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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#48 Maryland Terrapins

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

Big Ten East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Randy Edsall, 13-24 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Locksley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Stewart

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. 48 Maryland.

Previewing Maryland’s Offense for 2014:

The Big Ten’s new kid on the block has the potential to be potent offensively if it can get healthy. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown became the first Terrapin to ever pass for 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 in a single season, but his physical style makes him prone to injury, particularly behind an unproven offensive line still hoping to add pieces this summer.

But what Brown can do for you, besides make chunk-yardage plays on the ground, is get the ball to two talented targets, speedsters Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both back from broken legs. Their return should make the Terps better on third down — where they converted just 32 percent of the time (114th nationally) in 2013 — and make Maryland a quick-strike team in a pound-on-the-ground league.

The return of sophomore tailback Wes Brown from suspension improves a running back-by-committee that boasts Brandon Ross and his 776 rushing yards last year. C.J. Brown and Diggs, who will get the ball in a variety of ways in multiple receiver formations, are the main threats, though.

Previewing Maryland’s Defense for 2014:

The Terrapins should be stout on the defensive line with nose tackle Darius Kilgo flanked by sack-machine Andre Monroe and quick Quinton Jefferson. There’s some depth, too, behind them, particularly in the middle with Keith Bowers and Nate Clarke.

Seniors Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree both return at inside linebacker, and they can locate and discombobulate runners with the best of them. Farrand was honorable mention All-ACC and second on the team with 84 tackles (7.6 per game) despite an array of nagging injuries. On the outside, Matt Robinson is a stud in pass coverage just like a former safety should be. Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil was on his way to a monster year terrorizing quarterbacks when a pectoral injury knocked him out of the last seven games.

Jeremiah Johnson is back from a toe injury that took him out of all but two games, and he’s a lockdown corner. Fearless 5'7" sophomore William Likely returns at the field corner. Better play from veteran safeties Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon will help, too.

Previewing Maryland’s Specialists for 2014: 

The special teams were markedly improved last year under coordinator Andre Powell. When Diggs went down and the Terps lost his 23.4 yards per kickoff return, Likely stepped in and averaged 26.0 yards. He had a punt return TD at Virginia Tech. Brad Craddock bounced back from an erratic freshman year to hit 21-of-25 field goals, 20-of-22 inside 50 yards. His 1.62 field goals per game led the ACC. Punter Nathan Renfro had a 40.8-yard average but has been inconsistent and had a rocky spring.

Final Analysis

There’s some talent in tow as Maryland makes the big move to the Big Ten, but there are also questions. After winning seven games last season, fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is still trying to get some traction while he continues to get players out of traction. The team’s top three receivers all return from injuries, and several defensive stalwarts are coming back from offseason surgery. If everyone’s healthy, Edsall has a team that could be explosive on offense (pending the play of the team’s biggest question mark, a makeshift offensive line). And the defense, with nine starters back, should be solid.

But how will a middlin’ (7–6 overall, 3–5 in conference) ACC team fare in the Big Ten? It’s one of this season’s most intriguing questions and one that Edsall’s most veteran Terrapin team — 87 percent of last year’s late-season two-deep returns — is anxious to answer.

“We’ll be ready,” C.J. Brown says.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#46 Boise State Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#46

MW Mountain Division PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Bryan Harsin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Sanford | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marcel Yates

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. 46 Boise State.

Previewing Boise State’s Offense for 2014:

New coach Bryan Harsin, the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 2006-10, and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, a former Boise State quarterback and Stanford assistant, hope to revive an offense that was one of college football’s signature units for a decade. The Broncos tumbled to 54th in the nation in scoring (30.2 ppg) in 2012, when they failed to score an offensive touchdown twice, and improved to 19th (37.5 ppg) in 2013, when they still struggled mightily against quality defenses.

Senior quarterback Grant Hedrick is the starter after taking the vast majority of snaps in the last seven games last season. He produced 22 total touchdowns but also nine turnovers.

