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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#112 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#112

C-USA West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Skip Holtz, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Petersen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz

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. 112 Louisiana Tech.

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Offense for 2014:

When you go from scoring 51 points per game one season to 19 points the next, you know you’ve got some issues. Louisiana Tech knew it would take a step back in 2013 after the departures of quarterback Colby Cameron and other experienced players on offense. But to have the production cut so dramatically in Skip Holtz’s first season was definitely cause for concern.

It starts at quarterback. Ryan Higgins and Scotty Young shared the position in 2013, essentially replacing each other every time one was injured. Young, who began his career at Texas Tech, left the program after spring, leaving Higgins to battle Iowa transfer Cody Sokol for the starting assignment in the fall. Sokol, a former junior college transfer, did not attempt a pass during his time at Iowa.

There is plenty of talent at running back, with Kenneth Dixon starting and the explosive Tevin King spelling him for carries. Knee injuries cut into Dixon’s sophomore production after he racked up an amazing 28 total touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. The offensive line was a major weakness last season, and with two starters gone, it’s a question mark heading into the 2014 season.

In Tech’s four-receiver set, LSU transfer Paul Turner is expected to provide a spark on the outside after sitting out last season. Inside receivers Hunter Lee and Trent Taylor combined for 44 catches in 2013.

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

Three new defensive coaches were added in the offseason, including coordinator Manny Diaz, who most recently had the same position at Texas. Diaz will have six returning starters to work with on a unit that gave up 408.3 yards and 26.3 points per game.

The defensive line lost three starters, but the Bulldogs used an eight-man rotation, so there is experience up front. End Vontarrius Dora was part of the first unit a year ago, and Vernon Butler is a potential all-league candidate at defensive tackle. The Bulldogs added an intriguing piece after spring practice when Houston Bates, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick while at Illinois in 2013, announced he was transferring to Tech for his final season. He is a hybrid end/linebacker who can get after the quarterback.

Louisiana Tech will likely use a 4-3-4 set this season after going 4-2-5 in 2013. Mitch Villemez was third in tackles and forced three fumbles, starting all 12 games. Beau Fitte is a candidate to break out this season after recording a sack and two interceptions in a reserve role as a sophomore.

The Bulldogs’ secondary should be a position of strength. Five players who started last year are back, led by potential all-league picks Adairius Barnes (corner) and Xavier Woods (safety). Woods, who started 10 games as a true freshmen, moves to nickel when the Bulldogs go with five defensive backs.

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

Both kicker Kyle Fischer and punter Logan McPherson will resume their duties. Fischer was 4-for-6 from beyond 40 and made 12 of his last 13 field goals after an early-season slump. McPherson averaged a C-USA-low 38.0 yards per punt. Lee is expected to take over for Lyle Fitte as the Bulldogs’ primary kickoff returner. He averaged 22.2 yards on five returns in 2013.

Final Analysis 

It was a rough first season for Holtz, and Year 2 may be a struggle as well. Four of the first five games are on the road, including trips to Oklahoma and Auburn. For Louisiana Tech to improve, the quarterback situation needs to sort itself out, and the offensive line has to provide more help for the talented running back tandem of Dixon and King. The defense has a chance to be decent if the front four can get stronger against the run. Bowl eligibility would be a significant step forward for Holtz and the Bulldogs.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#110 ULM Warhawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#110

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Todd Berry, 23-26 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Farmer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Troy Reffett

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. 110 Louisiana-Monroe. 

Previewing ULM’s Offense for 2014

The Kolton Browning era is over at ULM. The four-year starting quarterback racked up nearly 12,000 yards of total offense and 99 total TDs before graduating last season. His vacant role is open to four contenders, likely led by NC State transfer Pete Thomas. Brayle Brown — the only returning QB who took a snap at ULM last year — Earnest Carrington and Brian Williams could also get their shot, but Thomas is the favorite to win the job in preseason camp.

A California native, Thomas started for two years at Colorado State (2010-11) and one season at NC State (’13). He struggled in his one season with the Wolfpack (throwing four touchdowns and nine interceptions for a team that went winlesss in the ACC) and then transferred when it was apparent that Jacoby Brissett was going to win the job going forward.

Speedster Tyler Cain is back from a 2013 injury to join returning bruiser Centarius Donald (433 yards, four TDs) for a one-two punch in the backfield, and a physical, veteran line of four seniors and one junior should turn the offense to a more run-heavy style. Leading wideout Rashon Ceaser (65 receptions, 964 yards) paces a solid receiving corps, but talented tight ends Alec Osborne and Harley Scioneaux may provide the most security for the new quarterback.

