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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#64 Boston College Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#64

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Steve Addazio, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ryan Day | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Brown

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. 64 Boston College.

Previewing Boston College’s Offense for 2014:

Despite the loss of 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams, Boston College is still committed to the run game. The Eagles won’t replace Williams with one player. A committee will work, led by sophomore Myles Willis, a versatile back coming off a 346-yard freshman season.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy didn’t transfer from Florida to be a backup. The senior has one last chance to cement a winning career. The job to replace the steady yet unspectacular Chase Rettig is his to lose. Murphy went 2–4 as a starter in 2013 but played on an awful Florida team, completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,216 yards.

Wideout is easily the team’s biggest void on offense. With Alex Amidon gone, the Eagles lose a player who was responsible for more than 50 percent of his team’s production at the position. Harrison Jackson, arguably the top returning wideout, tore his ACL in spring ball. The Eagles need Drew Barksdale, quarterback-turned receiver Josh Bordner or Charlie Callinan to emerge as reliable targets.

The strength of the offensive line starts in the middle after losing bookend tackles Matt Patchan and Ian White. 

Previewing Boston College’s Defense for 2014:

Boston College’s defense usually starts with solid linebacker play, but the Eagles lose two good ones in Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto. Good thing Steven Daniels, who finished the year with 88 tackles, is back. Boston College likes to rush the passer from the linebacker spot, and returner Josh Keyes (3.5 sacks as a reserve) will help in that area.

The defensive line is still relatively deep despite the loss of two starters, including All-ACC third team performer Kasim Edebali (9.5 sacks). Many returning linemen have played valuable snaps and showed potential but have yet to do it on a full-time basis. Defensive end Malachi Moore is a 6'7" sophomore who is a candidate to break out in 2014. Mehdi Abdesmad had 3.5 tackles for a loss before injuries derailed his 2013 campaign.

Don’t expect BC to finish last in the ACC in pass defense again. The Eagles return all four starters in the secondary, including potential star Dominique Williams. Corners Manny Asprilla and Bryce Jones each recorded two interceptions last year. 

Previewing Boston College’s Specialists for 2014:

The loss of kicker/punter Nate Freese, the school record-holder for field goals (70) and points (324), can’t be understated. The All-American made 86.4 percent of his attempts. Alex Howell steps in as the new placekicker, and he’ll also punt. David Dudeck should have the inside track on the kick return job after doing a serviceable job last year (15.6-yard average).

Final Analysis

Steve Addazio was responsible for one of the more underrated coaching jobs last year, boosting Boston College from two to seven wins in his debut season by packaging a power-run attack around Williams. Addazio’s creativity could be tested even more in 2014 since nearly all of the Eagles’ all-conference performers from a year ago are gone. Boston College is counting on the young players left over from the Frank Spaziani era and Addazio’s first two recruiting classes to form the Eagles’ identity.

The running game and solid line play will always be Boston College staples, but how will the Eagles stretch the field? They’ll need at least one or two young wide receivers to grow up in a hurry. The defense has a chance to improve after last year’s unit under coordinator Don Brown was opportunistic but not overwhelming in any one area.

A return to a bowl game is a realistic expectation, but the Eagles aren’t likely to pose much of a threat to the top teams in the ACC Atlantic Division.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#61 Syracuse Orange

NATIONAL FORECAST

#61

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George McDonald | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bullough

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. 61 Syracuse.

Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2014:

Athlon Sports 2014 College Football ACC Preview MagazineIt was feast or famine for the Syracuse offense in 2013, as it generated 50-plus points twice in a 13-game season but failed to score 20 six other times. The inconsistency was to be expected considering the team had a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback and untested receivers. It didn’t help that the quarterback, Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, struggled and was benched four games into the season in favor of sophomore Terrel Hunt.

With game experience returning at every position except one interior line spot, and offensive coordinator George McDonald having a year under his belt, the Orange should be poised to improve significantly on last season’s mediocre 376.8 yards per game (85th in the nation).

“We want to play faster, that’s the biggest thing,” McDonald says. “We want to be great at what we do and continue to put pressure on the defense whether it’s the run game or the pass game.”

