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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#109 UAB Blazers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#109

C-USA East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Bill Clark, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryant Vincent | DEF. COORDINATOR: Duwan Walker

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. 109 UAB. 

Previewing UAB’s Offense for 2014

Finding playmakers shouldn’t be a problem for the Blazers. Finding someone to get the football to the playmakers could be a bit trickier. UAB has several quarterback candidates but none with any significant FBS experience. Junior college transfer Cody Clements moved to the front during spring practice, but redshirt freshman Jeremiah Briscoe, who had shoulder surgery last season, is not far behind. Four other quarterbacks are on the roster, including a pair of true freshmen, but it looks like the job will go to either Clements or Briscoe.

The good news is, they can spread it around to some quality playmakers. Sophomore running back Jordan Howard was a Freshman All-Conference USA selection after sharing the position with departed standout Darrin Reaves. If junior Bashr Coles stays healthy, then the Blazers have a pair of rugged runners.
Senior receiver Jamarcus Nelson was one of the most dynamic receivers in the conference last season — averaging 20.1 per catch on his 42 receptions and scoring eight touchdowns — and sophomore Jamari Staples is also a big-play threat. They are just the start of a deep and talented corps of pass-catchers that also features the top C-USA tight end in veteran Kennard Backman.

UAB should be solid up front, even though there could be a bunch of interchangeable parts. The Blazers have four returning regulars, including a pair of solid tackles in Cameron Blankenship and Victor Salako, and plenty of incoming help. Redshirt freshman center Zach Sims could be a future star.

Previewing UAB’s Defense for 2014

UAB fans are accustomed to bad defense. New head coach Bill Clark, a defensive coach by trade, looks to change that quickly. The Blazers appear to be deep on the defensive side and possibly more talented than in the recent past. Time will tell if that translates into more defensive success.

The secondary should be a strength after a disastrous 2013 when injuries decimated the defensive backfield. Calvin Jones and Jay Davis, who started at safety in last year’s opener, return after missing most of the season with injuries. They are part of a deep group of safeties, including intriguing junior college transfer Kalen Jackson, who also could play linebacker. Cornerback is well manned with Kelton Brackett, Lamarcus Farmer and Jimmy Jean leading the way.

UAB has to get better up front. Defensive ends Diaheem Watkins and undersized Chris Rabb give UAB speed on the edge, but the Blazers need to shore up the inside. Junior Jontavious Morris is solid at nose tackle, and junior college transfers Parrish Huddleston and Robert Mondie will contribute. Health is not an issue, and the numbers are good if some first-year players can fit in right away.

Jake Ganus, last year’s leading tackler, returns at linebacker but is not guaranteed a starting spot. Truth is, no one had a starting spot secured heading into fall camp. Destin Challenger played well in a short stint before getting injured last season, and Shaq Jones is impressive physically. Perhaps the most important thing is finding someone to win the job in the middle.

Previewing UAB’s Specialists for 2014

The Blazers have one of the top pairs of specialists in the league in kicker Ty Long and punter Hunter Mullins. Nelson is a dynamic kick returner.

Final Analysis

Don’t expect miracles from Clark in his first season, but do expect improvement from Garrick McGee’s short tenure as the program’s head coach. Defensive improvement is a must, and someone needs to secure the quarterback job. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see UAB double its win total from last season, which was two, but they are probably a couple of years away from turning things completely in the right direction.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#127 FIU Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#127

C-USA East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Ron Turner, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Steve Shankweiler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Josh Conklin

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. 127 FIU.

Previewing FIU’s Offense for 2014:

Coming off arguably the worst offensive season the Football Bowl Subdivision has seen since 2005, further regression seems impossible for FIU. The team will be based around an offensive line that returns five starters from last season, including left guard Jordan Budwig, a local product who started as a true freshman last season and was the team’s best run-blocker.

In all, FIU returns offensive linemen with a combined 69 career starts. The hope of FIU coach Ron Turner and his staff is that experience will help the Panthers improve a rushing offense that averaged 2.1 yards per carry last season (last in the nation, and it wasn’t even close) and a passing game that was forced into quick dump passes on nearly every down.

