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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#100 Temple Owls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#100

American Athletic PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: Matt Rhule, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Marcus Satterfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow

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. 100 Temple.

Previewing Temple’s Offense for 2014

The Owls, who’ve been looking for a long-term solution at quarterback for what feels like forever, appear to have finally found their guy in P.J. Walker. He took over as a true freshman last October, and the offense gradually improved as the year progressed. Walker averaged 330 passing yards with a combined nine touchdowns and three interceptions in the last three games.

Now, Temple must put more playmakers around him, especially since Robbie Anderson — who led the team with nine touchdown catches — is no longer around. Sophomore Khalif Herbin, who redshirted last year after playing as a true freshman in 2012, could be one of the answers. But there’s no shortage of candidates. Senior Jalen Fitzpatrick (38 receptions) is the leading returning receiver statistically.

A consistent running game would obviously ease the burden on Walker and the passing attack. The Owls had their issues there, particularly in short-yardage situations. Senior Kenny Harper and sophomore Zaire Williams combined for 1,146 yards and 12 scores, but this is far from an area of strength.

Coming up with a cohesive unit up front will be a work in progress, and bodies figure to get moved around as part of that effort. Junior Kyle Friend is the anchor at center. Redshirt freshman Leon Johnson is being counted on at left tackle. Depth is a concern.

Previewing Temple’s Defense for 2014

The most glaring needs — and these have been familiar themes in recent years — are developing a pass rush and improving secondary play, primarily at safety. Those deficiencies cost the Owls in several big spots last year. So Sharif Finch, who was a linebacker, is now an end on a line that has seven freshmen and sophomores listed among the two-deep. The coaching staff is high on newcomer Michael Dogbe on the edge.

Linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the nation in solo tackles (106) in 2013 as a sophomore. Nate D. Smith, who patrols the middle, was second on the team with 81 total tackles.

Cornerback Anthony Robey had his moments, but as a group the defensive backs have to do better than three interceptions. Several mid-year junior college transfers — most notably Shahid Lovett and Alex Wells — are being counted on to provide immediate help for the much-maligned back line.

Previewing Temple’s Specialists for 2014

Amazingly, the Owls made only 3-of-9 field goals. And two were in the final game. They also missed five extra points. Nick Visco, who hit all three of the team’s field goals, left the program after his freshman season. That means the job is sophomore Jim Cooper’s to lose. The Owls also have to replace dependable punter Paul Layton, who spent one season on North Broad as a graduate transfer. The return game could use a boost; the Owls ranked eighth in the league in both punt and kick returns.

Final Analysis

The Owls made the switch from Steve Addazio’s run-first philosophy to Matt Rhule’s more wide-open approach, and the transition was far from smooth. Temple slumped to 2–10, the program’s worst record since 2006. But it wasn’t a complete disaster: Seven of the losses were by 10 points or fewer and four by three or fewer, including three on long, late passes. The Owls led by 21 in two losses. A few defensive plays at the right time could have led to another win or two.

Rhule was on the staff when Temple won 26 games while in the MAC from 2009-11. He’s confident that it can happen again, perhaps even soon. A lot depends on Walker’s continued progress. And the defense, which ranked last — by a wide margin — in the league, must improve considerably for Temple to take a step forward in the American Athletic Conference.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#90 MTSU Blue Raiders

NATIONAL FORECAST

#90

C-USA East PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Rick Stockstill, 51-49 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Buster Faulkner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Ellis, Tyrone Nix

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. 90 MTSU.

Previewing MTSU’s Offense for 2014:

A change at quarterback should have far-reaching effects. Pocket passer Logan Kilgore graduated after setting the school record for career TD passes, and a trio of dual-threat quarterbacks will compete for his job. Sophomore Austin Grammer, redshirt freshman AJ Erdely and true freshman Brent Stockstill (son of head coach Rick Stockstill) have staged a tight race, and all three could get their chance in 2014. Regardless of the starter, the offense will go toward a zone-read look with a mobile quarterback and four strong running backs returning to stock the deepest backfield in Conference USA. Downhill runner Jordan Parker and big-play sprinter Reggie Whatley lead the group, which helped MTSU rush for nearly 200 yards per game last season.