Syracuse was better in the run game thanks in large part to the ability of Hunt to run like a power back. He finished with 500 yards rushing and seven TDs, a nice complement to decent passing numbers — 1,638 yards and 10 TDs and a 61.2 completion percentage.

It is the passing game that will determine the unit’s fate, as the 2013 team lacked a game-breaking burner. Junior Ashton Broyld (6'3", 223) is an imposing physical presence who set a school record for receptions by a sophomore last season with 52, although none of them went for a score. The team had no receiver surpass 500 yards, let alone approach 1,000.

Coach Scott Shafer hopes one or two of the five incoming freshman receivers can make the jump to FBS ball, because he has a veteran dual-threat quarterback, a deep stable of running backs and an offensive line led by senior tackle Sean Hickey that returns four of five starters.

Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2014:

Syracuse’s Jekyll-Hyde performance on offense was mirrored on defense, as the Orange pitched two shutouts and held five other foes to 17 or fewer points but also yielded at least 48 points four times.

“We want to get better at the details,” defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough says. “This season we should be better.”

SU must replace star tackle Jay Bromley and middle linebacker Marquis Spruill. The unit will be thin at tackle but has loads of experience returning at end, including starters Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson.

The back seven also has plenty of experience. Whoever wins Spruill’s vacant spot at middle linebacker will be flanked by veterans Cam Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. The secondary, led by junior free safety Durell Eskridge (team-leading 78 tackles and four interceptions), will return solid game experience at all four positions.

There are critical holes to fill at tackle and middle linebacker but experience everywhere else, and that should make the Orange defense more Jekyll than Hyde this season.

Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2014:

Every key player returns on special teams. Sophomore Brisly Estime, whose 70-yard punt return triggered a Texas Bowl victory over Minnesota, will be a key asset. SU will get a boost if Ross Krautman, the second-most accurate kicker in school history (49-of-63), can return from injury.

Final Analysis

With numerous returners on each side of the ball and the momentum from the Texas Bowl win over Minnesota, Syracuse is poised to take another step in 2014. Yet the talent gap between the Orange and ACC Atlantic Division members Florida State and Clemson remains huge. Every other game will be a crapshoot, and another upper-division finish and bowl are attainable.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#69 Houston Cougars

NATIONAL FORECAST

#69

American Athletic PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Tony Levine, 14-12 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Travis Bush | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Gibbs

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. 69 Houston.

Previewing Houston’s Offense for 2014:

The Cougars are loaded with skill players who could comprise the American Athletic Conference’s most explosive offense. As a freshman, John O’Korn showed UH why the future is promising by averaging 287.4 passing yards in his first seven career starts. But his production diminished late in the season as the Cougars faced better defenses (Cincinnati, Louisville and UCF). The offense became fairly predictable because of O’Korn’s inexperience, and opponents pounced. But the Cougars believe O’Korn, a natural pocket passer, can thrive after a full offseason.

Wide receivers Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer combined for 134 catches, nearly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago. They are both back. Greenberry might be the conference’s best. Houston moved Greg Ward from quarterback to receiver, and coaches believe he can be effective in the open field. Markeith Ambles, the former high-profile recruit from USC, broke out in the bowl game against Vanderbilt. The Cougars have serious depth at receiver and often run four-wideout sets as a result.

The offensive line must adjust to the loss of starting left tackle Zach Johnson to a torn ACL in spring ball. Junior Alex Cooper will take over Johnson’s spot. The Cougars must adapt without offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, who left for TCU. Houston promoted internally with Travis Bush as Meacham’s replacement.

Houston can get creative with the running game with the tandem of Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson at tailback and fullback Tyler McCloskey getting involved, too.

Previewing Houston’s Defense for 2014:

With eight starters returning, Houston’s defensive plan is simple: Build on last year’s opportunistic group that led the country in turnovers with 43, eight more than any other team in the nation. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs presided over one of the country’s top turnarounds (118th in total defense in 2012). The Cougars could stand to improve the 266.8 passing yards allowed per game, but overall this is a playmaking group.