The big question for FIU in 2014 is who will be under center (and that idiom still applies to the pro-style Panthers). Jake Medlock, the Panthers’ starting quarterback last year, transferred to D-II Valdosta State for his senior season, leaving the man he beat out last year, E.J. Hilliard, and a promising pair of early enrollee freshmen to battle for the job. Hilliard, a scrambling quarterback from nearby Miami Northwestern, has never looked comfortable in Turner’s anti-spread scheme. His competition for the starting job comes from Tampa product Alex McGough. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, McGough is as prototypical of a pocket passer as FIU is going to find, and he stole the show in the Panthers’ spring game. He’ll be pushed by fellow freshman Bud Martin, who has the best arm strength of the three.

Regardless of which quarterback plays, he’ll be handing the ball off to junior running back Lamarq Caldwell, who averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season. For a team based in South Florida, FIU has a surprising dearth of playmakers at wide receiver. Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith picked up many of those dump passes.

Previewing FIU’s Defense for 2014: 

FIU didn’t exactly pair a strong defense with its anemic offense last year, and the defense could devolve further in 2014.

Finding two defensive tackles who can replace Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane is priority No. 1 in West Miami. The two tackles were the reason FIU’s 5.28 yards allowed per opponent rushing attempt wasn’t a bigger number and that the FIU pass rush had any numbers at all. With both gone to graduation, the Panthers will give first dibs on their jobs to junior Lars Koht and sophomore Imarjaye Albury.

There’s depth at defensive end, with Giovani Francois and Denzell Perine standing out. Wonderful Monds II should provide quality snaps as well. Darrian Dyson can play multiple positions and could be the D-line’s X-factor.

The return of cornerback Richard Leonard from academic ineligibility should boost an already solid secondary, which is anchored by free safety and male model (seriously) Justin Halley.

Linebacker is another position of concern. Middle backer Luis Rosado is the group’s top returning tackler (35). He’ll be flanked by Davison Colimon and Patrick Jean, who combined for 39 tackles.

Previewing FIU’s Specialists for 2014:

The Panthers are young on special teams. Austin Taylor returns after a decent freshman season in which he made 8-of-12 field goals. True freshman Luke Medlock is likely to win the starting punting job.

Final Analysis

While the natural progression of players and the return of Leonard at cornerback provide hope that FIU can improve, holes in the defensive front seven and the possibility that a true freshman will start at quarterback extinguish those small bits of positivity. Games against Louisville, Pitt, Marshall and even rival FAU are likely to be embarrassingly lopsided. The Panthers have a better chance of going winless than making a bowl game. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#123 Appalachian State Mountaineers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#123

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Scott Satterfield, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dwayne Ledford, Frank Ponce | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nate Woody

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. 123 Appalachian State.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Offense for 2014:

As the quarterbacks coach during Appalachian State’s string of three FCS titles less than a decade ago, second-year head coach Scott Satterfield is used to seeing the Mountaineers thrive on offense. After seeing a dip in scoring and several other categories last season, stability in several spots means they should move back toward that familiar form.

Kameron Bryant is back for his second season as Appalachian State’s starting quarterback. He threw for more than 2,700 yards and completed 71.2 percent of his passes. Bryant isn’t the same running threat that some of Satterfield’s former charges were, but with an offense that takes advantage of the junior’s accurate arm, the Mountaineers’ spread look should still be tough to stop.

Sophomore running back Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,250 yards last season, will have a veteran offensive line to work behind and some help in freshman running back Terrence Upshaw.

The one area on offense in which the Mountaineers will see significant turnover is at receiver. Since only three of Bryant’s top targets return from last season, Satterfield expects the six new faces he’s brought in to make an impact.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Defense for 2014: 

Last season was a period of transition for Appalachian State’s defense. New defensive coordinator Nate Woody, a longtime assistant at Southern Conference rival Wofford, brought in a 3-4 look that took some time for the young Mountaineers to grasp.

Satterfield says that while this season’s group will still be largely comprised of young players, he sees progress.

Senior Ronald Blair will lead a defensive line that should also receive major contributions from defensive ends Deuce Robinson and Olawale Dada and nose tackles Darian Small and Tyson Fernandez. The group will try to better the eight sacks it accrued last season.

Outside linebackers Rashaad Townes and Kennan Gilchrist also had strong springs and should push for playing time. Along with John Law, who racked up 71 tackles last year, they’ll have to offset the loss of last season’s leading tackler Karl Anderson.
A young secondary is the lone question mark facing the defense. But with a large group of potential contributors, the Mountaineers believe there are answers out there.