Previewing ULM’s Defense for 2014

The group has come of age, with nine starters returning. Five of the top six defensive linemen are juniors or seniors, all three starting linebackers are upperclassmen and four starting defensive backs return. “We have been young on defense the last couple of years, but this year we are older and more confident,” Berry says. “This is the first year that we have had enough depth that our 3s (third-string players) are competitive.”

Despite the optimism and apparent depth, ULM must replace top tackler and defensive leader Cameron Blakes at linebacker, and the Warhawks need a more potent pass rush after last season’s team recorded only 16 sacks.

ULM is at least more athletic than past years. Nose tackle Gerrand Johnson and linebackers Ray Stovall and Hunter Kissinger should make the Warhawks strong against the run, but there are questions of consistency against the pass. Junior Mitch Lane, playing the pivotal Hawk position in ULM’s 3-3-5 scheme, needs a big year to bolster the secondary.

Previewing ULM’s Specialists for 2014

Justin Manton had the nation’s fourth-longest punting average (45.8) last season, but his placekicking has been a mere 50-50 proposition. The senior has made only 16-of-32 field goals in his career, and he has had a combined nine kicks/punts blocked over three seasons. Ceaser is a dangerous punt returner.

Final Analysis

As usual, ULM has a challenging non-conference schedule with games against Wake Forest, LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M. That makes it even tougher to get one of the Sun Belt Conference’s limited bowl slots, as its 6–6 record last season did not land a bid.

“We have got to schedule like that every year from a financial standpoint, so our players are all acclimated to those type of challenges,” Berry says. “It can have an impact with the bowl tie-ins in our conference because of your overall record.”
ULM will have more experience than the majority of its opponents, but a lot rests on the performance of the starting quarterback, especially since Browning provided the team’s identity for so long. Berry’s teams have often overachieved, but with four new Sun Belt members it’s difficult to figure where the Warhawks should rank in the new lineup.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#108 Troy Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#108

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Larry Blakeney, 175-104-1 | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wayne Bolt

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. 108 Troy.

Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2014

The Trojans are solid and experienced on offense — except at the trigger, where that vital role falls to one of several unknown quantities. Corey Robinson, one of four players in NCAA history with four 3,000-yard passing seasons, could be replaced by returning third-teamer Dallas Tidwell (19 pass attempts in two seasons) or redshirt freshman Brandon Silvers. Troy also signed junior college transfers Dontreal Pruitt and Connor Bravard in January. The position remains up for grabs heading into preseason camp.

Whoever winds up at quarterback will be surrounded by skilled veterans from the Sun Belt’s top scoring team in 2013. Junior Brandon Burks ran for 675 yards and sophomore Jordan Chunn for 514 last year, with Chunn finding the end zone 14 times to lead the nation’s freshman running backs.

Even though Sun Belt career touchdown catch leader Eric Thomas is gone, the wide receiver group boasts big numbers. Junior Bryan Holmes tied for third nationally with five catches of more than 50 yards to go with seven scores. Senior B.J. Chitty split time with Holmes in the spring and has 59 career grabs.

Speedy senior Chandler Worthy moves from an inside slot to the outside after catching two touchdown passes last year, and K.D. Edenfield, son of offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield, takes over at one inside slot.

The Trojans’ deepest position offensively is up front, even though the three returning starters were sidelined with injuries for spring drills. All-Sun Belt right tackle Terrence Jones anchors the group. Dalton Bennett played right guard and left tackle last year but is in a battle with Caleb Carbine at center. Troy, which gets a boost from Ole Miss transfer Ethan Hutson at guard, allowed only 19 sacks on 483 pass attempts last season.

Previewing Troy’s Defense for 2014

As potent as Troy’s offense was, its defense was just as porous last season. The Trojans were last in the league in total defense (483.2 ypg) and scoring defense (35.9 ppg), and now they have to replace three of their starting front four. Only junior end Tyler Roberts, who led the down linemen in tackles and had 5.5 sacks, returns. In search of immediate help, the staff signed four junior college defensive linemen in February.

The outlook is better behind that group, with senior starters Mark Wilson and Wayland Coleman-Dancer back at the two linebacker slots. Wilson has 16 starts in two seasons and 102 career tackles.

Troy’s secondary had only six interceptions as a group last season while allowing 313.6 pass yards per game, and that unit needs improvement from cornerbacks Ethan Davis, Chris Davis and Keion Payne after they combined to start 24 games last year. Veteran Jeremy Spikner returns at nickel back, but the safeties will be untested.

Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2014

Graduated Will Scott handled punting and kicking last year. Those tasks now fall to sophomore punter Ryan Kay and junior placekicker Jed Solomon. Holmes, who averaged 20.6 yards after taking over as punt returner in the final four games, is a threat at both return positions.

Final Analysis

Troy’s offense kept things close last season — the Trojans lost 41–36 and 41–34 to Sun Belt co-champions UL Lafayette and Arkansas State, respectively — but the defense couldn’t get key stops in a 6–6 season. Troy’s three straight non-winning seasons are a first in revered coach Larry Blakeney’s 24-year career, and the weight of snapping that streak falls on the shoulders of untested quarterbacks. The Trojans loaded up on junior college talent to shore up the defense, but that group’s ability to mesh and finding a leader for a potentially dangerous offense remain huge questions.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#106 New Mexico Lobos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#106

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Bob Davie, 7-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob DeBesse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Cosgrove

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. 106 New Mexico.

Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2014

For a team that ran the ball 77 percent of the time in 2013, losing your No. 1 running back is probably not a good thing. But New Mexico remains confident that its triple-option attack out of the Pistol formation will remain potent even without Kasey Carrier, who averaged 1,296 rushing yards the last two seasons. The Lobos’ top returning rusher, Crusoe Gongbay, is facing some legal issues that could jeopardize his senior season. If he’s not available, Jhurell Pressley, one of the team’s fastest players, and Teriyon Gipson will battle in preseason camp for the starting assignment. Pressley averaged 9.4 yards per carry in limited action in 2013.

At quarterback, option specialist Cole Gautsche is back with hopes of improving his 44.9 percent completion percentage. Gautsche is a powerful runner who racked up 86.3 yards per game and ran for eight touchdowns, but he has had some concussion issues. Senior Clayton Mitchem subbed for Gautsche when Gautsche was hurt or the option was being stifled last year and had a much better completion percentage (59.3 percent). Mitchem, however, is not as much of a threat to run.

Three starters return on the offensive line, and center Garrett Adcock, who started eight games in 2012, is back from injury. Optimism is high that the Lobos’ strong option attack, which was fourth nationally and first in the Mountain West at 308.8 rushing yards per game, will remain potent.

Six of New Mexico’s top seven pass-catchers return, with Marquis Bundy the top candidate to have a breakout season.

Previewing New Mexico’s Defense for 2014

It was no secret that the focus of the spring was improving a defense that was shredded for 42.8 points per game and gave up 56 or more three times. Coach Bob Davie promoted Kevin Cosgrove as his new coordinator and brought in two new assistants on the defensive side of the ball. Six starters return in the 3-4 scheme, including virtually the entire secondary.

Along the defensive line, senior end Brett Bowers is an all-league candidate after making six sacks. The Lobos are bringing in three run-stuffing junior college defensive tackles to help a defense that surrendered 257.2 yards per game on the ground.

Dakota Cox is back at inside linebacker after leading the team in tackles as a true freshman, and on the outside Javarie Johnson, Donnie White and Tevin Newman showed flashes in 2013.

The secondary hopes to cut down the number of long scoring passes (New Mexico gave up 10 TD receptions of 30-plus yards in 2013). Senior David Guthrie, the team’s third-leading tackler, is trying to play a more aggressive style from his strong safety spot. SaQwan Edwards, a returning starter at cornerback, was suspended from the team in April. His loss would be a big blow for the defense.

Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2014

With both kickers gone, Davie signed Jason Sanders to possibly take over both jobs in the fall. Sanders averaged 45 yards per punt and made 7-of-12 field goals as a high school senior. Zack Rogers (kicker) and Sam Gentry (punter) also got looks in spring practice. Wide receiver Carlos Wiggins led the nation with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and was sixth nationally with a 29.6-yard average.

Final Analysis

Davie has seen mild progress with seven wins in his first two years after taking over a program that went 3–33 in the previous three years. But he and his coaching staff know that there is a long way to go for the Lobos to compete in the upper half of the Mountain West. The offense should again be above average. The relative success of 2014 will be determined by what type of progress the defense can make.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#105 Air Force Falcons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#105

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Troy Calhoun, 49-41 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clay Hendrix | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Russ

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. 105 Air Force.

Previewing Air Force’s offense for 2014

Nate Romine directed a diverse offense last season, at least by Air Force standards. Romine is the rare Falcons quarterback who is a better passer than runner. The Falcons went to six straight bowl games with a run-oriented offense. They stayed home last season with a 2–10 record employing their more diverse attack.

Coach Troy Calhoun faces a complicated decision for 2014. Does he go with Romine, the superior passer, or Kale Pearson, the superior runner? A run-first attack will keep opposing offenses off the field. The struggle between Romine and Pearson will define the season. Pearson is returning from a surgically repaired right knee, but he’s such a gifted runner that he might return kickoffs if he fails to win the starting quarterback job.