Houston was set to return its top nine defensive linemen before starting end Eric Braswell tore his ACL in spring camp. The staff doesn’t want to change much about its 4-3 scheme but plans to refine what’s already in place.

Linebacker Derrick Mathews has 39 career starts and even more big hits. He’s a leader, as is safety Trevon Stewart. If there’s one concern, at least on paper, it’s cornerback. The Cougars lost two good starters. But UH feels good about its depth there with William Jackson, who has elite speed, Turon Walker and two experienced transfers — Marcus Dillard (junior college) and Tyler White (Utah).

Previewing Houston’s Specialists for 2014:

Head coach Tony Levine has a long-standing special teams background, and Levine’s hands are all over this unit. Houston was first in the American in kickoff returns — Demarcus Ayers averaged nearly 28 yards per kickoff — and second in punting. Kyle Bullard, who was 6-of-6 on field goals a year ago, appears to have the inside track over Ty Cummings for the starting job.

Final Analysis 

There’s a lot to like about Houston, which has acquitted itself well in the call-up from C-USA to the American. This year’s schedule is manageable, and at least eight wins should be the expectation. Houston is a proud place — two of the country’s most established coaches, Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, were roaming UH sidelines not too long ago. This team always seems to thrive off quarterback play, so the question is whether O’Korn has peaked or is just lifting off. The latter appears to be the case. Playmaking is there on both sides of the ball. Houston should be in the conversation as preseason American favorites along with Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#68 Illinois Fighting Illini

NATIONAL FORECAST

#68

Big Ten West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Tim Beckman , 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bill Cubit | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Banks

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. 68 Illinois. 

Previewing Illinois' Offense for 2014:

Second-year offensive coordinator Bill Cubit wasn’t ready to name a starting quarterback in the spring. He wanted to watch the three challengers compete for the job. But it was clear to those who watched the battle that there wasn’t much of one. Barring injury before the opener against Youngstown State, Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt gets the call.

There are big hopes at Illinois for Lunt. He has a rocket arm and a quick release. The coaches also rave about his decision-making.

Lunt will rely plenty on running back Josh Ferguson. The dual-threat back led the team in rushing with 779 yards, averaging a robust 5.5 per carry. He was also second on the team in catches.

By far, receiver was the biggest area of concern for the offensive coaches going into the spring. They have to replace three key departed players. Geronimo Allison, Martize Barr, Justin Hardee and Mike Dudek all pushed for playing time with solid results. Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse are threats at tight end.

With four starters back, the coaches are hoping the offensive line will be a strength. Guard Michael Heitz enters his fourth year as a starter. Tackle Austin Schmidt could turn into a star.

Previewing Illinois' Defense for 2014:

Sacks. Fumbles. Interceptions. Areas in which defensive coordinator Tim Banks wants to see a lot of improvement.

The Illini had just 15 sacks in 2013. This from a school that has twice had individual players (Simeon Rice and Whitney Mercilus) exceed that number by themselves in a season.

Teko Powell and “Chunky” Clements figure to see heavy minutes at tackle. Kenny Nelson and Dawuane Smoot get the first shot at end.

Two players return at linebacker with starting experience, led by two-year regular Mason Monheim. While not in the J Leman mold as a playmaker, Monheim often puts himself in position to make the tackle. In an effort to add speed, the Illini moved Earnest Thomas from safety to outside linebacker.

“We need to be more aggressive,” Banks says. “When the ball is in the air, go attack it. Make them earn everything they get. Make them throw through smaller windows.”

V’Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence patrol at corner.

Overall, the defense returns eight starters and slew of backups from last year. But the unit struggled to make stops, so is that a good thing? “We like to think it’s a good thing,” Banks says. “We expect to be better.”

Previewing Illinois' Specialists for 2014:

Illinois welcomes back both starting punter Justin DuVernois and placekicker Taylor Zalewski. DuVernois finished 59th nationally in punting average with 41.1 yards. Zalewski connected on 12-of-17 field goals but only hit two longer than 40 yards. The return game got a boost from Bentley. He brought back both a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in 2013.

