#95 Ohio Bobcats





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.


#86 North Texas Mean Green





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.


#94 Wyoming Cowboys





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.


#92 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers





HEAD COACH: Jeff Brohm, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tyson Helton | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Holt

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. 92 Western Kentucky.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Offense for 2014

Bobby Petrino’s cup of coffee as Western Kentucky coach produced 20 offensive school records (10 team, 10 individual) and an 8–4 record before he shuffled off to be Louisville’s coach again. The offensive wizard thought enough of Jeff Brohm to name him offensive coordinator, and WKU thought enough of the former Louisville quarterback and NFL backup to name him Petrino’s successor.

Those 10 offensive player records were split evenly between running back Antonio Andrews, the national leader in total yardage the last two seasons, and quarterback Brandon Doughty, who led the best offensive season (5,502 yards) in program history. Doughty set season records in passing yards (2,857) and completion percentage (65.8) and single-game marks in completions (29) and yardage (387).

With Brohm coaching, Doughty directing and six starters returning, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat, even if Andrews is gone and the level of competition is upgraded from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. Junior running back Leon Allen has breakout potential and is ready to take on the role of lead ball-carrier. Three returning receivers, led by senior Willie McNeal, are joined by junior college standout Jared Dangerfield. Tight end Mitchell Henry is reliable and productive.

Several contributors along an offensive line that paved the way for Andrews to set a WKU single-season rushing record return — although there could be some players switching positions. The group is led by senior right tackle Cam Clemmons, a fourth-year starter.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Defense for 2014

It’s a misconception to assert that Petrino’s teams don’t play defense. The Hilltoppers finished 14th in the nation in total defense, with a 10th-ranked pass defense. Veteran coordinator Nick Holt has his hands full to try to reproduce those numbers with only two returning starters.

But one of those back is senior Cam Thomas, who’s among the top cornerbacks in the country. He led the Sun Belt and tied for 18th nationally with five interceptions. Secondary running mates are inexperienced but promising.

It’s a clean slate at linebacker, where WKU stayed within the family to sign Nick Holt, son of the defensive coordinator. One service ranked Holt the 11th-best junior college middle linebacker in the nation. Junior end Gavin Rocker is the only returning starter on the defensive front. At 6'1", 332 pounds, senior tackle Jamichael Payne has one last chance to live up to lofty expectations.

Previewing Western Kentucky’s Specialists for 2014

Junior Garrett Schwettman is a capable kicker who made seven field goals in a row during one stretch last season. He’s 23-of-29 (79.3 percent) over two seasons. Sophomore punter Joseph Occhipinti needs to improve on his average of 32.8 yards per punt (in part-time duty). The return game was hit hard by the loss of Andrews, who handled kickoff and punt duties. McNeal has the sure hands and athleticism to return punts.

Final Analysis

After seven seasons as an NFL backup quarterback with six teams, Brohm quickly transitioned to college coaching. A dozen years later, he is getting his first opportunity as a head coach. And of the 20 new coaches in the FBS ranks, Brohm is the only one promoted to the top job from the previous staff. Six assistants also stayed instead of following Petrino or jumping elsewhere. That rare continuity after a coaching change should bode well for a team that was snubbed for a bowl berth despite winning eight games. The Hilltoppers figure to have a tough time matching last year’s win total — the schedule is more difficult — but this is a program that can compete for C-USA titles in the near future.


#84 South Alabama Jaguars





HEAD COACH: Joey Jones, 31-21 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Robert Matthews | DEF. COORDINATOR: Travis Pearson

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. 84 South Alabama.

Previewing South Alabama’s Offense for 2014:

All the parts are in place for South Alabama to have the best offensive squad in the program’s six-year history — if the team can answer its question at quarterback. Surrounded by a plethora of returning skill players and eight starters overall, Brandon Bridge takes over under center. The 6'5" Canadian showed promise as a dual-threat backup last season, but his consistency and decision-making must be cleaned up in the full-time role.

“Brandon can make a lot of plays, and I sat on my back porch last season trying to decide if he was going to be our starter back then,” USA coach Joey Jones says. “But we went with (All-Sun Belt senior Ross Metheny). Now it’s Brandon’s time. And he’s in the same spot as any quarterback from little league football to college, where he just has to stay away from mistakes.”