Senior tailback Jon Lee has long been a can’t-miss future star for the Falcons. He boasts sprinter’s speed and strength, and he’s elusive in the open field. But nagging ankle and elbow injuries might prevent Lee from reaching his considerable potential. Broam Hart, who played fullback last season, could switch to tailback while Lee watches, yet again, from the bench.

Under assistant coach Clay Hendrix’s direction, the Falcons’ offensive line consistently ranks as one of the nation’s most athletic. Air Force linemen are often seen decking defenders 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Center Michael Husar leads what could be a dominating unit.

When watching wide receiver Jalen Robinette, the question arises: Why did this big, fast, gifted pass-catcher decide to play for a running team? If Romine wins the quarterback job, Robinette will become one of the Mountain West’s most dangerous receivers. Sam Gagliano could serve as an effective sidekick to Robinette but must solve his habit of dropping passes.

Previewing Air Force’s defense for 2014

The Falcons return seven defensive starters, but here’s the key question of the 2014 season: Is that good news? Air Force’s defense was comically inept last season, surrendering averages of 40.0 points and 490.3 yards of total offense per game.

There is hope. Joey Nichol, if healthy, and Spencer Proctor lead an aggressive group of linebackers, and Weston Steelhammer, Christian Spears and Dexter Walker bring attitude at safety.

The Falcons need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. No one on the Falcons’ defensive front weighs more than 265 pounds. Air Force employed three down linemen during most of last season but tinkered with formations in the offseason. The Falcons could surprise opponents with a 2-5 alignment in the fall.

Previewing Air Force’s specialists for 2014

Will Conant owns an accurate (11-of-13 last season) and powerful leg. He should rank among the Mountain West’s top placekickers. The punting job is wide open.

Final Analysis

Calhoun arrived in 2007 to rescue a program that struggled in the final years of Fisher DeBerry’s guidance. He revived the Falcons with players recruited by DeBerry, but the program has gradually regressed with players recruited by Calhoun, who has lost 14 of his last 17 games. Lack of talent and size were the glaring problems last season. The 2014 team is more experienced but still lacks the talent to thrive in the Mountain West. Calhoun needs the running attack to dominate once again. Pearson runs with the speed and elusiveness of a tailback, and he’s capable of leading the Air Force offense — which ranked last in the Mountain West last season in yards per game — back to prominence.

However, for this team to flirt with a winning record, the defense — which gave up an astounding 51 touchdowns in eight Mountain West games — must show significant improvement.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#104 Buffalo Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#104

MAC East PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Jeff Quinn, 17-32 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Alex Wood | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lou Tepper

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. 104 Buffalo Bulls.

Previewing Buffalo’s Offense in 2014

The Bulls lost two of the most productive players in school history in tailback Branden Oliver and wide receiver Alex Neutz but return junior quarterback Joe Licata. A local product, Licata threw for 2,824 yards and 24 touchdowns — one shy of the single-season school record — while completing 58 percent of his passes. Licata missed spring practice while recovering from hip surgery, which allowed backup Tony Daniel to get the majority of the snaps.

With Oliver gone, junior Anthone Taylor, who rushed for 399 yards and three touchdowns, becomes the centerpiece of the running game. Junior Devin Campbell moves from slot receiver back to his natural position at tailback, where he provides breakaway speed. He’ll be pushed by sophomore Jordan Johnson, a bruising back who has been slowed by injuries.

Offensive coordinator Alex Wood wants to feature more players in the passing game, so there will be opportunities for some fresh faces at wide receiver. Sophomore Boise Ross is a blur and has the ability to be a quality playmaker after showing flashes as a true freshman. The Bulls hope Devon Hughes rebounds and enjoys a strong senior season, similar to Fred Lee last year.

Licata will be well protected with all five starters returning from an offensive line that is arguably the best in the MAC. The unit is anchored by versatile senior left guard Andre Davis, a starter for 37 consecutive games.

Previewing Buffalo’s Defense in 2014

Years of solid recruiting will help Buffalo survive the sting of losing seven starters on defense. Nevertheless, you can’t lose a player like All-America linebacker Khalil Mack and not expect a significant drop-off. Also gone is four-year starter Colby Way at end. Both ends, in fact, have to be replaced, but nose guard Kristjan Sokoli, who started all 13 games last season, and linebacker Adam Redden, an All-MAC selection, return to the Bulls’ lineup. Veteran defensive coordinator Lou Tepper will lean on both Sokoli and Redden for leadership as the unit matures.