Final Analysis

The third year has usually been the charm for Illinois head coaches. Mike White, John Mackovic, Lou Tepper, Ron Turner and Ron Zook all reached bowls in their third seasons. Now, it’s Tim Beckman’s turn to try to keep the streak going. While the school hasn’t issued an ultimatum, a bowl bid would help secure Beckman’s future. The non-conference schedule is set up for success, with winnable home games against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State. Take those three, and the Illini are halfway to a postseason berth.

The offense should continue to pile up yards and points, and the defense can’t be much worse. If Banks’ guys climb 20 spots or so in national defensive rankings, it will translate to more wins. Beckman’s short-term goal is to solidify his position as head coach. Competing for a division title is down the road.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#80 Purdue Boilermakers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#80

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Darrell Hazell, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Shoop | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Hudson

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. 80 Purdue.

Previewing Purdue’s Offense for 2014: 

As goes Danny Etling, so goes Purdue. That’s not much of an overstatement. Etling took over as the starting quarterback midway through last season as a true freshman, and coach Darrell Hazell and his staff know his improvement likely will mirror the Boilermakers’ improvement as well. Austin Appleby is a good backup, but Etling is the man.

Raheem Mostert won the 60- and 200-meter titles at the Big Ten indoor track meet, and the coaches hope he can provide a much-needed big-play threat. Incumbent running back Akeem Hunt will also see time at slot receiver. The coaches are looking to get him and Mostert on the field at the same time. The Boilermakers averaged 6.1 yards per passing attempt, worst in the Big Ten, and had no one who could stretch the field most of the season. DeAngelo Yancey came on as his freshman season progressed. He provide Etling with an inviting target the next three years.

Center Robert Kugler is solid, but the rest of the offensive line is a concern. Some incoming junior college transfers need to contribute in a major way. No one expects this line to blow away the opposition, but Purdue has to do better than 67.1 yards rushing per game — its average last season.

Previewing Purdue’s Defense for 2014:

Purdue has a tradition of strong defensive ends, and Ryan Russell may be the guy to continue it. Hazell says he challenged Russell after a mildly disappointing junior year and was pleased with the way he responded during spring practice. Sophomore Jake Replogle is a likely starter at the other end spot, but Kentucky transfer Langston Newton also is in the mix.

The improved defensive line should lead to a better defense overall, but questions still abound. Seniors Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam provide experience at linebacker, but youth might also be served. Gelen Robinson, the son of Purdue basketball legend Glenn Robinson, one of the top recruits in the incoming freshman class. It would not be a surprise to see him crack the starting lineup at some point in the season.

Reliable Frankie Williams returns at one corner and Taylor Richards returns at one safety spot. Fellow safety Landon Feichter was Purdue’s defensive MVP in 2012, but had an injury-plagued 2013. His return to form would be a nice boost.

Previewing Purdue’s Specialists for 2014: 

It’s generally not a good sign if a team’s best player is its punter, but that is what Purdue had last year in Cody Webster, a first-team All-Big Ten performer and a finalist for the Ray Guy Award. Thomas Meadows is his likely replacement. Returning kicker Paul Griggs showed a strong leg at times, but not much consistency, going only 6-for-12 on field-goal attempts. Meadows may get a shot there as well. The return game should be a strength. Mostert and Hunt each returned kickoffs for touchdowns last year. Purdue returned only nine punts last fall, a testament to how much it struggled. Williams was effective in limited opportunities, averaging 16.8 yards on five returns.

Final Analysis

Most Purdue fans realized Hazell was inheriting a rebuilding situation, but last season still ended up being a nightmare. The lone victory was over FCS foe Indiana State, and the season ended with the Boilermakers getting thumped by archrival Indiana.

The non-conference schedule is more forgiving this year, and Purdue gets a break in conference play. It doesn’t play Michigan or Ohio State. Wisconsin and defending Big Ten champion Michigan State visit Ross-Ade Stadium. Still, it’s hard to envision this team making a move in the Big Ten in 2014. The talent level simply isn’t good enough at this point.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#79 Ball State Cardinals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#79

MAC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Pete Lembo, 104-49 (13 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joey Lynch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Kelly

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. 79 Ball State.