USA’s top three running backs and top four pass-catchers are back, led by first-team All-Sun Belt tight end Wes Saxton. That receiving corps should be even deeper with the addition of Alabama transfers Josh Magee and Marvin Shinn. Up front, two all-conference tackles return in Chris May and Ucambre Williams to anchor a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Sun Belt last season.

Previewing South Alabama’s Defense for 2014:

Travis Pearson takes over as defensive coordinator, promoted from linebackers coach after former defensive play-caller Kevin Sherrer took a position on Georgia’s staff. Pearson will try to continue the focus on strong play up front, but USA must replace first-team all-conference defensive linemen Alex Page and Romelle Jones.

Led by returning nose tackle Jerome ­McClain, junior college All-America end Jimmie Gipson III and playmaking linebacker Maleki Harris, the front seven should be solid once again, but depth may be a concern at multiple positions.

“At defensive end, we feel good. But with those inside guys, we have depth issues right now,” Jones says. “We need some junior college guys to play in those spots right away.”
Four starters return for a nickel-heavy secondary that allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the Sun Belt last season, but that performance came with the support of a strong pass rush. This season’s secondary may have to lead rather than follow.

Previewing South Alabama’s Specialists for 2014:

Placekicker Aleem Sunanon made his final 12 field-goal attempts and ranked second in the Sun Belt in scoring as a freshman in 2013, and his return solidifies the position for the next three years. USA’s coverage teams have been stingy, but a new punter must emerge. The return game is in good hands with Magee and T.J. Glover.

Final Analysis

USA finished its first full-fledged season of FBS play with bowl eligibility (6–6 record) and one win shy of the Sun Belt title. Now the bar is raised, and the Jaguars are no longer the ever-changing conference’s newcomer.

“We are not a veteran in this conference by any means, but things have changed quickly,” Jones says. “We were about a play or two away from winning a conference championship and going to a bowl. There is some pep in our step.”

Taking another step forward is plausible but carries conditions. Last year’s team won by committing very few turnovers on offense and causing disruption on the defensive front. The 2014 squad must do the same with a new quarterback and new starters on the defensive line. After a tough home opener against Mississippi State, the Jaguars face five consecutive winnable conference games before difficult road trips to UL Lafayette and Arkansas State. If the Jaguars are riding a winning streak at midseason, title contention could be a possibility.


#82 Nevada Wolf Pack





HEAD COACH: Brian Polian , 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Nick Rolovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Boone, Bill Teerlinck

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. 82 Nevada.

Previewing Nevada’s Offense for 2014

Nevada’s famed Pistol offense struggled in the first season under head coach Brian Polian and second-year offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. After years of being among the nation’s leaders in rushing offense and scoring, Nevada averaged only 26.9 points per game a season ago. And though Nevada improved as the season progressed, the Wolf Pack averaged a lackluster 3.8 yards per carry and dropped to No. 51 in the nation with 179.0 rushing yards per game. One of the major culprits: An offensive line that, despite the efforts of top lineman Joel Bitonio, struggled mightily. Four starters return on the line, but the bad news is that Bitonio isn’t one of them.

The good news is that the Wolf Pack still return eight starters on offense. The most important returnee in Nevada’s quarterback-dependent offense is dual-threat senior Cody Fajardo. Fajardo played with nagging leg injuries for much of last year, and his rushing yards were cut nearly in half to 621 yards, even as his passing numbers remained consistent. The all-conference-caliber quarterback must stay healthy this season to open up the running game.

A strong frontline receiving corps led by senior Richy Turner (61 catches, 755 yards) and 6'5", 230-pound sophomore Hasaan Henderson (29 catches, 326 yards), should help take the pressure off Fajardo. Incoming freshmen Andrew Celis and Wyatt Demps could also contribute.

Senior running back Kendall Brock (812 yards) and junior Don Jackson (332) are capable of carrying Nevada’s running game. But incoming freshman James Butler is an intriguing prospect who could battle for carries.