He is surrounded by three dynamic playmakers who need some help to emerge in fall camp. Junior tailback Jay Ajayi rushed for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns last season; senior wide receiver Matt Miller is on pace to break the school record for career receptions and finished last season on a crazy roll (636 yards, 10 TDs in five games); and junior wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes is a slippery 5'6" dynamo. Harsin and Sanford expect to bring the tight end back to its former glory in the Broncos’ offense, and their leading candidate is redshirt freshman Jake Roh, a spring standout.

The offensive line is a major question mark. Two starters return but have changed positions — junior Marcus Henry from guard to center and junior Rees Odhiambo from right tackle to left tackle. The other three starters likely will come from the freshman and sophomore classes.

Previewing Boise State’s Defense for 2014:

The Broncos’ usually dominant defense also fell on hard times last year, particularly on the road. They allowed at least 30 points in five of six road games.

The pass defense, which ranked in the top five nationally in efficiency in three of the previous five seasons, plummeted to 88th. Marcel Yates, the defensive backs coach from 2006-11, arrives as the coordinator after two years as the co-coordinator at Texas A&M.
Six starters on the back end return. Linebackers Ben Weaver and Tanner Vallejo combined for 140 tackles last season as freshmen despite not playing full seasons. Junior cornerback Donte Deayon, who intercepted six passes, and senior safety Jeremy Ioane, who made 59 tackles, were All-Mountain West second-teamers. Corey Bell could be the X-factor — he was the second-leading tackler as a linebacker last year but moves to a safety-like nickel role this year.

The defensive line has quality front-line talent — sophomore ends Gabe Perez and Kamalei Correa and junior tackle Armand Nance are up-and-comers — but lacks depth. Junior college transfers Antoine Turner and Rondell McNair and true freshman Dereck Boles need to contribute.

Previewing Boise State’s Specialists for 2014:

Kicker Dan Goodale missed only two field-goal attempts last season, but one was a potential game-winner at the end of regulation before the Broncos lost in overtime at San Diego State. That loss cost them a spot in the Mountain West title game. Punter Sean Wale needs to level his play. Kickoff returner Bryan Douglas and punt returner Williams-Rhodes are weapons.

Final Analysis 

Coming off an 8–5 season — the Broncos’ worst since 1998 — there is hope for a quick turnaround with an experienced roster and a new energy created by the coaching change. The schedule sets up well with Fresno State, San Diego State and = Utah State set to visit Boise, but the Broncos will count largely on the same players who failed to win the Mountain West Mountain Division last year. They need Hedrick and the veteran defenders to make noticeable leaps and that young offensive line to jell quickly — particularly if they hope to impress a national audience in the made-for-TV opener against Ole Miss in Atlanta.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#43 Cincinnati Bearcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

American Athletic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville, 9-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eddie Gran | DEF. COORDINATOR: Hank Hughes, Robert Prunty

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. 43 Cincinnati.

Previewing Cincinnati's Offense for 2014:


Gunner Kiel was rated the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect while in high school, and the Notre Dame transfer is expected to be the Cincinnati starter this season.

Kiel sat out 2013 as a transfer and has three years of eligibility remaining. Scouts like Kiel’s big arm, precision and mobility. He shows a nice touch on the deep ball but needs to improve while throwing on the run. Kiel will be challenged in camp by junior college transfer Jarred Evans. Former starting quarterback Munchie Legaux returns for a fifth season after tearing knee ligaments in 2013, and anything he contributes would be a bonus.
UC returns its top three rushers in seniors Hosey Williams and Ralph David Abernathy IV and junior Tion Green. Abernathy is too small (5'7", 161) to be an every-down back, so he also worked at slot receiver in the spring.

Shaq Washington, a senior who had a team-high 78 receptions last season, headlines what should be a strong corps of wide receivers. Junior Chris Moore is among several returning wideouts, and highly regarded junior college transfer Casey Gladney enters the mix.

