overhauled conference. But even if the Vandals do surprise and find a way to get to six wins, they will not be spending the holidays at a bowl game. It was announced in late April that low APR scores had made the program ineligible for a postseason game in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#111 Army Black Knights

NATIONAL FORECAST

#111

Independents PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Jeff Monken, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Davis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Bateman

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. 111 Army.

Previewing Army’s Offense for 2014: 

First-year coach Jeff Monken brings his version of the triple-option to West Point. There is a basic understanding of the scheme among returning players, but different terminology made for quite a learning curve during the spring.

Angel Santiago started 11 games last season and is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks. A.J. Schurr, whose only career start was last year against Navy, is the better passer and frequently worked with the first team during the spring.

A groin injury cost two-time 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples most of last season, and an ankle surgery cost him the spring. Granted a fifth year of eligibility, the Academy’s sixth all-time leading rusher is expected to rejoin a ground attack that churned out 309.8 yards rushing per game in 2013. Senior Terry Baggett, the leading returning rusher (1,113 yards), should be good to go after injuries slowed him during the spring.

Xavier Moss emerged last season and was easily Army’s top receiver with 35 receptions. Chevaughn Lawrence and Kelvin White, who switched from QB in late spring, are in the mix. There are no experienced tight ends on the roster. An incoming freshman may ultimately be the answer when the formation requires one.

Ryan Powis, a three-year starter at center, moved to tackle late in the spring to accommodate Matt Hugenberg. However, Powis left the team in July. Monken felt Hugenberg, who has yet to start a game, was his best lineman in the spring and decided to put him at center. Guard Steve Shumaker and tackle Justin Gilbert are returning starters.

Previewing Army’s Defense for 2014:

Monken will stick with a 3-4 alignment for a defense that ranked 103rd against the run and tied for 107th in turnovers forced. Seven linemen with starting experience return, led by Mike Ugenyi and Robert Kough, who had a team-high eight tackles for a loss in 2013.

The linebacking corps lacks experience. Julian Holloway is the unit’s leading returning tackler with only 42. James Kelly saw action in every game last season, including three starts. Senior Derek Sanchez had a strong spring.

The secondary took a hit late during spring when Shaquille Tolbert left the team. Tolbert had been moved to corner after starting at safety. Still, there are some proven playmakers in the defensive backfield. Senior safety Geoff Bacon made the move from linebacker prior to last season and recorded 63 tackles to place second on the team despite missing four games. The top returning corner is junior Chris Carnegie, who started 20 games his first two seasons.

Previewing Army's Specialists for 2014:

Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Monken was the special teams coordinator at Navy. It is an area where the Black Knights are in desperate need of improvement after the unit placed 115th in punt returns and 121st in kick returns. Moss and Josh Jenkins could help in those areas. Kicker Daniel Grochowski drilled 8-of-11 field-goal attempts last season, while Alex Tardieu averaged a paltry 37.3 yards per punt. 

Final Analysis 

Monken knows the triple-option and previously coached at a major military academy, key ingredients when taking over at Army. He is very intense and demands a lot of his team. He showed his frustration during the spring when his team lost focus. “I am not happy with how physical we are playing in every phase of the game,” he said at one point.

Monken inherits a team that won only three games last year and a total of eight in the past three years. But with a soft schedule that includes two FCS opponents, there is room for improvement. Bowl-eligibility isn’t likely, but the Black Knights should be competitive with most of the teams on their schedule. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#116 Old Dominion Monarchs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#116

C-USA East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Bobby Wilder, 46-14 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Scott | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kermit Buggs, Rich Nagy

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. 116 Old Dominion.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Offense for 2014: 

As it moves into its second season in FBS and its first in Conference USA, Old Dominion has the luxury of a proven quarterback in senior Taylor Heinicke. He begins this season with a string of 33 straight starts and the 2012 Walter Payton Award — the FCS equivalent of a Heisman — on his résumé. Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder says Heinicke’s decision-making is critical for his young team. Last year, the Atlanta native completed 70.0 percent of his passes for 4,022 yards with 33 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.