Previewing Nevada’s Defense for 2014

On paper, the Pack have one of the better defensive lines in the Mountain West, led by all-league end Brock Hekking. The duo of Ian Seau (nephew of Junior Seau) and Lenny Jones at the other end spot and the inside tandem of Jordan Hanson and Rykeem Yates should make for a solid unit. Yet this group was abysmal against the run in 2013, to the tune of 258.5 yards per game, and improvement is paramount.

The linebacking corps has four mainstays for three spots, as incoming defensive co-coordinator Scott Boone, one of the top DCs at the FCS level last year at William & Mary, will retain the Pack’s 4-3 front. Jonathan McNeal and Jordan Dobrich are dependable, while Matthew Lyons played very well at times in 2013. But the key may be athletic junior Bryan Lane Jr., who has split time at linebacker and safety in recent years.

Per usual at Nevada, the secondary appears shaky. Senior Charles Garrett is one of the top corners in the league, but he needs help. Safety Kaodi Dike and undersized corner Elijah Mitchell played last year as true freshmen, and senior corner Evan Favors needs to be a factor. Junior college transfer safety Duran Workman could be a starter right off the bat.

Previewing Nevada’s Specialists for 2014

Nevada loses a weapon in punter Chase Tenpenny, who averaged 44.5 yards per kick last season. Placekicker Brent Zuzo appears dependable after a solid freshman season in which he hit 14-of-17 field goals and 33-of-36 extra points. The Pack need a spark in the return game, and speedster D’Andre Fuller might just provide it.

Final Analysis 

With 16 returning starters, including Fajardo, Nevada should improve over last season. The Wolf Pack’s 2014 slate lightens up from a brutal 2013. Mountain West heavyweights Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and San Diego State all come to Reno. If the Wolf Pack improve substantially on defense and solve their second-half woes, they should make a bowl game and contend for the West Division title.


#83 San Diego State Aztecs





HEAD COACH: Rocky Long, 25-14 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Toledo | DEF. COORDINATOR: Rocky Long

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. 83 San Diego State.

Previewing San Diego State’s Offense for 2014: 

Quarterback Quinn Kaehler underwent offseason elbow surgery on his throwing arm but is expected to be fully recovered well before fall camp. That’s a huge plus since he is San Diego State’s only proven commodity at quarterback and all but saved the squad’s 2013 season after replacing ineffective Adam Dingwell early in the campaign. Kaehler passed for 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, and his efficient nature led to only nine interceptions in 389 attempts.

Kaehler has a big-time target to throw to in Ezell Ruffin, who emerged as a go-to receiver last season with 68 receptions for 1,136 yards. Eric Judge, who caught 13 passes in 2013, has the potential to develop into a solid receiving complement to Ruffin.

Two-time 1,000-yard running back Adam Muema surprisingly bypassed his senior campaign in favor of chasing an NFL roster spot, leaving scatback Donnel Pumphrey (10 total touchdowns as a freshman) as the most accomplished runner. But the 5'9", 170-pounder isn’t suited for heavy pounding, so the Aztecs will be hoping someone such as Chase Price or Dwayne Garrett can emerge as a between-the-tackles rusher.

Left tackle Terry Poole is the top offensive lineman.

Previewing San Diego State’s Defense for 2014: 

San Diego State will be searching for reinforcements up front and in the back end but is well stocked at linebacker. Middle linebacker Jake Fely is one of the top defensive players in the Mountain West and is fully recovered from a foot injury that ended his 2013 season in late September. Josh Gavert played well in Fely’s place, but having the fiery leader back to team with outside linebacker Derek Largent gives the Aztecs a sturdy group in the center of the defense.

The toughest chore is replacing standout safeties Nat Berhe and Eric Pinkins — the squad’s top two tacklers last season. Most of that will be hashed out in fall camp as Brandon Porter was the only player to secure a starting spot in the three-safety alignment during spring drills.

The defensive line will be deep, as tackle Sam Meredith and end Dontrell Onuoha are expected to be fully healthy after missing the spring, and former USC defensive tackle Christian Heyward figures to push for a role. J.J. Whittaker, who had three of the Aztecs’ eight interceptions in 2013, and Damontae Kazee are the starting cornerbacks.