Previewing Ball State’s Offense for 2014:

Ball State bid a bittersweet farewell to four-year starting quarterback Keith Wenning, who walked out the door with 11,402 career passing yards, 92 touchdowns and virtually every other passing record in the school’s book. Wenning led the Cardinals to 19 wins the last two seasons and a pair of bowl bids, but Ball State is still searching for its first bowl victory.

Coach Pete Lembo spent the spring searching for Wenning’s successor. Four youngsters shared the snaps in April, but sophomore Ozzie Mann (nine career attempts) and redshirt freshman Jack Milas earned the right to take the fight into fall camp. “It’s Mann slightly ahead of Milas,” Lembo says. “Ozzie had a solid spring. Jack has a big upside to him. He has the playmaker ‘it’ factor. It should be a good battle.”

Ball State also lost three of its top four receivers, including Willie Snead (106 catches, 1,516 yards, 15 TDs) after he opted to turn pro a year early. Look for Jordan Williams (72-1,050-10) to expand on his monstrous sophomore campaign. “He’s poised for a breakout year,” Lembo says. “He’s got a chance to be special.”

With relatively few veterans returning in the passing game, the Cardinals are more than happy to emphasize a running game that features Jahwan Edwards (1,110 yards) and Horactio Banks (595). Edwards already owns the school record with 39 career rushing scores and needs just 697 yards to claim that career mark as well. He has three stalwart linemen, including third-team All-MAC center Jacob Richard, to blaze paths for him.
“We would be foolish if we didn’t play to the strengths of the unit,” Lembo says.

Previewing Ball State’s Defense for 2014:

When defensive coordinator Jay Bateman moved to take the same role at Army in the offseason, Lembo jumped at the chance to hire Georgetown head coach Kevin Kelly to replace him. Lembo and Kelly coached together at Dartmouth in 1995 and have been close friends since. “He’s a guy I completely trust,” Lembo says. “The trust factor is huge. He’s brought such a great presence to our defense. He’s tried to simplify a few things so our kids can play fast. I like the way this group is playing right now.”
Ball State won’t look significantly different than in years past, though opponents might notice the Cardinals in a few more three-man fronts this fall.

Kelly inherits a strong secondary that features three worthy starters at safety in Brian Jones, Dae’Shaun Hurley and Martez Hester as well as veteran corner Eric Patterson. Second-team All-MAC outside linebacker Ben Ingle ranked third in the league last year with 116 tackles, while sophomore Zack Ryan started every game in the middle last year.

The question marks are along the line as defensive end Nick Miles (five sacks) is the only returning starter. Projected starting nose tackle Carlutorbantu Zaramo injured his knee during spring ball, so he’s not expected to be ready on time.

Previewing Ball State’s Specialists for 2014:

Senior Scott Secor was the top-scoring kicker in the MAC (117 points) last season and drilled 19-of-24 field-goal attempts. Sophomore punter Kyle Schmidt ranked sixth in the league with his 40.9-yard average. The Cardinals must replace splendid returner Jamill Smith and will decide among three different contenders to handle return duties in the fall.

Final Analysis

Northern Illinois is the standard-bearer in the MAC West, but nobody in the division has played the Huskies tougher than Ball State. While the Cardinals might not improve their win total for the fourth time in Lembo’s four years at the helm, they appear positioned to stay in the MAC’s elite for years to come.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#77 Northern Illinois Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#77

MAC West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Rod Carey, 12-3 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Cole | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Niemann

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. 77 Northern Illinois.

Previewing Northern Illinois’ Offense for 2014:

Once known as Tailback U for its string of 1,000-yard rushers, Northern Illinois turned into Quarterback U after the sterling back-to-back careers by Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch. The two quarterbacks combined to win the last three MAC MVPs, with Lynch setting a new standard with consecutive MVPs and placing seventh and third, respectively, in the last two Heisman Trophy races.

Replacing the dual-threat Lynch is the main priority for Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey. Lynch, who passed for 2,892 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,920 yards and 23 scores last season, handled the majority of the snaps the last two seasons. The top three candidates — Matt McIntosh, Drew Hare and Western Michigan transfer Anthony Maddie — all bring different elements to the offense. McIntosh, a junior, possesses the most experience, with Hare boasting the best arm and Maddie a mixture of both.