He’ll have some options in the passing game as Antonio Vaughan and Zach Pascal return after catching 40 or more passes last year. There’s also a wave of young talent at receiver behind them that has the Monarchs’ staff excited.

The running backs will be young — the more established trio of Gerard Johnson, Cam Boyd and Malik Moseley might have to share time with newcomers. After losing some key contributors on the offensive line, the Monarchs are looking for answers there, too, although coaches believe there’s enough raw talent on hand to form a solid group.
Old Dominion as a program is still in the process of adjusting to the FBS level, but the Monarchs’ offense — which averaged 42.3 points per game as Heinicke torched opposing defenses — is ready to compete in Conference USA.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Defense for 2014:

All but two of the Monarchs’ defensive starters from the end of the 2013 season are back, but that may not mean much. After the Old Dominion defense gave up 34 points and more than 450 yards per game last season, every spot is up for grabs.
The main culprit for the struggles was inexperience. The Monarchs were painfully young on the defensive line in 2013, starting six first-year players at various points. All of them are back, and the coaches hope they’ll be able to build on that experience.

After strong springs, junior college transfers Reece Schmidt and Martez Simpson will provide a boost for the linebacker corps. Andre Simmons should help too after moving down from the safety spot.

The secondary returns two starters, including last season’s leading tackler Fellonte Misher.

For a unit that had its share of low moments last season, most notably giving up a head-spinning 80 points at North Carolina, improvement is mandatory if the Monarchs plan on making any noise in their new league.

Previewing Old Dominion’s Specialists for 2014:

Ricky Segers will handle the kicking duties after redshirting last season. Sophomore Joe Pulisic and freshman Jarrett Cervi will likely battle in preseason for the punter job. All of them should benefit from experienced long snapper Rick Lovato. In addition to being key cogs on offense, Vaughan and Moseley will figure prominently in the return game as well.

Final Analysis 

Since the program restarted in 2009, the Monarchs have shown that they can adapt. In their second year in the powerful CAA, they won a league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. In their first season as an FBS program, they knocked off Idaho and hung with bowl teams East Carolina and Pittsburgh. In five seasons, all under Wilder, the Monarchs are 46–14.

The challenge will be steeper this season as there’s only one FCS school on the schedule as opposed to the seven that the Monarchs played in 2013.

But with Heinicke as the face of the program and last season’s young talent maturing, Old Dominion appears to have what it needs to keep that steady upward trajectory in place.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#101 UNLV Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#101

MW West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bobby Hauck, 13-38 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Timm Rosenbach | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Hauck

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. 101 UNLV.

Previewing UNLV’s Offense for 2014

Replacing a player who began last season as a backup wide receiver will arguably be the biggest key for the Rebels offensively. Caleb Herring took over at quarterback midway through the fourth game of the season and rallied UNLV to its first bowl game and winning season since 2000, breaking a number of school records in the process, including the single-season passing percentage mark (62.9) held for three decades by the legendary Randall Cunningham.

Junior Nick Sherry, who beat out Herring for the starting job as a freshman and also began last season as the starter, is battling junior college transfer Blake Decker for the starting job entering fall camp. Both had their moments during spring practice, but neither was impressive enough for coach Bobby Hauck to hand him the job.

The Rebels also must replace tailback Tim Cornett, a four-year starter who departed as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,733 yards, second-best in Mountain West history. Projected starter Adonis Smith left the team in early May, leaving senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence as the likely starter. Murray-Lawrence rushed for 418 yards in a reserve role last fall in his first season after transferring from junior college.

Senior Devante Davis, an NFL prospect who caught 87 passes for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, returns to anchor a veteran wide receiver corps.

The strength of the offense, if not the entire team, is a big, strong and physical offensive line that returns most of its key contributors, including left tackle Brett Boyko.

Previewing UNLV’s Defense for 2014

It’s taken a while, but the Rebels finally have developed some size and decent depth on this side of the ball. Now the question is whether that will translate into improvement statistically after UNLV allowed averages of 31.8 points and 215.5 yards rushing per game.