Left tackle Eric Lefeld was a unanimous first-team All-AAC choice last year. Center Deyshawn Bond and Parker Ehinger also are returning starters, with Ehinger moving from right tackle to right guard.

Previewing Cincinnati's Defense for 2014:

The Bearcats finished No. 9 nationally in total defense (315.6 ypg), but head coach Tommy Tuberville did not retain defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. Tuberville wanted to upgrade recruiting and hire coaches with more regional connections, so he tapped former Connecticut coordinator Hank Hughes to run the defense. Hughes will retain the 4-3 front that UC played last year.

Linebackers Nick Temple and Jeff Luc, defensive end Silverberry Mouhon (9.5 sacks), safety Zach Edwards and cornerback Howard Wilder are among key returnees. Mouhon became a real force last year. His brother, true freshman linebacker Kevin Mouhon, is the Bearcats’ highest-rated 2014 recruit.

Linebacker is again a strength, with Northwestern transfer Eric Wilson joining Temple and Luc in the starting lineup. Luc, who began his career at Florida State, shifts inside to middle linebacker.

Gone are defensive tackle Jordan Stepp, linebacker Greg Blair and cornerback Deven Drane, who each earned all-league honors in ’13.

Tuberville favors speed over size, and he says the Bearcats have more speed this year. UC compiled good defensive stats against relatively mild AAC opposition, but the speed issue was a problem in blowout losses to Illinois and North Carolina.

Previewing Cincinnati's Specialists for 2014:

Special teams were a disaster in 2013. Veteran placekicker Tony Miliano slumped to 7-for-17 on field goals after hitting 34-of-47 in his first two seasons. UC ranked No. 121 nationally in net punting (33.0), had a long kickoff return of only 38 yards and a long punt return of only 35 yards. The punt return team allowed a TD in the Belk Bowl. There is a new special teams coach, however, with former grad assistant Marc Nudelberg.

Final Analysis 

Much depends on the development of Kiel at quarterback. Kiel has the physical tools and has been a commanding presence at practice, but the test will be how he handles inevitable on-field adversity. UC started slowly last year (3–2) as the players adjusted to Tuberville and his staff. The coaches are entrenched now, but the lack of quarterback experience is an issue.

The non-league schedule includes trips to Ohio State and Miami (Fla.), but the Bearcats should contend for another upper-echelon finish in the AAC. With talent at the skill positions and improved speed on defense, a fourth consecutive bowl game seems reasonable.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#41 Texas Tech Red Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#41

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Kliff Kingsbury, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Smith, Matt Wallerstedt

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. 41 Texas Tech.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense:

With both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield transferring, it’s quarterback Davis Webb’s time to shine at Texas Tech. He had a huge performance in the Holiday Bowl against a stout Arizona State defense, and he’s established himself as the program’s quarterback of the future. The sophomore from Prosper, Texas, looked poised and confident in the spring, cementing his place as the alpha male on offense. Webb has also gained about 20 pounds since the end of last season, and it’s helped add noticeable zip to his throws.

Things look to be improved on the offensive line in 2014 as well, as the Red Raiders will return essentially four of their five starters in the trenches, including All-Big 12 tackle Le’Raven Clark. On top of that, the Raiders will add two junior college transfers — Dominique Robertson and Shaquille Davis — who could play their way into the starting lineup.

Kenny Williams, who rushed for a team-high 497 yards in 2013, was moved to defense in the spring, making junior DeAndre Washington the favorite to start at tailback. True freshman Justin Stockton will contribute right away.

Outside receiver Eric Ward and tight end Jace Amaro leave big holes in the receiving corps from last fall, and a few young stars are looking to fill their shoes. Bradley Marquez has been moved inside to Y — where Amaro caught over 100 passes last year — and sophomore Reginald Davis looks to be a burgeoning star on the outside at the Z spot.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
A number of starting defenders have graduated, and an influx of junior college talent is looking to play immediately on the line and in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Keland McElrath has already arrived on campus, and three more junior college transfers will arrive in June. These newcomers will add size to the line as well — their average weight is just over 300 pounds. That’s a marked improvement from last year, and defensive co-coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is hoping it will help shore up a run defense that allowed 228.4 rushing yards per game in conference play.