Regardless of the starter at quarterback, the running back corps should help ease the transition. This is the clearly the deepest and most talented position on the team. After rushing for 1,119 yards last season, Cameron Stingily might not even be the featured runner. Akeem Daniels, who sat out last season with a foot injury, is healthy and primed for a big role.

Often overlooked due to Lynch’s big-play ability, the NIU offensive line allowed just 11 sacks in 14 games and helped generate a MAC-best 297.2 yards rushing per game last season. Count on the Huskies running the ball more this upcoming season, though the senior wide receiving tandem of Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis is polished and dangerous.

Previewing Northern Illinois’ Defense for 2014:

This is a unit currently in the midst of a massive shakeup after losing all four starters on the defensive line and some key pieces in the secondary. A year ago, the Huskies dealt with a similar reconstruction process along the front four, so this won’t be a big issue. There’s plenty of experience along the line, with senior Jason Meehan and junior Perez Ford slated to start at end. Senior nose guard Donovan Gordon will demand double-teams, while tackle Mario Jones played quality minutes last year.

The linebacker group is the strength of the defense, with Jamaal Bass, Boomer Mays and Jamaal Payton forming an athletic and seasoned trio. As the leading returning tackler with 87 stops last season, Bass is a durable playmaker. Mayes, a junior, is ready for a breakout season after tallying 82 tackles last season.

Safety Jimmie Ward, called the “quarterback of the defense” by Carey, will be missed. Marlon Moore was moved from cornerback to safety in the spring.

Previewing Northern Illinois’ Specialists for 2014:

There’s no doubt that the Huskies will miss the clutch kicking of Mathew Sims. Punter Tyler Wedel is the odds-on favorite to take over the placekicking duties, becoming a possible jack-of-all-trades in handling the punting and kickoff jobs.

Final Analysis

After the best two-year run in school history, Northern Illinois faces a daunting task trying to maintain its level of excellence. There should be some early-season growing pains without Lynch’s leadership and big-time production spearheading the offense. Following the season opener, the Huskies hit the road to play at Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas.

Although NIU is loaded at several offensive positions, most notably at tailback, offensive line and wide receiver, Lynch is tough to replace. Carey is emphasizing the importance of finishing strong, with the Huskies losing their last two games last season and not winning a bowl game in the last two years. Even without Lynch, the Huskies return enough talent to contend in the tough MAC West.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#76 California Golden Bears

NATIONAL FORECAST

#76

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

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. 76 California.

Previewing California’s Offense for 2014:

Jared Goff’s freshman season began last fall with a 450-yard passing performance against Northwestern and ended with a shoulder separation against Stanford. In between, Goff set school records for most yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) in the fast-paced, no-huddle offense. The Bears expect him to be more efficient and have a better command of the offense this fall.

Fully healthy by spring, Goff will only thrive if the running game comes alive. After averaging just 122.2 yards per game, the Bears seek better balance. “When they’re rockin’ and rollin’ it’ll make everything happen easier,” Goff says of the Bears’ running backs.

Fast but undersized sophomore Khalfani Muhammad and injury-plagued junior Daniel Lasco will get first shot at the tailback spot, but freshman Tre Watson, who rushed for 3,434 yards and 48 touchdowns as a high school senior, will get a look. The Bears’ deepest group is receiver, where juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs combined for 147 receptions last season, but only six TDs. 

It will only click if the experience gained by a young O-line translates into a more productive unit this season. Eight returnees, led by center Jordan Rigsbee and left tackle Steven Moore, combined for 51 starts on the line last season.

Previewing California’s Defense for 2014: 

Stripped of five would-be starters, who missed most or all of the season because of injuries, the Bears were helpless on defense last season. They allowed 45.9 points per game — worst in school history — prompting three changes on the defensive coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman brings a simplified system that will include more blitzing and more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. “This year communication is a lot better,” linebacker Jalen Jefferson says. “Guys feel confident out there. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Defensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark on the team after the departure of players who accounted for 37 of 48 starts. Two key players are end Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil, former top-10 national recruits at their positions who were both sidelined last season by injuries. Scarlett, moved from outside linebacker to utilize his pass-rush abilities, “can be a dominant player,” coach Sonny Dykes says.