“It helps us so much more when the quarterback is a threat to run,” Stockstill says. “Anytime you have a quarterback that can buy some time in the passing game and get some first downs in the run game, it opens up so much more for your running backs and receivers.”

The receiving corps has traded in the experience and sure hands of last season’s seniors for more speed and athleticism. Marcus Henry (38 receptions, 549 yards) is the total package, but newcomers carry high hopes. Junior college transfer Ed’Marques Batties and redshirt freshman Shannon Smith should both make an impact.

Both offensive tackles return, but there are concerns in the rebuilt interior of the line with three new starters at center and guard. For the ground game to equal last year’s pace, the middle must be solidified.

Previewing MTSU’s Defense for 2014: 

Linebacker T.T. Barber and safety Kevin Byard are among the best at their positions in C-USA. Barber is a playmaker who had three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles in 2013. Byard is already the NCAA’s active career leader in interception return yards after only two seasons, and he has returned four picks for TDs. But the supporting cast carries questions.

Seven starters return for a defense that tied for fifth nationally in takeaways last season, but there are unproven players in both the defensive line and secondary. Defensive co-coordinator Tyrone Nix transformed the Blue Raiders into a turnover-forcing machine last season, but repeating that performance without a proven pass-rusher or shutdown cornerback will be a challenge. Third-down defense must also improve from a ranking of 119th last season.

Previewing MTSU’s Specialists for 2014: 

Placekicker Cody Clark lacks a big leg, but he is consistent at reasonable distances. He made 12-of-16 field goals as a freshman last season. Freshman A.J. Wells was signed specifically to take over punting duties in his debut season. Whatley is among the nation’s most dangerous kick returners, if he can avoid injuries.

Final Analysis

Almost always a contender but rarely a champion, MTSU has been bowl-eligible five times in Stockstill’s eight seasons but has earned only a share of one conference title. Back-to-back eight-win seasons in two different conferences (Sun Belt, C-USA) provide a good springboard for another bowl bid this year.

With East Carolina out of the league, MTSU likely must beat out Marshall, Florida Atlantic and old Sun Belt rival Western Kentucky for the C-USA East title. Finding a dependable quarterback and duplicating last season’s terrific turnover margin will be key if the Blue Raiders want to make a run at a conference title rather than just hang around .500.

“Each year your team changes, but you know we’re close,” Stockstill says. “We were a game out of winning it in our last year in the Sun Belt. And we were basically a game out from winning it this past year in Conference USA. Marshall will obviously be the favorite, but we’re close.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#99 Tulane Green Wave

NATIONAL FORECAST

#99

American Athletic PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Curtis Johnson, 9-16 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Price | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Sumrall, Lionel Washington

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. 99 Tulane.
Previewing Tulane’s Offense for 2014

Look at the anemic offensive numbers, and it’s hard to believe Tulane won seven games to end a 10-year string of losing seasons. Then look at the two key players who won’t be back from that offense, and it’s easy to see how the Green Wave could fall short of .500 this season as they move from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.

Tulane finished 115th nationally in total offense and lost leading running back Orleans Darkwa (863 yards) along with top receiver Ryan Grant (1,039 yards). The Green Wave need dramatic improvement at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Tanner Lee emerged as the frontrunner in the spring. Lee has a quicker release and more arm strength than senior Nick Montana and better accuracy than sophomore Devin Powell. Montana looked nothing like his legendary father Joe in 11 starts last season. Playing most of the season with an injured throwing shoulder, he completed only 53.4 percent of his throws and was benched during the New Orleans Bowl.

Redshirt freshman running back Sherman Badie provides the breakaway threat Tulane lacked in coach Curtis Johnson’s first two seasons. He could form an effective tandem with senior Rob Kelley, a power back who sat out spring drills for academic reasons. Justyn Shackleford heads a group of returning receivers who regressed from 2012, due in large part to the poor quarterback play.

The offensive line improved significantly from 2012, when Tulane rushed for the second-fewest yards (475) of any team this century, but the blocking still needs to get better.

Previewing Tulane’s Defense for 2014

Tulane had one of the best defenses in school history, ranking 22rd nationally in yards allowed (352.1 ypg), sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and tied for second in turnovers forced (35). It was a remarkable improvement from 2012, when the Wave ranked 114th (482.6 ypg) in total defense.