Senior inside linebacker V.J. Fehoko, a transfer from Utah, impressed in the spring, and he established himself as an emotional leader on defense in quick fashion. Williams’ move from running back to outside linebacker has been smooth, and it appears that the senior has filled an important need for 2014.

Cornerback Justis Nelson and safety J.J. Gaines are proven players, but questions remain at the other two spots in the secondary. Jalen Barnes, Keenon Ward and junior college transfer Josh Keys will fight to start at the other safety spot, while Thierry Nguema, Tyler Middleton, and La’Darius Newbold battle it out at corner.

Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists for 2014: 

Kicker Ryan Bustin will return for his final year on the South Plains, and he’s looking to improve on a fantastic junior season in which he broke Tech’s single-season kicking record with 23 field goals (in 27 attempts). Taylor Symmank will take over punting duties this fall, and the junior impressed with his distance during the spring.

Final Analysis 

Overall, the Red Raider offense looks to be a better unit in 2014, as Webb looks much improved. The offensive line will likely be much better and deeper as well, which likely will result in improved numbers in the ground game. On defense, it’s still a bit of a mystery, as the Red Raider coaching staff will have to wait until fall camp to see the revamped defensive line — heavy with junior college transfers — in action. If these players do live up to their hype, things could be looking up on defense, and overall, for Texas Tech in 2014.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#51 Northwestern Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#51

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 55-46 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz

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. 51 Northwestern.

 

Previewing Northwestern’s Offense for 2014: 

 

After two years with a two-quarterback system and a run-oriented attack, Northwestern likely will return to its pass-first roots under coordinator Mick McCall. Trevor Siemian put to rest any questions about a quarterback competition with an impressive spring. He boasts a plus arm and has been productive when healthy.

 

If protected, Siemian should capitalize on Northwestern’s depth at the wide receiver and superback (tight end/H-back) positions. Veterans Tony Jones and Christian Jones return at wideout, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler is a prototype slot receiver who can stretch defenses with his speed. Kyle Prater is finally healthy and provides size on the perimeter, and top superback Dan Vitale has star potential after recording 62 receptions in his first two seasons.

 

Although the offense should have a passing lean, it also looks strong at running back, especially with Venric Mark returning after an injury-plagued 2013 season. Mark eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards in 2012, and despite his size provides a between-the-tackles threat. Treyvon Green is a solid backup, and Warren Long and Stephen Buckley both will push for carries.

 

The depth at the skill positions won’t matter if the line doesn’t dramatically improve. Competition ramped up at several positions in the spring. Other than center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen, no spot is safe. Northwestern had its lowest third-down conversion percentage (39.9) since 2006 and must get back to moving the chains.

 

Previewing Northwestern’s Defense for 2014: 

 

Seven starters return on a unit that repeatedly put Northwestern in position to win last season. “We were five plays away from winning five more games,” coordinator Mike Hankwitz says. “We’ve just got to make those plays.” Takeaways could be a hallmark for the defense, especially a secondary featuring more depth than any in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure. Senior safety Ibraheim Campbell is the headliner of the secondary, but Northwestern will be able to go two or three deep at every position as several redshirt freshmen, including safeties Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro, enter the mix.

 

Two veteran playmakers return at linebacker in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who has moved from the strong side to the middle. They combined for seven interceptions and 184 tackles last season.

 

Offseason surgeries hit the defensive line hard, creating some question marks entering the fall. The pass rush should be strong with ends Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Defensive tackle was a weak point a year ago, and Northwestern needs Sean McEvilly to stay healthy and C.J. Robbins to build on his strong finish. Opponents ran at the middle of the Wildcats’ defense too easily in 2013.