Previewing Appalachian State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Punter Bentlee Critcher was a pleasant surprise last season, going from freshman walk-on to third-team FCS All-American. After averaging 45.9 yards per punt — the second-best mark in school history — Critcher has a firm grip on the job. Zach Matics will take over the rest of the kicking duties after handling kickoffs last season. The return game will be sorted out in the preseason.

Final Analysis

One of the dominant programs in the Southern Conference and on the FCS level for decades, Appalachian State is on the brink of its first season in the FBS ranks.

The Mountaineers — who matched their lowest win total since 1993 last season — will face several challenges, like depth issues stemming from the push to reach their full complement of scholarships and a lineup of new Sun Belt Conference opponents. So for a team and a fan base that’s used to success, this season could be a big adjustment.

But if things are kept in perspective, there’s reason for optimism.

While on the staff at Florida International, Satterfield did win a Sun Belt title, so he understands what Appalachian State is up against. And with a team that will lean on young talent, there’s reason to believe that the Mountaineers will eventually be a force in their new league. Still, there’s a strong chance their first taste of FBS life — which begins with a trip to Michigan, site of their unforgettable 2007 upset — will have some bumpy moments.




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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#126 Georgia State Panthers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#126

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, 0-12 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Jagodzinski | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

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. 126 Georgia State.

Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2014:

If there was one bright spot in an otherwise brutal transition to the FBS level, it’s the production Georgia State got out of quarterback Ronnie Bell. The transfer from Ohio threw for 2,573 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. But just because Bell has experience doesn’t mean he’ll be under center for the Panthers’ opener. In hopes of increasing competition across the board and jolting an offense that averaged a Sun Belt-worst 18.8 points per game, coach Trent Miles brought in three-star recruit Nick Arbuckle, who threw for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns at Pierce (Calif.) College, and Emiere Scaife, who has good size and arm strength for a true freshman.

Georgia State comes in with plenty of question marks after losing six offensive linemen to graduation as well as productive receiver Albert Wilson, who accounted for nearly 1,200 yards. Still, identifying a quarterback will be the No. 1 priority for an offense that converted a league-worst 33 percent of its third downs and gave up 32 sacks.

Besides offensive line, where the Panthers signed three junior college players in hopes of a quick makeover, the biggest concern will be depth at wide receiver, where they had just three scholarship players go through spring practice. Miles hopes Michael Harrison, a 5'7" running back/slot receiver who accounted for 1,536 yards last season in junior college, can provide some playmaking pop.

Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2014:

Lack of size and strength was noticeable on the defensive side of the ball last season, and particularly up front, where the Panthers allowed a league-worst 221.2 rushing yards per game. That wasn’t a surprise, however, given that the Panthers’ most talented players were true freshmen. A full offseason in the weight room has done wonders for sophomore defensive linemen Shawayne Lawrence and Tevin Jones, who Miles expects to provide a foundation for future success in the trenches.

Sophomore Mackendy Cheridor and junior Joseph Peterson, who was honorable mention All-Sun Belt after a 103-tackle season, bring plenty of starting experience to the linebacking corps. The question mark will be in the secondary, where Georgia State lost eight defensive backs and will try to fill in gaps with junior college talent — cornerback Marcus Caffey was highly-rated coming out of Iowa Western — and by moving junior Tarris Batiste to safety after recording 77 tackles at linebacker last season.

Regardless of who plays in the secondary, generating more turnovers will be crucial for a unit that snagged just six total interceptions, and only four by defensive backs, in 346 passing attempts last season.

Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2014:

Former walk-on punter Matt Hubbard had no problem making the transition from FCS last season, earning third team All-Sun Belt honors after averaging 42.0 yards on 78 punts. Placekicker Wil Lutz also returns after making 8-of-12 field goals last season, including a 53-yarder against Alabama.

Final Analysis 

Entering its fifth year of existence overall and second as an FBS program, Georgia State has experienced very little success, winning just once over the past two seasons. As players who were recruited for the FCS level cycle out of the program — including 27 seniors last season — the opportunity exists for Miles to upgrade the roster’s size, speed and depth. Still, the Panthers are probably two recruiting classes away from getting their numbers up to par, and in the meantime will have to rely heavily on underclassmen for production.