With six of the top nine tacklers gone, a slight drop-off is likely. It will not be easy to replace talented tackle Julius Warmsley and mammoth nose guard Chris Davenport. The unexpected dismissal of versatile nickel corner Jordan Batiste, who led the team with seven sacks and four forced fumbles, will hurt, too.

Still, plenty of talent remains. Big-play cornerback Lorenzo Doss was a first-team all-conference selection after intercepting seven passes, running his two-year total to 12. Senior safety Sam Scofield led the Green Wave with 104 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss.

Conference USA co-Freshman of the Year Nico Marley, the grandson of reggae singer Bob Marley and the son of former Miami star Rohan Marley, is a 5'8", 180-pound linebacker — yes, linebacker — who had 67 tackles. Junior end Royce LaFrance is primed for a big year after registering 6.5 sacks in his first season as a starter.

Previewing Tulane’s Specialists for 2014

Tulane will miss 2012 Lou Groza Award winner Cairo Santos, although he was not as consistent as in 2012, when he was perfect on field goals. The Wave are counting on freshman Andrew DiRocco to replace him. Punter Peter Picerelli averaged 41.5 yards per kick. 

Final Analysis

Was the 2013 success a legitimate breakthrough or the product of a weak schedule? Tulane’s move to the more competitive American Athletic Conference will provide that answer. On paper, the Green Wave could be an underdog to eight or nine of their 2014 opponents. Of course, the Wave were favored only three times last year, so Johnson is used to that role. Recruiting heavily in South Louisiana, he and his staff have upgraded the talent level significantly. The program is on the upswing, but the record may not reflect that growth as Tulane moves to an on-campus stadium (Yulman Stadium) for the first time in 40 years.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#89 UTSA Roadrunners

NATIONAL FORECAST

#89

C-USA West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Larry Coker, 19-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Brown | DEF. COORDINATOR: Neal Neathery

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. 89 UTSA.

Previewing UTSA’s Offense for 2014: 

UTSA has a boatload of experience coming back on the offensive line and a running back capable of a 1,000-yard season, so it makes sense to assume that the Roadrunners will likely run more than they throw for the second straight season.

One of the two positions that does not return a starter is quarterback, another reason why the Roadrunners will emphasize the run. Senior Tucker Carter takes over for the departed Eric Soza, who was a talented red zone runner (seven TDs) and adequate passer (12 TDs, 11 INTs). Carter has a bigger arm and is less mobile, but the scheme should remain the same.

The featured back should be David Glasco II, who led the team with 496 yards (on 5.2 yards per carry) and five TDs as a junior while missing two games due to injury and splitting the ball-carrying duties. Should the Roadrunners go with a rotation at tailback, look for sophomore Jarveon Williams to get the call (4.5 ypc in limited duty in ’13).

Keep an eye on Kam Jones, the team’s most athletic wideout. Jones will see his share of action as a Wildcat quarterback, especially with Carter being more of a pass-first QB. Jones leads the list of UTSA’s top 10 pass-catchers who return in 2013.

The line welcomes back all five starters, three of whom have been starting for three straight years. Guard Scott Inskeep is the player in this group who will grab the attention of NFL scouts.

Previewing UTSA’s Defense for 2014:

Nine starters return to a defense that held its opponents to an average of 11.3 points over the final four games. Four seniors man the defensive line, including a pair of former Big 12 signees. Defensive tackle Ashaad Mabry (6'3", 315), who originally signed with Oklahoma State, will compete for all-conference honors. Baylor transfer Robert Singletary led the team in sacks (5.0, tied with Codie Brooks) and hurries and seems primed for a big year.

At linebacker, Drew Douglas returns, but second-leading tackler Steven Kurfehs needs to be replaced in UTSA’s 4-2-5 alignment. Jens Jeters should get first crack at Kurfehs’ spot, although he will be pushed by Blake Terry, who originally committed to Kentucky. The Roadrunners may utilize all three players in a rotation format for the two spots.

There won’t be a rotation at safety, where Triston Wade and Nic Johnston will start for their third seasons. Both players are disruptive forces, with Wade leading the team in tackles and interceptions. Oklahoma transfer Bennett Okotcha is the team’s best shutdown corner.