 

Previewing Northwestern’s Specialists for 2014:

 

The Wildcats lose a huge piece in the kicking game in Jeff Budzien, the Big Ten’s top placekicker each of the past two years, but they also regain a weapon in Mark, an All-America punt returner in 2012. Northwestern needs Arthur Omilian or Hunter Niswander to show poise and Chris Gradone to stabilize a shaky punting situation.

 

Final Analysis

 

The good vibes accompanying Northwestern for much of Fitzgerald’s tenure vanished after the program’s first bowl-less season since 2007, but Northwestern returns a roster strong enough to return to the postseason and play spoiler in a wide-open Big Ten West. The offense finally has a quarterback and an identity, but questions remain up front. The defense is still reliant on takeaways but boasts good depth throughout the unit.

 

Northwestern plays Notre Dame, Northern Illinois and Cal in non-league play but misses both Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Wildcats should return to the postseason in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#30 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#30

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Al Golden , 22-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

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. 30, the Miami Hurricanes. 

Previewing Miami's Offense for 2014:

Coordinator James Coley’s fast-paced attack averaged 33.8 points and 425.8 yards per game in 2013, but with quarterback Stephen Morris graduating and heir apparent Ryan Williams unlikely to be ready after undergoing April knee surgery, this group has some challenges.

Quarterback Kevin Olsen is working to hold off Gray Crow and freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier, but Olsen has no game experience and some accuracy issues. There are some major playmakers at running back and receiver. Lining up in the backfield is one of the nation’s most talented backs, first-team All-ACC pick and All-America candidate Duke Johnson. He’s recovered from a broken ankle suffered in game eight last year and is looking to build on a season in which he averaged 174 all-purpose yards per game. He’ll run behind a solid line that returns three starters, including NFL prospect Ereck Flowers.

At receiver, Allen Hurns is gone after setting a school record with 1,162 yards, and it may be more of a receiver-by-committee approach. But if someone is going to fill Hurns’ shoes it will likely be Stacy Coley, who showed game-breaking speed as a freshman with 591 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. There’s solid depth here with Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters, and tight end Clive Walford is a big target down the middle of the field. Walford was second on the team with 34 receptions last season. This should be one of the ACC’s more talented group of pass-catchers.

Previewing Miami's Defense for 2014:

Miami must improve dramatically on defense after ranking 13th in the ACC last season, allowing 426.4 yards per game. The Canes struggled to get to the quarterback and had trouble stopping the run — not a good combination.

There are decent playmakers on the defensive line in end Anthony Chickillo and tackle Olsen Pierre, but there isn’t anyone here who commands a double-team. Look for five-star signee Chad Thomas and junior college arrival Michael Wyche to make immediate impacts up front.

At linebacker, Denzel Perryman ranked fifth in the ACC with 108 tackles, and he’s moving from outside to the middle. The coaches had high hopes for Alex Figueroa, but the sophomore linebacker was dismissed from the team in July.

The secondary is a solid group led by shutdown corner Tracy Howard and his team-high four interceptions. On the other side, Ladarius Gunter has 17 career starts on his résumé. At safety there’s starting experience with Rayshawn Jenkins and Deon Bush. If the line gets pressure, the defensive backs should hold up long enough to make their share of plays.

Previewing Miami's Specialists for 2014:

The Canes have to replace punter Pat O’Donnell, who ranked second in the nation with a 47.1-yard average in his only season at Miami. Placekicker Matt Goudis may handle both roles even though he says he prefers not to punt. Goudis showed off a strong leg on field goals last season, making 13-of-17 attempts with a long of 49 yards. The return game will be a strength, as the team ranked No. 2 in the ACC in kick returns (25.1 ypr) and No. 4 in punt returns (11.3 ypr). 

Final Analysis

Ten wins were once the norm at Miami, and now it’s a place to set the bar for 2014. The last time UM reached double-digit victories was 2003, and the only way it happens this year is with an improved defense and solid quarterback play. Certainly the pieces are in place on offense for an explosive group, but new faces on both sides of the ball need to make significant impacts for Al Golden’s team to reach its goals.




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