Previewing San Diego State’s Specialists for 2014: 

The placekicking was a disaster last season as departed Wes Feer and Seamus McMorrow combined to go 8-of-16 on field goals and missed six extra points. Coach Rocky Long moved to fix the issue by recruiting junior college kicker Donald Hageman and freshman John Baron II. The two kickers will compete for the job during fall camp with the more experienced Hageman holding an edge after going 19-of-20 at the junior college level last fall. Joel Alesi placed 17 punts inside the 20-yard line last season, and only 13 of his 53 punts were returned. He holds an edge over McMorrow for the job.

Final Analysis 

San Diego State is in a bit of a transition after losing 12 starters, but there is enough remaining talent to finish in the top half of the conference’s West Division. The Aztecs have gone to four consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and have proven to be a gritty squad under Long’s leadership. San Diego State didn’t collapse after an 0–3 start last season and ended up playing in four overtime games while rebounding to record at least eight victories for the fourth straight year.

That type of consistency — along with defeating conference power Boise State in back-to-back seasons — provides hope that the Aztecs will again win eight or more games and contend for the division crown.


#81 South Florida Bulls



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Wulff | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan

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. 81 South Florida.

Previewing South Florida’s Offense for 2014:

Willie Taggart’s mantra — “Do Something!’’ — seemed like a hollow promise through most of last season. Offensively, USF did very little. The Bulls managed just 11 offensive touchdowns.

Taggart, in his first season after arriving from Western Kentucky, was stunned by that development. In retrospect, he was mostly coaching players he didn’t recruit, athletes who came to USF expecting to play a different style. The first season is over, though, and Taggart has promised vast improvement.

It starts with the quarterback, where Taggart wants to see intelligence, mobility and toughness. Sophomore Mike White, seemingly ticketed for a redshirt year, started the last five games and showed enough flashes to make Taggart believe better days were ahead.
Without a running game, Taggart’s bruising style won’t get off the ground. It’s still not known whether USF possesses a go-to runner, although senior Michael Pierre and sophomore Darius Tice had promising moments. It looks like a position-by-committee.
Taggart believes the offensive line will be better after an offseason in the weight room. Four starters return, paced by three-year starting center Austin Reiter.

Although the Bulls hope to become a run-first offense, Taggart wants to take his shots down the field. Senior receiver Andre Davis is the team’s primary option. The continued development at tight end, with junior Sean Price and senior Mike ­McFarland, also bears watching.

Previewing South Florida’s Defense for 2014: 

By the end of last season, the Bulls’ defense was playing exceptionally well, finishing the year ranked No. 21 in the nation. Learning the system of Chuck Bresnahan, while incorporating a handful of young players, the Bulls matured into a unit that ran to the ball and created turnovers.

It began up front with pressure, but after losing much of their defensive line depth, the Bulls must hope for more youthful contributions. Sophomore Derrick Calloway, the prize of Taggart’s first recruiting class in 2013, is expected to rule the interior while getting help from experienced junior Todd Chandler.

Senior outside linebacker Reshard Cliett, last season’s second-leading tackler, is expected to help fill the leadership chasm created by the loss of middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore, a four-year starter. The Bulls are equally enthused by the emergence of Nigel Harris, who became a freshman starter and showed no sign of nerves.

At one point late last season, the secondary played with four freshmen. That’s bound to pay off with sophomores such as Nate Godwin, Johnny Ward, Hassan Childs and Lamar Robbins playing with unmistakable confidence. But the biggest impact might come from junior college transfer Jamie Byrd, a take-no-prisoners strong safety.

Previewing South Florida’s Specialists for 2014:

Placekicker Marvin Kloss began last season trying to replace Maikon Bonani, the school’s all-time leading scorer. Kloss ended last season as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award. Meanwhile, Mattias Ciabatti had a successful first season as the starting punter, averaging 40.2 yards, getting 20 punts inside the 20 and having 14 of 50 yards or greater.

Final Analysis

Give Taggart credit for this: Even after a horrendous 53–21 home loss against McNeese State to open the season, even after watching his offense struggle mightily just to move the chains, he remained undaunted. He insists his approach will work. It just needs patience and hard work.

The up-and-coming program that once upset the likes of Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson and West Virginia? That’s now ancient history. USF must rebuild from the ground up. The intermediate goal is obvious. If Taggart can coax USF’s first bowl trip since 2010, then the Bulls are definitely on their way back.

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