Previewing UTSA’s Specialists for 2014:

Punter Kristian Stern and kicker Sean Ianno both return. UTSA was 90th in net punting last year, while Ianno was 9-of-11 inside 40 and 2-of-8 beyond 40 despite playing seven games indoors. Jones is a dangerous kick returner, but he never shook loose for a long one in 2013.

Final Analysis

UTSA’s rise in its first three seasons as a football program has been remarkable. The Roadrunners have gone from not having a team to being a legitimate threat to reach the Conference USA Championship Game in just four years. This is a senior-laden squad with experience at every position except quarterback, and this group has been building toward the 2014 season, since it’s the first year that the program is eligible to participate in a bowl game.

Coach Larry Coker has built his team primarily from the Texas high schools, especially the San Antonio area, which is home to almost 30 players on the current roster. The transitional phase to the FBS has been smoother than expected, and now comes a new hurdle for this very new program — expectations.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#98 Memphis Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#98

American Athletic PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Justin Fuente, 7-17 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Darrell Dickey | DEF. COORDINATOR: Barry Odom

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. 98 Memphis.
Previewing Memphis’ Offense for 2014

Can a 6'6" quarterback encounter growing pains? It seems that’s what Paxton Lynch went through last season as a redshirt freshman. Lynch was intercepted 10 times in 12 games and threw only nine touchdown passes. The strong-armed Florida native should be much more comfortable and productive this fall in an offense that is expected to play at an increased tempo. Lynch has worked on being more vocal and appears to have a firm grasp on an offense with returning starters throughout.

At running back, the Tigers will be led Brandon Hayes, who was granted a sixth year by the NCAA during the offseason. Hayes ­doesn’t possess breakaway speed, but he’s a candidate to approach 1,000 yards because of his gritty, hard-nosed running style. Sophomore Doroland Dorceus was the team’s third-leading rusher and will push Hayes for the starting job. He isn’t afraid to gain the punishing yards inside the tackles. Coach Justin Fuente also plans to give sophomore Sam Craft, mainly a receiver last fall, some additional carries. Craft, savvy beyond his years, tied Hayes for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (five) in 2013.

The receivers struggled to hang onto the football but should be improved. Joe Craig, Craft, Keiwone Malone and Tevin Jones — the team’s top four wideouts — are back. Craig, a former Clemson player, gave the unit much-needed speed to stretch the field, yet he averaged only 9.1 yards per reception. Malone, an ex-Alabama player, averaged 12.4 yards per catch and appears primed for a breakout. The Tigers are intrigued by the potential of 6'5" junior college transfer Greg McKillion, the tallest of the wideouts, and 26-year-old sophomore tight end Tyler Kolodny, a former minor league baseball player, although neither has cracked the two-deep.

Previewing Memphis’ Defense for 2014

Word is out on the coaching ability of defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who has been pursued by major conference programs the past two seasons. Yet, Odom has remained on the Memphis staff to continue molding this unit, lifting it from the depths three years ago (117th in total defense) to 39th last fall.

Odom will have to replace his starting safeties but returns a majority of the defense. Most of the key contributors in the front seven are back, including defensive ends Ricky Hunter and Martin Ifedi and linebackers Charles Harris, Ryan Coleman and Jackson Dillon. Ifedi ranked among the nation’s leaders in sacks, and he and Hunter should benefit from the hiring of defensive line coach Ricky Hunley, a former NFL player and assistant coach.

In the secondary, starting cornerbacks Bobby McCain and Andrew Gaines are back. McCain picked off six passes — the most in a single season at Memphis in 25 years — and returned two for touchdowns, including a 75-yarder against Duke.

Previewing Memphis’ Specialists for 2014

Memphis must replace a consensus All-America punter in Tom Hornsey, but the Tigers return sophomore kicker Jake Elliott, who made an impression as a rookie. Elliott connected on 16-of-18 field goal attempts, including a school-record 56-yarder in a league win at South Florida, and earned first-team all-conference honors. The return game should be solid. Malone averaged 6.4 yards per punt return, and Craig averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return. Memphis hasn’t returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 1996.

