#119 Western Michigan Broncos





HEAD COACH: P.J. Fleck, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kirk Ciarrocca | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ed Pinkham

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. 119 Western Michigan.

Previewing Western Michigan’s Offense for 2014:

Name the position on Western Michigan’s offense, and second-year coach P.J. Fleck will explain the uncertainty surrounding it. And at almost every spot, the 33-year-old Fleck is expecting a freshman to challenge to start, or at least to play. It’s a product of having the MAC’s top-rated recruiting class join a program that finished last season 1–11. “I’ve never been on a team like this, where every job is open,” Fleck says.

That includes quarterback, where the competition is between sophomore Zach Terrell and incoming freshman Chance Stewart. A local product from Sturgis, Mich., the 6'6" Stewart is a pro-style quarterback who originally committed to Wisconsin. The less-heralded Terrell isn’t likely to give up the gig quietly. Little was expected of him as an injury sub last season. But Terrell’s first career pass went for a touchdown at Michigan State, and in passing for 1,602 yards and eight touchdowns, he wound up having a better year than oft-injured starter Tyler Van Tubbergen.

MAC Freshman of the Year Corey Davis gives WMU a go-to target. The 6'2" Davis, who Fleck says has added 10 pounds of muscle, caught 67 passes for 941 yards and six TDs in his first go-round. Second-leading receiver Kendrick Roberts (23 catches) also returns, but the Broncos’ second option this fall might be freshman Darius Phillips, redshirted last season for academic reasons. Phillips is considered the fastest player on the team.

Diminutive running back Dareyon Chance, last season’s leading rusher with 692 yards, was granted a medical redshirt for a fifth season. However, three touted true freshmen — Jarvion Franklin, Jamauri Bogan and Leo Ekwoge — are expected to be in the mix.

Whether they have anywhere to run will be up to an offensive line woefully short on depth. Four starters return, including junior center/guard James Kristof and junior left tackle Willie Beavers, but behind them is mostly a list of freshmen.

Previewing Western Michigan’s Defense for 2014: 

The strength of the entire team is its secondary, a crew highlighted by All-MAC senior corner Donald Celiscar and hard-hitting senior safety Justin Currie, the MAC’s fourth-leading tackler in 2013. Celiscar and Currie accounted for six of the Broncos’ eight interceptions last season. Safety Rontavious Atkins started three games last season before a knee injury forced him to redshirt.

In front of this secondary, however, are a plethora of questions and youth, beginning at linebacker. There, WMU is counting on junior Devon Brant — coming off ACL surgery — in the middle.

Nose guard Richard Ash, a graduate transfer from Michigan, gives a defensive line heavy on freshmen and sophomores a needed infusion of experience and Big Ten beef.

Previewing Western Michigan's Specialists for 2014:

Amid these countless uncertainties, the Broncos catch a break on special teams, where placekicker Andrew Haldeman and punter J. Schroeder, both juniors, return. Haldeman made 16-of-20 field goals last season, including 3-of-4 from beyond 40 yards, on a team that couldn’t afford to miss out on points. Schroeder averaged a modest 39.7 yards per punt.

Final Analysis

Fleck strolled into Kalamazoo with plenty of bravado, ignoring critics of his age and his “Row the Boat” mantra. A humbling season did nothing to slow recruiting — Rivals ranked his 2014 class No. 59 nationally, ahead of Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois — or his optimism for the future.

In the short term, Fleck sounds more realistic than a year ago, and more comfortable in his skin, aware that the odds are stacked against a team with only 29 upperclassmen, not enough of them up front on either side of the ball. “It’s a patient process, which in college football isn’t the friendliest process,” he says.


#118 Hawaii Warriors





HEAD COACH: Norm Chow, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Norm Chow | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Clune

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. 118 Hawaii.

Previewing Hawaii’s Offense for 2014: 

Sophomore Ikaika Woolsey is positioned to be Hawaii’s fourth opening-day starting quarterback in as many seasons. Woolsey, who started two games in 2013 and played mostly cameo roles before taking the lead in the spring, gives the Rainbow Warriors their best combination of passing and running, which is why it is his job to lose.

But he won’t lack for competition. Taylor Graham, who started the 2013 season-opener before suffering a shoulder injury in the third game, should be healthy in the fall. Jeremy Higgins, who also has a start on his résumé, and one-time Colorado State signee Beau Reilly will be in the mix.