Senior linebacker Lee Skinner has started all 37 games of his career and has ranked second on the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. In the secondary, Cortney Lester enters his fourth season as a starting cornerback, while Marqus Baker will get the nod at the other corner to replace All-MAC selection Najja Johnson. Witney Sherry was sidelined with an injury last season but will likely start at free safety. Okezie Alozie ranked seventh on the team in tackles with 45 a year ago and is the favorite at strong safety.

The Bulls’ ability to remain among the MAC’s elite will largely depend on how soon a pass rush can be developed. 

Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists in 2014

Kicker Patrick Clarke made 13-of-20 field goals and 45-of-48 extra point attempts last season and enters his senior season ranked third in Buffalo history with 29 career field goals. Tyler Grassman averaged 40 yards per punt a year ago with 26 downed inside the 20. Campbell is a feared returner, and Ross has the potential to blossom into one.

Final analysis

Plenty of attention has been paid to Buffalo’s heavy losses to graduation, and perhaps deservedly so, but the return of Licata should be enough to carry the offense. It will be challenging to avoid a projected slide on defense, but a soft schedule in the early season should ease the growing pains. Four of the first five games are at home, including games with two FCS opponents in Duquesne and Norfolk State.

Bowling Green is clearly the team to beat in the MAC East, but the Bulls, if the defense comes through, will have a chance to be a factor once again in the division race.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#103 San Jose State Spartans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#103

MW West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, 6-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimmie Dougherty | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Robinson

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. 103 San Jose State.

Previewing San Jose State’s Offense for 2014

The big question heading into fall camp is who will replace record-setting David Fales — the first player in school history to pass for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons — at quarterback. Senior Blake Jurich and junior Joe Gray both backed up Fales and battled for the No. 1 job in spring practice, but coach Ron Caragher says that the competition will carry over until fall camp.

The Spartans also must replace the two top receivers statistically in school history in Chandler Jones and Noel Grigsby. Jones, a first-team All-Mountain West pick, set a school record with 15 touchdown receptions in 2013, including a single-game record-tying three in the upset of Fresno State. But the cupboard is hardly bare. Tyler Winston returns after earning Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors with 58 receptions for 858 yards and five touchdowns, and senior Jabari Carr has 120 career receptions. Tight end Billy Freeman is another weapon, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West recognition as a freshman when he caught 27 passes.

Jarrod Lawson anchors a deep group of running backs that includes fellow sophomores Thomas Tucker and Tim Crawley. The trio combined for 1,345 yards and eight touchdowns and 65 receptions and four more scores.

Center David Peterson and left tackle Wes Schweitzer return to anchor an offensive line that must replace three starters, including second-team All-Mountain West guard Nicholas Kaspar.

Previewing San Jose State’s Defense for 2014

Caragher’s biggest recruiting coup might been landing highly respected Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson will oversee the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He brings five decades of NFL and FBS coaching experience, serving as defensive coordinator for the two-time Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and Rose Bowl champion Texas Longhorns.

Robinson has four veteran defensive linemen returning, led by tackle Travis Raciti, a three-year starter who was a first-team All-WAC choice in 2012.

The Spartans must replace first-team All-Mountain West pick Keith Smith at linebacker, but they add Vince Buhagiar, who missed the 2013 season following right shoulder surgery after earning first-team All-WAC honors as a junior. Sophomore Christian Tago, who had 90 tackles (10.5 tackles for a loss) and four sacks, also returns.

The secondary loses standout cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had 14 career interceptions, but returns four players with starting experience, led by junior cornerback Jimmy Pruitt.

Previewing San Jose State’s Specialists for 2014

This area once again figures to be one of the strongest in the Mountain West. The Spartans last year shared the national lead in blocked kicks with seven. Junior kicker Austin Lopez has made 39-of-44 of his career field-goal attempts, including an NCAA-record-tying 23 in a row to start his career.

Final Analysis

The Spartans, who will be trying for their third consecutive .500 or better record for the first time since 1989-92, will enter the season with a big chip on their shoulders after getting bypassed for a bowl game despite a 6–6 record and impressive season-ending upset of then-undefeated Fresno State. Seventeen players with starting experience return, and the schedule, outside of early non-conference road games at Auburn and Minnesota, is favorable. Three of the first four Mountain West games are at home, including two against teams — UNLV and Colorado State — that San Jose State defeated on the road a year ago. If Gray or Jurich emerges as a quality option at quarterback and Robinson can fix a defense that ranked 103rd nationally in points allowed (35.1 ppg), the Spartans have enough returning talent to be a factor in the West Division.




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