Final Analysis

It appears all the elements are in place for the Tigers to make a move in the American Athletic Conference. Fuente has increased the tempo of his offense and has a quarterback who he believes can lead the charge. Defensively, the Tigers likely will improve further under the direction of Odom and make a run at bowl-eligibility for the first time since 2008.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#97 Akron Zips

NATIONAL FORECAST

#97

MAC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato

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. 97 Akron.

Previewing Akron’s Offense for 2014

With a bevy of playmakers returning, the Zips have the potential to field one of the best offenses in the conference. The definitive word here is “potential,” because those skill players must improve if Akron is to avoid its ninth consecutive losing record.

Junior quarterback Kyle Pohl is back for his second year as a starter, but he must do better than 14 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 56 percent completion rate. His running mate is senior tailback Jawon Chisholm, who has led the team in rushing for three consecutive years but has never reached the 1,000-yard plateau.

Pohl will throw to a group of experienced receivers, including junior Zach D’Orazio (team-high 42 catches for 567 yards) and 5'6" sophomore speedster Fransohn Bickley (39 catches for 407 yards). A breakout season by some of the talented young receivers, especially highly touted sophomore Mykel Traylor-Bennett, would make Akron even more dangerous.

Of course, much will depend on the play of the line, which has been a problem area in recent years. Third-year coach Terry Bowden and his staff have concentrated on adding depth to the line in recruiting, and there are signs that the emphasis has paid off. Center Travis Switzer and guard Dylan Brumbaugh head the list of returnees, but the other three spots will be handled by former reserves or incoming recruits.

Previewing Akron’s Defense for 2014

The Zips showed vast improvement here, jumping from No. 99 nationally in 2012 to No. 59 in 2013, but they are facing major rebuilding jobs on the front line and the secondary. The only returning starter up front is nose guard Cody Grice. There are plenty of candidates to fill the holes, but they are of unknown quality. A key player here is end Se’Von Pittman, who must put his troubled past at Ohio State behind him.

Both starting cornerbacks will be new, but at least safeties Devonte Morgan, Johnny Robinson and Bre’ Ford are veterans.

The linebacking corps is led by the strong duo of Jatavis Brown (No. 1 in tackles with 107) and Justin March (No. 2 with 80).

If the likes of Pittman, corner Bryce Cheek and linebackers C.J. Mizell and Dylan Evans, among many others, can fill holes, the defense may be a viable complement to the offense.

Previewing Akron’s Specialists for 2014

The Zips kicked the ball capably last season, with returning placekicker Robert Stein and returning punter Zach Paul. But the return teams were abysmal, ranking 111th nationally on kickoff returns and 117th on punt returns. The hope is that the diminutive Bickley can give both areas a major boost.

Final Analysis

Akron made major strides last season with a 5–7 record after winning only six games total in the previous four seasons. A winning season is possible if enough players turn potential into productivity. It helps that the league schedule seems more forgiving than in the recent past.

The offense needs Pohl to make better decisions and be more consistent than he was in 2013. The receiving corps may have put up some decent numbers, but there were far too many drops. A senior-style performance from Chisholm would take some pressure off the passing game.

Defensively, veteran coordinator Chuck Amato believes that question marks can be turned into exclamation points.

The feeling around the conference is that the Zips are finally going to have a team befitting the beautiful InfoCision Stadium. The university must feel the same way, because Bowden was awarded a new two-year contract extension through 2018.
Bowden has built from the bottom, filled pieces slowly but surely and has a team that might be a surprise.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#96 SMU Mustangs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#96

American Athletic PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: June Jones, 36-41 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: June Jones, Jason Phillips | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Mason

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. 96 SMU.

Previewing SMU’s Offense for 2014

Having revived the passing game just in time for Garrett Gilbert’s departure, the Mustangs must do the same with new quarterback Neal Burcham. The playbook will undergo significant revision. Burcham does not have the running ability or arm strength that made Gilbert No. 2 nationally in total offense. Burcham at least started the final two games for the injured Gilbert last season. Although he struggled in the no-huddle scheme in his first start against Houston (three interceptions in a 34–0 loss), he looked much better in the finale versus UCF with the offense tailored for him.