Also back after a year on the shelf are safeties Avery Sebastian (Achilles) and Stefan McClure (knee), anchoring a secondary that allowed 32 touchdown passes last season.

Previewing California’s Specialists for 2014:

The Bears’ special teams hit rock bottom in a 62–28 home loss to USC in which the Trojans returned two punts for touchdowns and a blocked punt for a third. Punter Cole Leininger actually had a solid sophomore season, averaging nearly 43 yards per kick. Sophomore Noah Beito will try to replace departed senior Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 17-of-20 field goals.

Final Analysis

The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.

“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.” 

Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.

Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#75 Toledo Rockets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#75

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Matt Campbell, 17-9 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jason Candle | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jon Heacock

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. 75 Toledo.

Previewing Toledo’s Offense for 2014: 

Toledo has maintained one of the best offensive machines in the MAC ever since it went to the spread more than a decade ago under former coach Tom Amstutz. In 2013, the Rockets were again near the top of the league in scoring (33.0 ppg) and total offense (447.3 ypg). Although it has several skill positions to fill, Toledo is once again loaded with talent and options to charge up its offense.

Sophomore Logan Woodside is the frontrunner to start at quarterback after seeing time in four games as a backup and hitting on 51.2 percent of his passes without an interception. Sophomore Kareem Hunt is the featured back after rolling up 866 yards and averaging 6.3 yards per carry in a supplemental role in 2013 behind 1,100-yard rusher David Fluellen. Filling in for the injured Fluellen, Hunt rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the final five games.

The strength and experience of the Toledo offense is up front, where four starters return. All-MAC guard Greg Mancz is a pro prospect who leads the group, along with fellow returning starters Jeff Myers at guard and Josh Hendershot and Chase Nelson at tackle. The group allowed just six sacks in 12 games last year, best in the conference.

The receiving corps is rich in talent and speed, led by junior Alonzo Russell, who has had 115 catches over the past two seasons. Seniors Dwight Macon and Justin Olack are steady performers. Junior Kishon Wilcher adds explosive speed.

Previewing Toledo’s Defense for 2014: 

With six returning all-conference players among the 10 regulars coming back on this side of the ball, the Rockets should be a stronger defensive unit in 2014 and improve on the 421.8 yards allowed per game last season. Toledo has five of its top six tacklers returning, led by senior linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

The crew up front is deep, with a dozen players possessing a shot at making the rotation. The athleticism of the unit should allow it to pressure the quarterback in the same manner the Rockets did in 2013, when they recorded 34 sacks in 12 games. All-conference tackle Treyvon Hester anchors the middle. Senior Ray Bush and junior Allen Covington will man the ends, with junior college transfer Tre James also a part of the plan.

Sylvestre joins experienced juniors Trent Voss and Chase Murdock in a strong linebacking unit. The Rockets have nine defensive backs with experience, but when the sorting out is completed, look for seniors Cheatham Norrils and Cameron Cole to man the corners, with help from sophomore Jordan Martin. Senior Jordan Haden leads the group at safety.

Previewing Toledo’s Specialists for 2014: 

Senior Jeremiah Detmer is one of the nation’s most accurate placekickers, currently working a streak in which he’s hit 36-of-37 field goals. Sophomore Nick Ellis looks to replace four-year starter Vince Penza at punter. Speedster Wilcher leads a deep return corps.

Final Analysis 

Toledo has 17 starters back to work on purging the sour taste left from last season, when the Rockets went 7–5 overall and missed playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2009. The schedule is not easy; the Rockets play Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State in non-conference action and host Bowling Green, the defending league champs, from the MAC East.

Toledo has a wealth of experience and talent along its offensive front and at linebacker, but the Rockets will be featuring a new starter at quarterback — always a dangerous proposition. If Woodside emerges as viable playmaker and the defense improves, the Rockets should be right back in the MAC East title picture.




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