But there is no doubt who makes the running game go — senior tailback Joey Iosefa, who came back from a foot injury that caused him to miss all or most of eight games to rush for 586 yards and five touchdowns in the final four games. His return coincided with Hawaii’s late-season offensive surge. Steven Lakalaka and Diocemy Saint Juste will spell Iosefa.

The arrival of Quinton Pedroza, a transfer from Utah, adds some much-needed depth to the receiver corps, where Scott Harding, Vasquez Haynes and Keith Kirkwood should be the main targets. If Jordan Pu’u-Robinson can stay healthy — a big if — the tight end position will be a big part of the offense.

In an effort to shore up an offensive line that allowed 43 sacks, the team’s best lineman, two-year starting center Ben Clarke, could find himself at tackle this year. Steady Kody Afusia would move from left guard to center.

Previewing Hawaii's Defense for 2014:

When defensive coordinator Kevin Clune arrived from Utah State, he took on one of the biggest challenges in the country. Clune inherits a defense that ranked among the worst in the nation in several key categories.

The undertaking begins with the switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 to take advantage of one of Hawaii’s few strengths on defense, its linebackers. The unit, which has both size and speed, received an additional boost when UCLA transfer Jeremy Castro was granted immediate eligibility. Jerrol Garcia-Williams is a leading returnee, and Julian Gener was off to a big start in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury.

Second-team All-MW defensive end Beau Yap sets the standard on the defensive line, where sophomore Kennedy Tulimasealii is ready to come into his own and Moses Samia and Marcus Malepeai will also play key roles. The secondary will be built around cornerbacks Ne’Quan Phillips and Dee Maggitt and safeties Marrell Jackson, Trayvon Henderson and Kawika Borden. But depth remains an issue in the pass-happy Mountain West, and redshirt freshman Keelan Ewaliko could make a big contribution.

Previewing Hawaii’s Specialists for 2014:

In his addition to his duties as a wide receiver, Harding is a valuable special teams contributor. The former Australian Rules rugby pro punted and returned punts last season, and for a time he was also a holder on placements. As an ambidextrous rugby-style kicker, his roll-outs kept foes off balance, resulting in three fumbles and helping UH rank 25th nationally in net punting. Placekicker Tyler Hadden converted only 7-of-13 attempts last season, including 2-of-3 from beyond 40 yards. 

Final Analysis

After the worst two-season start (4–20) ever for a Hawaii head coach, the pressure is on for Norm Chow to show major improvement in 2014. That, however, will not be easy. The schedule is difficult — especially early with three Pac-12 opponents in the season’s first month — and there are significant personnel issues on both sides of the ball. The Rainbow Warriors appear headed toward another last-place finish.


#117 UTEP Miners





HEAD COACH: Sean Kugler, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Patrick Higgins | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Stoker

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. 117 UTEP.

Previewing UTEP’s Offense for 2014: 

When UTEP’s skill position players were healthy and whole in the first half of the season, the Miners’ run-oriented attack was humming.

Most of the key pieces are back, led by quarterback Jameill Showers, who transfered from Texas A&M after finding himself behind Johnny Manziel. Showers played well before separating his shoulder in the seventh game. He completed 57 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions despite playing behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him.

Showers has to find a new No. 1 receiver after Jordan Leslie, who was on track to make a run at every school receiving record, transferred to BYU. Senior Ian Hamilton is the likely new top target after catching 25 passes a year ago. Malcolm Trail and Jarrad Shaw, along with tight end Eric Tomlinson, will also be a big part of the passing attack.

A Sean Kugler offense, however, starts with the running game, and Aaron Jones returns after a spectacular freshman debut — 90.1 yards per game, first among freshmen nationally — that was cut short by injury after nine games. Senior Nathan Jeffery has been productive when healthy.

The line returns three starters, but they are all changing positions as the Miners look to get bigger. Jerel Watkins and Kyle Brown, athletic but smallish for what UTEP is trying to do in the middle, are moving from guard to tackle, and center Paulo Melendez is moving to guard. UTEP should be 10 pounds heavier per man on the line than it was last year, but this is still the area of concern.