The young quarterback could benefit from an experienced line, but the Mustangs are thin up front with the loss of starters Ben Gottschalk and Sam Rice. Coach June Jones is counting on some freshmen, such as William Barns, to fill gaps.

The Mustangs also lack a proven running threat. Prescott Line, whose brother Zach ranks second on SMU’s all-time yardage list, averaged 3.7 yards per carry as a freshman. But Kevin Pope, No. 2 in tackles at linebacker last season, finished the spring as the top back. He was granted another year of eligibility because of a medical hardship. True freshman Daniel Gresham, a powerful runner who was rated as the nation’s No. 1 fullback, could make an immediate impact. Gresham originally committed to Louisville.

With the loss of two 1,000-yard receivers, senior Der’rikk Thompson and junior Darius Joseph will be Burcham’s primary targets. Speedy Cedric Lancaster made a big impression in the spring. He and Jeremiah Gaines, who played a lot as a freshman, will assume bigger roles.

Previewing SMU’s Defense for 2014

Inexperience figured heavily in last year’s defensive woes. With lessons learned from surrendering big plays, the secondary will at least have depth.  Youngsters Darrion Richardson, Ajee Montes and A.J. Justice have flashed positive signs. At 6'5", 201, junior Shakiel Randolph has the tools to be among the league’s best safeties, and senior Hayden Greenbauer provides a security blanket with his smart play.

The loss of leading tackler Randall Joyner was big because of his leadership skills. Linebackers Stephon Sanders, Jonathan Yenga and Robert Seals have the speed to force turnovers at the line or by dropping into coverage. Sophomore Nick Horton takes over for Pope at one of the middle spots.

Up front, Beau Barnes had a breakout junior season, spending much time in opposing backfields. He led the team with 13.0 tackles for a loss. Barnes and fellow veterans Zach Wood and Darrian Wright will blend well with sophomores Zelt Minor and Elie Nabushosi. Both of the youngsters got experience as rookies and should flourish in more prominent roles.

Previewing SMU’s Specialists for 2014

Aside from kicker Chase Hover, who tied the school record for field goals (18), the Mustangs were brutal on special teams last year. The loss of Hover means they must improve in every area while breaking in a new kicker and punter. Cody Rademacher is a candidate to take over both roles. A transfer from Air Force, he played in six games as a holder last season.

Final Analysis

The Mustangs came close to playing in their fifth straight bowl game despite a porous defense and virtually no running game in 2013. But they face even tougher obstacles with a new quarterback, a patchwork line and no proven running back. Best-case scenario, the defense plays over its head, buying some time for Burcham to develop, and the incoming class is better than advertised. A tough non-conference schedule complicates matters. The Mustangs open at Baylor’s new stadium and then face other former Southwest Conference rivals Texas A&M and TCU.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#95 Ohio Bobcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#95

MAC East PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Frank Solich, 66-50 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Albin, Scott Isphording | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jimmy Burrow

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. 95 Ohio.

Previewing Ohio’s Offense for 2014

After scores of records, the only two bowl wins in the program’s history, and even a brief stay inside the nation’s top 25 in 2012, Ohio turns the page on the Tyler Tettleton era in 2014. The Bobcats’ most accomplished quarterback will be replaced this season by one of two candidates who have waited for their chance the past two years. Junior Derrius Vick has more reps, including a spot start in 2012 on his résumé, and a slight lead going into fall camp. He’ll be pushed by sophomore JD Sprague, a former walk-on who fits the same dual-threat mold.

Ohio has to replace key offensive pieces all over the depth chart. Departed running back Beau Blankenship piled up just under 3,000 yards rushing over the past three years, and the Bobcats now will turn to two largely unproven backs. Junior Daz Patterson averaged 5.6 per carry in spot work in 2013, but he lacks the size to be an every-down, between-the-tackles threat. Senior Tim Edmond, who has also played tight end and linebacker at Ohio, will be the big-back option and handle short-yardage situations. Expect redshirt freshman Dorian Brown, or perhaps incoming freshman Maleek Irons, to get a look as well.