The Panthers were competitive at times in 2013, losing three times in conference play by a touchdown or less, but they’re still closer to the beginning than the end of a long rebuilding process.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#124 Eastern Michigan Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#124

MAC West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chris Creighton, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kalen DeBoer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brad McCaslin

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. 124 Eastern Michigan.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Offense for 2014: 

As bad as the 2–10 Eagles were in 2013, running back Bronson Hill proved to be a difference-maker, rushing for 1,101 yards with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. It was the first 1,000-plus yard rushing season for an Eastern Michigan running back in a decade. Hill, a third-team All-MAC selection, will be a critical piece of first-year coach Chris Creighton’s offense.

Hill and the other Eastern running backs aren’t likely to carry the load as much under Creighton as they did under former coach Ron English. In 2013, the Eagles ran the ball on 57 percent of their offensive snaps. That was down from 59 percent in 2012. Creighton wants to be closer to a 50-50 team and is particularly excited about the prospect of sophomore quarterback Brogan Roback getting the ball into the hands of his wide receivers out of multiple offensive formations.

Roback, a Maumee, Ohio, native, is one of the highest-recruited players to sign with Eastern in decades. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman when EMU’s season began to spin out of control, replacing Tyler Benz and starting the final three games of the season. Benz has since left the team, leaving Roback as the only quarterback with any experience on the roster. Roback threw for 640 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions and a completion percentage of 42.2 in 2013.
What the Eagles lack in experience under center, they make up for at receiver and on the offensive line. Eastern brings back its top four pass-catchers, most notably second-team All-MAC tight end Tyreese Russell, and three of its five starting lineman. Right tackle Lincoln Hansen, a third-team all-conference pick in 2013, is the headliner.

Of course bringing back a bunch of players that contributed to one of the worst teams in college football in 2013 isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Defense for 2014: 

Eastern gave up an average of 510.8 yards and 45.2 points per game in 2013, which both ranked in the bottom 10 in the country. It was enough to drive English, who was defensive coordinator as well as head coach, mad. A tape of an expletive-filled rant from English — recorded during a defensive meeting — expedited his inevitable firing by three games.

Eastern shouldn’t have to worry about any more rants — Creighton doesn’t allow players or coaches in his program to swear. He may want to give the policy a second thought after seeing his defense. The Eagles are thin at nearly every position, particularly in the defensive backfield. Ike Spearman, who led the team in tackles with 82 and tied for the lead in interceptions with two, should provide stability at the linebacker position. Creighton believes the defensive line will be where his team is deepest.

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Specialists for 2014:

Tyler Allen accumulated 1,014 yards in kickoff returns in 2013. Allen, combined with punt returners Jay Jones and true freshman Cameron Bouldin, could make Eastern dangerous in the return game. Dylan Mulder made only 6-of-11 field goals as a sophomore. Austin Barnes returns as the punter.

Final Analysis

Eastern is not the type of program that can be fixed overnight by any coach, let alone one with zero experience — as a player, assistant or head coach — at the FBS level, although no experience should be required to improve upon the four wins Eastern has accumulated the past two seasons. Creighton has a solid résumé, with an overall record of 139–46 as a head coach with stops at Ottawa (NAIA), Wabash (Division III) and Drake (FCS). His task at Eastern Michigan is immense. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995 and have been one of the worst FBS programs in the nation in recent years.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#122 Georgia Southern Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#122

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Willie Fritz, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Ruse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jack Curtis

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. 122 Georgia Southern.

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Offense for 2014: 

When Jeff Monken left for Army, Georgia Southern elected to move away from the triple-option offense in hiring Willie Fritz, who took Sam Houston State to the FCS title game in 2011 and ’12. Though Fritz will keep elements of the same scheme to fit the personnel he’s inheriting, Georgia Southern will look much more like a spread-option team. The Eagles will throw between 15 and 25 times per game as opposed to the 79 total passes returning quarterback Kevin Ellison attempted last year.

“The guys we have here definitely can run our system,” Fritz says. “Ellison has shown me a lot, and he can throw the football. I see a lot of ability out on the perimeter for a team that hadn’t thrown the ball very much, and we’ve got some excellent players along the offensive line. The unknown is our running back position.”

Though there’s never an easy transition from FCS to FBS, the Eagles have enough size and experience up front to compete offensively right away. Besides Ellison, Georgia Southern returns a trio of two-year senior starters on its offensive line and a pair of receivers in Zach Walker and BJ Johnson. Fritz also is high on the abilities of 6'2", 255-pound junior Nardo Govan, who is moving from fullback to tight end.