The Rebels use a 4-3 base defense led by three defensive ends — Sonny Sanitoa, Jordan Sparkman and Siuea Vaesau — who could line up for any team in the conference. But the Rebels must replace both starting tackles.

The linebacking corps, led by Tau Lotulelei, is young but athletic and will likely feature three sophomore starters.

The secondary, which made significant progress under the tutelage of Hauck’s brother, former NFL defensive backs coach Tim Hauck, returns three starters, including junior strong safety Peni Vea, who had a team-high 108 tackles and two interceptions, and senior corner Tajh Hasson, who forced a team-high four fumbles.

Previewing UNLV’s Specialists for 2014

The Rebels must replace placekicker Nolan Kohorst, a four-year starter who kicked 39 career field goals, and they thought they had his replacement when they landed local star Conor Perkins. But shortly after signing his letter of intent, Perkins informed UNLV that he had decided to take a two-year LDS Church mission before enrolling. Jonathan Leiva, a late junior college signee out of Palomar (Calif.) College, will be handed the job in the fall. Junior Logan Yunker returns to handle the punting.

Final Analysis

UNLV learned in the spring that it had failed to meet minimum NCAA Athletic Progress Rate (APR) score requirements of 930 and that the program would be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014, including the Mountain West Championship Game. However, in late June, the program won an appeal and is eligible to play in a bowl in 2014. The Rebels, who ended a 12-year bowl drought with a 36–14 loss to North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day, hope to be legitimate contenders in the West Division and stand a strong chance of making it to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#128 New Mexico State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#128

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Gregg Brandon | DEF. COORDINATOR: Larry Coyer

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. 128 New Mexico State.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2014: 

The Aggies suffered a big blow in the offseason when junior wide receiver Austin Franklin elected to leave school early for the NFL Draft. Franklin supplied the team with a big-play threat on offense — after his return from a four-game academic suspension, the Aggies averaged 27.4 points over the final five games (compared to just 16 during the previous seven).

NMSU does, however return a veteran receiving corps, with six seniors and a junior on the two-deep. 

At quarterback, junior college transfer Tyler Rogers took the majority of the snaps during spring practices, and the team will bring in five freshmen to compete for the starting job spot this fall. Redshirt freshman Barry Coffman will also be in the mix.

Ditto for running back, where Xavier Hall returns after a good second half to the 2013 season. Hall had 95 yards against Boston College and 74 against Florida Atlantic in consecutive games in November. Redshirt freshman Marquette Washington and a handful of incoming freshmen will compete for carries.

The offensive line appears to be relatively stable. Senior center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke is entering his fourth year as a starter, while Andy Cunningham is a junior who’s started at guard and tackle. The two guards — Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and Abram Holland — are also returning. The team does need to solidify the all-important left tackle position, however, as steady four-year starter Davonte Wallace graduated.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2014:

This is a brand-new unit with a brand-new coordinator. With nearly 50 years experience coaching in college and the NFL, Larry Coyer joined the Aggie program this offseason.

This was an abysmal group last year, one that ranked dead last in the NCAA in rush defense (299.5 ypg) and total defense (549.5 ypg) and No. 120 in scoring defense (44.6 ppg). Only two starters return from that group.

It starts in the secondary, where a drastically different look will take shape in 2014. Two converted quarterbacks — Travaughn Colwell and King Davis III — were getting looks in the defensive backfield during spring practices. Again, look for incoming freshmen to get a shot here.

The same goes for the front seven, where just a handful of experienced players return. Somehow, Coyer will have to find a way for his defense to generate a pass rush. The Aggies recorded only 11 sacks last year; only one team had fewer. New Mexico State is hopeful that defensive end Clint Barnard and middle linebacker Rodney Butler can make a positive impact.