The receiving group is also being rebuilt nearly from scratch. Only senior flanker Chase Cochran (689 receiving yards in 2013) returns from Ohio’s top six pass-catchers of a year ago. Iowa transfer Cam Wilson and slot specialist Landon Smith (hurt for most of 2013) also will be critical. Sophomore Troy Mangen and junior college transfer Brennan Boland are tasked to handle the varied role of Ohio’s tight ends.

The offensive line never got settled a year ago — eight different lineups were used in the first eight games — and the unit will be young again with three juniors and two sophomores in the projected starting five. For the first time in a decade, Ohio will not have a senior in the projected two-deep up front. However, guard Mike Lucas, center Lucas Powell and tackle Mike McQueen all return with two years of experience.

Previewing Ohio’s Defense for 2014

Rebuilding in 2013, Ohio simply wasn’t good enough on this side of the ball to contend for a MAC championship. The Bobcats gave up 4.6 yards per carry, more than 400 yards per game and yielded 34 plays of 30 yards or more.

The good news is that the defense has the potential to be much better. Seven starters return, and Ohio will have solid depth on the line where sophomore ends Tarell Basham and Kurt Laseak and senior tackles Antwan Crutcher and Cameron McLeod lead the way.

The Bobcats have two returning junior linebackers, Ben Russell (middle) and Jovon Johnson (outside), who were important contributors a year ago, when both learned on the fly.

In the secondary, Ohio loses two starters but shouldn’t skip a beat. Senior safeties Josh Kristoff, Thad Ingol and Nate Carpenter each have considerable experience, and junior cornerbacks Devin Bass and Ian Wells have both started games the previous two seasons.

Previewing Ohio’s Specialists for 2014

Junior placekicker Josiah Yazdani was a pleasant find early last season as he solidified that role four weeks into the season and missed just one attempt on the year. Ohio signed junior college transfer Mitch Bonnstetter to help alleviate the problems of the past two seasons with blocked punts or mishandled snaps.

Final Analysis

Ohio has developed into a consistent winner under coach Frank Solich, and with a veteran defense and solid special teams, the Bobcats should again be a contender for a winning season and possible bowl bid. But with a complete rebuild in store for the offense, Ohio will have a tough time contending for a league title in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#86 North Texas Mean Green

NATIONAL FORECAST

#86

C-USA West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Dan McCarney, 18-19 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Canales | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Skladany

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. 86 North Texas.

Previewing North Texas’ Offense for 2014: 

Four offensive line starters return for one of Conference USA’s best units at any position. Coach Dan McCarney hopes that’s enough to support a new starting quarterback and a revamped rotation of skill players.

“Our offensive line is definitely the strength of our football team,” says McCarney, who returns only five offensive starters overall. “And those linemen are my kind of guys. We are just trying every day to find playmakers to put with them. But it’s hard to get a feel for that. How do you really know?”

Junior Andrew McNulty and junior college transfer Josh Greer should take their quarterback competition deep into preseason camp. Their skill sets are similar, but both carry concerns over their inexperience. McNulty, a career backup, has thrown only five passes in the past two seasons. Greer had an impressive run at nearby Navarro (Texas) College, but it lasted only six games. The starter will be expected to protect the ball and provide a few big plays amid a new assortment of offensive weapons.

Wideout Carlos Harris (47 receptions, 553 yards) steps into the go-to-guy spot, but the No. 2 receiver role is an unknown. Sophomore Darvin Kidsy and senior Darius Terrell, a former Texas Longhorn, are the top candidates.

Running backs Antoinne Jimmerson (446 yards, seven TDs) and Reggie Pegram (338 yards, six TDs) should benefit the most from the veteran offensive line, which is led by surefire NFL prospect Cyril Lemon and fellow all-conference selection Mason Y’Barbo.

Previewing North Texas’ Defense for 2014:

The 2013 squad ranked second nationally in red-zone defense, fourth in takeaways and eighth in scoring defense, but only one among the starting front seven returns. The entire defensive line is gone, and star middle linebacker Zach Orr must also be replaced.

Senior linebacker Derek Akunne takes the torch. He has 200 career tackles and the respect of his teammates to assume a leadership role. McCarney has faith that the defensive line questions will be answered in time.