Though Ellison is only a sophomore, his proven ability as a runner (127 attempts for 886 yards and eight touchdowns) will make the Eagles tough to defend if he can pick up the new offense quickly.

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Defense for 2014:

The only coaching holdover from Monken’s staff is defensive coordinator Jack Curtis, whose unit was solid but not spectacular last season. Though the Eagles return five starters, they are going to be undersized and not particularly deep, especially up front. That’s not a great combination as they transition to a tougher FBS schedule.

Fritz knows they have two capable linebackers in Edwin Jackson and Antwione Williams, but whether Georgia Southern can find more capable backers will determine whether they play more 4-3 or 4-2-5. The defensive backfield should be a strength as starting safeties Matt Dobson and Deion Stanley return after combining for five interceptions last season. Senior cornerback Valdon Cooper has “big-time ability,” according to Fritz, but he needs to play more consistently.

Georgia Southern only generated 12 total turnovers last season, including a mere two fumble recoveries, so improving those numbers will be paramount to its defensive success in 2014.

Previewing Georgia Southern’s Specialists for 2014:

Fritz plans to tweak Georgia Southern’s coverage and return schemes, and he’ll also have three placekickers to evaluate in the fall. Sophomore Younghoe Koo made 5-of-6 field goals last season, while junior Alex Hanks handled kickoffs but was the primary placekicker in 2012. Connor Tierney also returns after going 14-for-14 on extra points but 0-for-2 on field goals.

Final Analysis

In an otherwise average 2013 season, Georgia Southern received significant attention on Nov. 23 for beating Florida, 26–20, in its first-ever victory over an FBS opponent. Though some at Georgia Southern might have seen that performance as validation for the school’s decision to move up to FBS, there are still significant challenges ahead. It will also be a new experience for Fritz, who has moved up the ladder from junior colleges to Division II Central Missouri, where he went 97–47, to his wildly successful run at Sam Houston State.

Though the Eagles had a solid structure in place before making the move, there are plenty of unknowns. “Instead of slaying one dragon a year,” Fritz says, “we’ve got to do it with great consistency. We’ve got to get a lot better.”




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#121 UMass Minutemen

NATIONAL FORECAST

#121

MAC East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Mark Whipple, 49-26 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Whipple | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Masella

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. 121 UMass.

Previewing UMass’ Offense for 2014:

The University of Massachusetts’ potential to take a step forward after two 1–11 seasons might hinge on how quickly some key newcomers pick up new coach Mark Whipple’s offense. At least eight players who weren’t with the team in the spring are being asked to be key contributors right away. That list includes quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, a graduate transfer from Marshall who has two years of eligibility left. He played well for the Herd backing up Rakeem Cato but wasn’t likely to see the field much behind the All-Conference USA quarterback and elected to transfer. If Frohnapfel can catch on fast, the whole offense figures to benefit, as quarterback play has held the Minutemen back the past two seasons.

Jalen Williams, a 6'3" junior college transfer, and Alex Kenney, a speedy fifth-year transfer from Penn State, figure to bolster an already deep receiving corps. Marken Michel, who quit the team under Charley Molnar, is not only back, but also a likely starter in the slot. Whipple has relied a lot on tight ends at previous stops, so junior college transfers Jean Sifrin and Jon Denton should have a chance to make an impact.
Last year, several running backs had strong single games, but nobody stayed healthy long enough to build any consistency. Junior Jamal Wilson will get the first crack at being the No. 1 ball-carrier, but sophomores Lorenzo Woodley and Shadrach Abrokwah both could see plenty of carries.

They’ll run behind an offensive line that will need to grow together. The unit has only one player — center Matt Sparks — who has been in the program longer than two seasons.

Previewing UMass’ Defense for 2014:

Because it was forced to spend too much time on the field covering for an offense that ­couldn’t move the ball, the defense’s numbers looked worse than its actual play in 2013. The coaching staff is excited about its young veterans at both linebacker and in the secondary.

UMass will switch to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Tom Masella, a move that should highlight the team’s depth at linebacker. Junior Kassan Messiah was a standout in the spring on the outside and could have a chance to evolve into an all-conference-caliber player, while senior Stanley Andre is expected lead the unit from his inside backer spot.

Juniors Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles will be starting at corner for a third straight season and have improved each year.