Previewing UTEP’s Defense for 2014:

UTEP’s been bad on defense for a decade, and last year may have been a new low point. Last spring, the Miners switched to a 3-4 under defensive coordinator Jeff Choate, but he left the program in April. They then made the move to a 4-2-5 under Scott Stoker, who was hired away from Sam Houston State.

They spent most of the fall looking confused. UTEP ranked 12th in Conference USA in total defense (468.3 ypg) and was especially bad against the run. The Miners gave up 6.2 yards per rushing attempt (119th in the nation) and allowed 18 rushes of 30 yards or more. They also tied for last the league with only 13 sacks. There wasn’t much that this defense did well.

End Roy Robertson-Harris, perhaps the best athlete on the team, will lead an otherwise young line. The back seven is far more experienced. Linebacker Anthony Puente and several defensive backs with starting experience in last year’s revolving door are back, led by corners Adrian James and Ishmael Harrison and safeties Dashone Smith, Devin Cockrell and Wesley Miller.

Previewing UTEP’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Miners weren’t very good at kicking last year, but they still felt good enough about Jay Mattox (7-of-15 on field goals) that they didn’t recruit another placekicker. Punter Mike Ruggles (40.0 yards per attempt) was solid enough, but the star of the special teams is kick returner Autrey Golden, who was among the national leaders in both return average (27.6) and touchdowns (two).

Final Analysis 

As long as the Miners stay healthy at the offensive skill positions, they should score enough points to keep them in most games. That happened for the first part of last season, but they didn’t win many games because the defense was so porous.

A combination of a second year in the system and a host of experience in the back seven should lead to improvement on defense, but it will have to be dramatic for UTEP to win six games and challenge for a bowl.


#115 Southern Miss Golden Eagles





HEAD COACH: Todd Monken, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chip Lindsey | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Duggan

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. 115 Southern Miss.

Previewing Southern Miss’ Offense for 2014:

Nick Mullens moved into a starting role midway through his freshman season last fall and appears to be coach Todd Monken’s quarterback of the present. Mullens ended the season by leading the Golden Eagles to a lopsided victory over UAB that snapped a 23-game losing streak. Mullens should prosper under offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey, who came from the Auburn staff and is Mullens’ former high school coach. While not blessed with the greatest mobility, Mullens is a heady player with an accurate arm.

The reuniting of Mullens and Lindsey could aid the entire offense. Owners of an anemic running game in 2013 — the Golden Eagles didn’t score a rushing touchdown until the seventh game of the season — USM returns running backs Jalen Richard and George Payne. Richard rushed for 324 yards last season after gaining 426 and scoring four touchdowns as a freshman. At 5'8" and 208 pounds, Richard doesn’t possess a punishing-type running style, but he’s not afraid to carry between the tackles. Payne, 6'0" and 200 pounds, is a bigger, downhill runner.

Sophomore Tyre’oune Holmes averaged only 7.7 yards per reception, but he led the team with 53 catches, 20 more than Markese Triplett. Both Holmes and Triplett should thrive with Mullens entrenched at quarterback. The Golden Eagles also are expecting more from Marquise Ricard, who improved as the season progressed and finished with three TD catches.

Previewing Southern Miss’ Defense for 2014:

Seven starters return from a unit that struggled mightily in 2013. But there is reason for Southern Miss to be encouraged.

An experienced secondary will be led by safety Jacorius Cotton, a punishing tackler who missed last season because of academic issues. He has 20 career starts. Senior Emmanuel Johnson, the other safety, has started 15 games and was the team’s fourth-leading tackler a year ago. At cornerback, Kalan Reed and Ed Wilkins are returning starters.

The defense also missed the presence of linebacker Alan Howze most of last season after he sustained a season-ending injury in the team’s fourth game. Howze was granted a medical redshirt for a second senior season. Justin Penn, a hard-hitting special teams player last year, may push for a starting role at Spur, the hybrid safety/linebacker position.

Up front, yet another key player who missed most of the season returns as Rakeem Nunez-Roches, the team’s best defensive tackle, is back from a foot injury he suffered in the team’s early-season loss at Nebraska.