“We will get to an eight-man rotation,” McCarney says. “I know it doesn’t look like it now, but I’ve seen it before. We got to that point in the second half of last season.”
The good news is that three of four starting defensive backs return, led by cornerback Kenny Buyers and safety Lairamie Lee. Cornerbacks Zac Whitfield and James Jones are also back. The trio combined for nine of the team’s 18 interceptions in 2013.

Previewing North Texas’ Specialists for 2014:

Replacing Brelan Chancellor, one of the nation’s best kick/punt returners, will be a tall order and likely an open competition early in the season. Zach Paul was 10-of-15 on field goals last season, but he may get a battle from lauded freshman kicker Trevor Moore. Blake Macek returns as punter.

Final Analysis

A new starting quarterback and a rebuilt defensive front seven usually point to a rebuilding year, and that still may be the case for the Mean Green. But there are enough concerns elsewhere in the C-USA West Division to keep North Texas right in the mix for contention. Plus, the program has a different feel after posting nine wins and the Mean Green’s first bowl victory in 11 years last season.

“(Rebuilding) is fair for people to say, but great programs reload,” McCarney says. “Not many people knew about us when I got here. We need to keep it going and not go back into the woods.”

A home opener against SMU should be telling about the team’s potential. And if the Mean Green are still in the hunt, an Oct. 25 trip to Rice could provide a title shot. North Texas handed C-USA champion Rice its lone league loss last season.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#94 Wyoming Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#94

MW Mountain PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

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. 94 Wyoming.

Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2014

There are several changes in store as first-year coach Craig Bohl and offensive coordinator Brent Vigen will go with a pro-style attack instead of the spread offense the team ran the previous five seasons with coach Dave Christensen.

The first step is to find a quarterback, and redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard is the leading candidate. He is the most experienced option on the roster, but he has played in only seven games (with one start) since he arrived in 2011.

“I feel comfortable. It’s just about going out there and executing,” Kirkegaard says.
The competition will continue through fall camp, with sophomore Tom Thornton and senior Sam Stratton on Kirkegaard’s heels.

Bohl wants a power run game, and Wyoming could have the right pieces. Junior Shaun Wick led the team last season with 979 yards and nine touchdowns. Sophomore D.J. May returns after missing last season with a torn pectoral muscle, but he led the team in rushing as a true freshman in 2012 with 374 yards. The offensive line is experienced — all five projected first-teamers have starting experience. That group is anchored by junior right guard Jake Jones, who has started every game of his career.

The Cowboys also have a deep and experienced receiving corps, led by senior Dominic Rufran, who led the team last season with 75 catches for 960 yards and was second with eight touchdowns. Three of the top four wide receivers from last season return.

Wyoming will use tight ends and fullbacks for the first time in five seasons. Expect those positions to have more of an emphasis in the run game.

Previewing Wyoming’s Defense for 2014

Wyoming returns eight starters from a unit that gave up 220.2 rushing yards, 261.8 passing yards and 36.7 points per game last season. The Cowboys were mostly a 3-4 team the last five seasons but will make the transition to a 4-3 squad under Bohl.
The starting group along the line has impressed Bohl, led by junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. He was a first-team All-Mountain West selection last season with 89 tackles and team-best marks with 12 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.

Senior middle linebacker Jordan Stanton was among the nation’s leaders in tackles last season (134), but part of that was a product of the defense being on the field for so many snaps. Senior outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha was all over the field during the spring, and he could thrive in the 4-3.

In the secondary, senior cornerback Blair Burns looks to regain his form after being named a Freshman All-American in 2011. Senior Darrenn White provides experience at free safety.

Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2014

The Cowboys’ kicking game is in decent shape thanks to the return of senior placekicker Stuart Williams and sophomore punter Ethan Wood. Wyoming attempted only seven field goals in 2013, the fewest in the nation. The Pokes ranked in the bottom third of the league in both kickoff returns (last) and punt returns (ninth).

Final Analysis

Wyoming hired a proven winner in Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three consecutive FCS national titles. But the transition in all phases of the game will take time. The Cowboys lost to five teams that finished above them in the conference standings by nearly 30 points per contest last season. This season’s schedule does them no favors, with road games at Oregon and Michigan State in September. Anything close to a .500 record should be considered a success.

“We made good progress during the course of the spring, but we are not anything to where we are a finished product,” Bohl says.




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