The key will be the development of the defensive line, which is neither deep nor experienced. Senior nose tackle Daniel Maynes will anchor the unit, while sophomores Enock Asante and Peter Angeh try to build off the glimpses of potential they each showed in 2013.

If the line can hold its own, the entire defense should be good enough to keep UMass competitive in MAC contests.

Previewing UMass’ Specialists for 2014: 

Junior Blake Lucas, who lost his starting kicker job late last season, has a big leg but hasn’t found consistent accuracy in two seasons. He’ll start the season with a short leash. Logan Laurent is the punter, and Dudley-Giles is back for his third season returning kicks and punts.

Final Analysis 

After two tough years under Molnar, who was fired in the offseason, UMass is hoping Whipple can turn the program around for the second time. In his first stint in Amherst (1998-2003), Whipple turned a team that was 2–9 the year before he arrived into the 1998 Division I-AA champions, which made his return popular in Amherst. He coached UMass for six years before working as an assistant in the NFL and at the University of Miami.

The task could be tougher this time as he inherits a team that won only one game in each of the last two seasons.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#120 Miami, Ohio RedHawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#120

MAC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Barnett, Eric Koehler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Pawlowski

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. 120 Miami, Ohio.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Offense for 2014: 

Chuck Martin’s job before being named Miami’s coach in December was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, creating hope that he will help revive a RedHawk offense that defined anemic in 2013. Miami finished last in the MAC in rushing, passing, total and — of course — scoring (9.8 ppg).

Martin’s biggest challenge is turning around Miami’s rushing “attack.” Sophomore quarterback Austin Gearing led the team in rushing last season, while junior Spencer Treadwell — the son of former coach Don Treadwell, who was fired last October after Miami got off to an 0–5 start — is the top returning ground-gainer among running backs, with 171 yards.

Gearing is likely to be supplanted at quarterback by senior Andrew Hendrix, who transferred from Notre Dame and is immediately eligible. Hendrix threw for 360 yards and a touchdown during his four years in South Bend. Joining him among the Fighting Irish transfers is tight end Alex Welch, who will help fortify a position depleted by graduation.

Whoever plays quarterback will have a deep corps of wide receivers at his disposal. Two starters and nine letterwinners return from last season’s team, including senior Dawan Scott. The O-line also returns four of its five 2013 starters.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Defense for 2014: 

Seven starters return from a defense that was almost as ineffective as the offense in 2013. Miami’s most experienced unit is the linebacker group, where second-team all-conference pick Kent Kern returns in the middle after leading the RedHawks in tackles as a sophomore last season. Classmate Josh Dooley also started all 12 games and was third on the team with 87 tackles.

Three out of four starters and eight of nine letterwinners return in the secondary, including cornerback Heath Harding and safeties Brison Burris and Jay Mastin. Harding started 10 games as a true freshman last season and logged 56 tackles and a team-leading three interceptions. Senior Lo Wood, the last of three former Fighting Irish players to follow Martin to Oxford, also is eligible to play this season and is the likely starter at the other cornerback slot. He has big shoes to fill. Dayonne Nunley was a three-time first-team all-conference pick.

The area most in need of rebuilding is the defensive line, but junior end Bryson Albright provides a strong foundation after leading the RedHawks with five sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss last season. On the interior, junior Mitchell Winters and sophomore Jimmy Rousher will start full-time at the tackle slots after sharing a position last season.

Previewing Miami, Ohio’s Specialists for 2014: 

Junior Kaleb Patterson returns for his third season as Miami’s placekicker. He focused on field goals and extra points last season, but he will add kickoffs and, perhaps, punting to his job description this season. Whether it’s Patterson or junior Christian Koch handling the punting chores, they’ll be hard-pressed to match the performance of Zac Murphy, who finished fourth in the nation in average yards per punt in 2013. Sophomore wide receiver Fred McRae is the RedHawks’ most experienced punt and kickoff returner.

Final Analysis 

Martin won two Division II national championships as the head coach at Grand Valley State and helped Notre Dame reach the BCS National Championship Game two years ago. He is used to winning. But this is a major rebuild. The RedHawks went 0–12 in 2013 and were perhaps the worst team in the nation. Quick turnarounds are possible in the MAC — see Ball State under Pete Lembo — but it’s hard to envision the RedHawks climbing too far up the league’s food chain in 2014.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#119 Western Michigan Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#119

MAC West PREDICTION

#5

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.




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