Previewing Southern Miss’ Specialists for 2014:

The kicking game appears set behind Corey Acosta and Tyler Sarrazin. Acosta, a senior, overcame a difficult midseason stretch in which he missed six straight field goals to connect on six of his final eight, including a 50-yarder. Sarrazin averaged nearly 40 yards per punt. Johnson averaged 25.5 yards per kickoff return and, along with Evan Osborne, should give the Golden Eagles a solid duo. Southern Miss returned only 12 punts a year ago but averaged 13.4 yards on those limited opportunities.

Final Analysis 

Perhaps the nightmare is over for Southern Miss. After setting a standard for success in Conference USA, the Golden Eagles went winless in 2012 and lost their first 11 games in 2013. The Mullens-Lindsey combination seems destined to improve the offense, and the return of several key players from injury should bolster the defense. There’s a rough non-conference slate, but Monken should have a competitive and relatively experienced squad —  as many as 14 freshmen and sophomores starting by season’s end — prepared to compete in league play.


#114 Kent State Golden Flashes





HEAD COACH: Paul Haynes, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Rock | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian George

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. 114 Kent State.

Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2014:

This unit must show major improvement in order to avoid a second consecutive disappointing season under coach Paul Haynes. In 2013, Kent State ranked 88th nationally in total offense, with injuries and inconsistency often being the culprits. A fresh start in 2014 comes with no promises unless quarterback Colin Reardon makes progress, bruising back Trayion Durham returns to form and a young group of receivers and linemen can fill significant voids.

Reardon was a redshirt freshman last season when he took over for four-year starter Spencer Keith. His numbers (58.9 percent completions, 12 TDs and nine INTs) reflected his inexperience. The job is his again, and Haynes and offensive coordinator Brian Rock believe great strides will be made in 2014.

The 250-pound Durham was slowed by injuries and gained only 766 yards rushing in 2013 after having 1,346 in KSU’s bowl season of 2012. He was limited in spring drills with a foot injury, but the hope is that he will be ready in the fall — and ready to return to his former self.

Reardon will be throwing to receivers Chris Humphrey (No. 1 on the team in catches with 51 for 613 yards) and Josh Boyle (19 for 210 yards) as well as tight end Casey Pierce (33 for 364 yards). William Woods, Kris White and James Brooks lead the list of young prospects.

The line, a major question mark, will be dominated by underclassmen. ­Tackles Terrell Johnson and Jason Bitsko are the only returning starters.

Previewing Kent State’s Defense for 2014:

The departure of the celebrated Roosevelt Nix, a four-time first-team All-MAC tackle, is part of an overhaul of the front line that concerns coordinator Brian George. Nate Terhune and Chris Fairchild will be asked to fill the middle after decent but uneven seasons in 2013. The hope is that end Nate Vance will be healthy by the opener after a shoulder injury limited his time in the spring.

Linebacking should be an area of strength with Matt Dellinger (77 tackles) in the middle and DeVante’ Strickland (53 tackles) on the outside. The development and reliability of Elcee Refuge and Darius Redmond allowed the coaches to move Jordan Italiano (76 tackles) to safety.

With Italiano patrolling the back end, and experienced corners in Dylan Farrington and Malcolm Pannell (who combined for five of the team’s nine interceptions in 2013), there is reason to be optimistic about the secondary. Sophomore transfers Najee Murray (a corner from Ohio State) and Nick Cuthbert (a safety from Georgia Tech) add talent and potential to the mix.

Previewing Kent State’s Specialists for 2014:

Placekickers Anthony Melchiori and Brad Miller are back after combining for 59 points last season. Melchiori (44.5-yard average) returns as one the MAC’s best punters. Much improvement is needed on the return teams, which ranked 110th nationally in punt returns and 118th in kickoff returns last season. Speedy Ernest Calhoun is expected to be the primary threat in those areas.

Final Analysis 

No one was quite ready for last year’s fall from grace. The 2012 season was marked by a school-record 11 victories and the first bowl game since 1972. Then coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, and Haynes, a former Kent State player, replaced him. With a new quarterback and a new coach, KSU stumbled to a 4–8 record overall and a 3–5 mark in the MAC.

That was a collective shock to the Kent State faithful, and now comes the uncertainty about whether the program just suffered a temporary setback or whether the bad old days of the past are back.

This promises to be an interesting season around the confines of Dix Stadium. Whether it will be a successful one is far from assured.