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2014:

This was another area of struggle last year, specifically the team’s kick coverage units. NMSU gave up touchdowns both in kick and punt coverage, and surrendered a blocked extra point, two blocked field goals and two blocked punts last year. In terms of kicking, the Aggies must replace standout punter Cayle Chapman-Brown. Placekicker Maxwell Johnson returns after a solid performance in 2013 (10-of-12 on field goals).

Final Analysis 

The Aggies are a team in transition, if for no other reason than their youth and inexperience. The program signed 23 freshmen, a number of whom will be counted on this year.

The team does have a much more manageable schedule this season, moving to the Sun Belt Conference after competing as an FBS Independent. After winning only two games in Doug Martin’s first season as head coach, there will be pressure on the Aggies to be competitive with the lower half of the new-look Sun Belt. It will be a troubling sign if New Mexico State struggles with FBS newcomers like Georgia State and Georgia Southern.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#102 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

NATIONAL FORECAST

#102

American Athletic PREDICTION

#11

HEAD COACH: Bill Blankenship, 22-17 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Denver Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Guy

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. 102 Tulsa.

Previewing Tulsa’s Offense for 2014

Tulsa’s football program took a huge step backward in 2013, with offense the main culprit. The Golden Hurricane scored more than 30 points only twice en route to a 3–9 season. In 2012, when Tulsa captured the Conference USA championship and a Liberty Bowl victory, the offense surpassed that mark eight times.

“We have to be more physical and simply get more production on offense,” fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship says.

Part-time starting quarterback Dane Evans gets the first opportunity to guide the unit. Evans started five games last season and completed only 84-of-195 passes for 898 yards. He had four touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions. He is expected to get pressed by Joseph Calcagni and true freshman Jabe Burgess.

Tulsa has had stability at running back since 2005, but that changes as the Hurricane must replace Trey Watts, who finished with 3,515 career yards, and backup Ja’Terian Douglas. A pair of sophomores will get close looks. James Flanders only had two carries last season but enters fall camp atop the depth chart. He is expected to be challenged by highly touted junior college transfer Tavarreon Dickerson.

Keyarris Garrett, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second game last year, is expected to anchor the wide receiver position. Garrett had 67 catches for 845 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. Talented sophomore Keevan Lucas (32 catches, 442 yards, one TD) returns. Look for Derek Patterson and Zach Epps to contribute as well.

The offensive line, so inexperienced last season, is looking for improvement. Garrett Stafford (left tackle), Dylan Foxworth (center) and Davis Walton (right tackle) will form the unit’s nucleus.

Previewing Tulsa’s Defense for 2014

Nine starters return for the Hurricane, but the one who doesn’t is C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Shawn Jackson. “He is one of the greatest players we’ve had here, but we have 10 other spots where we are returning depth and not just individual starters,” Blankenship says. “The secondary has a chance to be special.”

Tulsa traditionally has fought a numbers game on the defensive line, but Blankenship should be able to rotate more players at the position this season. Defensive ends Derrick Alexander (team-high 6.5 sacks) and Chris Hummingbird (three sacks) should provide a steady pass rush, while Derrick Luetjen (49 tackles) has proven himself a run-stopper on the line.

Many different faces could get looks at linebacker. Trent Martin, who played in only five games last year, will be expected to provide leadership. Mitchell Osborne had 83 tackles last year, and Donnell Hawkins added 50 stops.

The secondary will be highlighted by the return of free safety Demarco Nelson, who sat out 2013 to focus on academics. Nelson, a preseason first-team All-C-USA pick last year, has 239 career tackles and eight interceptions. Strong safety Michael Mudoh had a team-high 133 tackles. 

Previewing Tulsa’s Specialists for 2014

Carl Salazar solved Tulsa’s two-year search for a placekicker by connecting on 16-of-19 field-goal attempts last season, including an early season game-winner at Colorado State. Dalton Parks will return for punting duties.

Final Analysis

Tulsa won a conference championship in 2012 and finished with only three victories in 2013, the lowest total since a one-win campaign in 2002. TU will try to regroup in its inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. The defense should be improved, but there are concerns on offense, especially at quarterback. Tulsa appears headed toward a second straight losing season.




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