#113 Texas State Bobcats





HEAD COACH: Dennis Franchione, 29-29 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Conway, Mike Schultz | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Thompson

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. 113 Texas State.

Previewing Texas State’s Offense for 2014: 

Now that Texas State has found its quarterback in sophomore Tyler Jones, coach Dennis Franchione has elected to install more of an up-tempo, spread offense in the hopes that it will make the group more prolific this season after ranking 111th nationally in total offense in 2013. The Bobcats are loaded at tailback with junior Robert Lowe (945 yards, nine touchdowns in 2013) leading the backfield. Lowe finished 55 yards short of being the first Texas State tailback to finish with 1,000 yards since 2008.

There are a few questions at wide receiver. The Bobcats bring back Ben Ijah (16 receptions for 207 yards). Ijah will need to step up after the team lost Isaiah Battle and Andy Erickson to graduation. The senior wideout offered a glimpse of his playmaking ability in a 33–31 win over South Alabama last October when he caught a 51-yard pass on 4th-and-24. C.J. Best made the move from running back to slot receiver in the spring.

If the Bobcats want to take a step forward in the Sun Belt, they need their offensive line, which struggled with inexperience last season, to be more consistent. Former Arkansas State offensive line coach Brad Bedell was hired in the offseason.

Previewing Texas State’s Defense for 2014: 

After coordinator Craig Naivar left Texas State for a job at Kentucky in March, Franchione had to scramble to fill the opening quickly. The Bobcats chose someone with experience in the Sun Belt in John Thompson, who coached at Arkansas State last season. Thompson brings a read-and-react scheme, which places the onus on his players to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. 

Texas State has plenty of experienced players to build Thompson’s system around, especially at linebacker. This group is led by senior David Mayo, who was the MVP of the defense last season with 89 tackles despite missing two games.

Questions remain in the secondary and on the defensive line. The one player Thompson can count on in the defensive backfield is senior cornerback — and four-year-starter — Craig Mager. After Mager, it turns into a guessing game with Xavier Daniels, Aaron Matthews and Justin Iwuji all gone from the 2013 roster.

The defensive line hasn’t taken shape yet, either. Franchione made the line his focal point during recruiting, mostly because the Bobcats lost all four starters to graduation. Texas State inked eight defensive linemen, including six from the junior college ranks. The Bobcats need at least one of the transfers, possibly Mershad Dillon or Dondre Elvoid (or both), to offer some size inside.

Previewing Texas State’s Specialists for 2014:

After Will Johnson struggled early in the season (0-of-5 on field goal attempts), Jason Dann took over the placekicking duties. Johnson moved to punter, and the Bobcats never looked back. Dann went 9-of-10 on field goals, including a 41-yard game-winner against South Alabama with four seconds remaining. Mager and receiver Brandon Smith are on hand to handle return duties.

Final Analysis 

This season will mark the first time in the past four years that the Bobcats will have spent back-to-back campaigns in the same conference after moving from the Southland to the WAC to the Sun Belt. Franchione has already said that this is the most FBS-ready roster he’s had at Texas State. The team will again have a backloaded schedule with plenty of tough games in the latter half of the season. The good news is that the Bobcats will play both UL Lafayette and Arkansas State — the Sun Belt co-champions in 2013 — at home.

After Texas State went 6–6 in 2013, a winning season and bowl game would be the next logical step for this program. For that to happen, though, the defense — with a rebuilt line and secondary — will have to overachieve while learning a new system.  


#112 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs





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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 112 Louisiana Tech.

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Offense for 2014:

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

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

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

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

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Defense for 2014: 

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

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

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

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

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Specialists for 2014:

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

Final Analysis 

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


#110 ULM Warhawks





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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 110 Louisiana-Monroe. 

Previewing ULM’s Offense for 2014

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

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

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

Previewing ULM’s Defense for 2014

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

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

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

Previewing ULM’s Specialists for 2014

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

Final Analysis

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

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


#108 Troy Trojans





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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 108 Troy.

Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Previewing Troy’s Defense for 2014

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

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

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

Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2014

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

Final Analysis

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


#106 New Mexico Lobos





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

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 106 New Mexico.

Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2014

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

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

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

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

Previewing New Mexico’s Defense for 2014

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

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

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

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

Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2014

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

Final Analysis

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